John Quincy Adams, His Pool Table, and His Candidacy
Back in the days before everything presidential candidates said and did came under the close scrutiny of the American public, politicians rarely had to explain themselves for the things that they did in their private lives.
And many presidents did some wild things in the White House! President Thomas Jefferson found two bear cubs in the woods and brought them back to the White House where he kept them in a cage on the White House lawn. President Teddy Roosevelt liked to go skinny-dipping in the Potomac River. FDR insisted on taking the then jailed Al Capone’s famous car for a joyride.
One president’s rather normal purchase, however, played a huge role in costing him his presidency. How exactly was it that a pool table came between the President and the rest of America?
In 1825, new President John Quincy Adams, described as a social man who liked to keep moving, chose to install the very first billiards table in the White House. He did so for his own “exercise and amusement,” but also to entertain guests that visited the White House.
At the time, billiard tables were only for the rich, and any guest visiting the President would have been thrilled to have the opportunity to play a match or two against John Quincy Adams.
Adams paid $61 for the table, which he purchased at a second-hand store. He ordered the table to be re-felted, and purchased a new set of balls and a few cues as well. President Adams made the purchase as a personal expense, and even for the time, it was not an overly-extravagant purchase.
At today’s rate, that Presidential billiards table would have cost Adams around $2,300, but what the purchase of a used billiards table actually cost Adams was a second term in the White House.
In 1826, newspapers who supported Adam’s political rival Andrew Jackson ran endless articles about President Adams’ excessive spending habits. When the stories began to spread about the billiards table purchase, more journalists began to jump on the bandwagon against Adams’ pool table. Many called Adams out for gambling in the White House, while other simply called the purchase sinful.
Those on the side of politician Andrew Jackson had gotten the ball rolling with the campaign against Adams. Soon after the story of the billiards table transformed, and word was spread that the table was purchased with government funds.
Unrest had settled amongst the expanding American colonies, which had been migrating to the west of Mississippi River, and there was a lot of anger with privileged Americans like President Adams. One writer wrote of the billiard table that was as expensive as “a pair of wagon-hitched horses,” which fueled further anti-elitist sentiment in the west.
Incumbent President John Quincy Adams ran for reelection in 1828 against Andrew Jackson. By then, so much damage had been done to Adams’ “good” name that Jackson’s campaign merely had to fan the flames of resentment against Adams and call back to the billiard scandal that enraged so many just a few years earlier to snag the presidency away from Adams.
Andrew Jackson beat Adams thanks to the White House Billiard Table Scandal, but since then, many games of pool have been played by subsequent presidents, and many new billiards tables would follow John Quincy Adams’ first table. Fortunately, there would be no more billiards scandals in the White House.
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