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American Statesman:
 John Quincy Adams

 Henry Clay

 Daniel Webster

 John C. Calhoun

 Abraham Lincoln

 William H. Seward

 Salmon P. Chase

 Charles Summer

 Sir John Alexander Macdonald, G. C. B.

 Conclusion

 Read More Articles About: American Statesman

John Quincy Adams

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

1767-1848

"THE OLD MAN ELOQUENT"

"Must I go down to the grave and leave posterity to do justice to my father and to me?" Such was the despairing cry of a President of the United States, the son of a President of the United States. This was the son of John and Abigail Adams, doubtless the most intellectual pair and best-mated couple of the Revolutionary days. Their son was a great man, but he led a most stormy life. If he despised safe harbors, he could not complain that the seas he frequented were not sufficiently tempestuous. He fought to the end, died fighting, was excused by his enemies only on the allegation of insanity, and must be considered with John Randolph among the most eccentfic men that the Nation has produced. He was the original black Abolitionist, or black Republican. After the most persistent campaign ever fought by one man against a body of men, he finally vindicated the right of a free people to send petitions to their lawmakers and to have them received and heard.

July 11, 1767, in the north parish of Braintree, Massachusetts Bay, two years after the passage of the Stamp Act, there was born to John and Abigail Adams, both Revolutionary characters of the first order, a son, John Quincy Adams. When this son was seven years old he, with his leonine mother, climbed to the top of a high hill, listened to the cannon of Bunker Hill battle, and watched the flames that arose from the conflagration of Charleston. At nine he was post-rider. At eleven he made a voyage with his father to Europe and back, and immediately set out for the Old World again with his parent. They sailed in a leaking ship, seeking refuge at an out-of-the-way Spanish port (Ferrol), and going in winter across the mountains to France and onward to Paris a bitter index of the life that fate had reserved for this lad, so soon thrust upon the public affairs of a well troubled world. He went to school at Paris, Amsterdam, Leyden wherever his father happened to be. Then the Envoy to Russia, Judge Dana, took him to St. Petersburg as private secretary. When John Adams became Minister to England, he doubtless considered himself able to send the boy to college, and the son was offered the opportunity, which he seized, returning to America and entering Harvard. He graduated in 1787, and studied law at Newburyport, with Judge Parsons. When he was twenty-three, he was admitted to practice, and established his office at Boston. By this time he was well-fitted for service as a contributor to Federalist newspaper literature, and was able, as "Publicola," to give Thomas Jefferson many uneasy moments. He scored Citizen Genet, the French torch-bearer of Liberty, so effectively that President Washington was led to appoint the young man Minister to the Hague. It is about this time that he begins the celebrated diary, which ranks him as one of the great private annalists of the world. The diary continues from 1795 to 1848, and with that of his father, forms one of the richest historical treasuries that exist as the original work of only two men. He was at the Hague while the army of France was victorious in the Netherlands. Diplomatic business called him to London, and there, in 1797, he married Miss Louisa C. Johnson, with whom he lived happily till he died. General Washington was well pleased with the young man, and probably extended the period of his foreign service, as John Adams, without the direct persuasion of General Washington would not have kept his own son in public office, fearing the charge of nepotism. John Quincy Adams was appointed Minister to Prussia, and it is said the lieutenant at the gate did not know there was any such country as the new Minister claimed to represent. He traveled through Silesia, viewed the battle-fields, made a treaty, and was recalled by his father when it was known that Jefferson was to come in as President.

John Quincy Adams returned to the practice of law at Boston, and a district judge made him a commissioner in bankruptcy. From this position President Jefferson removed him. April 5, 1802, the ousted Federalist was elected to the State Senate. In 1803 he was elected United States Senator. But his entry into official life at the Capital was most inauspicious. To him the capital city seemed, after Berlin, Paris, and London, as some capital city in an East Indian or South African region now appears to us. Not only did the rudeness of the surroundings depress him, but he was personally the victim of the incivility of both Democrats and Federalists. A motion which he would make would be lost; another Senator would repeat it, and it would be carried almost by acclamation. The environment rapidly put him upon his mettle. The mistreatment which he received from the expiring Federalist party opened his eyes to the good that was in their opponents, and toward the end of his third Congress, he was able to be of service to Jefferson in many ways, getting well on the side favored by the majority. His Legislature avenged itself by forcing his resignation, and he was able to change parties at a favorable moment. He simply felt, with seven-tenths of the voters, that if we must have war with a foreign nation, it ought not to be with France.

When James Madison came to the Presidency, he found Mr. Adams thus out of office on principle, and was glad to nominate him as Minister to Russia. The Senate at first refused to consent, but on a later date confirmed the nomination. The statesman, once so unpopular, had been able to change his party, and yet greatly increase his standing among his colleagues a feat not often recorded. The journey from Boston to St. Petersburg was accomplished between August 5 and October 23. The residence at St. Petersburg is important as giving a Russian aspect to the Diary of Mr. Adams, while Napoleon was carrying on the greatest wars the world has seen.

On August 7, 1814, Mr. Adams was at Ghent as one of the commissioners of the peace that ended our War of 1812 with England. The deliberations lasted four months. That John Quincy Adams should ever have figured as a peace-maker, in a peace that was made, seems incredible; yet it is probable that Henry Clay, at Ghent, opposed more numerous obstacles. All of the gentlemen were of irritable temper. The treaty at London was considered a great Yankee victory.

Mr. Adams was at Paris when Napoleon returned from Elba, but became Minister at London before Waterloo. When he was a young man, General Washington had foretold that John Quincy Adams would some day reach the head of the diplomatic service, and he was now in that proud official position.

When James Monroe entered on the Presidency, Mr. Adams was invited to become Secretary of State, which put him in the direct succession to the chief magistracy. He left England June 17, 1817, a man only forty years old, who might well be regarded as one of the most fortunate of America's sons. In his advancement to the Cabinet's highest portfolio might be seen the transfer of the Presidency, by natural oscillation and just division of honors, to a Northern State. It might have seemed to a lover of the Constitution that the millennium was come. It would be beyond the realm of prophecy to accredit to the highly-favored statesman traveling toward Washington the sentiment that stands at the beginning of this notice. His ambition was to be gratified almost to the extent of free institutions, and yet he was afterward to consider himself ill used.

He was even a better fault-finder than his great father. He had evidently forgotten the sylvan aspect of things at Washington : "It is impossible for me to describe to you my feelings on entering this miserable desert, this scene of desolation and horror. My anticipations were almost infinitely short of the reality. I can truly say that the first appearance of this seat of the National Government has produced in me nothing but absolute loathing and disgust." The British had been there, and had not improved the good looks of the widely-scattering village. Such a mean opinion of what was dear to the Virginians was not advantageous to Mr. Adams, and he had only his position as senior Secretary to defend him against Crawford, Clay, and Calhoun, who each thought he ought to be President after Monroe. During the "era of good feeling" this was the inside aspect of Cabinet politics. The purchase of Florida by President Monroe did not come about at the first treaty, for that instrument was not ratified by Spain, and Mr. Adams thought his colleagues made his path thorny, in order to cheat him out of the Presidency. But when Spain set about a new negotiation she was compelled to take the old treaty with a change that made it less tasteful than at first. Through all General Jackson's troubles Mr. Adams stood generously by him, and, on January 8, 1824, gave to a thousand guests, in honor of the hero of New Orleans, the most brilliant ball that had ever been seen at Washington. Mr. Adams would make no effort whatever to secure the office of President, yet stated that if the people did not elect him, he should consider it a vote of waning confidence. Here he betrayed too little adaptability to the necessities of democratic government, and made it easy for more complaisant candidates to displace him in the affections of the people. The Electoral College was not able to announce a choice, and the election went to the House, where the balloting was confined to the names of Jack-son, Adams, and Crawford. The South had shown no generous desire to share the Presidency with the North, and seventy-seven of the eighty-four votes for Adams had come from New York and New England. For this act of supreme selfishness, the slave-holding States were destined to receive in return a payment in kind at the hands of John Quincy Adams that is memorable to this day. They would have been wiser if they had shown some other public man their ingratitude. Henry Clay, with only thirty-seven votes, could not come before the House as a candidate, and was therefore the arbiter between General Jackson and Mr. Adams. Mr. Adams would have been elected by a popular vote, and the counting of the slave population had operated also to his prejudice. Clay was a critic of General Jackson.

The logical result could only be the success of Mr. Adams, and that event followed on the first ballot in the House, thirteen States going to the New England candidate. At the inauguration of President Adams General Jackson shook hands with him, but this ended their friendly relations. One of the President's kindliest acts was to appoint to office relatives of President Monroe, whom that sensitive chief magistrate while in office would not appoint, from motives of delicacy. General Jackson considered himself in some manner wronged by the alliance of Clay with Adams, and when Clay entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State, the proponents and admirers of the General let fly every bolt of malice and slander that could be fitted to the catapult of party politics. A fellow named Kremer asserted that "Clay had sold his friends in the House to Mr. Adams as the planter does his negroes, or the farmer his team and horses." The Tennessee Legislature quickly nominated General Jackson for the next Presidency. The Adams-Clay slander was officially repeated. John Randolph alleged that there had been a coalition of "Puritan and blackleg." Clay and Randolph fought a duel, which, owing to the introduction of hair-trigger pistols, not understood by Randolph, turned out to be bloodless, and there would have been more duels, save that General Jackson's informants were run to earth, and forced to deny their statements.

President John Quincy Adams was the first Northerner to confront a solid South. There was an opposition of fourteen votes against even the confirmation of Clay as Secretary of State. Men had been strangely at peace under the gentle Monroe; they sprang into dissension at the sight of a man who had no deep aversion to almost any kind of a disputation or melée. He was the first of the Presidents who had Congress aligned against him. Four of the seven on every committee desired to know what measure he favored in order to oppose it. Added to an untoward beginning, Mr. Adams now developed a case of mugwumpism, or indifference to the interests of his friends and party, that was fatal to his continuance in power. If his presence in office were to be a bar to the preferment of his friends, they wanted him out. General Jackson was ready to reward every-body. He could promise everybody, and he would fulfill as long as the offices should last. Besides, he was a brilliant fighter. It was to be seen that President Adams was in the line of defeat from the moment his first term began. He even felt disappointment that he had not been elected at the polls, while Mr. Calhoun had been easily elected Vice President. He meditated on his situation, and concluded that the South had not been true to the spirit of the Constitution, and that he was the victim of its unfair action.

Personally, he was short, stout, bald. His eyes were weak. His voice was shrill and irritating to his enemies. As President, he rose before daybreak, and often built and lit his own fire. He received an unbroken stream of visitors. He went to bed early, between 8 and 9 o'clock when it was possible. In the morning he swam in the Potomac River, and rode on horseback. He sometimes walked for exercise. He began the day by reading chapters in the Bible, with Scott's and Hewlett's Commentaries, being a profoundly religious New Englander.

The "Adams and Clay faction," as the Democrats now called the National Republicans, or Whigs, upheld tariff and river-and-harbor bills, and both these policies were finally forced on Congress by the people, thus fortifying and encouraging the President. But he could not win a second term, mainly because he was his own political enemy. He demanded love and gratitude, while as President he could not see his way clear to exemplify those amiable traits. The disappearance of Morgan, the Freemason, was a disagreeable incident, with many at-tending slanders. The political forgers of those days would have done credit to our later campaigns. Mr. Adams himself was not without shot in his locker when it came to vituperation. He noted that "the skunks of party slander had been squirting falsehoods round the House of Representatives, thence to issue and perfume the atmosphere of the Union." He made many entries against John Randolph. "The agony of his hatred and envy of me, and the hope of effecting my downfall, are his chief remaining sources of vitality. The issue of the Presidential election will kill him, by the gratification of his revenge" these words in effect. He does not seem to have had the terrible word-throwing power of his father he could not mass adjectives together with the parental phonetic force yet no man of his day not even Jackson equaled him in persistent rancor and steadfast resentment of injury.

In the next election, Calhoun, the Southerner, was again elected by 171 votes as Vice President, but Adams received only 83 to 178 for Jackson. While the Solid South had shown its policy to the North, Federalist Boston, as yet insensate, had only disgrace to offer to its son as a welcome, and did its best to make still more bitter a noble President's retirement. If he had replied to his traducers, he would have covered them with shame.

Now the "old man eloquent," as he was soon to be called, was to enter Congress as a Representative from the Plymouth district. Single-handed, he was to stand ence of the Southern members wore down to quicker sensations, and they made an attempt to shake off the incubus. The petitions usually appeared in the form of a prayer that slavery be abolished in the District of Columbia, where Congress had full authority. January 4, 1836, the Southern members joined against Mr. Adams. A report was brought in advising that no more slavery or anti-slavery petitions be received by the House. This, called the "gag," was adopted by 182 to 9, and 117 to 68. At each vote, when the name of J. Q. Adams was called, the old man rose and shrieked his objections to the act of the House, amid the most clamorous demands for "order" and "vote." To break down this "gag" to bring odium on a free Congress of a free people that did not dare to hear petitions now became a duty and a joy to the bitter and isolated representative. At the next Congress, when the rules were adopted, there was confronting the slaveholders the same necessity of rushing through a disgraceful and arbitrary ruling. In December, 1837, when his name was called to vote on the "gag," he shrieked in tones so shrill that an organized disorder could not render them less distinct : "I hold the resolution to be a violation of the Constitution, of the right of petition of my constituents, and of the people of the United States, and of my right to freedom of speech as a member of this House." The clerk omitted the name of J. Q. Adams in the record of the vote, this speech not being a vote. Mr. Adams called attention to the omission. The clerk thereupon called the omitted name. Mr. Adams moved that his answer as given be entered on the journal. The Speaker declared the motion out of order. Mr. Adams demanded a minute of the motion with the ruling. As this was not done, Mr. Adams made inquiry the next day, and heated discussion was precipitated. A member declared that if "the question ever came to the issue of war, the Southern people would march into New England and conquer it." Mr. Adams made the immortal reply that it might all be so, yet he entered his resolution on the journal because he was resolved that his opponent's "name should go down to posterity damned to everlasting fame." The ultra-abolitionists who were not in Congress of course centered their attention on John Quincy Adams, and were a source of constant danger to him and his cause. His family, on the other hand, considered the burden too heavy for his years, and the rôle he liad assumed unsuited to his fame. Had there been one member to take up his work, he would have ceased, but he was absolutely alone. The fidelity with which the Plymouth district stood to the business of reelecting him, reflects additional glory on that birthplace of freedom. The petitions were now enormously large in number. One Gregory prayed to be declared an alien so long as slaves and Indians were wronged. January 3, 1838, Mr. Adams presented 100 petitions; on the 15th, 50; on the 28th, 31; February 14, 350; March 12, 96. By this time personal feeling against Abolitionists was at the acme of hatred. Preston of South Carolina invited them South to be hanged. When Mr. Adams would rise to explain a vote against the "gag," Waddy Thompson would come down the aisle and tauntingly offer his personal aid to the Speaker in quieting the piercing voice of the old New Englander.

When war was threatened, the ancient Yankee had a bitter method of showing that by such means only could slavery be abolished. In a state of war, the powers of the Constitution came into better play, and "a State burdened with slavery could be ceded to a foreign power." Talk of secession did not originate at the South. The Hartford Convention of James Madison's time was a New England movement. The Nation was not yet welded with the fires of civil war. So now, under the lead of John Quincy Adams, there were more hints of secession by Boston than by Charleston. On May 25, 1836, Mr. Adams says he made by far his most noted speech. This was against the admission of the Republic of Texas as a State. He foresaw the Mexican War, with more slave States and wrong to a sister Republic.

March 5, 1838, he presented a petition that the House should forever expel John Quincy Adams. Waddy Thompson explained that he, too, had received such a petition numerously signed, but had not presented it. Enemies might amuse themselves in this way, but they could only rivet the more securely on the attention of the people the belief of John Quincy Adams that the right of petition was sacred, and was trampled upon in the House.

February 6, 1837, Mr. Adams presented 20o Abolition petitions. At last, in closing, he said he held in his hand what purported to be the petition of twenty-two slaves, and he would like instructions. The Speaker was at a loss for an answer. Mr. Adams, professing to doubt the genuineness of the paper, as so many slave-holding pranks were attempted, asked if he should send the petition up for examination. The Speaker asked the sense of the House. Members hurrying to their seats, not understanding what kind of mine their foe was springing, cried, "Expel him! Expel him !" Mr. Haynes moved the rejection of the petition. Mr. Lewis opposed this, believing that Mr. Adams should be disciplined. If he were not to be punished, "it would be better for the representatives from the slave-holding States to go home at once." Mr. Alford said that, as soon as the petition should be presented, he would move that it should be "taken from the House and burned." A resolution of severe censure was offered, and, in his speech of support, Mr. Waddy Thompson threatened proceedings before the grand jury of the District, saying, if that body had the spirit, people should "yet see an incendiary brought to condign punishment." Another resolution stated that Mr. Adams' conduct was an incitement to servile insurrection. Mr. Alford was ready to stay "until this fair city is a field of Waterloo, and this beautiful Potomac a river of blood." This was indeed a storm, whereupon the sardonic statesman who had caused it revealed that the petition was for slavery, and that he had fooled the House to the top of its bent. The House next attempted to punish him for his levity, and started a debate on fresh resolutions. Yet, after they had emptied their stores of vituperation and sarcasm, and as they saw him replenishing his own, they strategically dropped the whole question before his time came to speak. In this they calculated to strike him their hardest blow. Yet in the end he made his speech a long one and was not formally censured.

January 21, 1842, while Mr. Adams was Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, he presented a petition from Georgia, praying that John Quincy Adams be removed from his Chairmanship. He requested to be heard on the charges made against him by "the infamous slaveholders." Mr. Smith, of Virginia, asked if Mr. Adams were defending himself against the charge of monomania. Some cried "Yes"; others "No; he is establishing the fact." This going on the table in a wrangle, Mr. Adams rose and presented the petition of forty-five citizens of Haverhill, Mass., praying a dissolution of the Union. He asked for a report showing why the prayer could not be granted. The commotion was again as great as when the slave-petition had been suggested. Mr. Adams said Mr. Gilmer was playing second fiddle to Henry A. Wise. Mr. Gilmer said he was no fiddler, but was trying to stop the music of him who -

In the space of one revolving moon, Was statesman, poet, fiddler, and buffoon."

A caucus of forty slaveholders met and brought in resolutions indicative of their abhorrence of Mr. Adams' act. Debate on the resolutions took on a serious aspect. On the third day Mr. Wise (the same who was to hang John Brown) concluded his long speech, Mr. Adams being "determined not to interrupt him till he had discharged his full cargo of filthy invective." Mr. Adams then made "the preliminary point" that in trying his case his judges would be debating a question "on which their personal, pecuniary, and most sordid interests were at stake." Mr. Wise retorted that he was influenced only by the "personal loathing, dread, and contempt" he felt "for the man." Mr. Adams tortured Mr. Wise into crying out that a certain statement "was as base and black a lie as the traitor was base and black who uttered it." The protracted debate ended with nothing, and, after the last long vote to lay on the table, John Quincy Adams calmly rose to his feet and presented nearly two hundred petitions, or until the House adjourned. He was an old man of the sea. They could not shake him off.

Now his labors bore fruit. Another member, Barnard, made bold to present a petition for a dissolution of the Union, and the House sat tamely under the ordeal.

Year by year the majority for the "gag-rule" had dwindled until, December 3, 1844, when Mr. Adams, as was his custom, moved to strike it out, he carried the day. "Blessed, forever blessed, be the name of God !" he wrote that night in his diary. His work was now done. And with success, respect and veneration came back, even to the hearts of those who thought him insane in his hatred of slavery. November 19, 1846, he was stricken with paralysis in Boston. When he reappeared in the House, the members all rose together. He was no longer an eye-sore. When he had carried his point, he was satisfied. On February 21, 1848, he appeared in his seat as usual. At 1:30 o'clock p. m., as the Speaker was putting a vote there were cries : "Stop, Stop ! Mr. Adams !" The aged man was insensible.-The House adjourned. He was taken to a couch in the Speaker's room. There, late in the afternoon he whispered : "Thank the officers of the House." Soon afterward : "This is the last of earth ! I am content." He thereafter lay for forty-eight hours, and died February 23, 1848. He was buried under the portal of the church at Quincy, Mass., beside his immortal father and mother.

There was a good deal about him that Andrew John-son afterward resembled, and the tempestuous careers of these two Presidents may be profitably compared. John Quincy Adams was a man whom his own age would be sure to esteem more grudgingly than the people of later days. He strove to be superhuman in his honesty and love of justice. The people loved Jackson better because he discovered so many faults, while John Quincy Adams revealed scarcely one that could be charged as growing directly out of his own initiative. He was as patient in his love of the right as he saw it as Jackson was long-suffering in his personal hatreds and desire for revenge. He (Adams) considered that Clay, Jackson, Pickering, Bayard, Crawford, Calhoun, Webster, Randolph, Russell, Parsons, Otis, Giles and other public men, had "used up their faculties in base and dirty tricks to thwart (his) progress in life and destroy (his) character."

It is necessary to know how stubbornly and unfalteringly John Quincy Adams fought for the right of petition in the House of Representatives in order to under-stand the true causes of the Civil War in America. There afterward labored in the thorny paths he trod, Elijah Lovejoy, Charles Sumner, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillipps. And then southward, alone by himself, even more terrible, more remorseless, more effective than John Quincy Adams, there strode John Brown, of Ossawatomie, a Man of Non-Resistance, suddenly transformed, as if by Divine power, into a Gorgon of Emancipation.

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