27 May 2010

First US President to visit Norway?

Bill Clinton was the first sitting US president to visit Norway. He spent two days in November 1999 among others to take part in events commemorating the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A part of the stay was also made a state visit. Clinton also visited Oslo under his student days back in the 1960s, and after leaving the presidency he has come to Norway 2-3 times (I had the opportunity to shake hands with him during his visit to Oslo in May 2007).

But who was the first US President to visit Norway whether it was before, in or after office? I wonder if it was John Quincy Adams, who served as President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. I am currently reading Paul C. Nagel’s biography John Quincy Adams. A Public Life. A Private Life, which was first time published in 1997. The paperback edition from 1999 says on page 190 about his voyage to Russia where he was to serve as minister plenipotentiary:
«This remarkable letter [to his sons back home] was finished just as the Horace reached Norway on September 18, 1809. The war between England and France had made the Scandinavian region jittery whenever a strange ship appeared. The British bombardment of Copenhagen had pushed Denmark into an alliance with France, so that Adams experienced what seemed like incessant inquiries and inspections by Danish officials.»
But the book doesn’t explicitly say that Adams ever set foot on land. However, the answer seems to be found in his diary no. 28 (and no. 23), where he among others tells about his stay in Kristiansand where the Adams family during a storm lodged "at the Isaacson's" (to this family belongs among others former Norwegian Prime Minister Kåre Willoch as well as the artist Olaf Isaachsen). I am not sure if one can find out more about the stay than what can be read in the said diary. I hope to explore the question further one day.

Updated 9 June 2010 at 20:10: Link 1 and link 2.



  1. I do not have any information about John Quincy Adams's possible visit to Norway, but Grant was another (former) US President who visited Norway rather early - I believe it was in 1877. And then of course Theodore Roosevelt's much-publicised visit in 1910.

  2. Thanks! Yes, I knew about Theodore Roosevelt's visit in 1910, of course, but Grant's visit was new to me. I have his autobiography in my bookshelf, but I haven't come as far as to read it yet...

    But imagine John Quincy Adams stopping by in Kristiansand in 1809, dining with the Isaacsen family and leaving by ship from Flekkerøy! Fun to read!

  3. A couple of years ago the US State Department sent me to Russia to mark the Bicentennial of our diplomatic relations. I perform a "living history" - John Quincy Adams: "A Spirit Unconquerable!"
    Mr. Adams' trunk is packed; he is ready for any future travel.