1828: John Quincy Adams's Son Marries First Cousin At The White House

By | February 23, 2021

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Daguerrotype of the south front of the White House, 1846. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

When John Adams II married his first cousin in a small White House ceremony, the drama wasn't about how closely related the two were. Mary Catherine Helen had dated both of John's brothers before settling for the president's middle son, creating an incestuous love rectangle that only got worse after the wedding.

Keeping It In The Family

John Quincy Adams was a rarity in his family in that he found love outside of it. His father, President John Adams, married his third cousin, Abigail Smith, as had long been tradition. The political and industrial dynasties of the 19th century were obsessed with keeping bloodlines "pure," so marriages between third, second, or even first cousins were fairly common. Quincy, however, married the London-born Louisa Johnson, with whom he had three sons by the time the family took in Louisa's 11-year-old niece, Mary Catherine Hellen, in 1817 following the death of her father and illness of her stepmother.

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A stereograph view of the Blue Room during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. (Jim Hood/Wikimedia Commons)

White (House) Wedding

Soon enough, each brother took a turn courting Hellen. First, she dated youngest son Charles Adams, who later claimed Hellen was the first person he had sex with and called her "one of the most capricious women that were ever formed in a capricious race." It's hard to blame him: She quickly moved on to George Washington Adams, the eldest, who Hellen actually agreed to marry first, but George was committed to completing his education before settling down. While he continued his studies, Mary traveled to Washington, where she met her third and final Adams boy, John, who was working as his father's secretary after his expulsion from Harvard. Over time, he and Hellen developed a connection, and she jilted her fiance.

On February 25, 1828, John Quincy Adams II and Mary Catherine Hellen were wed in what is now the Blue Room in the White House, but what should have been a happy occasion ended up kind of a downer when both Charles and George declined to attend. Judging from her correspondence, it seems their mother wasn't thrilled about the event, either. She later reported to Charles, "Madame is cool, easy, and indifferent as ever." Ouch.