"It was observed that the first step towards the accomplishment of the glorious destinies of our country was the Declaration of Independence. That the second was the union of these States under our federative Government. The third is irrevocably fixed by the act upon the commencement of which we are now engaged. What time more suitable for this operation could have been selected than the anniversary of our great national festival? What place more appropriate from whence to proceed, than that which bears the name of the citizen warrior who led our armies in that eventful contest to the field, and who first presided as the Chief Magistrate of our Union? You know that of this very undertaking he was one of the first projectors; and if in the world of spirits the affections of our mortal existence still retain their sway, may we not, without presumption, imagine that he looks down with complacency and delight upon the scene before and around us?
"But while indulging in a sentiment of joyous exultation at the benefits to be derived from this labor of our friends and neighbors, let us not forget that the spirit of internal improvement is catholic and liberal. We hope and believe that its practical advantages will be extended to every individual in our Union. In praying for the blessing of heaven upon our task, we ask it with equal zeal and sincerity upon every other similar work in this confederacy; and particularly upon that which, on this same day, and perhaps at this very hour, is commencing from a neighboring city. It is one of the happiest characteristics in the principle of internal improvement, that the success of one great enterprise, instead of counteracting, gives assistance to the execution of another. May they increase and multiply, till, in the sublime language of inspiration, every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked straight, the rough places plain. Thus shall the prediction of the bishop of Cloyne be converted from prophecy into history; and, in the virtues and fortunes of our posterity, the last shall prove the noblest empire of time."
The administration of Mr. Adams, from the first day of its existence, met with an opposition more determined, bitter, and unscrupulous than any which has ever assailed a President of the United States. It evidently was not an opposition based on well-grounded objections to his principles or his measures Before an opportunity had been given fairly and fully to develop his policy as President, the opposition had taken its stand, and boldly declared that his administration should be overthrown at every hazard, whatever might be its policy, its integrity, or its success. A favorite candidate, having certain elements of immense popularity with a large class of people, and supported with enthusiasm by his immediate friends, had been defeated in the previous presidential canvass, at a moment when it was thought triumphant success had been secured. Under the exasperation and excitement of this overthrow, it was determined that his more fortunate rival should be displaced at the earliest moment, at whatever cost, though his administration should prove unrivalled in patriotism, and the successful promotion of the general welfare.
The opposition did not fail to seize upon certain points, which, in the exercise of a due degree of adroitness, yielded an ample material for popular declamation and censure. The fact that Mr. Adams had a less number of electoral votes than Gen. Jackson was greatly dwelt upon as positive evidence that the will of the people had been violated in the election of the former to the presidency—although it has since been satisfactorily ascertained that Mr. Adams had a larger number of the primary votes of the people than his prominent opponent.
The charge of "bargain and corruption," alleged against Mr. Adams and Mr. Clay, was also used as an effective weapon against the former, in the suceeeding presidential canvass. Notwithstanding the charge had been promptly and emphatically denied by the parties implicated, and proof in its support fearlessly challenged—notwithstanding every attempt at evidence to fix it upon them had most signally failed, and involved those engaged therein in utter confusion of face—yet so often and so boldly was the charge repeated by designing men, so generally and continually was it reiterated by a venal press from one end of the Union to the other, that a majority of the people was driven into its belief, and the fate of Mr. Adams's administration was sealed against him. Subsequent developments have shown, that, in the annals of political warfare, there never was a charge uttered against eminent public men, so thoroughly destitute of the shadow of truth as this. But it answered the immediate ends of its authors. Posterity will do ample justice to all the parties in this transaction.
Another event which operated seriously to the disadvantage of Mr. Adams, was the amalgamation of the strong Crawford party with the supporters of Gen. Jackson. This combination threw obstacles in the way of the administration which were insurmountable. It enabled the opposition to send a majority of members to the twentieth Congress, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The test of the strength of parties in the House took place on the election of Speaker. Andrew Stevenson, of Virginia, was elected on the first ballot, by a majority of ten votes over John W. Taylor, the administration candidate. Mr. Stevenson was a supporter of Mr. Crawford in 1824. His election to the Speaker's chair clearly indicated the union of the different sections of the opposition, and foreshadowed too evidently the overthrow of the administration of Mr. Adams.
In this state of things, with a majority of Congress against him, the President was deprived of the opportunity of carrying into execution many important measures which were highly calculated to promote the permanent benefit of the country, and which could not have failed to receive the approbation of the people. A majority of all the committees of both Houses were against him; and for the first time an administration was found without adequate strength in Congress to support its measures. In several instances the reports of committees partook of a strong partisan character, in violation of all rules of propriety and correct legislation.
The first session of the twentieth Congress, which was held immediately preceding the presidential campaign of 1828, was characterized by proceedings, which, at this day, all will unite in deciding as highly reprehensible. Instead of attending strictly to the legitimate business of the session, much of the time was spent in discussions involving the merits of the opposing candidates for the presidency, and designed to have an express bearing on the election then near at hand. Of this character was a resolution introduced into the House of Representatives, on the 8th of January, 1828, by Mr. Hamilton, a supporter of Gen. Jackson, to inquire into the expediency of having a historical picture of the battle of New Orleans painted, and placed in the rotunda of the Capitol. This was followed by a resolution, introduced by Mr. Sloane, an administration member, requiring the Secretary of War to furnish the House with a copy of the proceedings of a court-martial ordered by Gen. Jackson, in 1814, for the trial of certain Tennessee militiamen, who were condemned and shot.
At this session of Congress may be dated the introduction of a practice which has become an evil of the greatest magnitude in the present day. Reference is had to the custom of making the halls of Congress a mere arena, where, instead of attending to the legitimate business of legislating for the benefit of the country at large, political gladiators spend much of their time in wordy contests, designed solely for the promotion of personal or party purposes, to the neglect of the interests of their constituents. From this has grown the habit of speech-making by the hour, on topics trivial in their nature, in which the people have not the slightest interest, and which quite often, are totally foreign to the subject ostensibly in debate. Valuable time and immense treasures are thus squandered to no profitable purpose. Should not this evil be abated?
The stern integrity of Mr. Adams, and his unyielding devotion to principle, were made to operate against him. Had he chosen to turn the vast influence at his command to the promotion of personal ends—had he unscrupulously ejected from office all political opposers, and supplied their places with others who would have labored, with all the means at their disposal, in his behalf—little doubt can be entertained that he could have secured his re-election. But he utterly refused to resort to such measures. Believing he was promoted to his high position not for his individual benefit, but to advance the welfare of the entire country, his view of duty was too elevated and pure to allow him to desecrate the trust reposed in him to personal ends. Hence the influence derived from the patronage of the General Government was turned against the administration rather than in its behalf; and the singular spectacle was presented of men exerting every nerve to overthrow Mr. Adams, who were dependent upon him for the influence they wielded against him, and for their very means of subsistence.
A hotly contested political campaign ensued in the fall of 1828. In view of the peculiar combination of circumstances, and of the means resorted to by the opposing parties to secure success, the result could be foreseen with much certainty. Gen. Jackson was elected President of the United States, and was inaugurated on the 4th of March, 1829.
Thus closed the administration of John Quincy Adams. At the call of his country he entered upon the highest station in its gift. With a fidelity and uprightness which have not been surpassed, he discharged his important trust to the lasting benefit of all the vital interests which tend to build up a great and prosperous people. And at the call of his country he relinquished the honors of office, and willingly retired to the private walks of life.
No man can doubt that Mr. Adams could look back upon his labors while President with the utmost satisfaction. "During his administration new and increased activity was imparted to those powers vested in the Federal Government for the development of the resources of the country, and the public revenue was liberally expended in prosecuting those liberal measures, to which the sanction of Congress had been deliberately given, as the settled policy of the Government.
"More than one million of dollars had been expended in enlarging and maintaining the light-house establishment—half a million in completing the public buildings—two millions in erecting arsenals, barracks, and furnishing the national armories—nearly the same amount had been expended in permanent additions to the naval establishment—upwards of three millions had been devoted to fortifying the sea-coast—and more than four millions expended in improving the internal communications between different parts of the country, and in procuring information, by scientific surveys, concerning its capacity for further improvement. Indeed, more had been directly effected by the aid of Government in this respect, during Mr. Adams' administration, than during the administrations of all his predecessors. Other sums, exceeding a million, had been appropriated for objects of a lasting character, and not belonging to the annual expense of the Government; making in the whole nearly fourteen millions of dollars expended for the permanent benefit of the country, during this administration.
"At the same time the interest on the public debt was punctually paid, and the debt itself was in a constant course of reduction, having been diminished $30,373,188 during his administration, and leaving due on the 1st of January, 1829, $58,362,136. While these sums were devoted to increasing the resources and improving the condition of the country, and in discharging its pecuniary obligations, those claims which were derived from what are termed the imperfect obligations of gratitude and humanity were not forgotten.
"More than five millions of dollars were appropriated to solace the declining years of the surviving officers of the Revolution; and a million and a half expended in extinguishing the Indian title, and defraying the expense of the removal beyond the Mississippi of such tribes as were unqualified for a residence near civilized communities, and in promoting the civilization of those who, relying on the faith of the United States, preferred to remain on the lands which were the abodes of their fathers.
"In the condition which we have described—in peace with all the world, with an increasing revenue, and with a surplus of $5,125,638 in the public treasury,—the administration of the Government of the United States was surrendered by Mr. Adams on the 3d of March, 1829." [Footnote: American Annual Register.]
The "Georgia Constitutionalist" thus describes Mr. Adams' retirement from office:—"Mr. Adams is said to be to good health and spirits. The manner in which this gentleman retired from office is so replete with propriety and dignity, that we are sure history will record it as a laudable example to those who shall hereafter be required by the sovereign people to descend from exalted stations. It was a great matter with the ancients to die with decency, and there are some of our own day whose deaths are more admirable than their lives. Mr. Adams' deportment in the Presidency was lofty and proud; but the smile with which he throws aside the trappings of power, and the graceful propriety with which he takes leave of patronage and place, are truly commendable."
MR. ADAMS' MULTIPLIED ATTAINMENTS—VISITED BY SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN—HIS REPORT ON WEIGHTS AND MEASURES—HIS POETRY—ERECTS A MONUMENT TO THE MEMORY OF HIS PARENTS—ELECTED MEMBER OF CONGRESS—LETTER TO THE BIBLE SOCIETY—DELIVERS EULOGY ON DEATH OF EX-PRESIDENT MONROE.
Few public men in any country have possessed attainments more varied than were those of Mr. Adams. Every department of literature and science received more or less of his attention—every path of human improvement seems to have been explored by him. As a statesman, he was unrivalled in the profundity of his knowledge. His state papers—given to the world while Minister, Secretary of State, President, and Member of Congress—his numerous addresses, orations, and speeches, are astonishing in number, and in the learning they display. [Footnote: Aside from his state papers, official correspondence, and speeches, which would make many volumes, the Literary World gives the following list of the published writings of Mr. Adams:— "1. Oration at Boston, 1793; 2. Answer to Paine's Rights of Man, 1793; 3. Address to the Members of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society; 4. Letters on Silesia; 5. Letters on Silesia, 1804; 6. Inaugural Oration at Harvard College, 1806; 7. Letters to H. G. Otis, in reply to Timothy Pickering, 1808; 8. Review of the Works of Fisher Ames, 1809; 9. Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, two volumes, 1810; 10. Report on Weights and Measures, 1821; 11. Oration at Washington, 1821; 12. Duplicate Letters; the Fisheries and the Mississippi, 1822; 13. Oration to the citizens of Quincy, 1831; 14. Oration on the Death of James Monroe, 1831; 15. Dermot McMorrogh, or the Conquest of Ireland, 1832; 16. Letters to Edward Livingston, on Free Masonry, 1833; 17. Letters to William L. Stone, on the entered apprentice's oath, 1833; 18. Oration on the Life and Character of Lafayette, l835; 19. Oration on the Life and Character of James Madison, 1836; 20. The Characters of Shakspeare, 1837; 21. Oration delivered at Newburyport, 1837; 22. Letters to his Constituents of the Twelfth Congressional District of Massachusetts, 1837; 23. The Jubilee of the Constitution, 1839; 24. A Discourse on Education, delivered at Braintree, 1840; 25. An Address at the Observatory, Cincinnati, 1843. Among the unpublished works of Mr. Adams, besides his Diary, which extends over half a century, and would probably make some two dozen stout octavos, are Memoirs of the earlier Public and Private Life of John Adams, second President of the United States, in three volumes; Reports and Speeches on Public Affairs; Poems including two new cantos of Dermot McMorrogh, a Translation of Oberon and numerous Essays and Discourses."]
No man was more familiar with modern history, with diplomacy and international law, and the politics of America and Europe for the last two or three centuries.
In other departments he appeared equally at home. His acquaintance was familiar with the classics, and several modern languages. In oratory, rhetoric, and the various departments of belles lettres, his attainments were of more than an ordinary character. His commentaries on Desdemona, and others of Shakspeare's characters, show that he was no mean critic, in the highest walks of literature, and in all that pertains to human character.
The following interesting account of an interview with ex-President Adams, by a southern gentleman, in 1834, affords some just conceptions of the versatility of his genius, and the profoundness of his erudition:—
"Yesterday, accompanied by my friend T., I paid a visit to the venerable ex-President, at his residence in Quincy. A violent rain setting in as soon as we arrived, gave us from five to nine o'clock to listen to the learning of this man of books. His residence is a plain, very plain one: the room into which we were ushered, (the drawing-room, I suppose,) was furnished in true republican style. It is probably of ancient construction, as I perceived two beams projecting from the low ceiling, in the manner of the beams in a ship's cabin. Prints commemorative of political events, and the old family portraits, hung about the room; common straw matting covered the floor, and two candlesticks, bearing sperm candles, ornamented the mantle-piece. The personal appearance of the ex-President himself corresponds with the simplicity of his furniture. He resembles rather a substantial, well-fed farmer, than one who has wielded the destinies of this mighty Confederation, and been bred in the ceremony and etiquette of an European Court. In fact, he appears to possess none of that sternness of character which you would suppose to belong to one a large part of whose life has been spent in political warfare, or, at any rate, amidst scenes requiring a vast deal of nerve and inflexibility.
"Mrs. Adams is described in a word—a lady. She has all the warmth of heart and ease of manner that mark the character of the southern ladies, and from which it would be no easy matter to distinguish her.
"The ex-President was the chief talker. He spoke with infinite ease, drawing upon his vast resources with the certainty of one who has his lecture before him ready written. The whole of his conversation, which steadily he maintained for nearly four hours, was a continued stream of light. Well contented was I to be a listener. His subjects were the architecture of the middle ages; the stained glass of that period; sculpture, embracing monuments particularly. On this subject his opinion of Mrs. Nightingale's monument in Westminster Abbey, differs from all others that I have seen or heard. He places it above every other in the Abbey, and observed in relation to it, that the spectator 'saw nothing else.' Milton, Shakspeare, Shenstone, Pope, Byron, and Southey were in turn remarked upon. He gave Pope a wonderfully high character, and remarked that one of his chief beauties was the skill exhibited in varying the cesural pause—quoting from various parts of his author to illustrate his remarks more fully. He said very little on the politics of the country. He spoke at considerable length of Sheridan and Burke, both of whom he had heard, and could describe with the most graphic effect. He also spoke of Junius; and it is remarkable that he should place him so far above the best of his contemporaries. He spoke of him as a bad man; but maintained, as a writer, that he had never been equalled.
"The conversation never flagged for a moment; and on the whole, I shall remember my visit to Quincy, as amongst the most instructive and pleasant I ever passed."
As a theologian, Mr. Adams was familiar with the tenets of the various denominations which compose the great Christian family, and acquainted with the principal arguments by which they support their peculiar views. While entertaining decided opinions of his own, which he did not hesitate to avow on all proper occasions, he was tolerant of the sentiments of all who differed from him. He deemed it one of the most sacred rights of every American citizen, and of every human being, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without let or hindrance, our laws equally tolerating, and equally protecting every sect.
In the most abstruse sciences he was equally at home. His report to Congress, while Secretary of State, on Weights and Measures was very elaborate, and evinced a deep and careful research into this important but most difficult subject. That report was of the utmost value. Adopting the philosophical and unchangeable basis of the modern French system of mensuration, an arc of the meridian, it laid the foundation for the accurate manipulations and scientific calculations of the late Professor Hassler, which have furnished an unerring standard of Weights and Measures to the people of this country. In a very learned notice of "Measures, Weights, and Money," by Col. Pasley, Royal Engineer, F. R. S., published in London, in 1834, he pays the following well-merited compliment to Mr. Adams:—
"I cannot pass over the labors of former writers, without acknowledging in particular, the benefit which I have derived, whilst investigating the historical part of my subject, from a book printed at Washington, in 1821, as an official Report on Weights and Measures, made by a distinguished American statesman, Mr. John Quincy Adams, to the Senate of the United States, of which he was afterwards President. This author has thrown more light into the history of our old English weights and measures, than all former writers on the same subject. His views of historical facts, even where occasionally in opposition to the reports of our own Parliamentary Committees, appear to me to be the most correct. For my own part, I confess that I do not think I could have seen my way into the history of English weights and measures, in the feudal ages, without his guidance."
To his other accomplishments Mr. Adams added that of a poet. His pretensions in this department were humble, yet many of his productions, thrown off hastily, no doubt, during brief respites from severer labors, possess no little merit. A few specimens will not be uninteresting to the reader.
LIFE OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. 237
The following stanzas are from a hymn by Mr. Adams for the celebration of the 4th of July, 1831, at Quincy, Mass.:—
"Sing to the Lord a song of praise; Assemble, ye who love his name; Let congregated millions raise Triumphant glory's loud acclaim. From earth's remotest regions come; Come, greet your Maker, and your King; With harp, with timbrel, and with drum, His praise let hill and valley sing.
* * * * *
"Go forth in arms; Jehovah reigns; Their graves let foul oppressors find; Bind all their sceptred kings in chains; Their peers with iron fetters bind. Then to the Lord shall praise ascend; Then all mankind, with one accord, And freedom's voice, till time shall end, In pealing anthems, praise the Lord."
The lines which follow were inscribed to the sundial under the window of the hall of the House of Representatives, at Washington:—
"Thou silent herald of Time's silent flight! Say, couldst thou speak, what warning voice were thine? Shade, who canst only show how others shine! Dark, sullen witness of resplendent light In day's broad glare, and when the noontide bright Of laughing fortune sheds the ray divine, Thy ready favors cheer us—but decline The clouds of morning and the gloom of night. Yet are thy counsels faithful, just and wise; They bid seize the moments as they pass—
Snatch the retrieveless sunbeam as it flies, Nor lose one sand of life's revolving glass— Aspiring still, with energy sublime, By virtuous deeds to give eternity to Time."
It is seldom that lines more pure and beautiful can be found, than the following on the death of children:—
"Sure, to the mansions of the blest When infant innocence ascends, Some angel brighter than the rest The spotless spirit's flight attends.
"On wings of ecstacy they rise, Beyond where worlds material roll, Till some fair sister of the skies Receives the unpolluted soul.
"There at the Almighty Father's hand, Nearest the throne of living light, The choirs of infant seraphs stand, And dazzling shine, where all are bright.
"The inextinguishable beam, With dust united at our birth, Sheds a more dim, discolored gleam, The more it lingers upon earth:
"Closed is the dark abode of clay, The stream of glory faintly burns, Nor unobscured the lucid ray To its own native fount returns:
"But when the Lord of mortal breath Decrees his bounty to resume, And points the silent shaft of death, Which speeds an infant to the tomb,
"No passion fierce, no low desire, Has quenched the radiance of the flame; Back to its God the living fire Returns, unsullied, as it came."
The heart which could turn aside from the stern conflicts of the political world, and utter sentiments so chaste and tender, must have been the residence of the sweetest and noblest emotions of man.
Having taken final leave, as he believed, of the duties of public life, and retired to the beloved shades of Quincy, it was the desire and intention of Mr. Adams to devote the remainder of his days to the peaceful pursuits of literature. It had long been his purpose, whenever opportunity should offer, to write a history of the life and times of his venerated father, "the elder Adams." His heart was fixed on this design, and some introductory labors had been commenced. But an overruling Providence had a widely different work in preparation for him.
If Mr. Adams had been permitted to follow the bent of his own feelings at that time—if he had continued in the retirement he had so anxiously sought as a rest from the toils of half a century—the brightest page of his wonderful history would have remained forever unwritten. He would have been remembered as a discreet and trusty diplomatist, an able statesman, a successful politician, a capable President, and an honest and honorable man! This would, indeed, have been a measure of renown with which most men would have been content, and which few of the most fortunate sons of earth can ever attain. He was abundantly satisfied with it. He asked for nothing more—he expected nothing more this side the grave. But it was not enough! Fame was wreathing brighter garlands, a more worthy chaplet, for his brow. A higher, nobler task was before him, than any enterprize which had claimed his attention. His long and distinguished career—his varied and invaluable experience—had been but a preparation to enable him to enter upon the real work of life for which he was raised up.
The world did not yet know John Quincy Adams. Long as he had been before the public, the mass had thus far failed to read him aright. Hitherto circumstances had placed him in collision with aspiring men. He stood in their way to station and power. There was a motive to conceal his virtues and magnify his faults. He had never received from his opposers the smallest share of credit really due to him for patriotism, self-devotion, and purity of purpose. Even his most devoted friends did not fully appreciate these qualities in him. During his long public service, he had ever been an object of hatred and vituperation to a class of minds utterly incapable of estimating his talents or comprehending his high principles of action. In the heat of political struggles, no abuse, no defamation, were too great to heap upon him. Misrepresentation, duplicity, malignity, did their worst. Did he utter a patriotic sentiment, it was charged to hypocrisy and political cunning. Did he do a noble deed, worthy to be recorded in letters of gold—sacrificing party predilections and friendship to support the interest of his country, and uphold the reputation and dignity of its Government—it was attributed to a wretched pandering for the emoluments of office. Did he endeavor to exercise the powers entrusted to him as President in such a manner as to preserve peace at home and abroad, develop the internal resources of the nation, improve facilities for transportation and travel, protect and encourage the industry of the country, and in every department promote the permanent prosperity and welfare of the people—it was allowed to be nothing more than the arts of an intriguer, seeking a re-election to the Presidency. Yea, it was declared in advance, that, "if his administration should be as pure as the angels in heaven," it should be overthrown. Did he exhibit the plain simplicity of a true republican in his dress and manners, and economy in all his expenditures, it was attributed to parsimony and meanness! A majority of his countrymen had been deceived as to his principles and character, and sacrificed him politically on the altar of prejudice and party spirit.
Throughout his life he had ever been a lover of man and of human freedom—the best friend of his country—the most faithful among the defenders of its institutions—a sincere republican, and a true man. But blinded by political prejudice, a large portion of his fellow-citizens refused the boon of credit for these qualities. It remained for another stage of his life, another field of display, to correct them of this error, and to vindicate his character. It was requisite that he should step down from his high position, disrobe himself of office, power and patronage, place himself beyond the reach of the remotest suspicion of a desire for political preferment and emolument, to satisfy the world that John Quincy Adams had from the beginning, been a pure-hearted patriot, and one of the noblest sons of the American Confederacy. His new career was to furnish a luminous commentary on his past life, and to convince the most sceptical, of the justice of his claim to rank among the highest and best of American patriots. Placed beyond the reach of any gift of office from the nation, with nothing to hope for, and nothing to fear in this respect, he was to write his name in imperishable characters, so high on the tablets of his country's history and fame, as to be beyond the utmost reach of malignity or suspicion! The door which led to this closing act of his dramatic life, was soon opened.
On returning to Quincy, one of the first things which received the attention of Mr. Adams, was the discharge of a filial duty towards his deceased parents, in the erection of a monument to their memory. The elder Adams in his will, among other liberal bequests, had left a large legacy to aid in the erection of a new Unitarian church in Quincy. The edifice was completed, and ex-President J. Q. Adams caused the monument to his father and mother to be erected within the walls. It was a plain and simple design, consisting of a tablet, having recessed pilasters at the sides, with a base moulding and cornice; the whole supported by trusses at the base. The material of which it was made was Italian marble; and the whole was surmounted by a fine bust of John Adams, from the chisel of Greenough, the American artist, then at Rome. The inscription, one of the most feeling, appropriate, and classical specimens extant, was as follows:—
"LIBERTATEM AMICITTAM FIDEM RETINEBIS. D. O. M.[Footnote: Deo, Optimo, Maximo—to God, the Best and Greatest.] Beneath these Walls Are deposited the Mortal Remains of JOHN ADAMS, Son of John and Susanna (Boyalston) Adams, Second President of the United States. Born 19-30 October, 1735. On the fourth of July, 1776, He pledged his Life, Fortune, and Sacred Honor To the INDEPENDENCE OF HIS COUNTRY. On the third of September, 1783, Be affixed his Seal to the definitive Treaty with Great Britain Which acknowledged that Independence, And consummated the redemption of his pledge. On the fourth of July, 1826, He was summoned To the Independence of Immortality And to the JUDGEMENT OF HIS GOD This House will bear witness to his Piety. This Town, his Birth-place, to his Munificence: History to his Patriotism; Posterity to the Depth and Compass of his Mind. At his side Sleeps till the Trump shall sound, ABIGAIL, His beloved and only Wife, Daughter of William and Elizabeth (Quincy) Smith. In every relation of Life, a pattern Of Filial, Conjugal, Maternal, and Social Virtue. Born 11-22 November, 1744. Deceased 28 October, 1818, Aged 74. ————— Married 25 October, 1764. During a union of more than half a century, They survived, in Harmony of Sentiment, Principle and Affection, The Tempests of Civil Commotion; Meeting undaunted, and surmounting The Terrors and Trials of that Revolution Which secured the Freedom of their Country; Improved the Condition of their Times; And brightened the Prospects of Futurity To the Race of Man upon Earth. —————- PILGRIM: From lives thus spent thy earthly Duties learn; From Fancy's Dreams to active Virtue turn: Let Freedom, Friendship, Faith thy Soul engage, And serve, like them, thy Country and thy Age."
Mr. Adams had remained in the retirement of Quincy but little more than a single year, when the following paragraph appeared in the public prints throughout the country:—
"Mr. Adams, late President of the United States, is named as a candidate for Congress, from the district of Massachusetts now represented by Mr. Richardson, who declines a re-election."
It would be difficult to describe the surprise created by this announcement, in every quarter of the Union. Speculation was at fault. Would he accept or reject such a nomination? By a large class it was deemed impossible that one who had occupied positions so elevated—who had received the highest honors the nation could bestow upon him—would consent to serve the people of a single district, in a capacity so humble, comparatively, as a Representative in Congress. Such a thing was totally unheard of. The people, however, of the Plymouth congressional district in which he resided, met and duly nominated him for the proposed office. All doubts as to his acceptance of the nomination were speedily dispelled by the appearance of a letter from Mr. Adams, in the Columbian Sentinel, Oct., 15, 1830, in which he says:—
"If my fellow-citizens of the district should think proper to call for such services as it may be in my power to render them, by representing them in the twenty-second Congress, I am not aware of any bound principle which would justify me in withholding them. To the manifestations of confidence on the part of those portions of the people who, at two several meetings, have seen fit to present my name for the suffrages of the district, I am duly and deeply sensible."
In due time the election was held, and Mr. Adams was returned to Congress, by a vote nearly unanimous. From that time forward for seventeen years, and to the hour of his death, he occupied the post of Representative in Congress from the Plymouth district, in Massachusetts, with unswerving fidelity, and distinguished honor. There can be no doubt that many of the best friends of Mr. Adams seriously questioned the propriety of his appearing as a Representative in the halls of Congress. It was a step never before taken by an ex-President of the United States. They apprehended it might be derogatory to his dignity, and injurious to his reputation and fame, to enter into the strifes, and take part in the litigations and contentions which characterize the national House of Representatives. Moreover, they were fearful that in measuring himself, as he necessarily must, in the decline of life, with younger men in the prime of their days, who were urged by the promptings of ambition to tax every capacity of their nature, he might injure his well-earned reputation for strength of intellect, eloquence and statesmanship. But these misgivings were groundless. In the House of Representatives, as in all places where Mr. Adams was associated with others, he arose immediately to the head of his compeers. So far from suffering in his reputation, it was immeasurably advanced during his long congressional career. New powers were developed—new traits of character were manifested—new and repeated instances of devotion to principle and the rights of man were made known—which added a brighter lustre to his already widely-extended fame. He exhibited a fund of knowledge so vast and profound—a familiarity so perfect with nearly every topic which claimed the attention of Congress—he could bring forth from his well-replenished storehouse of memory so vast an array of facts, shedding light upon subjects deeply obscured to others—displayed such readiness and power in debate, pouring out streams of purest eloquence, or launching forth the most scathing denunciations when he deemed them called for—that his most bitter opposers, while trembling before his sarcasm, and dreading his assaults, could not but grant him the meed of their highest admiration. Well did he deserve the title conferred upon him by general consent, of "the Old Man Eloquent!"
Had Mr. Adams followed the bent of his own inclinations—had he consulted simply his personal ease and comfort—he would probably never have appeared again in public life. Having received the highest distinctions his country could bestow upon him, blessed with an ample fortune, and possessing all the elements of domestic comfort, he would have passed the evening of his earthly sojourn in peaceful tranquillity, at the mansion of his fathers in Quincy. But it was one of the sacred rules in this distinguished statesman's life, to yield implicit obedience to the demands of duty. His immediate neighbors and fellow-citizens called him to their service in the national councils. He was conscious of the possession of talents, knowledge, experience, and all the qualifications which would enable him to become highly useful, not only in acting as the representative of his direct constituents, but in promoting the welfare of our common country. This conviction once becoming fixed in his mind, decided his course. He felt he had no choice left but to comply unhesitatingly with the demand which had been made upon his patriotism. In adopting this resolution—in consenting, after having been once at the head of the National Government, to assume again the labors of public life in a subordinate station, wholly divested of power and patronage, urged by no influence but the claims of duty, governed by no motive but a simple desire to serve his country and promote the well-being of his fellow-man—Mr. Adams presented a spectacle of moral sublimity unequalled in the annals of nations!
For many years Mr. Adams was a member, and one of the Vice Presidents, of the American Bible Society. In reply to an invitation to attend its anniversary in 1830, he wrote the following letter:—
"Sir:—Your letter of the 22d of March was duly received; and while regretting my inability to attend personally at the celebration of the anniversary of the institution, on the 13th of next month, I pray you, sir, to be assured of the gratification which I have experienced in learning the success which has attended the benevolent exertions of the American Bible Society.
"In the decease of Judge Washington, they have lost an able and valuable associate, whose direct co-operation, not less than his laborious and exemplary life, contributed to promote the cause of the Redeemer. Yet not for him, nor for themselves by the loss of him, are they called to sorrow as without hope; for lives like his shine but as purer and brighter lights in the world, after the lamp which fed them is extinct, than before.
"The distribution of Bibles, if the simplest, is not the least efficacious of the means of extending the blessings of the Gospel to the remotest corners of the earth; for the Comforter is in the sacred volume: and among the receivers of that million of copies distributed by the Society, who shall number the multitudes awakened thereby, with good will to man in their hearts, and with the song of the Lamb upon their lips"
"The hope of a Christian is inseparable from his faith. Whoever believes in the divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures, must hope that the religion of Jesus shall prevail throughout the earth. Never since the foundation of the world have the prospects of mankind been more encouraging to that hope than they appear to be at the present time. And may the associated distribution of the Bible proceed and prosper, till the Lord shall have made 'bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.'
"With many respects to the Board of Managers, please to accept the good wishes of your friend and fellow-citizen, "JOHN QUINCY ADAMS."
On the 4th of July, 1831, at half past three o'clock in the afternoon, the venerable JAMES MONROE, fifth President of the United States, departed life, aged 73 years. He died at the residence of his son-in-law, Samuel L. Gouverneur Esq., in the city of New York. His decease had been for some days expected; but life lingered until the anniversary of his country's independence, when his spirit took its departure to a better world. Throughout the United States, honors were paid to his memory by hoisting of flags at half mast, the tolling of bells, firing of minute guns, the passing of resolutions, and delivery of eulogies. He was, emphatically, a great and good man, respected and beloved by the people of all parties, without exception. There are few instances in the history of the world, of more remarkable coincidences than the death of three Presidents of the United States, who took most prominent parts in proclaiming and achieving the independence of our country, on the anniversary of the day when the declaration of that independence was made to the world. The noise of the firing of cannon, in celebrating the day, caused the eyes of the dying Monroe to open inquiringly. When the occasion of these rejoicings was communicated to him, a look of intelligence indicated that he understood the character of the day.
At this anniversary of our National Independence, Mr. Adams delivered an oration before the citizens of Quincy. It was an able and eloquent production. The following were the concluding paragraphs. In reference to nullification, which was threatened by some of the Southern States, he said:—
"The event of a conflict in arms, between the Union and one of its members, whether terminating in victory or defeat, would be but an alternative of calamity to all. In the holy records of antiquity, we have two examples of a confederation ruptured by the severance of its members, one of which resulted, after three desperate battles, in the extermination of the seceding tribe. And the victorious people, instead of exulting in shouts of triumph, came to the house of God, and abode there till even, before God; and lifted up their voices, and wept sore, and said,—O Lord God of Israel why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel? The other was a successful example of resistance against tyrannical taxation, and severed forever the confederacy, the fragments forming separate kingdoms; and from that day their history presents an unbroken series of disastrous' alliances, and exterminating wars—of assassinations, conspiracies, revolts, and rebellions, until both parts of the confederacy sunk into tributary servitude to the nations around them; till the countrymen of David and Solomon hung their harps upon the willows of Babylon, and were totally lost amidst the multitudes of the Chaldean and Assyrian monarchies, 'the most despised portion of their slaves.'
"In these mournful memorials of their fate, we may behold the sure, too sure prognostication of our own, from the hour when force shall be substituted for deliberation, in the settlement of our constitutional questions. This is the deplorable alternative—the extirpation of the seceding member, or the never-ceasing struggle of two rival confederacies, ultimately bending the neck of both under the yoke of foreign domination, or the despotic sovereignty of a conqueror at home. May heaven avert the omen! The destinies, not only of our posterity, but of the human race, are at stake.
"Let no such melancholy forebodings intrude upon the festivities of this anniversary. Serene skies and balmy breezes are not congenial to the climate of freedom. Progressive improvement in the condition of man, is apparently the purpose of a superintending Providence. That purpose will not be disappointed. In no delusion of national vanity, but with a feeling of profound gratitude to the God of our fathers, let us indulge in the cheering hope and belief, that our country and her people have been selected as instruments for preparing and maturing much of the good yet in reserve for the welfare and happiness of the human race. Much good has already been effected by the solemn proclamation of our principles—much more by the illustration of our example. The tempest which threatens desolation may be destined only to purify the atmosphere. It is not in tranquil ease and enjoyment that the active energies of mankind are displayed. Toils and dangers are trials of the soul. Doomed to the first by his sentence at the fall, man by submission converts them into pleasures. The last are, since the fall, the conditions of his existence. To see them in advance, to guard against them by all the suggestions of prudence, to meet them with the composure of unyielding resistance, and to abide with firm resignation the final dispensation of Him who rules the ball—these are the dictates of philosophy—these are the precepts of religion—these are the principles and consolations of patriotism:—these remain when all is lost—and of these is composed the spirit of independence—the spirit embodied in that beautiful personification of the poet, which may each of you, my countrymen, to the last hour of his life, apply to himself,—
'Thy spirit, Independence, let me share, Lord of the lion heart, and eagle eye! Thy steps I follow, with my bosom bare, Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky.'
"In the course of nature, the voice which now addresses you must soon cease to be heard upon earth. Life and all which it inherits lose their value as it draws towards its close. But for most of you, my friends and neighbors, long and many years of futurity are yet in store. May they be years of freedom—years of prosperity—years of happiness, ripening for immortality! But, were the breath which now gives utterance to my feelings the last vital air I should draw, my expiring words to you and your children should be, Independence and Union forever!"
A few weeks subsequent to the death of ex-President Monroe, Mr. Adams delivered an interesting and able eulogy on his life and character, before the public authorities of the city of Boston, in Faneuil Hall. In drawing to a conclusion, he used the following language:—
"Our country, by the bountiful dispensations of a gracious Heaven, is, and for a series of years has been, blessed with profound peace. But when the first father of our race had exhibited before him, by the archangel sent to announce his doom, and to console him in his fall, the fortunes and misfortunes of his descendants, he saw that the deepest of their miseries would befall them while favored with all the blessings of peace; and in the bitterness of his anguish he exclaimed:—
'Now I see Peace to corrupt, no less than war to waste.'
"It is the very fervor of the noonday sun, in the cloudless atmosphere, of a summer sky, which breeds
'the sweeping whirlwind's sway, That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evening prey.'
"You have insured the gallant ship which ploughs the waves, freighted with your lives and your children's fortunes, from the fury of the tempest above, and from the treachery of the wave beneath. Beware of the danger against which you can alone insure your-selves—the latent defect of the gallant ship itself. Pass but a few short days, and forty years will have elapsed since the voice of him who addresses you, speaking to your fathers from this hallowed spot, gave for you, in the face of Heaven, the solemn pledge, that if, in the course of your career on earth, emergencies should arise, calling for the exercise of those energies and virtues which, in times of tranquillity and peace remain by the will of Heaven dormant in the human bosom, you would prove yourselves not unworthy the sires who had toiled, and fought, and bled, for the independence of the country. Nor has that pledge been unredeemed. You have maintained through times of trial and danger the inheritance of freedom, of union, of independence bequeathed you by your forefathers. It remains for you only to transmit the same peerless legacy, unimpaired, to your children of the next succeeding age. To this end, let us join in humble supplication to the Founder of empires and the Creator of all worlds, that he would continue to your posterity the smiles which his favor has bestowed upon you; and, since 'it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,' that he would enlighten and lead the advancing generation in the way they should go. That in all the perils, and all the mischances which may threaten or befall our United Republic, in after times, he would raise up from among your sons deliverers to enlighten her councils, to defend her freedom, and if need be, to lead her armies to victory. And should the gloom of the year of independence ever again overspread the sky, or the metropolis of your empire be once more destined to smart under the scourge of an invader's hand,[Footnote: Alluding to the burning of the city of Washington in the war of 1812.] that there never may be found wanting among the children of your country, a warrior to bleed, a statesman to counsel, a chief to direct and govern, inspired with all the virtues, and endowed with all the faculties which have been so signally displayed in the life of JAMES MONROE."
MR. ADAMS TAKES HIS SEAT IN CONGRESS—HIS POSITION AND HABITS AS A MEMBER—HIS INDEPENDENCE OF PARTY—HIS EULOGY ON THE DEATH OF EX-PRESIDENT JAMES MADISON—HIS ADVOCACY OF THE RIGHT OF PETITION, AND OPPOSITION TO SLAVERY—INSURRECTION IN TEXAS—MR. ADAMS MAKES KNOWN ITS ULTERIOR OBJECT.
Mr. Adams took his seat in the House of Representatives without ostentation, in December, 1831. His appearance there produced a profound sensation. It was the first time an ex-President had ever entered that hall in the capacity of a member. He was received with the highest marks of respect. It presented a singular spectacle to behold members of Congress who, when Mr. Adams was President, had charged him with every species of political corruption, and loaded his name with the most opprobrious epithets, now vieing with one another in bestowing upon him the highest marks of respect and confidence. That which they denied the President, they freely yielded to the MAN. It was the true homage which virtue and patriotism must ever receive—more honorable, and far more grateful to its object, than all the servility and flattery which power and patronage can so easily purchase.
The degree of confidence reposed in Mr. Adams was manifested by his being placed at once at the head of the Committee on Manufactures. This is always a responsible station; but it was peculiarly so at that time. The whole Union was highly agitated on the subject of the tariff. The friends of domestic manufactures at the North insisted upon high protective duties, to sustain the mechanical and manufacturing interests of the country against a ruinous foreign competition. The Southern States resisted these measures as destructive to their interests, and remonstrated with the utmost vehemence against them—in which they were joined by a large portion of the Democratic party throughout the North. Mr. Adams, with enlarged views of national unity and general prosperity, counselled moderation to both parties. As Chairman of the Committee on Manufactures, he strove to produce such a compromise between the conflicting interests, as should yield each section a fair protection, and restore harmony and fraternity among the people.
So important were Mr. Adams' services deemed in the Committee on Manufactures, that, on proposing to resign his post as Chairman, to fulfil other duties which claimed his attention, he was besought by all parties to relinquish his purpose. Mr. Cambreleng, of N. Y., a political opponent of Mr. Adams, said, "It was not a pleasant duty to oppose the request of any member of the House, particularly one of his character. He did so with infinite regret in the present instance; and he certainly would not take such a course, but for the important consequences that might result from assenting to the wishes of the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts. He had reached the conclusion, not without infinite pain and reluctance, that the harmony, if not the existence of our Confederacy, depends, at this crisis, upon the arduous, prompt, and patriotic efforts of a few eminent men. He believed that much might be done by the gentleman from Massachusetts."
In the same tone of high compliment, Mr. Barbour, of Virginia, said, "that to refuse anything that could be asked by the gentleman from Massachusetts gave him pain, great pain. He said it was with unaffected sincerity he declared, that the member from Massachusetts (with whom he was associated in the committee) had not only fulfilled all his duties with eminent ability, in the committee, but in a spirit and temper that commanded his grateful acknowledgments, and excited his highest admiration. Were it permitted him to make a personal appeal to the gentleman, he would have done so in advance of this motion. He would have appealed to him as a patriot, as a statesman, as a philanthropist, and above all as an American, feeling the full force of all his duties, and touched by all their incentives to lofty action—to forbear this request."
These complimentary appeals were well deserved by Mr. Adams, and show most emphatically the high position he occupied in the esteem and confidence of the entire House of Representatives, on becoming a member thereof. But, with the modesty of true greatness, it was painful to him to hear these encomiums uttered in his own presence. He arose, and begged the House, in whatever further action it might take upon the subject, to refrain from pursuing this strain. "I have been most deeply affected," he said, "by what has already passed. I have felt, in the strongest manner, the impropriety of my being in the House while such remarks were made; being very conscious that sentiments of an opposite kind might have been uttered with far more propriety, and have probably been withheld in consequence of my presence."
Mr. Adams carried with him into Congress all his previous habits of industry and close application to business. He was emphatically a hard worker. Few men spent more hours in the twenty-four in assiduous labor. He would take no active part in any matter—would engage in the discussion of no topic—and would not commit himself on any question—until he had sounded it to its nether depths, and explored all its ramifications, all its bearings and influences, and had thoroughly become master of the subject. To gain this information no toil was too great, no application too severe. It was in this manner that he was enabled to overwhelm with surprise his cotemporaries in Congress, by the profundity of his knowledge. No subject could be started, no question discussed, on which he was not perfectly at home. Without hesitation or mistake, he could pour forth a stream of facts, dates, names, places, accompanied with narrations, anecdotes, reflections and arguments, until the matter was thoroughly sifted and laid bare in all its parts and properties, to the understanding of the most casual observer. The tenacity and correctness of his memory was proverbial. Alas, for the man who questioned the correctness of his statements, his facts, or dates. Sure discomfiture awaited him. His mind was a perfect calendar, a store-house, a mine of knowledge, in relation to all past events connected with the history of his country and his age.
In connection with his other exemplary virtues, Mr. Adams was prompt, faithful, unwearied, in the discharge of all his public duties. The oldest member of the House, he was at the same time the most punctual—the first at his post; the last to retire from the labors of the day. His practice in these respects could well put younger members to the blush. While many others might be negligent in their attendance, sauntering in idleness, engaged in frivolous amusements, or even in dissipation, he was always at his post. No call of the House was necessary—no Sergeant-at-arms need be despatched—to bring him within the Hall of Representatives. He was the last to move an adjournment, or to adopt any device to consume time or neglect the public business for personal convenience or gratification. In every respect he was a model legislator. His example can be most profitably imitated by those who would arise to eminence in the councils of the nation.
"My seat was, for two years, by his side, and it would have scarcely more surprised me to miss one of the marble columns of the Hall from its pedestal than to see his chair empty. * * * I shall, perhaps, be pardoned for introducing here a slight personal recollection, which serves, in some degree, to illustrate his habits. The sessions of the last two days of (I think) the twenty-third Congress, were prolonged, the one for nineteen, and the other for seventeen hours. At the close of the last day's session, he remained in the hall of the House the last seated member of the body. One after another, the members had gone home; many of them for hours. The hall—brilliantly lighted up, and gaily attended, as was, and perhaps is still, the custom at the beginning the last evening of a session—had become cold, dark, and cheerless. Of the members who remained, to prevent the public business from dying for want of a quorum, most but himself were sinking from exhaustion, although they had probably taken their meals at the usual hours, in the course of the day. After the adjournment, I went up to Mr. Adams' seat, to join company with him, homeward; and as I knew he came to the House at eight o'clock in the morning, and it was then past midnight, I expressed a hope that he had taken some refreshment in the course of the day, He said he had not left his seat; but holding up a bit of hard bread in his fingers, gave me to understand in what way he had sustained nature." [Footnote: Edward Everett.]
The following reminiscence will further illustrate Mr. Adams' habits of industry and endurance at a later day, as well as show his views in regard to the famous "Expunging Resolution."
"On a cold and dreary morning, in the month of January, 1837, I went to the capitol of the United States, at a very early hour, to write out a very long speech I had reported for an honorable gentleman, who wished to look well in print; and on entering the hall of the House of Representatives, I found Mr. Adams, as early as the hour was, in his seat, busily engaged in writing. He and myself were the only persons present; even the industrious Mr. Follansbee, the then doorkeeper, had not made his appearance, with his assistants and pages, to distribute copies of the journal and the usual documents.
"As I made it a rule never to speak to Mr. Adams, unless he spoke first, I said nothing; but took my seat in the reporters' gallery, and went to work. I had written about half an hour, when the venerable statesman appeared at my desk, and was pleased to say that I was a very industrious man. I thanked him for the compliment, and, in return, remarked, that, as industrious as I might be, I could not keep pace with him, 'for,' said I, 'I found you here, sir, when I came in.'
"'I believe I was a little early, sir,' he replied; 'but, as there is to be a closing debate to-day, in the Senate, on the expunging resolution, which I feel inclined to hear, I thought I would come down at an unusual hour, this morning, and dispatch a little writing before the Senate was called to order.'
"'Do you think the expunging resolution will be disposed of today?' I inquired.
"'I understand it will,' he rejoined. 'I hope so, at least,' he added, 'for I think the country has already become weary of it, and is impatient for a decision. It has already absorbed more time than should have been devoted to it.'
"'It will pass, I suppose, sir?'
"'Oh, certainly; and by a very decided majority. The administration is too strong for the opposition; and the affair will call up a strict party vote. Of course Mr. Clay's resolution will be expunged, and the journal will not be violated.'
"I was somewhat surprised at the remark, and, in return, observed that I had always understood that it was on the constitutional ground, that the expunging process could not be effected without destroying the journal, that the opponents of the measure had based themselves.
"'It is true, sir, that that has been the grave and somewhat tenable argument in the Senate; but it is a fallacy, after all,' he replied. 'The constitution, sir, it is true, renders it imperative on both Houses to keep a correct journal of its proceedings; and all this can be done, and any portion of it may be expunged, without violating that instrument. For instance, sir, a resolution is adopted to-day, is entered on the journal, and to-morrow is expunged—and still the journal remains correct, and the constitution is not violated. For the act by which the expungation is effected is recorded on the journal; the expunged resolution becomes a matter of record, and thus everything stands fair and correct. The constitution is a sacred document, and should not be violated; but how often is it strictly adhered to, to the very letter? There are, sir, some men in the world who make great parade about their devotion to the "dear constitution,"—men, sir, who make its sacred character a hobby, and who, nevertheless, are perfectly reckless of its violation, if the ends of party are to be accomplished by its abjuration.'
"There was a degree of sarcasm blended with his enunciation of the 'dear constitution,' which induced me to think it possible that he intended some personal allusion when he repeated the words. In this I might, and might not, have erred.
"'In what way, Mr. Adams,' I inquired, 'is this expunging process to be accomplished? Is the objectionable resolution to be erased from the journal with a pen; or is the leaf that contains it to be cut out?'
"'Neither process is to be resorted to, as I understand it,' he replied. 'The resolution will remain in the book; black lines will be drawn around it, and across it from right angles, and the word "expunged," will be written on the face of it. It will, to all intents and purposes, still stand on the face of the book. There are precedents in parliamentary journalism for the guidance of the Senate, and I suppose they will be adopted.'
"He then proceeded to give me a very graphic and interesting description of an expunging process that took place in the British Parliament in the reign of James the First, of England, which would repeat, if time and space allowed. He detained me a long time, in narrating precedents, and commenting on them; and then abruptly bringing the subject to a close, left me to pursue my labors.
"Soon after the House had been called to order, immediately after the chaplain had said his prayers—for that was a ceremonial that Mr. Adams always observed—I saw him leave his seat, and proceed, as I supposed, to the Senate chamber. After an hour or two had elapsed, I went into the Senate, and there found him, standing outside of the bar, listening, with all imaginable attention, to Mr. Felix Grundy, who was delivering himself of some brief remarks he had to utter on the subject.
"At nine o'clock in the evening, as I fumbled my way through the badly-lighted rotunda, having just escaped from a caucus that had been holding 'a secret session,' in the room of the committee on public lands, I descried a light issuing from the vestibule of the Senate chamber, which apprized me that 'the most dignified body on earth' was still in session. Impelled by a natural curiosity, I proceeded towards the council chamber of the right reverend signors; and, just as I reached the door, Mr. Adams stepped out. I inquired if the resolution had been disposed of.
"'No, sir,' he replied; 'nor is it probable that it will be to-night! A Senator from North Carolina is yet on the floor; and, as it does not appear likely that he will yield it very soon, and as I am somewhat faint and weary, I think I shall go home.'
"The night was very stormy. Snow was falling fast; the moon, which had
'—not yet fill'd her horns,'
had receded beneath the western horizon; and, as the capitol was but sadly lighted, I offered my services to the venerable sage of Quincy, and at the same time asked leave to conduct him to his dwelling.
"'Sir,' said he, 'I am indebted to you for your proffered kindness; but I need not the service of anyone. I am somewhat advanced in life, but not yet, by the blessing of God, infirm; or what Doctor Johnson would call "superfluous;" and you may recollect what old Adam says in the play of "As you like it:"
"For in my youth I never did apply Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood.'"
"For the first time in my life, I found Mr. Adams a little inclined to be facetious; and I was glad of it—for it was to me a kind of assurance that my presence was not absolutely unwelcome.
"The salutation being over, and Mr. Adams having consented that I should see him down the steps of the capitol, I proceeded onward, and soon found myself, with my revered convoy, in the vicinity of the western gate of the capitol grounds 'The wind whistled a dismal tale,' as we trudged onward, looking in vain for a cab; and the snow and sleet, which, early in the day, had mantled the earth, was now some twelve inches deep on Pennsylvania avenue. I insisted on going onward; but Mr. Adams objected, and bidding me good night somewhat unceremoniously, told me, almost in as many words, that my farther attendance was unwelcome.
"As I left him, he drew his 'Boston wrapper' still closer around him, hitched up his mittens, and with elastic step breasted a wintry storm that might have repelled even the more elastic movement of juvenility, and wended up the avenue. Although I cannot irreverently say that he
'Whistled as he went, for want of thought,'
I fancy that his mind was so deeply imbued with the contemplation of affairs of state, and especially in contemplating the expunging resolution, that he arrived at his home long before he was aware that he had threaded the distance between the capitol and the Presidential square." [Footnote: Reminiscences of the late John Quincy Adams, by an Old Colony Man.—New York Atlas.]
Although elected to the House of Representatives as a Whig, and usually acting with that party, yet Mr. Adams would never acknowledge that fealty to party could justify a departure from the conscientious discharge of duty. He went with his party as far as he believed his party was right and its proceedings calculated to promote the welfare of the country. But no party claims, no smiles nor frowns, could induce him to sanction any measure which he believed prejudicial to the interest of the people. Hence, during his congressional career, the Whigs occasionally found him a decided opposer of their policy and measures, on questions where he deemed they had mistaken the true course. In this he was but true to his principles, character, and whole past history. It was not that he loved his political party or friends less, but that he loved what he viewed as conducive to the welfare of the nation, more.
The same principle of action governed him in reference to his political opponents. In general he threw his influence against the administration of Gen. Jackson, under a sincere conviction that its policy was injurious to the welfare of our common country. But to every measure which he could sanction, he did not hesitate to yield the support of all his energies.
An instance of this description occurred in relation to the treaty of indemnity with France. For nearly forty years, negotiations had been pending in vain with the French Government, to procure an indemnity for spoliations of American commerce, during the French Revolution and Republic. On the 4th of July, 1831, Mr. Rives, the American Minister to France, succeeded in concluding a treaty with that country, securing to American merchants an indemnity of five millions of dollars. But although the treaty was duly ratified by both Governments, the French Chamber of Deputies obstinately refused, for several years, to vote an appropriation of money to fulfil its stipulations. In 1835, Gen. Jackson determined on strong measures to bring the French Government to the discharge of its obligations. He accordingly sent a message to Congress, recommending, in the event of further delay on the part of France, that letters of marque and reprisal be issued against the commerce of France, and at the same time instructed Mr. Edward Livingston, our Minister at that day at the Court of St. Cloud, to demand his passports, and retire to London. In all these steps, which resulted in bringing France to a speedy fulfillment of the treaty, Mr. Adams yielded his unreserved support to the administration. He believed Gen. Jackson, in resorting to compulsory measures, was pursuing a course called for alike by the honor and the interest of the country, and he did not hesitate to give him a cordial support, notwithstanding he was a political opponent. In a speech made by Mr. Adams on the subject, in the House of Representatives, he said:—
"Sir, if we do not unite with the President of the United States in an effort to compel the French Chamber of Deputies to carry out the provisions of this treaty, we shall become the scorn, the contempt, the derision and the reproach of all mankind! Sir, this treaty has been ratified on both sides of the ocean; it has received the sign manual of the sovereign of France, through His Imperial Majesty's principal Minister of State; it has been ratified by the Senate of this Republic; it has been sanctioned by Almighty God; and still we are told, in a voice potential, in the other wing of this capitol, that the arrogance of France,—nay, sir, not of France, but of her Chamber of Deputies—the insolence of the French Chambers, must be submitted to, and we must come down to the lower degradation of re-opening negotiations to attain that which has already been acknowledged to be our due! Sir, is this a specimen of your boasted chivalry? Is this an evidence of the existence of that heroic valor which has so often led our arms on to glory and immortality? Re-open negotiation, sir, with France? Do it, and soon you will find your flag insulted, dishonored, and trodden in the dust by the pigmy States of Asia and Africa—by the very banditti of the earth. Sir, the only negotiations, says the President of the United States, that he would encounter, should be at the cannon's mouth!"
The effect produced by this speech was tremendous on all sides; and, for a while, the House was lost in the excitement it afforded. The venerable orator took his seat; and, as he sank into it, the very walls shook with the thundering applause he had awakened.
On the 28th of June, 1836, the venerable ex-President JAMES MADISON, departed life at Montpelier, Va., in the eighty-sixth year of his age. He had filled a prominent place in the history of our Government, from its first organization. As a statesman, he was unsurpassed in critical acumen, in profundity of knowledge, in an understanding of constitutional Government, and its adaptation to the rights and interests of the people. His writings are an invaluable legacy to his countrymen, and will be studied and quoted for ages to come. "His public acts were a noble commentary upon his political principles—his private life an illustration of the purest virtues of the heart."
When a message from the President, announcing the death of Mr. Madison, was received in the House of Representatives, Mr. Adams arose and said:—
"By the general sense of the House, it is with perfect propriety that the delegation from the commonwealth of Virginia have taken the lead in the melancholy duty of proposing the measures suitable to be adopted as testimonials of the veneration due, from the Legislature of the Union, to the memory of the departed patriot and sage, the native of their soil, and the citizen of their community.
"It is not without some hesitation, and some diffidence, that I have risen to offer in my own behalf, and in that of my colleagues upon this floor, and of our common constituents, to join our voice, at once of mourning and exultation, at the event announced to both Houses of Congress, by the message from the President of the United States—of mourning at the bereavement which has befallen our common country, by the decease of one of her most illustrious sons—of exultation at the spectacle afforded to the observation of the civilized world, and for the emulation of after times, by the close of a life of usefulness and of glory, after forty years of service in trusts of the highest dignity and splendor that a confiding country could bestow, succeeded by twenty years of retirement and private life, not inferior, in the estimation of the virtuous and the wise, to the honors of the highest station that ambition can ever attain.
"Of the public life of James Madison what could I say that is not deeply impressed upon the memory and upon the heart of every one within the sound of my voice? Of his private life, what but must meet an echoing shout of applause from every voice within this hall? Is it not in a pre-eminent degree by emanation from his mind, that we are assembled here as the representatives of the people and the States of this Union? Is it not transcendently by his exertions that we all address each other here by the endearing appellation of countrymen and fellow-citizens? Of that band of benefactors of the human race, the founders of the Constitution of the United States, James Madison is the last who has gone to his reward. Their glorious work has survived them all. They have transmitted the precious bond of union to us, now entirely a succeeding generation to them. May it never cease to be a voice of admonition to us, of our duty to transmit the inheritance unimpaired to our children of the rising age.
"Of the personal relations of this great man, which gave rise to the long career of public service in which twenty years of my own life has been engaged, it becomes me not to speak. The fulness of the heart must be silent, even to the suppression of the overflowings of gratitude and affection." To the year 1835, the career of Mr. Adams in Congress had been marked by no signal display of characteristics peculiar to himself, other than such as the world had long been familiar with in his previous history. He had succeeded in maintaining his reputation for patriotism, devotion to principle, political sagacity and wisdom, and his fame as a public debater and eloquent speaker. But no new development of qualities unrecognized before had been made. From that year forward, however, he placed himself in a new attitude before the country, and entered upon a career which eclipsed all his former services, and added a lustre to his fame which will glow in unrivalled splendor as long as human freedom is prized on earth. It can hardly be necessary to state that allusion is here made to his advocacy of the Right of Petition, and his determined hostility to slavery. At an age when most men would leave the stormy field of public life, and retire to the quiet seclusion of domestic comfort, these great topics inspirited Mr. Adams with a renewed vigor. With all the ardor and zeal of youth, he placed himself in the front rank of the battle which ensued, plunged into the very midst of the melee, and, with a dauntless courage, that won the plaudits of the world, held aloft the banner of freedom in the Halls of Congress, when other hearts quailed and fell back! He led "the forlorn hope" to the assault of the bulwarks of slavery, when the most sanguine believed his almost superhuman labors would be all in vain. In these contests a spirit blazed out from his noble soul which electrified the nation with admiration. In his intrepid bearing amid these scenes he fully personified the couplet quoted in one of his orations:—
"Thy spirit, Independence, let me share, Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye! Thy steps I follow, with my bosom bare, Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky."
The first act in the career of Mr. Adams as a Member of Congress, was in relation to slavery. On the 12th of December, 1831, it being the second week of the first session of the twenty-second Congress, he presented fifteen petitions, all numerously signed, from sundry inhabitants of Pennsylvania, praying for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia. In presenting these petitions, Mr. Adams remarked, that although the petitioners were not of his immediate constituents, yet he did not deem himself at liberty to decline presenting their petitions, the transmission of which to him manifested a confidence in him for which he was bound to be grateful. From a letter which had accompanied the petitions, he inferred that they came from members of the Society of Friends or Quakers; a body of men, he declared, than whom there was no more respectable and worthy class of citizens—none who more strictly made their lives a commentary on their professions; a body of men comprising, in his firm opinion, as much of human virtue, and as little of human infirmity, as any other equal number of men, of any denomination, upon the face of the globe.
The petitions for the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, Mr. Adams considered relating to a proper subject for the legislation of Congress. But he did not give his countenance to those which prayed for the abolition of slavery in that District. Not that he would approbate the system of slavery; for he was, and in fact had been through life, its most determined foe. But he believed the time had not then arrived for the discussion of that subject in Congress. It was his settled conviction that a premature agitation of slavery in the national councils would greatly retard, rather than facilitate, the abolition of that giant evil—"as the most salutary medicines," he declared in illustration, "unduly administered, were the most deadly of poisons."
The position taken by Mr. Adams, in presenting these petitions, was evidently misunderstood by many, and especially by Abolitionists. They construed it into a disposition on his part to sanction, or at least to succumb unresistingly, to the inhumanity and enormity of the slave institution. In this conclusion they signally erred. Mr. Adams, by birth, education, all the associations of his life, and the fixed principles of his moral and political character, was an opposer of slavery in every form. No man felt more keenly the wretched absurdity of professing to base our Government on the "self-evident truth, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"—of proclaiming our Union the abode of liberty, the "home of the free," the asylum of the oppressed—while holding in our midst millions of fellow-beings manacled in hopeless bondage! No man was more anxious to correct this disgraceful misnomer, and wipe away its dark stain from our national escutcheon at the earliest practicable moment. But he was a statesman of profound knowledge and far-reaching sagacity. He possessed the rare quality of being able to "bide his time" in all enterprizes. Great as he felt the enormity of American slavery to be, he would not, in seeking to remove it, select a time so unseasonable, and adopt measures so unwise, as would result, Samson-like, in removing the pillars of our great political fabric, and crushing the glorious Union, formed by the wisdom and cemented by the blood of our Revolutionary Fathers, into a mass of ruins.
Believing there was a time to withhold and a time to strike, he would patiently wait until the sentiment of the American people became sufficiently ripened, under the increasing light and liberality of the age, to permit slavery to be lawfully and peaceably removed, while the Union should remain unweakened and untouched—the pride of our hearts, the admiration of the world. Hence, in his early career, he saw no propitious moment for such a work. While discharging the duties of U. S. Senator, Secretary of State, and President, an attempt in that direction would have resulted in an aggravation of the evils of slavery, and a strengthening of the institution. Nor on first entering Congress did he conceive the time to be fully come to engage in that agitation of the momentous subject, which, when once commenced in earnest, would never cease until either slavery would be abolished, as far as Congress possessed constitutional power, or the Union become rent in twain! But he evidently saw that time was at hand—even at the door—and he prepared himself for the contest.
In 1835, the people of Texas took up arms in open rebellion against the Government of Mexico. That Province had been settled chiefly by emigrants from the Southern and Southwestern States. Many of them had taken their slaves with them. But the Mexican Government, to their enduring honor be it said, abolished slavery throughout that Republic. The ostensible object of the Texian insurrection was to resist certain schemes of usurpation alleged against Santa Anna, at that time President of Mexico. At the present day, however, after having witnessed the entire progress and consummation of the scheme, it is abundantly evident, that from the beginning there was a deliberate and well-digested plan to re-establish slavery in Texas—annex that province to the United States—and thus immensely increase the slave territory and influence in the Union.
At the first blast of the Texian bugle, thousands of volunteers from the slaveholding States rushed to the standard of "the lone star." Agents were sent to the United States to create an interest in behalf of Texas—the most inflammatory appeals were made to the people of the Union—and armed bodies of American citizens were openly formed in the South, and transported without concealment to the seat of the insurrection. President Jackson reminded the inhabitants of the United States of their obligations to observe neutrality in the contest between Mexico and its rebellious province. At the same time, Gen. Gaines, with a body of U. S. troops, was ordered to take up a position within the borders of Texas. The avowed object of this movement was to protect the people of the Southwestern frontiers from the incursions of Indian tribes in the employment of Mexico. But the presence of such a body of troops could not but exert an influence favorable to the measures and objects of Texas; and besides, it afterwards appeared the Indians had no disposition to take sides with Mexico, or to make any depredations on the territories of the United States. A call was made on Congress for an appropriation of a million of dollars to carry on these military operations, the entire tendency of which was to encourage Texas in its attempt to throw off the Mexican allegiance and re-establish slavery.
The source from whence the authorities of Texas were confidently looking for assistance, and the ulterior object at which they were aiming in their insurrection—viz.: annexation to the United States, and thus adding territory and strength to the institution of slavery,—are clearly revealed in the following extracts from a letter addressed by Gen. Houston, commander of the Texian forces, to Gen. Dunlap, of Nashville, Tenn:—
"Near Sabine, July, 2, 1836. "To GEN. DUNLAP: SIR:—Your favor of the 1st of June reached me last evening. I regret so much delay will necessarily result before you can reach us. We will need your aid, and that speedily. The enemy, in large numbers, are reported to be in Texas. * * * * * The army with which they first entered Texas is broken up and dispersed by desertion and other causes. If they get another army of the extent proposed, it must be composed of new recruits, and men pressed into service. They will not possess the mechanical efficiency of discipline which gives the Mexican troops the only advantage they have. They will easily be routed by a very inferior force. For a portion of that force, we shall be obliged to look to the United States! It cannot reach us too soon. There is but one feeling in Texas, in my opinion, and that is, to establish the independence of Texas, and TO BE ATTACHED TO THE UNITED STATES! * * * * * March as speedily as possible, with all the aid you can bring, and I doubt not but you will be gratified with your reception and situation."
The whole plan succeeded beyond the anticipation of its most sanguine projectors. Aided by men and means from the United States, Texas established its independence—organized a government—incorporated slavery into its constitution so thoroughly as to guard against the remotest attempt ever to remove it—and by a process unsurpassed in the annals of political intrigue, in due time became annexed to the North American Union. In this accession of a territory from which several large States will eventually be carved out, the slave power of the United States obtained a signal advantage, of which it will not be backward to avail itself in the time of its need. A faithful history of this entire movement is yet to be written.
Mr. Adams, with his well-known and long-tried sagacity, saw at a glance the whole design of the originators of the Texas insurrection. While most people were averse to the belief that a project was seriously on foot to sever a large and free province from the Mexican Republic and annex it to the Union as slave territory, he read the design in legible characters from the beginning. In a speech made in the House of Representatives, in May, 1836, in reference to the call for a million of dollars, for purposes already stated, Mr. Adams unriddled the Texian project with the vision of a prophet.
"Have we not seen American citizens," said Mr. Adams, "going from all parts of the country to carry on the war of this province against the united Government of Mexico? Who were those who fell at Alamo? Who are now fighting under the command of the hero [Footnote: General Houston.] of Texian fame? And have we not been called upon in this House, to recognize Texian independence? It seems that Gen. Gaines considers this a war in defence of 'our Texians.'"