Mr. Cambreleng explained that the word "neighbors," had been accidentally omitted in Gen. Gaines' dispatch.
Mr. Adams continued:—"Was this an intention to conquer Texas, to re-establish that slavery which had been abolished by the United Mexican States? If that was the case, and we were to be drawn into an acknowledgment of their independence, and then, by that preliminary act, by that acknowledgment, if we were upon their application to admit Texas to become a part of the United States, then the House ought to be informed of it. I shall be for no such war, nor for making any such addition to our territory. * * * * * * I hope Congress will take care to go into no war for the re-establishment of slavery where it has been abolished—that they will go into no war in behalf of 'our Texians,' or 'our Texian neighbors' and that they will go into no war with a foreign power, without other cause than the acquisition of territory."
In a speech delivered a few days subsequent to the above, Mr. Adams used the following language:—
"It is said that one of the earliest acts of this administration was a proposal, made at a time when there was already much ill-humor in Mexico against the United States, that she should cede to the United States a very large portion of her territory—large enough to constitute nine States equal in extent to Kentucky. It must be confessed that a device better calculated to produce jealousy, suspicion, ill-will and hatred, could not have been contrived. It is further affirmed that this overture, offensive in itself, was made precisely at the time when a swarm of colonists from these United States, were covering the Mexican border with land-jobbing, and with slaves, introduced in defiance of Mexican laws, by which slavery had been abolished throughout the Republic. The war now raging in Texas is a Mexican civil war, and a war for the reestablishment of slavery where it was abolished. It is not a servile war, but a war between slavery and emancipation, and every possible effort has been made to drive us into the war on the side of slavery."
"When, in the year 1836, resolutions to recognize the independence of Texas came up in the House of Representatives, Mr. Adams opposed them with great energy and eloquence, and provoked a most ardent and violent debate. Mr. Waddy Thompson, then a Representative in Congress, and subsequently Minister to Mexico, advocated the passage of the resolutions; and, in doing so, said that Mr. Adams, in negotiating the Florida treaty, actually ceded to Mexico the whole of Texas, a province that was part and parcel of this Union.
"Mr. Adams immediately arrested the speech of Mr. Thompson, and denied the impeachment. Mr. Thompson rejoined, and, to strengthen his position, quoted some remarks Gen. Jackson had made on the subject, confirmatory of the charge of having sacrificed the national domain, in the Florida negotiation.
"Mr. Adams replied with great warmth; and went into a minute and interesting narrative of the whole transaction. Among other things, he said that, before the Florida treaty was signed, he took it to Gen. Jackson, to obtain his opinion of it; and that it was unconditionally approved by him.
"Mr. Thompson was surprised at the announcement of this fact. It weakened his position very materially; and he resumed his seat a defeated antagonist. So said the House of Representatives, with scarcely the exception of a member.
"Mr. Adams continued his defence. 'At that time,' said he, 'General Jackson was in this city, on exciting business connected with the Seminole war; and, after the treaty had been concluded, and only wanted the signatures of the contracting parties, the then President of the United States directed me to call on General Jackson, in my official capacity as Secretary of State, and obtain his opinion in reference to boundaries. I did call. General Jackson, sir, was at that time holding his quarters in the hotel at the other end of the avenue, now kept by Mr. Azariah Fuller, but then under the management of Jonathan McCarty. The day was exceedingly warm, and, on entering General Jackson's parlor, I found him much exhausted by excitement, and the intensity of the weather. I made known to him the object of my visit; when he replied that I would greatly oblige him if I would excuse him from looking into the matter then. "Leave the papers with me, sir, till to-morrow, or the next day, and I will examine them." I did leave them sir; and the next day called for the hero's opinion and decision. Sir, I recollect the occurrence perfectly well; General Jackson was still unwell; and the papers, with an accompanying map, were spread before him. With his cane, sir, he pointed to the boundaries, as they had been agreed upon by the parties; and, sir, with a very emphatic expression, which I need not repeat, he affirmed them.'
"This debate, whilst yet warm from the hands of the reporters, reached General Jackson; and was at once pressed upon his attention. Its contradiction and refutation were deemed matters of paramount importance. The old soldier did not hesitate long to act in the matter, and speedily there appeared in the Globe newspaper a letter, signed Andrew Jackson, denying, in unqualified and unconditional terms, everything that Mr. Adams had uttered. He denied having been in Washington at the time Mr. Adams designated; but afterwards, being convinced that he was in error, in this fact only he corrected himself, but denied most positively that he had seen the Florida treaty, or Mr. Adams, at the time of its negotiation, or that he had had the remotest agency or connection with the transaction.
"Mr. Adams responded, and appealed to his diary, where everything was set forth with the utmost precision and accuracy. The year, day of the month, and of the week, and the very hour of the day, all were faithfully recorded.
"The affair produced much sensation at Washington; and even the most determined advocates of General Jackson believed that he, and not Mr. Adams, was in error, No one would, or could for a moment, believe that Mr. Adams' had made a false report.'
"Whilst this controversy was pending, I called at the Presidential mansion, one afternoon, when General Jackson, strange to say, happened to be alone. He said that he was very glad to see me, because he would like to hear, from one who had an opportunity of seeing more of the press than he saw, what was the exact state of public opinion, in regard to the controversy.
"'As far as I am capable of judging, Mr. President,' I replied, 'the people appear to be unanimous in the opinion that there is a misunderstanding, a misapprehension, between you and Mr. Adams; for no one imagines, for a moment, that either of you would misrepresent facts! Mr. Adams is a man of infinite method; he is generally accurate, and, in this instance, it appears that he is sustained by his diary.'
"'His diary! don't tell' me anything more about his diary! Sir, that diary comes up on all occasions—one would think that its pages were as immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians! Sir, that diary will be the death of me! I wonder if James Monroe kept a diary! If he did, it is to be hoped that it will be looked to, to see if it contains anything about this Adams and Dan Onis treaty. Sir, I did not see it; I was not consulted about it.'
"The old hero was exceedingly vehement, and was proceeding to descant with especial violence, when he was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Secretary Woodbury, and I never heard another word about the matter. A question of veracity between the parties was raised, and was never adjudicated. Both went down to the grave before any definite light was cast on the subject; but the world had decided that General Jackson was in error." [Footnote: Reminiscences of the late John Quincy Adams, by an Old Colony Man.]
MR. ADAMS PRESENTS PETITIONS FOR THE ABOLISHMENT OF SLAVERY—OPPOSITION OF SOUTHERN MEMBERS—EXCITING SCENES IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES— MARKS OF CONFIDENCE IN MR. ADAMS.
In the meantime, during the years 1836 and 1837, the public mind in the Northern States, became fully aroused to the enormities of American slavery—its encroachments on the rights and interests of the free States—the undue influence it was exercising in our national councils—and the evident determination to enlarge its borders and its evils, by the addition of new and large territories. Petitions for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia and the Territories, began to pour into Congress, from every section of the East and North. These were generally presented by Mr. Adams. His age and experience—his well-known influence in the House of Representatives—his patriotism, and his intrepid advocacy of human freedom—inspired the confidence of the people of the free States, and led them to entrust to him their petitions. With scrupulous fidelity he performed the duty thus imposed upon him. Whoever petitions might come from—whatever the nature of their prayer—whether for such objects as he could sanction or not—if they were clothed in respectful language, Mr. Adams felt himself under an imperative obligation to present them to Congress. For several sessions at this period, few days passed without his presenting more or less petitions having some relation to the subject of slavery.
The southern members of Congress became alarmed at these demonstrations, and determined to arrest them, even at the sacrifice, if need be, of the right of petition—the most sacred privilege of freemen. On the 8th of Feb., 1836, a committee was raised by the House of Representatives, to take into consideration what disposition should be made of petitions and memorials for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, in the District of Columbia, and report thereon. This committee consisted of Messrs. Pinckney of South Carolina, Hamer of Ohio, Pierce of New Hampshire, Hardin of Kentucky, Jarvis of Maine, Owens of Georgia, Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, Dromgoole of Virginia, and Turrill of New York. On the 18th of May, the committee made a lengthy and unanimous report, through Mr. Pinckney, recommending the adoption of the following resolutions:—
"Resolved, That Congress possesses no constitutional authority to interfere in any way with the institution of slavery in any of the States of this Confederacy.
"Resolved, That Congress ought not to interfere in any way with slavery in the District of Columbia.
"And whereas, It is extremely important and desirable that the agitation of this subject should be finally arrested, for the purpose of restoring tranquillity to the public mind, your committee respectfully recommend the adoption of the following additional resolution, viz.:—
"Resolved, That all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions or papers, relating in any way, or to any extent whatever, to the subject of slavery, or the abolition of slavery, shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid upon the table, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon."
When the first of these resolutions was taken up, Mr. Adams said, if the House would allow him five minutes' time, he would prove the resolution to be untrue. His request was denied.
On the third resolution Mr. Adams refused to vote, and sent to the Speaker's chair the following declaration, demanding that it should be placed on the journal of the House, there to stand to the latest posterity:—
"I hold the resolution to be a direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the rules of this House, and of the rights of my constituents."
Notwithstanding the rule embodied in this resolution virtually trampled the right of petition into the dust, yet it was adopted by the House, by a large majority. But Mr. Adams was not to be deterred by this arbitrary restriction, from a faithful discharge of his duty as a representative of the people. Petitions on the subject of slavery continued to be transmitted to him in increased numbers. With unwavering firmness—against a bitter and unscrupulous opposition, exasperated to the highest pitch by his pertinacity—amidst a perfect tempest of vituperation and abuse—he persevered in presenting these petitions, one by one, to the amount sometimes of two hundred in a day—demanding the action of the House on each separate petition.
His position amid these scenes was in the highest degree illustrious and sublime. An old man, with the weight of years upon him, forgetful of the elevated stations he had occupied, and the distinguished honors received for past services, turning away from the repose which age so greatly needs, and laboring, amidst scorn and derision, and threats of expulsion and assassination, to maintain the sacred right of petition for the poorest and humblest in the land—insisting that the voice of a free people should be heard by their representatives, when they would speak in condemnation of human slavery and call upon them to maintain the principles of liberty embodied in the immortal Declaration of Independence—was a spectacle unwitnessed before in the history of legislation. A few specimens of these transactions will enable the reader to judge of the trials Mr. Adams was compelled to endure in the discharge of his duties, and also of his moral courage and indomitable perseverance, amid the most appalling circumstances.
On the 6th of Jan., 1837, Mr. Adams presented the petition of one hundred and fifty women, whom he stated to be the wives and daughters of his immediate constituents, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and moved that the petition be read.
Mr. Glascock objected to its reception.
Mr. Parks moved that the preliminary motion, on the reception of the petition, be laid on the table, which was carried.
Mr. Adams said, that if he had understood the decision of the Speaker in this case, it was not the petition itself which was laid upon the table, but the motion to receive. In order to save the time of the House, he wished to give notice that he should call up that motion, for decision, every day, so long as he should be permitted to do so by the House; because he should not consider his duty accomplished so long as the petition was not received, and so long as the House had not decided that it would not receive it.
Mr. Pinckney rose to a question of order, and inquired if there was now any question pending before the House?
The Speaker said, he had understood the gentleman from Massachusetts as merely giving notice of a motion hereafter to be made. In doing so, it certainly was not in order to enter into debate.
Mr. Adams said, that so long as freedom of speech was allowed to him as a member of that House, he would call up that question until it should be decided.
Mr. Adams was called to order.
Mr. A. said, he would then have the honor of presenting to the House the petition of two hundred and twenty-eight women, the wives and daughters of his immediate constituents; and as a part of the speech which he intended to make, he would take the liberty of reading the petition. It was not long, and would not consume much time.
Mr. Glascock objected to the reception of the petition.
Mr. Adams proceeded to read, that the petitioners, inhabitants of South Weymouth, in the State of Massachusetts, "impressed with the sinfulness of slavery, and keenly aggrieved by its existence in a part of our country over which Congress—"
Mr. Pinckney rose to a question of order. Had the gentleman from Massachusetts a right, under the rule, to read the petition?
The Speaker said, the gentleman from Massachusetts had a right to make a statement of the contents of the petition.
Mr. Pinckney desired the decision of the Speaker as to whether a gentleman had a right to read a petition.
Mr. Adams said he was reading the petition as a part of his speech, and he took this to be one of the privileges of a member of the House. It was a privilege he would exercise till he should be deprived of it by some positive act.
The Speaker repeated that the gentleman from Massachusetts had a right to make a brief statement of the contents of the petition. It was not for the Speaker to decide whether that brief statement should be made in the gentleman's own language, or whether he should look over the petition, and take his statement from that.
Mr. Adams.—At the time my friend from South Carolina—
The Speaker said the gentleman must proceed to state the contents of the petition.
Mr. Adams.-I am doing so, sir.
The Speaker.—Not in the opinion of the chair.
Mr. Adams.—I was at this point of the petition—"Keenly aggrieved by its existence in a part of our country over which Congress possesses exclusive jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever—"
Loud cries of "Order," "Order!"
Mr. Adams.-"Do most earnestly petition your honorable body—"
Mr. Chambers of Kentucky rose to a point of order.
Mr. Adams.—"Immediately to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia—"
Mr. Chambers reiterated his call to order, and the Speaker directed Mr. Adams to take his seat.
Mr. Adams proceeded with great rapidity of enunciation, and in a very loud tone of voice—"And to declare every human being free who sets foot upon its soil!"
The confusion in the hall at this time was very great. The Speaker decided that it was not in order for a member to read a petition, whether it was long or short.
Mr. Adams appealed from any decision which went to establish the principle that a member of the House should not have the power to read what he chose. He had never before heard of such a thing. If this practice was to be reversed, let the decision stand upon record, and let it appear how entirely the freedom of speech was suppressed in this House. If the reading of a paper was to be suppressed in his person, so help him God, he would only consent to it as a matter of record.
Mr. Adams finished the petition. The petitioners "respectfully announce their intention to present the same petition yearly before this honorable body, that it might at least be a memorial in the holy cause of human freedom that they had done what they could."
These words were read amidst tumultuous cries for "order," from every part of the House. The petition was finally received, and laid upon the table.
Other scenes of a still more exciting character soon occurred.
On the 7th of February, 1837, after Mr. Adams had offered some two hundred or more abolition petitions, he came to a halt; and, without yielding the floor, employed himself in packing up his budget. He was about resuming his seat, when he took up a paper, and hastily glancing at it, exclaimed, in a shrill tone—
"Mr. Speaker, I have in my possession a petition of a somewhat extraordinary character; and I wish to inquire of the chair if it be in order to present it."
"If the gentleman from Massachusetts," said the Speaker, "will inform the chair what the character of the petition is, it will probably be able to decide on the subject."
"Sir," ejaculated Mr. Adams, "the petition is signed by eleven slaves of the town of Fredericksburgh, in the county of Culpepper, in the state of Virginia. It is one of those petitions which, it has occurred to my mind, are not what they purport to be. It is signed partly by persons who cannot write, by making their marks, and partly by persons whose handwriting would manifest that they have received the education of slaves. The petition declares itself to be from slaves, and I am requested to present it. I will send it to the chair."
The Speaker (Mr. Polk,) who habitually extended to Mr. Adams every courtesy and kindness imaginable, was taken by surprise, and found himself involved in a dilemma. Giving his chair one of those hitches which ever denoted his excitement, he said that a petition from slaves was a novelty, and involved a question that he did not feel called upon to decide. He would like to take time to consider it; and, in the meantime, would refer it to the House.
The House was very thin at the time, and little attention was paid to what was going on, till the excitement of the Speaker attracted the attention of Mr. Dixon H. Lewis, of Alabama, who impatiently, and under great excitement, rose and inquired what the petition was.
Mr. Speaker afforded the required information. Mr. Lewis, forgetting all discretion, whilst he frothed at the mouth, turned towards Mr. Adams, and ejaculated at the top of his voice, "By G-d, sir, this is not to be endured any longer!"
"Treason! treason!" screamed a half dozen other members. "Expel the old scoundrel; put him out; do not let him disgrace the House any longer!"
"Get up a resolution to meet the case," exclaimed a member from North Carolina.
Mr. George C. Dromgoole, who had acquired a very favorable reputation as a parliamentarian, was selected as the very man who, of all others, was most capable of drawing up a resolution that would meet and cover the emergency. He produced a resolution with a preamble, in which it was stated, substantially, that, whereas the Hon. John Quincy Adams, a representative from Massachusetts, had presented to the House of Representatives a petition signed by negro slaves, thus "giving color to an idea" that bondmen were capable of exercising the right of petition, it was "Resolved, That he be taken to the bar of the House, and be censured by the Speaker thereof."
Mr. Haynes said, the true motion, in his judgment, would be to move that the petition be rejected.
Mr. Lewis hoped that no motion of that kind would come from any gentleman from a slaveholding section of the country.
Mr. Haynes said he would cheerfully withdraw his motion.
Mr. Lewis was glad the motion was withdrawn. He believed that the House should punish severely such an infraction of its decorum and its rules; and he called on the members from the slaveholding States to come forward now and demand of the House the punishment of the gentleman from Massachusetts.
Mr. Grantland, of Georgia, would second the motion, and go all lengths in support of it.
Mr. Lewis said, that if the House would inflict no punishment for such flagrant violations of its dignity as this, it would be better for the Representatives from the slaveholding Slates to go home at once.
Mr. Alford said, if the gentleman from Massachusetts intended to present this petition, the moment it was presented he should move, as an act of justice to the South, which he in part represented, and which he conceived had been treated with indignity, that it be taken from the House and burnt; and he hoped that every man who was a friend to the constitution, would support him. There must be an end to this constant attempt to raise excitement, or the Union could not exist much longer. The moment any man should disgrace the Government under which he lived, by presenting a petition from slaves, praying for emancipation, he hoped that petition would, by order of the House, be committed to the flames.
Mr. Waddy Thompson moved the following resolution:—
"Resolved, That the Hon. John Quincy Adams, by the attempt just made by him to introduce a petition purporting on its face to be from slaves, has been guilty of a gross disrespect to this House, and that he be instantly brought to the bar, to receive the severe censure of the Speaker."
The idea of bringing the venerable ex-President to the bar, like a culprit, to receive a reprimand from a comparatively youthful Speaker, would be a spectacle so disgraceful, and withal so absurd, that the proposition met with no favor. An easier way to reprimand was devised. Mr. Haynes introduced the following resolution:—
"Resolved, That John Quincy Adams, a Representative from the State of Massachusetts, has rendered himself justly liable to the severest censure of this House, and is censured accordingly, for having attempted to present to the House the petition of slaves."
Several other resolutions and propositions, from members of slaveholding States, were submitted to the House; but none proved satisfactory even to themselves. Mr. Adams, unmoved by the tempest which raged around him, defended himself, and the integrity of his purpose, with the distinguished ability and eloquence which characterized all his public labors.
"In regard to the resolutions now before the House," said he, "as they all concur in naming me, and in charging me with high crimes and misdemeanors, and in calling me to the bar of the House to answer for my crimes, I have thought it was my duty to remain silent, until it should be the pleasure of the House to act either on one or the other of these resolutions. I suppose that if I shall be brought to the bar of the House, I shall not be struck mute by the previous question, before I have an opportunity to say a word or two in my own defence. * * * * * *
"Now, as to the fact what the petition was for, I simply state to the gentleman from Alabama, (Mr. D. H. Lewis,) who has sent to the table a resolution assuming that this petition was for the abolition of slavery—I state to him that he is mistaken. He must amend his resolution; for if the House should choose to read this petition, I can state to them they would find it something very much the reverse of that which the resolution states it to be. And if the gentleman from Alabama still chooses to bring me to the bar of the House, he must amend his resolution in a very important particular; for he may probably have to put into it, that my crime has been for attempting to introduce the petition of slaves that slavery should not be abolished. * * * * * *
"Sir, it is well known, that from the time I entered this House, down to the present day, I have felt it a sacred duty to present any petition, couched in respectful language, from any citizen of the United States, be its object what it may; be the prayer of it that in which I could concur, or that to which I was utterly opposed. It is for the sacred right of petition that I have adopted this course. * * * * * * * * Where is your law which says that the mean, and the low, and the degraded, shall be deprived of the right of petition, if their moral character is not good? Where, in the land of freemen, was the right of petition ever placed on the exclusive basis of morality and virtue? Petition is supplication—it is entreaty—it is prayer! And where is the degree of vice or immorality which shall deprive the citizen of the right to supplicate for a boon, or to pray for mercy? Where is such a law to be found? It does not belong to the most abject despotism! There is no absolute monarch on earth, who is not compelled, by the constitution of his country, to receive the petitions of his people, whosoever they may be. The Sultan of Constantinople cannot walk the streets and refuse to receive petitions from the meanest and vilest of the land. This is the law even of despotism. And what does your law say? Does it say that, before presenting a petition, you shall look into it, and see whether it comes from the virtuous, and the great, and the mighty? No sir; it says no such thing. The right of petition belongs to all. And so far from refusing to present a petition because it might come from those low in the estimation of the world, it would be an additional incentive, if such incentive were wanting.
"But I must admit," continued Mr. Adams, sarcastically, "that when color comes into the question, there may be other considerations. It is possible that this house, which seems to consider it so great a crime to attempt to offer a petition from slaves, may, for aught I know, say that freemen, if not of the carnation, shall be deprived of the right of petition, in the sense of the House."
When southern members saw that, in their haste, they had not tarried to ascertain the nature of the petition, and that it prayed for the perpetuation, instead of the abolition of slavery, their position became so ludicrous, that their exasperation was greatly increased. At the time the petition was announced by Mr. Adams, the House was very thin; but the excitement it produced soon filled it; and, besides, the sergeant-at-arms had been instructed to arrest and bring in all absentees. The excitement commenced at about one o'clock, and continued until seven o'clock in the evening, when the House adjourned. Mr. Adams stood at his desk, resolutely refusing to be seated till the matter was disposed of, alleging that if he were guilty, he was not entitled to a seat among high and honorable men. When Mr. Droomgoole's resolution was read to the House for its consideration, Mr. Adams yielded to it one of those sarcastic sneers which he was in the habit of giving, when provoked to satire; and said—"Mr. Speaker, if I understand the resolution of the honorable gentleman from Virginia, it charges me with being guilty of giving color to an idea!'" The whole House broke forth in one common irrepressible peal of laughter. The Droomgoole resolution was actually laughed out of existence. The House now found that it had got itself in a dilemma,—that Mr. Adams was too much for it; and, at last, adjourned, leaving the affair in the position in which they found it.
For several days this subject continued to agitate the House. Mr. Adams not only warded off the virulent attacks made upon him, but carried the war so effectually into the camp of his enemies, that, becoming heartily tired of the contest, they repeatedly endeavored to get rid of the whole subject by laying it on the table. To this Mr. Adams objected. He insisted that it should be thoroughly canvassed. Immense excitement ensued. Call after call of the House was made. Mr. Henry A. Wise, who was, at the time, engaged on the Reuben Whitney affair, was sent for: with an accompanying message that the stability of the Union was in danger!
Breathless, and impatient, Mr. Wise made his appearance, and inquired what was the matter. He was informed.
"And is that all?" ejaculated Mr. Wise. "The gentleman from Massachusetts has presented a petition signed by slaves! Well, sir, and what of that? Is anybody harmed by it? Sir, in my opinion, slaves are the very persons who should petition. Mine, sir, pray to me, and I listen to them; and shall not the feeble supplicate? Sir, I see no danger,—the country, I believe, is safe."
At length the exciting subject was brought to a termination, by the passage of the following preamble and resolutions; much softened, it will be seen, in comparison with the measures first proposed:—
"An inquiry having been made by an honorable gentleman from Massachusetts, whether a paper which he held in his hand, purporting to be a petition from certain slaves, and declaring themselves to be slaves, came within the order of the House of the 18th of January,[Footnote: This order was the same as that adopted by the House on the 18th of May, 1836. See p. 281.] and the said paper not having been received by the Speaker, he stated that in a case so extraordinary and novel, he would take the advice and counsel of the House.
"Resolved, That this House cannot receive said petition without disregarding its own dignity, the rights of a large class of citizens of the South and West, and the Constitution of the United States.
"Resolved, That slaves do not possess the right of petition secured to the citizens of the United States by the constitution."
The slave petition is believed to have been a counterfeit, manufactured by certain members from slaveholding States, and was sent to Mr. Adams by the way of experiment—with the double design of ascertaining if he could be imposed upon; and, if the deception succeeded, those who got it up were curious to know if the venerable statesman would redeem his pledge, and present a petition, no matter who it came from. He was too wily not to detect the plot at the outset; he knew that all was a hoax; but, he resolved to present the paper, and then turn the tables on its authors. [Footnote: Reminiscences of the late John Quincy Adams, by an Old Colony Man.]
On the 20th of December, 1838, Mr. Adams presented a petition praying for the establishment of international relations with the Republic of Hayti, and moved that it be referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, with instructions to consider and report thereon. This motion was opposed with great warmth by members from slaveholding States. Mr. Adams was repeatedly interrupted during the delivery of the brief speech he made on the occasion.
Mr. Bynum insisted that the gentleman from Massachusetts should take his seat, under the rule. If, however, he was permitted to proceed, Mr. B. hoped some gentleman of the slaveholding portion of the House would be allowed to answer him.
Mr. Adams.—Sir, I hope so. Only open our mouths, gentlemen; that is all we ask, and you may answer as much as you please.
Mr. Bynum.—I object to the gentleman proceeding further with his observations, except by consent of the House. If we have rules we had better either obey them or burn them.
The House voted, by 114 to 47, to allow Mr. Adams to proceed.
In continuing his speech, Mr. Adams said, that even admitting the object of the petitioners is abolition, as has been alleged, they had the right to petition for that too; for every individual in the country had a right to be an abolitionist. The great men of the Revolution were abolitionists, and if any man denies it, I will prove it.
Mr. Wise.—I deny it.
The Speaker said this was out of order.
Mr. Adams.—I feel obliged to the gentleman from Virginia for giving me the invitation, and I will now prove what I say.
The Speaker said this did not form any part of the question before the House.
Mr. Adams.—George Washington, in articulo mortis, by his last will and testament, before God, his Creator, emancipated his slaves.
Mr. Wise.—Because he had no children.
The Speaker again interposed, and said the gentleman could not go into that question. It was entirely out of order.
Mr. Adams.—I did but accept the invitation of the gentleman from Virginia. I do not wish to go further. I simply take the position that George Washington was an abolitionist in the most extensive sense of the term; and I defy any man in this House to the discussion, and to prove to the contrary if he can.
The Speaker called Mr. Adams to order.
Mr. Adams.—Well, sir, I was stating the high authority which is to be found for the principles of abolition. Does the gentleman from Virginia deny that Thomas Jefferson was an abolitionist?
Mr. Wise.—I do.
The Speaker again interposed.
Mr. Adams.—Well, sir, then I come back to my position, that every man in this country has a right to be an abolitionist, and that in being so he offends no law, but, in my opinion, obeys the most sacred of all laws.
The motion to instruct the committee, was finally laid upon the table.
Mr. Adams was evidently anxious to engage in a legitimate discussion, in the House of Representatives, of the subject of slavery in all its bearings, influences, and results. Such a discussion, coolly and deliberately entered upon, by men of the most distinguished abilities in the nation, could not but have been pregnant with lasting good, not only to the North, but also to the South and the entire country. To afford opportunity for a dignified and profitable investigation of this momentous topic, Mr. Adams, on the 25th of Feb., 1839, proposed the following amendments to the Constitution of the United States:—
"Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring therein, That the following amendments to the Constitution of the United States be proposed to the several States of the Union, which, when ratified by three-fourths of the legislatures of said States, shall become and be a part of the Constitution of the United States:—
"1. From and after the 4th day of July, 1842, there shall be throughout the United States no hereditary slavery; but on and after that day, every child born within the United States, their territories or jurisdiction, shall be born free.
"2. With the exception of the territory of Florida, there shall henceforth never be admitted into this Union, any State, the constitution of which shall tolerate within the same the existence of slavery.
"3. From and after the 4th day of July, 1845, there shall be neither slavery nor slave trade, at the seat of Government of the United States."
Instead of meeting and canvassing, in a manly and honorable manner, the vitally important question involved in these propositions, the slaveholding Representatives objected to its coming before the House for consideration, in any form whatever. In this instance, as in most others, where the merits of slavery are involved, the supporters of that institution manifested a timidity, a want of confidence in its legitimacy, of the most suspicious nature. If slavery is lawful and defensible—if it violates no true principle among men, no human right bestowed by the Creator—if it can be tolerated and perpetuated in harmony with republican institutions and our Declaration of Independence—if its existence in the bosom of the Confederacy involves no incongruity, and is calculated to promote the prosperity and stability of the Union, or the welfare of the slaveholding States themselves—these are facts which can be made evident to the world, by the unsurpassed abilities of southern statesmen. Why, then, object to a candid and fearless investigation of the subject? But if slavery is the reverse of all this—if it is a moral poison, contaminating and blighting everything connected with it, and containing the seeds of its own dissolution sooner or later—why should wise, sagacious politicians, prudent and honest men, and conscientious Christians, shut their eyes and turn away from a fact so appalling and so dangerous. No man of intelligence can hope, in this age of the world, to perpetuate that which is wrong and destructive, by bravado and threatening—by refusing to look it in the face, or to allow others to scrutinize it. Error must pass away. Truth, however unpalatable, or however it may be obscured for a season, must eventually triumph. The very exertions of its supporters to perpetuate wrong, will but hasten its death.
"Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again; Th' eternal years of God are hers: But Error, wounded, writhes with pain, And dies among her worshippers."
Notwithstanding the course Mr. Adams felt himself compelled to pursue led him frequently into collision with a large portion of the Members of the House of Representatives, and caused them sometimes, in the heat of excitement, to forget the deference due his age, his experience, and commanding abilities, yet there was ever a deep, under-current feeling of veneration for him, pervading all hearts. Those who were excited to the highest pitch of frenzy by his proceedings, could not but admire the singleness of his purpose, and his undaunted courage in discharging his duties. On all subjects aside from slavery, his influence in the House has never been surpassed. Whenever he arose to speak, it was a signal for a general abandonment of listlessness and inattention. Members dropped their newspapers and pamphlets—knots of consulting politicians in different parts of the Hall were dissolved—Representatives came hastily in from lobbies, committee-rooms, the surrounding grounds—and all eagerly clustered around his chair to listen to words of wisdom, patriotism, and truth, as they dropped burning from the lips of "the old man eloquent!" The confidence placed in him in emergencies, was unbounded. A case in point is afforded in the history of the difficulty occasioned by the double delegation from New Jersey.
On the opening of the 26th Congress, in December, 1839, in consequence of a two-fold delegation from New-Jersey, the House was unable, for some time, to complete its organization, and presented to the country and the world the perilous and discreditable aspect of the assembled Representatives of the people, unable to form themselves into a constitutional body. On first assembling, the House has no officers, and the Clerk of the preceding Congress acts, by usage, as chairman of the body, till a Speaker is chosen. On this occasion, after reaching the State of New Jersey, the acting Clerk declined to proceed in calling the roll, and refused to entertain any of the motions which were made for the purpose of extricating the House from its embarrassment. Many of the ablest and most judicious members had addressed the House in vain, and there was nothing but confusion and disorder in prospect.
The fourth day opened, and still confusion was triumphant. But the hour of disenthrallment was at hand, and a scene was presented which sent the mind back to those days when Cromwell uttered the exclamation—"Sir Harry Vane! wo unto you, Sir Harry Vane!"—and in an instant dispersed the famous Rump Parliament.
Mr. Adams, from the opening of this scene of confusion and anarchy, had maintained a profound silence. He appeared to be engaged most of the time in writing. To a common observer, he seemed to be reckless of everything around him—but nothing, not the slightest incident, escaped him. The fourth day of the struggle had now commenced; Mr. Hugh H. Garland, the Clerk, was directed to call the roll again.
He commenced with Maine, as was usual in those days, and was proceeding toward Massachusetts. I turned, and saw that Mr. Adams was ready to get the floor at the earliest moment possible. His keen eye was riveted on the Clerk; his hands clasped the front edge of his desk, where he always placed them to assist him in rising. He looked, in the language of Otway, like the
"—fowler, eager for his prey."
"New Jersey!" ejaculated Mr. Hugh H. Garland, "and the Clerk has to repeat that—"
Mr. Adams sprang to the floor!
"I rise to interrupt the Clerk," was his first ejaculation.
"Silence, silence," resounded through the hall; "hear him, hear him! Here what he has to say; hear John Quincy Adams!" was the unanimous ejaculation on all sides.
In an instant, the most profound silence reigned throughout the Hall—you might have heard a leaf of paper fall in any part of it—and every eye was riveted on the venerable Nestor of Massachusetts—the purest of statesmen, and the noblest of men! He paused for a moment; and, having given Mr. Garland a
he proceeded to address the multitude:
"It was not my intention," said he, "to take any part in these extraordinary proceedings. I had hoped that this House would succeed in organizing itself; that a Speaker and Clerk would be elected, and that the ordinary business of legislation would be progressed in. This is not the time, or place, to discuss the merits of the conflicting claimants for seats from New Jersey; that subject belongs to the House of Representatives, which, by the constitution, is made the ultimate arbiter of the qualifications of its members. But what a spectacle we here present! We degrade and disgrace ourselves; we degrade and disgrace our constituents and the country. We do not, and cannot organize; and why? Because the Clerk of this House, the mere Clerk, whom we create, whom we employ, and whose existence depends upon our will, usurps the throne, and sets us, the Representatives, the vicegerents of the whole American people, at defiance, and holds us in contempt! And what is this Clerk of yours? Is he to control the destinies of sixteen millions of freemen? Is he to suspend, by his mere negative, the functions of Government, and put an end to this Congress? He refuses to call the roll! It is in your power to compel him to call it, if he will not do it voluntarily. [Here he was interrupted by a member, who said that he was authorized to say that compulsion could not reach the Clerk, who had avowed that he would resign, rather than call the State of New Jersey.] Well, sir, then let him resign," continued Mr. Adams, "and we may possibly discover some way by which we can get along, without the aid of his all-powerful talent, learning and genius. If we cannot organize in any other way—if this Clerk of yours will not consent to our discharging the trusts confided to us by our constituents, then let us imitate the example of the Virginia House of Burgesses, which, when the colonial Governor Dinwiddie ordered it to disperse, refused to obey the imperious and insulting mandate, and, like men—"
The multitude could not contain or repress their enthusiasm any longer, but saluted the eloquent and indignant speaker, and intercepted him with loud and deafening cheers, which seemed to shake the capitol to its centre. The very Genii of applause and enthusiasm seemed to float in the atmosphere of the Hall, and every heart expanded with an indescribable feeling of pride and exultation. The turmoil, the darkness, the very "chaos of anarchy," which had, for three successive days, pervaded the American Congress, was dispelled by the magic, the talismanic eloquence of a single man; and, once more the wheels of Government and of Legislation were put in motion.[Footnote: Reminiscences—by an Old Colony Man.]
Having, by this powerful appeal, brought the yet unorganized assembly to a perception of its hazardous position, he submitted a motion requiring the acting Clerk to proceed in calling the roll. This and similar motions had already been made by other members. The difficulty was, that the acting Clerk declined to entertain them. Accordingly, Mr. Adams was immediately interrupted by a burst of voices demanding, "How shall the question be put?" "Who will put the question?" The voice of Mr. Adams was heard above the tumult, "I intend to put the question myself!" That word brought order out of chaos. There was the master mind.
As soon as the multitude had recovered itself, and the excitement of irrepressible enthusiasm had abated, Mr. Richard Barnwell Rhett, of South Carolina, leaped upon one of the desks, waved his hand, and exclaimed:
"I move that the Honorable John Quincy Adams take the chair of the Speaker of this House, and officiate as presiding officer, till the House be organized by the election of its constitutional officers! As many as are agreed to this will say ay; those—"
He had not an opportunity to complete the sentence—"those who are not agreed, will say no,"—for one universal, deafening, thundering ay, responded to the nomination.
Hereupon, it was moved and ordered that Lewis Williams, of North Carolina, and Richard Barnwell Rhett, conduct John Quincy Adams to the chair.
Well did Mr. Wise, of Virginia, say, "Sir, I regard it as the proudest hour of your life; and if, when you shall be gathered to your fathers, I were asked to select the words which, in my judgment, are best calculated to give at once the character of the man, I would inscribe upon your tomb this sentence, 'I will put the question myself.'" [Footnote: In a public address, Mr. Adams once quoted the well known words of Tacitus, Annal. vi. 39—"Par negotiis neque supra"—applying them to a distinguished man, lately deceased. A lady wrote to inquire whence they came. Mr. Adams informed her, and added, that they could not be adequately translated in less than seven words in English. The lady replied that they might be well translated in five—Equal to, not above, duty—but better in three—JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.—Massachusetts Quarterly Review.]
MR. ADAMS' FIRMNESS IN DISCHARGE OF DUTY—HIS EXERTIONS IN BEHALF OF THE AMISTAD SLAVES—HIS CONNEXION WITH THE SMITHSONIAN BEQUEST—TOUR THROUGH CANADA AND NEW YORK—HIS RECEPTION AT BUFFALO—VISITS NIAGARA FALLS—ATTENDS WORSHIP WITH THE TUSCARORA INDIANS—HIS RECEPTION AT ROCHESTER—AT AUBURN—AT ALBANY—AT PITTSFIELD—VISITS CINCINNATI—ASSISTS IN LAYING THE CORNER STONE OF AN OBSERVATORY.
It would be impossible, in the limit prescribed to these pages, to detail the numerous scenes and occurrences of a momentous nature, in which Mr. Adams took a prominent part during his services in the House of Representatives. The path he marked out for himself at the commencement of his congressional career, was pursued with unfaltering fidelity to the close of life. His was the rare honor of devoting himself, unreservedly, to his legitimate duties as a Representative of the people while in Congress, and to nothing else. He believed the halls of the Capitol were no place for political intrigue; and that a member of Congress, instead of studying to shape his course to make political capital or to subserve party ends, should devote himself rigidly and solely to the interests of his constituents. His practice corresponded with his theory. His speeches, his votes, his entire labors in Congress, were confined strictly to practical subjects, vitally connected with the great interests of our common country, and had no political or party bearing, other than such as truth and public good might possess.
His hostility to slavery and the assumptions and usurpations of slave power in the councils of the nation, continued to the day of his death. At the commencement of each session of Congress, he demanded that the infamous "gag rule," which forbid the presentation of petitions on the subject of slavery, should be abolished. But despite its continuance, he persisted in handing in petitions from the people of every class, complexion and condition. He did not hesitate to lay before the House of Representatives a petition from Haverhill, Mass., for the dissolution of the Union! Although opposed in his whole soul to the prayer of the petitioners, yet he believed himself sacredly bound to listen with due respect to every request of the people, when couched in respectful terms.
In vain did the supporters of slavery endeavor to arrest his course, and to seal his lips in silence. In vain did they threaten assassination—expulsion from the House—indictment before the grand jury of the District of Columbia. In vain did they declare that he should "be made amenable to another tribunal, [mob-law] and as an incendiary, be brought to condign punishment." "My life on it," said a southern member, "if he presents that petition from slaves, we shall yet see him within the walls of the penitentiary." All these attempts at brow-beating moved him not a tittle. Firm he stood to his duty, despite the storms of angry passion which howled around him, and with withering rebukes repelled the assaults of hot-blooded opponents, as the proud old headland, jutting far into ocean's bosom, tosses high, in worthless spray, the dark mountain billows which in wrath beat upon it.
"Do the gentlemen from the South," said he, "think they can frighten me by their threats? If that be their object, let me tell them, sir, they have mistaken their man. I am not to be frightened from the discharge of a sacred duty, by their indignation, by their violence, nor, sir, by all the grand juries in the universe. I have done only my duty; and I shall do it again under the same circumstances, even though they recur to-morrow."
"Though aged, he was so iron of limb, None of the youth could cope with him; And the foes whom he singly kept at bay, Outnumbered his thin hairs of silver grey."
Nor was Mr. Adams without encouragement in his trying position. His immediate constituents, at their primary meetings, repeatedly sent up a cheering voice in strong and earnest resolutions, approving heartily his course, and urging him to, perseverance therein. The Legislatures of Massachusetts and Vermont, rallied to his support. In solemn convocation, they protested against the virtual annihilation of the right of petition—against slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia—gave their entire sanction to the principles advocated by Mr. Adams, and pledged their countenance to all measures calculated to sustain them.
Large bodies of people in the Eastern, Northern, and Middle States, sympathized with him in his support of the most sacred of privileges bestowed on man. Representative after Representative were sent to Congress, who gathered around him, and co-operated with him in his holy warfare against the iron rule which slavery had been enabled to establish in the national Legislature. With renewed energy he resisted the mighty current which was undermining the foundations of the Republic, and bearing away upon its turbid waters the liberties of the people. And he resisted not in vain.
The brave old man lived to see his labors, in this department of duty, crowned with abundant success. One after another the cohorts of slavery gave way before the incessant assaults, the unwearied perseverance, of Mr. Adams, and the faithful compeers who were sent by the people to his support. At length, in 1845, the obnoxious "gag rule" was rescinded, and Congress consented to receive, and treat respectfully, all petitions on the subject of slavery. This was a moral triumph which amply compensated Mr. Adams for all the labors he had put forth, and for all the trials he had endured to achieve it.
Yes; he "lived to hear that subject which of all others had been forbidden an entrance into the Halls of Congress, fairly broached. He lived to listen, with a delight all his own, to a high-souled, whole-hearted speech on the slave question, from his colleague, Mr. Palfrey—a speech, of which it is not too high praise to say, that it would not have disparaged the exalted reputation of Mr. Adams, had he made it himself. Aye, more, he lived to see the whole House of Representatives—the members from the South, not less than those from the North, attentive and respectful listeners to that speech of an hour's length, on the political as well as moral aspect of slavery in this Republic. What a triumph! At the close of it, the moral conqueror exclaimed, 'God be praised; the seals are broken, the door is open.'" [Footnote: Rev. S. J. May.]
If anything were wanting to crown the fame of Mr. Adams, in the Last days of life, with imperishable honor, or to add, if possible, new brilliancy to the beams of his setting sun, it is found in his advocacy of the freedom of the Amistad slaves.
A ship-load of negroes had been stolen from Africa, contrary to the law of nations, of humanity and of God, and surreptitiously smuggled, in the night, into the Island of Cuba. This act was piracy, according to the law of Spain, and of all Governments in Christendom, and the perpetrators thereof, had they been detected, would have been punished with death. Immediately after the landing of these unfortunate Africans, about thirty-six of them were purchased of the slave-pirates, by two Spaniards named Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro Montes, who shipped them for Guanaja, Cuba, in the schooner "Amistad." When three days out from Havana, the Africans rose, killed the captain and crew, and took possession of the vessel—sparing the lives of their purchaser's, Ruiz and Montes. This transaction was unquestionably justifiable on the part of the negroes. They had been stolen from their native land—had fallen into the hands of pirates and robbers, and reduced to abject slavery. According to the first law of nature—the law of self-defence—implanted in the bosom of every human being by the Creator, they were justified in taking any measures necessary to restore them to the enjoyment of that freedom which was theirs by birthright.
The negroes being unable to manage the schooner, compelled Ruiz and Montes to navigate her, and directed them to shape her course for Africa; for it was their design to return to their native land. But they were deceived by the two Spaniards, who brought the schooner to the coast of the United States, where she was taken possession of by Lieut. Gedney, of the U. S. surveying brig Washington, a few miles off Montauk Point, and brought into New London, Conn., The two Spaniards claimed the Africans as their property; and the Spanish Minister demanded of the President of the United States, that they be delivered up to the proper authorities, and taken back to Havana, to be tried for piracy and murder. The matter was brought before the District Court of Connecticut.
In the mean time President Van Buren ordered the U. S. schooner Grampus, Lieut. John S. Paine, to repair to New Haven, to be in readiness to convey the Africans to Havana, should such be the decision of the Court. But the Court decided that the Government of the United States had no authority to return them into slavery; and directed that they be conveyed in one of our public ships to the shores of Africa, from whence they had but recently been torn away. From this decision the U. S. District Attorney appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
These transactions attracted the attention of the whole people of the Union, and naturally excited the sympathy of the masses, pro and con, as they were favorable or unfavorable to the institution of slavery. Who should defend, in the Supreme Court, these poor outcasts—ignorant, degraded, wretched—who, fired with a noble energy, had burst the shackles of slavery, and by a wave of fortune had been thrown into the midst of a people professing freedom, yet keeping their feet on the necks of millions of slaves? The eyes of all the friends of human rights turned instinctively to JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. Nor were their expectations disappointed. Without hesitation he espoused the cause of the Amistad negroes. At the age of seventy-four, he appeared in the Supreme Court of the United States to advocate their cause. He entered upon this labor with the enthusiasm of a youthful barrister, and displayed forensic talents, a critical knowledge of law, and of the inalienable rights of man, which would have added to the renown of the most eminent jurists of the day.
"When he went to the Supreme Court, after an absence of thirty years, and arose to defend a body of friendless negroes, torn from their home and most unjustly held in thrall—when he asked the Judges to excuse him at once both for the trembling faults of age and the inexperience of youth, having labored so long elsewhere that he had forgotten the rules of court—when he summed up the conclusion of the whole matter, and brought before those judicial but yet moistening eyes, the great men whom he had once met there—Chase, Cushing, Martin, Livingston, and Marshal himself; and while he remembered that they were 'gone, gone, all gone,' remembered also the eternal Justice that is never gone—the sight was sublime. It was not an old patrician of Rome, who had been Consul, Dictator, coming out of his honored retirement at the Senate's call, to stand in the Forum to levy new armies, marshal them to victory afresh, and gain thereby new laurels for his brow; but it was a plain citizen of America, who had held an office far greater than that of Consul, King, or Dictator, his hand reddened by no man's blood, expecting no honors, but coming in the name of justice, to plead for the slave, for the poor barbarian negro of Africa, for Cinque and Grabbo for their deeds comparing them to Harmodius and Aristogeiton, whose classic memory made each bosom thrill. That was worth all his honors—it was worth while to live fourscore years for that." [Footnote: Theodore Parker.]
This effort of Mr. Adams was crowned with complete success. The Supreme Court decided that the Africans were entitled to their freedom, and ordered them to be liberated. In due time they were enabled, by the assistance of the charitable, to sail for Africa, and take with them many of the implements of civilized life. They arrived in safety at Sierre Leone, and were allowed once more to mingle with their friends, and enjoy God's gift of freedom, in a Pagan land—having fortunately escaped from a cruel and life-long bondage, in the midst of a Christian people.
In reply to a letter requesting Mr. Adams to write out his argument in this case, he concludes as follows: "I shall endeavor, as you desire, to write out, in full extent, my argument before the Court, in which all this was noticed and commented upon. If it has no other effect, I hope it will at least have that of admonishing the free people of this Union to keep perpetually watchful eyes upon every act of their executive administration, having any relation to the subject of slavery."
In availing the country of the benefit of the "Smithsonian Bequest," and in founding the "Smithsonian Institute" at Washington, Mr. Adams took an active part. He repeatedly called the attention of Congress to the subject, until he succeeded in causing a bill to be passed providing for the establishment of the Institute. He was appointed one of the Regents of the Institute, which office he held until his death.
In the summer of 1843, Mr. Adams visited Lebanon Springs, N. Y., for the benefit of his health, which had become somewhat impaired, and also the health of a cherished member of his family. He designed to devote only four or five days to this journey; but he was so highly pleased with the small portion of the State of New York he saw at Lebanon Springs, that he was induced to proceed further. He visited Saratoga, Lake Georgia, Lower Canada, Montreal and Quebec. Returning, he ascended the St. Lawrence and the Lakes as far as Niagara Falls and Buffalo, and by the way of Rochester, Auburn, Utica and Albany, sought his home in Quincy with health greatly improved.
Although Mr. Adams had many bitter enemies—made so by his fearless independence, and the stern integrity with which he discharged the public duties entrusted to him—yet in the hearts of the people he ever occupied the highest position. They not only respected and admired the politician, the statesman, but they venerated the MAN! they loved him for his purity, his philanthropy, his disinterested patriotism, his devotion to freedom and human rights. All this was manifested during his tour through New York. It was marked in its whole extent by demonstrations of the highest attention and respect from people of all parties. Public greetings, processions, celebrations, met him and accompanied him at every step of his journey. Never since the visit of La Fayette, had such an anxious desire to honor a great and good man been manifested by the entire mass of the people. His progress was one continued triumphal procession. "I may say," exclaimed Mr. Adams, near the close of his tour, "without being charged with pride or vanity, I have come not alone, for the whole people of the State of New York have been my companions!"
At Buffalo he was received with every possible demonstration of respect. The national ensign was streaming from an hundred masts, and the wharves, and the decks and rigging of the vessels, were crowded by thousands anxious to catch a glimpse of the renowned statesman and patriot, who was greeted by repeated cheers. Hon. Millard Fillmore addressed him with great eloquence. The following is the conclusion of his speech:—
"You see around you, sir, no political partisans seeking to promote some sinister purpose; but you see here assembled the people of our infant city, without distinction of party, sex, age, or condition—all, all anxiously vieing with each other to show their respect and esteem for your public services and private worth. Here are gathered, in this vast multitude of what must appear to you strange faces, thousands whose hearts have vibrated to the chord of sympathy which your written speeches have touched. Here is reflecting age, and ardent youth, and lisping childhood, to all of whom your venerated name is as dear as household words all anxious to feast their eyes by a sight of that extraordinary and venerable man, of whom they have heard, and read, and thought so much—all anxious to hear the voice of that 'old man eloquent,' on whose lips wisdom has distilled her choicest nectar. Here, sir, you see them all, and read in their eager and joy-gladdened countenances, and brightly-beaming eyes, a welcome—a thrice-told, heart-felt, soul-stirring welcome to 'the man whom they delight to honor.'"
Mr. Adams responded to this speech in a strain of most interesting remarks. He commenced as follows:—
"I must request your indulgence for a moment's pause to take breath. If you inquire why I ask this indulgence, it is because I am so overpowered by the eloquence of my friend, the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, (whom I have been so long accustomed to refer to in that capacity, that, with your permission, I will continue so to denominate him now,) that I have no words left to answer him. For so liberal has he been in bestowing that eloquence upon me which he himself possesses in so eminent a degree, that while he was ascribing to me talents so far above my own consciousness in that regard, I was all the time imploring the god of eloquence to give me, at least at this moment, a few words to justify him before you in making that splendid panegyric which he has been pleased to bestow upon me; and that the flattering picture which he has presented to you, may not immediately be defaced before your eyes by what you should hear from me. * * * * * *
In concluding his remarks he said:—"Of your attachment to moral principle I have this day had another and pleasing proof in the dinner of which I have partaken in the steamer, in which, by your kindness, I have been conveyed to this place. It was a sumptuous dinner, but at which temperance was the presiding power. I congratulate you on the evidence there exhibited of your attachment to moral principle, in your co-operation in that great movement which is promoting the happiness and elevation of man in every quarter of the globe.
"And here you will permit me to allude to an incident which has occurred in my recent visit to Canada, in which I perceived the cooperation of the people of that Province in the same great moral reformation. While at Quebec, I visited the falls of Montmorenci, a cataract which, but for yours, would be among the greatest wonders of nature. In going to it, I passed through the parish of Beauport, and there, by the side of the way, I saw a column with an inscription upon its pedestal, which I had the curiosity to stop and read. It was erected by the people of Beauport in gratitude to the Virgin, for her goodness in promoting the cause of temperance in that parish. Perhaps I do not sufficiently sympathize with the people of Beauport in attributing to the Virgin so direct an influence upon this moral reform; but in the spirit with which they erected that monument I do most cordially sympathize with them. For, under whatever influence the cause may be promoted, the cause itself can never fail to make its votaries wiser and better men. I cannot make a speech. My heart is too full, and my voice too feeble. Farewell! And with that farewell; may the blessings of heaven be upon you throughout your lives!"
Mr. Adams was greatly delighted with his visit to Niagara Falls. A letter-writer thus describes it:—
"Mr. Adams seems incapable of fatigue, either physical or mental. After a drive in the morning to Lewiston, he stopped, on his return to the Falls, at the whirlpool. The descent to the water's edge, which is not often made, is, as you will remember, all but vertical, down a steep of some three hundred and sixty feet. One of the party was about going down, when Mr. Adams remarked that he would accompany him. Gen. Porter and the other gentlemen present remonstrated, and told him it was a very severe undertaking for a young and hearty man, and that he would find it, in such a hot day, quite impracticable. He seemed, however, to know his capacities; and this old man, verging on four score years, not only made the descent, but clambered over almost impracticable rocks along the margin of the river, to obtain the various views presented at different points. The return was not easy, but he was quite adequate to the labor; and after resting a few minutes at the summit, resumed his ride, full of spirits and of animated and instructive conversation. After dinner, he crossed over to Goat Island, and beheld the cataract from the various points, and continued his explorations until all was obscured by darkness. He seemed greatly impressed by the wonderful contrast presented by the scene of rage and repose—of the wild and furious dashing of the mighty river down the rapids, with its mad plunge over the precipice—and the sullen stillness of the abyss of waters below. I wish I could repeat to you his striking conversation during these rambles, replete with brilliant classical allusions, historical illustrations, and the most minute, and as it seemed to me, universal information. * * * * * * I sincerely concur with the worthy captain of one of our steamboats, who said to me the other day,—'Oh, that we could take the engine out of the old "Adams," and put it into a new hull!'"
During his visit at the Falls, Mr. Adams, on a Sabbath morning, accompanied by Gen. Porter, visited the remnant of the Tuscarora Indians, and attended divine service in their midst. At the conclusion of the sermon, Mr. Adams made a brief address to the Indians, which is thus described by the letter-writer alluded to above:—
"Mr. Adams alluded to his advanced age, and said this was the first time he had ever looked upon their beautiful fields and forests—that he was truly happy to meet them there and join with them in the worship of our common Parent—reminded them that in years past he had addressed them from the position which he then occupied, in language, at once that of his station and his heart, as 'his children'—and that now, as a private citizen, he hailed them in terms of equal warmth and endearment, as his 'brethren and sisters.' He alluded, with a simple eloquence which seemed to move the Indians much, to the equal care and love with which God regards all his children, whether savage or civilized, and to the common destiny which awaits them hereafter, however various their lot here. He touched briefly and forcibly on the topics of the sermon which they had heard, and concluded with a beautiful and touching benediction upon them."
At Rochester immense multitudes assembled to receive Mr. Adams. He was welcomed in an eloquent address from the Mayor of the city. The following are a few extracts from the reply of Mr. Adams:—
"Mr. Mayor and Fellow-citizens:—I fear you expect from me a speech. If it were in my power, oppressed as I am with mingled astonishment and gratitude at what I have experienced and now see of your kindness, to make a speech, I would gratify you with one adorned with all the chaste yet simple eloquence which are combined in the address to which you have just listened from your worthy Mayor. But it is not in my power. You may probably think there is some affectation on my part, in pretending inability to address you, knowing as many of you do, that I have often addressed assemblies like this. But I hope for greater indulgence from you than this. I trust you will consider that I have seen and spoken to multitudes like that now before me, but that these multitudes had frowning faces. Those I could meet, and to those I could speak. But to you, whose every face is expressive of generous affection—to you, in whose every countenance I see kindness and friendship—I cannot speak. It is too much for me. It overcomes my powers of speech. It is a new scene to me.
* * * * * *
"Amongst the sentiments which I have expressed, and the observations which I have made during my brief tour through this portion of your State, it was impossible for me to forego a constant comparison with what New York was in other days, and what it is now. I first set my feet upon the soil of the now Empire State, in 1785. I then visited the city of New York,—at that time a town of 18,000 inhabitants. I tarried, while in that city, at the house of John Jay—a man whom I name, and whom all will remember, as one of the most illustrious of the distinguished patriots who carried our beloved country through the dark period of the Revolution. Mr. Jay, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, under the Congress of the Federation, was laying the foundation of a house in Broadway, but which was separated by the distance of a quarter of a mile from any other dwelling. At that time, being eighteen years of age, I received an invitation to visit western New York; and I have regretted often, but never more than now, that I had not accepted that invitation. Oh! what would I not have given to have seen this part of this great State then, that I might be able to contrast it with what it now is. * * * * *
"It has seemed to me as if in this region the God of nature intended to make a more sublime display of his power, than in any other portion of the world. He has done so in physical nature—in the majestic cataract, whose sound you can almost hear—in forest and in field—in the mind of man among you, In what has been accomplished to make your city what it is, the aged have done the most. The middle aged may say we will improve upon what has been done; and the young, we shall accomplish still more than our fathers. That, fellow-citizens, was the boast in the ancient Spartan procession—a procession which was divided into three classes—the old, the middle-aged, and the young. They had a saying which each class repeated in turn. The aged said—
'We have been, in days of old, Wise and gentle, brave and bold.'
The middle-aged said—
'We, in turn, your place supply; Who doubts it, let them come and try.'
And the boys said—
'Hereafter, at our country's call, We promise to surpass you all.'
And so it will be with you—each in your order."
At Auburn every possible token of respect was paid to the venerable statesman. A committee consisting of ex-Gov. Seward, Judge Conklin, Judge Miller, Luman Sherwood, P. H. Perry, S. A. Goodwin, James C. Wood, and J. L. Doty, Esqs., proceeded to Canandaigua to meet Mr. Adams. At half past nine o'clock in the evening, Mr. Adams, accompanied by the committee, arrived in Auburn. He was received by a torch-light procession, composed of the Auburn Guards, the Firemen, and an immense concourse of citizens, and conducted to the mansion of Gov. Seward, where he thus briefly addressed the people:—
"Fellow-citizens:—Notwithstanding the glow with which these brilliant torch-lights illuminate my welcome among you, I can only acknowledge your kindness, on this occasion, by assuring you that to-morrow morning, by the light of the blessed sun, I hope to take everyone of you by the hand, and express feelings too strong for immediate utterance."
On the following morning at six o'clock, Mr. Adams visited the State Prison, and made many inquiries concerning the discipline of the prison, and its success in the prevention of crime and reformation of offenders. At 9 o'clock he met the citizens in the First Presbyterian church, where he was addressed by Gov. Seward, as follows:—
"SIR:—I am charged with the very honorable and most agreeable duty, of expressing to you the reverence and affectionate esteem of my fellow-citizens, assembled in your presence.
"A change has come over the spirit of your journey, since your steps have turned towards your ancestral sea-side home. An excursion to invigorate health impaired by labors, too arduous for age, in the public councils, and expected to be quiet and contemplative, has become one of fatigue and excitement. Rumors of your advance escape before you, and a happy and grateful community rise up in their clustering cities, towns, and villages, impede your way with demonstrations of respect and kindness, and convert your unpretending journey into a triumphal progress. Such honors frequently attend public functionaries, and such an one may sometimes find it difficult to determine how much of the homage he receives is paid to his own worth, how much proceeds from the habitual reverence of good republican citizens to constituted elective authority, and how much from the spirit of venal adulation.
"You, sir, labor under no such embarrassment. The office you hold, though honorable, is purely legislative, and such as we can bestow by our immediate suffrage on one of ourselves. You conferred personal benefits sparingly when you held the patronage of the nation. That patronage you have relinquished, and can never regain. Your hands will be uplifted often, during your remaining days, to invoke blessings on your country, but never again to distribute honors or reward among your countrymen. The homage paid you, dear sir, is sincere, for it has its sources in the just sentiments and irrepressible affections of a free people, their love of truth, their admiration of wisdom, their reverence for virtue, and their gratitude for beneficence.
"Nor need you fear that enthusiasm exaggerates your title to the public regard. Your fellow-citizens, in spite of political prudence, could not avoid honoring you on grounds altogether irrespective of personal merit. John Adams, who has gone to receive the reward of the just, was one of the most efficient and illustrious founders of this Empire, and afterwards its Chief Ruler. The son of such a father would, in any other age, and even in this age, in any other country than this, have been entitled, by birth alone, to a sceptre. We not merely deny hereditary claims to civil trust, but regard even hereditary distinction with jealousy. And this circumstance enhances justly the estimate of your worth. For when before has it happened that in such a condition of society the son has, by mere civic achievement, attained the eminence of such a sire, and effaced remembrance of birth by justly acquired renown?
"The hand we now so eagerly grasp, was pressed in confidence and friendship by the Father of our Country. The wreath we place on your honored brow, received its earliest leaves from the hand of Washington. We cannot expect, with the agency of free and universal suffrage, to be always governed by the wise and the good. But surely your predecessors in the Chief Magistracy, were men such as never before successively wielded power in any State. They differed in policy as they must, and yet, throughout their several dynasties, without any sacrifice of personal independence, and while passing from immature youth to ripened age, you were counsellor and minister to them all. We seem therefore, in this interview with you, to come into the presence of our departed chiefs; the majestic shade of Washington looks down upon us; we hear the bold and manly eloquence of the elder Adams; and we listen to the voices of the philosophic and sagacious Jefferson, the refined and modest Madison, and the generous and faithful Monroe.
"A life of such eminent patriotism and fidelity found its proper reward in your elevation to the eminence from which you had justly derived so many honors. Although your administration of the government is yet too recent for impartial history, or unbounded eulogy, our grateful remembrance of it is evinced by the congratulations you now receive from your fellow-citizens.
"But your claims to the veneration of your countrymen do not end here. Your predecessors descended from the Chief Magistracy to enjoy, in repose and tranquillity, honors even greater than those which belonged to that eminent station. It was reserved for you to illustrate the important truths, that offices and trusts are not the end of public service, but are merely incidents in the life of the true American citizen; that duties remain when the highest trust is resigned; and that there is scope for a pure and benevolent ambition beyond even the Presidency of the United States of America.
"You have devoted the energies of a mind unperverted, the learning and experience acquired through more than sixty years, and even the influence and fame derived from your high career of public service, to the great cause of universal liberty. The praises we bestow are already echoed back to us by voices which come rich and full across the Atlantic, hailing you as the indefatigable champion of humanity—not the humanity which embraces a single race or clime, but that humanity which regards the whole family of MAN. Such salutations as these cannot be mistaken. They come not from your contemporaries, for they are gone—you are not of this generation, but of the PAST, spared to hear the voice of POSTERITY. The greetings you receive come up from the dark and uncertain FUTURE. They are the whisperings of posthumous FAME—fame which impatiently awaits your departure, and which, spreading wider and growing more and more distinct, will award to JOHN QUINCY ADAMS a name to live with that of WASHINGTON!"
The audience expressed their sympathy with this address by long and enthusiastic cheering. When order was restored, Mr. Adams rose, evidently under great and unaffected embarrassment.
He replied to the speech in an address of about half an hour, during which the attention of his audience was riveted upon the speaker, with intense interest and affection. He declared the embarrassment he felt in speaking. He was sensible that his fellow-citizens had laid aside all partizan feelings in coming up to greet him. He desired to speak what would not wound the feelings of anyone. He was grateful, deeply grateful, to them all. But on what subject of public interest could a public man speak, that would find harmony among an intelligent, thinking people? There were such subjects, but he could not speak of them.
The people of Western New York had always been eminently just and generous to him, and had recently proved their kindness on various occasions, by inviting him to address the State Agricultural Society on agriculture. But his life had been spent in the closet, in diplomacy, or in the cabinet; and he had not learned the practice, or even the theory of agriculture. After what he had seen of the harvests of Western New York, bursting with food for the sustenance of man, for him to address the people of such a district on agriculture, would be as absurd as the vanity of the rhetorician who went to Carthage to instruct Hannibal in the art of war. He had been solicited to address the young. In his life time he had been an instructor of youth, and, strange as from his present display they might think it, he had instructed them in the art of eloquence. And there was no more honorable office on earth than instructing the young. But the schools and seminaries had passed him, while he was engaged in other pursuits; and for him now to attempt to instruct the young of this generation, would evince only the garrulousness of age.
He had been invited to discourse on internal improvement; but that was a subject he feared to touch. On one point, however, all men agreed. All were in favor of internal improvement. But there was a balance between the reasonable sacrifices of this generation, and the burden it had a right to cast upon posterity, and every individual might justly claim to hold his balance for himself. One thing, however, he was sure he might assume with safety. In looking over the State of New York, upon its canals and railroads, which brought the borders of the State into contiguity, and its citizens in every part into communion with each other, he was sure that all rejoiced, and might well glory in what had been accomplished.
Mr. A. said he had read and endeavored to inform himself concerning prison discipline, a subject deeply interesting to the peace, good order, and welfare of society; but after his examination of the penitentiary here, he was satisfied that he was yet a learner, instead of being able to give instruction on that important subject.
He had been asked to enlist in the growing army of temperance, and discourse on that cause, so deeply cherished by every well wisher of our country. And he would cheerfully speak; but other and more devoted men had occupied the field, and what was left for him to say on temperance? In passing through Catholic Lower Canada he saw a column erected to the Virgin Mary, in gratitude for her promotion of the temperance cause. If indeed the blessed Virgin did lend her aid to that great work, it would almost win him to worship at her shrine, although he belonged to that class of people who rejected the invocation of saints.
He felt, therefore, that he had no subject on which to address them, but himself and his own public life. The experience of an old man, related by himself, would, he feared, be more irksome than profitable.
"What, then, am I to say? I am summoned here to speak, and to reply to what has been said to me by my respected friend, your late Chief Magistrate. And what is the theme he has given me? It is myself. And what can I say on such a subject? To know that he entertains, or that you entertain for me the sentiments he has expressed, absolutely overpowers me. I cannot go on. The only answer I can make, is a declaration, that during my public service, now protracted to nearly the age of eighty, I have endeavored to serve my country honestly and faithfully. How imperfectly I have done this, none seem so sensible as myself. I must stop. I can only repeat thanks, thanks, thanks to you, one and all, and implore the blessings of God upon you and your children."
At the conclusion of this reply, Mr. Adams was introduced to a large number of the ladies and gentlemen assembled in the church. He then returned to the American Hotel, where he remained an hour, receiving the visits of the citizens of the adjoining towns. At 11 o'clock the Auburn Guards escorted Mr. Adams and the committee, followed by a large procession, to the car-house. Accompanied by Gov. Seward, Judge Miller, Hon. Christopher Morgan, the committee, Auburn Guards, and a number of the citizens of Auburn, he was conveyed in an extra train of cars, in an hour and five minutes, to Syracuse.
At Syracuse, at Utica, at Albany, the same spontaneous outgushing manifestations of respect and affection met him that had hitherto attended his journey in every populous place through which he passed. In his reply to the address of Mr. Barnard, at Albany, he concluded in the following words:—
"Lingering as I am on the stage of public life, and, as many of you may think, lingering beyond the period when nature calls for repose—while I remain in the station which I now occupy in the Congress of the United States, if you, my hearers, as an assembly, or if anyone among you, as an individual, have any object or purpose to promote, or any end to secure that he believes can in any way advance his interests or increase his happiness, then, in the name of God, I ask you to send your petitions to me! (Tremendous cheering.) I hope this is not trespassing too far on politics. (Laughter, and cheers.) I unhesitatingly promise you, one and all, that if I can in any way serve you in that station, I will do it most cheerfully; regarding it as the choicest blessing of God, if I shall thus be enabled to make some just return for the kind attentions which you have this day bestowed upon me."
In his route homeward, Mr. Adams was received and entertained in a very handsome manner by the people of Pittsfield, Mass. He was addressed by Hon. George N. Briggs, who alluded, in eloquent terms, to his long and distinguished public services. Mr. Adams, in reply, spoke of the scenes amidst which he had passed his early youth, and of the influence which they exerted in forming his character and shaping his purposes. "In 1775," said he, "the minute men from a hundred towns in the province were marching, at a moment's warning, to the scene of opening war. Many of them called at my father's house in Quincy, and received the hospitality of John Adams. All were lodged in the house which the house would contain; others in the barns, and wherever they could find a place. There were then in my father's kitchen some dozen or two of pewter spoons; and I well recollect going into the kitchen and seeing some of the men engaged in running those spoons into bullets for the use of the troops! Do you wonder," said he, "that a boy of seven years of age, who witnessed this scene, should be a patriot?"
In the fall of the same year, Mr. Adams received an invitation from the Cincinnati Astronomical Society, to visit that city, and assist in the ceremony of laying the corner stone of an observatory, to be erected on an eminence called Mount Ida. The invitation was accepted. On his journey to Cincinnati, the same demonstrations of respect, the same eagerness to honor the aged patriarch were manifested in the various cities and towns through which he passed, as on his summer tour.
324 LIFE OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
The ceremony of laying the corner stone took place on the 9th of November, 1843. Mr. Adams delivered an address on the occasion, replete with eloquence, wisdom, philosophy, and religion. The following beautiful extract will afford a specimen:—
"The various difficult, and, in many respects, opposite motives which have impelled mankind to the study of the stars, have had a singular effect in complicating and confounding the recommendation of the science. Religion, idolatry, superstition, curiosity, the thirst for knowledge, the passion for penetrating the secrets of nature, the warfare of the huntsman by night and by day against the beast of the forest and of the field, the meditations of the shepherd in the custody and wanderings of his flocks, the influence of the revolving seasons of the year, and the successive garniture of the firmament upon the labors of the husbandman, upon the seed time and the harvest, the blooming of flowers, the ripening of the vintage, the polar pilot of the navigator, and the mysterious magnet of the mariner—all, in harmonious action, stimulate the child of earth and of heaven to interrogate the dazzling splendors of the sky, to reveal to him the laws of their own existence.
"He has his own comforts, his own happiness, his own existence, identified with theirs. He sees the Creator in creation, and calls upon creation to declare the glory of the Creator. When Pythagoras, the philosopher of the Grecian schools, conceived that more than earthly idea of 'the music of the spheres'—when the great dramatist of nature could inspire the lips of his lover on the moonlight green with the beloved of his soul, to say to her:—
'Sit, Jessica.—Look how the floor of Heaven Is thick inlaid with pattens of bright gold! There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest, But in his motion like an angel sings, Still choiring to the young eyed cherubim!'
"Oh, who is the one with a heart, but almost wishes to cast off this muddy vesture of decay, to be admitted to the joy of listening to the celestial harmony!"
MR. ADAMS' LAST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC AT BOSTON—HIS HEALTH—LECTURES ON HIS JOURNEY TO WASHINGTON—REMOTE CAUSE OF HIS DECEASE—STRUCK WITH PARALYSIS—LEAVES QUINCY FOR WASHINGTON FOR THE LAST TIME—HIS FINAL SICKNESS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES—HIS DEATH—THE FUNERAL AT WASHINGTON—REMOVAL OF THE BODY TO QUINCY—ITS INTERMENT.