The last time Mr. Adams appeared in public in Boston, he presided at a meeting of the citizens of that city, in Faneuil Hall. "A man had been kidnapped in Boston—kidnapped at noon-day, 'on the high road between Faneuil Hall and old Quincy,' and carried off to be a slave! New England hands had seized their brother, sold him into bondage forever, and his children after him. A meeting was called to talk the matter over, in a plain way, and look in one another's faces. Who was fit to preside in such a case? That old man sat in the chair in Faneuil Hall. Above him was the image of his father and his own; around him were Hancock and the other Adams, and Washington, greatest of all. Before him were the men and women of Boston, met to consider the wrongs done to a miserable negro slave. The roof of the old Cradle of Liberty spanned over them all. Forty years before, a young man and a Senator, he had taken the chair at a meeting called to consult on the wrong done to American seamen, violently impressed by the British from an American ship of war—the unlucky Chesapeake. Now an old man, clothed with half a century of honors, he sits in the same Hall, to preside over a meeting to consider the outrage done to a single slave. One was the first meeting of citizens he ever presided over; the other was the last: both for the same object—the defence of the eternal right!" [Footnote: Theodore Parker.]
Few men retain the health and vigor with which Mr. Adams was blessed in extreme old age. When most others are decrepit and helpless, he was in the enjoyment of meridian strength and energy, both of body and mind, and could endure labors which would prostrate many in the prime of manhood. An instance of his powers of endurance is furnished in his journey to Washington, to attend the opening of Congress, when in the 74th year of his age. On Monday morning he left Boston, and the same evening delivered a lecture before the Young Men's Institute, in Hartford, Conn. The next day he proceeded to New Haven, and in the evening lectured before a similar Institute in that city. Wednesday he pursued his journey to New York, and in the evening lectured before the New York Lyceum, in the Broadway Tabernacle. Thursday evening he delivered an address before an association in Brooklyn; and on Friday evening delivered a second lecture before the New York Lyceum. Here were labors which would seriously tax the constitution of vigorous youth; and yet Mr. Adams performed them with much comparative ease.
His great longevity, and his general good health, must be attributed, in no small degree, to his abstemious and temperate habits, early rising, and active exercise. He took pleasure in athletic amusements, and was exceedingly fond of walking. During his summer residence in Quincy, he has been known to walk to his son's residence in Boston (seven miles,) before breakfast. "While President of the United States, he was probably the first man up in Washington, lighted his own fire, and was hard at work in his library, while sleep yet held in its obliviousness the great mass of his fellow-citizens." He was an expert swimmer, and was in the constant habit of bathing, whenever circumstances would permit. Not unfrequently the first beams of the rising sun, as they fell upon the beautiful Potomac, would find Mr. Adams buffeting its waves with all the sportiveness and dexterity of boyhood, while a single attendant watched upon the shore. When in the Presidency, he sometimes made a journey from Washington to Quincy on horseback, as a simple citizen, accompanied only by a servant.
More than four score years had sprinkled their frosts upon his brow, and still he was in the midst of his usefulness. Promptly at his post in the Hall of Representatives stood the veteran sentinel, watching vigilantly over the interests of his country. With an eye undimmed by age, a quick ear, a ready hand, an intellect unimpaired, he guarded the citadel of liberty, ever on the alert to detect, and mighty to repel, the approach of the foe, however covert or however open his attacks. Never did the Union, never did freedom, the world, more need his services than now. A large territory, of sufficient extent to form several States, had been blighted by slavery, and annexed to the United Sates. A sanguinary and expensive war, growing out of this strengthening of the slave power, had just terminated, adding to the Union still larger territories—now free soil indeed, but furnishing a field for renewed battles between slavery and liberty. New revolutions were about to break forth in Europe, to convulse the Eastern Hemisphere, and cause old thrones to totter and fall!
How momentous the era! How deeply fraught with the prosperity of the American Republic—with the progress of man—the freedom of nations—the happiness of succeeding generations! How could he, who for years had prominently and nobly stood forth, as the leader of the hosts contending for the rights and the liberties of humanity, be spared from his post at such a juncture? Who could put on his armor?—who wield his weapons?—who "lead a forlorn hope," or mount a deadly breach in battles which might yet be waged between the sons of freedom and the propagators of slavery? But the loss was to be experienced. A wise and good Providence had so ordered. The sands of his life had run out. A voice from on high called him away from earth's stormy struggles, to bright and peaceful scenes in the spirit land. He could no longer tarry. Death found the faithful veteran at his post, with his harness on. How applicable the words of Scott, on the departure of Pitt:—
"Hadst thou but lived, though stripp'd of power, A watchman on the lonely tower, Thy thrilling trump had roused the land, When fraud or danger were at hand; By thee, as by the beacon-light, Our pilots had kept course aright; As some proud column, though alone, Thy strength had propp'd the tottering throne. Now is the stately column broke, The beacon-light is quenched in smoke, The trumpet's silver sound is still, The warder silent on the hill! O think how, to his latest day, When death, just hovering, claimed his prey, With Palinure's unaltered mood, Firm at his dangerous post he stood; Each call for needful rest repell'd, With dying hand the rudder held, Till, in his fall, with fateful sway, The steerage of the realm gave way."
It has been supposed by some that the remote cause of Mr. Adams's death was a severe injury he received by a fall in the House of Representatives, in June, 1840. The accident is thus described by an eye witness:—
"It had been a very warm day, and the debates had partaken of extraordinary excitement, when, a few moments before sunset, the House adjourned, and most of the members had sought relief from an oppressive atmosphere, in the arbors and recesses of the adjoining Congressional gardens.
"At that time I held a subordinate clerkship in the House, which usually confined me, the larger portion of the day not devoted to debate, to one of the committee rooms; whilst the balance of the day I occupied as a reporter.
"Mr. Adams was always the first man in the House, and the last man out of it; and, as I usually detained myself an hour or more after adjournment, in writing up my notes, I often came in contact with him. He was pleased to call at my desk very often, before he went home, and indulge in some incidental, unimportant conversation. On the day referred to, just as the sun was setting, and was throwing his last rays through the murky hall, I looked up, and saw Mr. Adams approaching. He had almost reached my desk, and had uplifted his hand in friendly salutation, when he pitched headlong, some six or eight feet, and struck his head against the sharp corner of an iron rail that defended one of the entrance aisles leading to the circle within the bar, inflicting a heavy contusion on his forehead, and rendering him insensible. I instantly leaped from my seat, took the prostrate sufferer in my arms, and found that he was in a state of utter stupor and insensibility. Looking around for aid, I had the good fortune to find that Col. James Munroe, of the New York delegation, had just returned to his desk to procure a paper he had forgotten, when, giving the alarm, he flew to the rescue, manifesting the deepest solicitude for the welfare of the venerable statesman. Follansbee, the doorkeeper, with two or more of his pages, came in next; and after we had applied a plentiful supply of cold water to the sufferer, he returned to consciousness, and requested that he might be taken to his residence. In less than five minutes, Mr. Moses H. Grinnell, Mr. George H. Profit, Mr. Ogden Hoffman, and Col. Christopher Williams, of Tennessee, were called in, a carriage was procured, and Mr. Adams was being conveyed to his residence in President Square, when, it being ascertained that his shoulder was dislocated, the carriage was stopped at the door of the private hotel of Col. Munroe, in Pennsylvania Avenue, between Eleventh and Twelfth streets; the suffering, but not complaining statesman, was taken out, and surgical aid instantly put in requisition. Doctor Sewall was sent for; when it was ascertained that the left shoulder-joint was out of the socket; and, though Mr. Adams must have suffered intensely, he complained not—did not utter a groan or a murmur.
"More than an hour elapsed before the dislocated limb could be adjusted; and to effect which, his arm endured, in a concentrated and continued wrench or pull, many minutes at a time, the united strength of Messrs. Grinnell, Munroe, Profit, and Hoffman. Still Mr. Adams uttered not a murmur, though the great drops of sweat that rolled down his furrowed cheeks, or stood upon his brow, told but too well the physical agony he endured. As soon as his arm was adjusted, he insisted on being carried home, and his wishes were complied with.
"The next morning I was at the capitol at a very early hour, attending to some writing. I thought of, and lamented the accident that had befallen Mr. Adams, and had already commenced writing an account of it to a correspondent. At that instant I withdrew my eyes from the paper on which I was writing, and saw Mr. Adams standing a foot or two from me, carefully examining the carpeting. 'Sir,' said he, 'I am looking for that place in the matting that last night tripped me. If it be not fastened down, it may kill some one.' And then he continued his search for the trick-string matting."
Mr. Adams after this accident did not enjoy as sound health as in previous years, yet was more active and vigorous than the majority of those who attain to his age. But on the 20th of November, 1846, he experienced the first blow of the fatal disease which eventually terminated his existence.
On the morning of that day, while sojourning at the residence of his son, in Boston, preparing to depart for Washington, he was walking out with a friend to visit a new Medical College, and was struck with paralysis by the way. This affliction confined him several weeks, when he obtained sufficient strength to proceed to Washington, and enter upon his duties in the House of Representatives. He viewed this attack as the touch of death. An interregnum of nearly four months occurs in his journal. The next entry is under the head of "Posthumous Memoir." After describing his recent sickness, he continues:—"From that hour I date my decease, and consider myself, for every useful purpose, to myself and fellow-creatures, dead; and hence I call this, and what I may hereafter write, a posthumous memoir."
Although he was after this, regular in his attendance at the House of Representatives, yet he did not mingle as freely in debate as formerly. He passed the following summer, as usual, at his seat in Quincy. In November, he left his native town for Washington, to return no more in life!
On Sunday, the 20th of February, 1848, he appeared in unusual health. In the forenoon he attended public worship at the capitol, and in the afternoon at St. John's church. At nine o'clock in the evening he retired with his wife to his library, where she read to him a sermon of Bishop Wilberforce, on Time—"hovering, as he was, on the verge of eternity!" This was the last night he passed beneath his own roof.
Monday, the 21st, he rose at his usual very early hour, and engaged in his accustomed occupations with his pen. An extraordinary alacrity pervaded his movements, and the cheerful step with which he ascended the steps of the capitol was remarked by his attendants. He occupied a portion of the forenoon in composing a few stanzas of poetry, at the request of a friend, and had signed his name twice for members who desired to obtain his autograph.
Mr. Chase had introduced a resolution of thanks to Generals Twiggs, Worth, Quitman, Pillow, Shields, Pearce, Cadwalader, and Smith, for their services in the Mexican war, and awarding them gold medals. Mr. Adams was in his seat, and voted on the two questions preliminary to ordering its engrossment, with an uncommonly emphatic tone of voice. About half past one o'clock, P. M., as the Speaker had risen to put another question to the House, the proceedings were suddenly interrupted by cries of "Stop!—stop!—Mr. Adams!" There was a quick movement towards the chair of Mr. Adams, by two or three members, and in a moment he was surrounded by a large number of Representatives, eagerly inquiring—"What's the matter?"—"Has he fainted?"—"Is he dead?" JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, while faithful at his post, and apparently about to rise to address the Speaker, had sunk into a state of unconsciousness! He had been struck a second time with paralysis. The scene was one of intense excitement. Pallor, anxiety, alarm, were depicted on every countenance. "Take him out,"—"Bring water,"—exclaimed several voices. He had been prevented from falling to the floor by a member from Ohio, whose seat was near his—Mr. Fisher—who received him in his arms. Immediately Mr. Grinnell, one of his colleagues from Massachusetts, was by his side, keeping off a press of anxious friends, and bathing his face with iced water.
"He was immediately lifted into the area in front of the Clerk's table. The Speaker instantly suggested that some gentleman move an adjournment, which being promptly done, the House adjourned. A sofa was brought, and Mr. Adams, in a state of perfect helplessness, though not of entire insensibility, was gently laid upon it. The sofa was then taken up and borne out of the Hall into the Rotunda, where it was set down, and the members of both Houses, and strangers, who were fast crowding around, were with some difficulty repressed, and an open space cleared in its immediate vicinity; but a medical gentleman, a member of the House, (who was prompt, active, and self-possessed throughout the whole painful scene,) advised that he be removed to the door of the Rotunda opening on the east portico, where a fresh wind was blowing. This was done; but the air being chilly and loaded with vapor, the sofa was, at the suggestion of Mr. Winthrop, once more taken up and removed to the Speaker's apartment, the doors of which were forthwith closed to all but professional gentlemen and particular friends."
The features of the dying patriarch were almost as rigid as though in death: but there was a serenity in his countenance which betokened an absence of pain. There were five physicians, members of the House, present, viz.:—Drs. Newell, Fries, Edwards, Jones of Georgia, and Lord. These gentlemen were unremitting in their attentions. Drs. Lindsley and Thomas, of the city, were also immediately called in. Under the advice of the medical gentlemen present, he was cupped, and mustard plasters were applied, which seemed to afford some relief. Reviving a little and recovering consciousness, Mr. Adams inquired for his wife. She was present, but in extreme illness, and suffering the most poignant sorrow. After a few moments' interval he relapsed again into unconsciousness. A correspondent of the New York Express describes as follows the progress of these melancholy events:—
"Half past one o'clock.—Mr. Benton communicated to the Senate the notice of the sudden illness of Mr. Adams, and moved an adjournment of that body.
"Quarter to two.—Mr. Adams has several physicians with him, but exhibits no signs of returning consciousness. The report is that he is sinking.
"Two o'clock.—Mr. Giddings informs me that he shows signs of life. He has just now attempted to speak, but cannot articulate a word. Under medical advice he has submitted to leeching.
"Half past two.—Mrs. Adams and his niece and nephew are with him, and Mr. A. is no worse. The reports, however, are quite contradictory, and many, despair of his recovery.
"Three o'clock.—None but the physicians and the family are present, and the reports again become more and more doubtful. The physicians say that Mr. Adams may not live more than an hour, or he may live two or three days.
"His right side is wholly paralyzed, and the left not under control, there being continually involuntary motions of the muscles. Everything which medical aid can do, has been done for his relief. Briefly, just now, by close attention, he seemed anxious to 'thank the officers of the House.' Then, again, he was heard to say—'This is the last of earth! I AM CONTENT!' These were the last words which fell from the lips of, 'the old man eloquent,' as his spirit plumed its pinions to soar to other worlds."
Mr. Adams lay in the Speaker's room, in a state of apparent unconsciousness, through the 22d and 23d,—Congress, in the meantime, assembling in respectful silence, and immediately adjourning from day to day. The struggles of contending parties ceased—the strife for interest, place, power, was hushed to repose. Silence reigned through the halls of the capitol, save the cautious tread and whispered inquiry of anxious questioners. The soul of a sage, a patriot, a Christian, is preparing to depart from the world!—no sound is heard to ruffle its sweet serenity!—a calmness and peace, fitting the momentous occasion, prevail around!
The elements of life and death continued their uncertain balance, until seven o'clock, on the evening of the 23d, when the spirit of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS bade adieu to earth forever, and winged its flight to God.
"Give forth thy chime, thou solemn bell, Thou grave, unfold thy marble cell; O earth! receive upon thy breast, The weary traveller to his rest.
"O God! extend thy arms of love, A spirit seeketh thee above! Ye heav'nly palaces unclose, Receive the weary to repose."
The tidings of Mr. Adams' death flew on electrical wings to every portion of the Union. A statesman, a philanthropist, a father of the Republic, had fallen. A nation heard, and were dissolved in tears!
In the history of American statesmen, none lived a life so long in the public service—none had trusts so numerous confided to their care—none died a death so glorious. Beneath the dome of the nation's capitol; in the midst of the field of his highest usefulness, where he had won fadeless laurels of renown; equipped with the armor in which he had fought so many battles for truth and freedom, he fell beneath the shaft of the king of terrors. And how bright, how enviable the reputation he left behind! As a man, pure, upright, benevolent, religious—his hand unstained by a drop of human blood; uncharged, unsuspected of crime, of premeditated wrong, of an immoral act, of an unchaste word—as a statesman, lofty and patriotic in all his purposes; devoted to the interests of the people; sacredly exercising all power entrusted to his keeping for the good of the public alone, unmindful of personal interest and aggrandizement; an enthusiastic lover of liberty; a faithful, fearless defender of the rights of man! The sun of his life in its lengthened course through the political heavens, was unobscured by a spot, undimmed by a cloud; and when, at the close of the long day, it sank beneath the horizon, the whole firmament glowed with the brilliancy of its reflected glories! Rulers, statesmen, legislators! study and emulate such a life—seek after a character so beloved, a death so honorable, a fame so immortal. Like him—
"So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, that moves To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustained, and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."
On the day succeeding Mr. Adams' death, when the two Houses of Congress met, the full attendance of members, and a crowded auditory, attested the deep desire felt by all to witness the proceedings which would take place in relation to the death of one who had long occupied so high a place in the councils of the Republic. As soon as the House of Representatives was called to order, the Speaker, (the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop of Massachusetts,) rose, and in a feeling manner addressed the House as follows:—
"Gentlemen of the House of Representatives of the United States: It has been thought fit that the Chair should announce officially to the House, an event already known to the members individually, and which has filled all our hearts with sadness. A seat on this floor has been vacated, toward which all eyes have been accustomed to turn with no common interest. A voice has been hushed forever in this Hall, to which all ears have been wont to listen with profound reverence. A venerable form has faded from our sight, around which we have daily clustered with an affectionate regard. A name has been stricken from the roll of the living statesmen of our land, which has been associated, for more than half a century, with the highest civil service, and the loftiest civil renown.
"On Monday, the 21st instant, JOHN QUINCY ADAMS sunk in his seat, in presence of us all, by a sudden illness, from which he never recovered; and he died, in the Speaker's room, at a quarter past seven o'clock last evening, with the officers of the House and the delegation of his own Massachusetts around him.
"Whatever advanced age, long experience, great ability, vast learning, accumulated public honors, a spotless private character, and a firm religious faith, could do, to render anyone an object of interest, respect, and admiration, they had done for this distinguished person; and interest, respect, and admiration, are but feeble terms to express the feelings with which the members of this House and the people of the country have long regarded him.
"After a life of eighty years, devoted from its earliest maturity to the public service, he has at length gone to his rest. He has been privileged to die at his post; to fall while in the discharge of his duties; to expire beneath the roof of the capitol; and to have his last scene associated forever, in history, with the birthday of that illustrious patriot, whose just discernment brought him first into the service of his country.
"The close of such a life, under such circumstances, is not an event for unmingled emotions. We cannot find it in our hearts to regret, that he has died as he has died. He himself could have desired no other end. 'This is the end of earth,' were his last words, uttered on the day on which he fell. But we might also hear him exclaiming, as he left us—in a language hardly less familiar to him than his native tongue—'Hoc est, nimirum, magis feliciter de vita migrare, quam mori.'
"It is for others to suggest what honors shall be paid to his memory. No acts of ours are necessary to his fame. But it may be due to ourselves and to the country, that the national sense of his character and services should be fitly commemorated."
Mr. Holmes of South Carolina arose and addressed the House in most eloquent strains. The following are extracts from his eulogy:—
"The mingled tones of sorrow, like the voice of many waters, have come unto us from a sister State—Massachusetts weeping for her honored son. The State I have the honor in part to represent once endured, with yours, a common suffering, battled for a common cause, and rejoiced in a common triumph. Surely, then, it is meet that in this, the day of your affliction, we should mingle our griefs.
"When a great man falls, the nation mourns; when a patriarch is removed, the people weep. Ours, my associates, is no common bereavement. The chain which linked our hearts with the gifted spirits of former times, has been rudely snapped. The lips from which flowed those living and glorious truths that our fathers uttered, are closed in death! Yes, my friends, Death has been among us! He has not entered the humble cottage of some unknown, ignoble peasant; he has knocked audibly at the palace of a nation! His footstep has been heard in the Hall of State! He has cloven down his victim in the midst of the councils of a people! He has borne in triumph from among you the gravest, wisest, most reverend head! Ah! he has taken him as a trophy who was once chief over many States, adorned with virtue, and learning, and truth; he has borne at his chariot-wheels a renowned one of the earth.
"There was no incident in the birth, the life, the death of Mr. Adams, not intimately woven with the history of the land. Born in the night of his country's tribulation, he heard the first murmurs of discontent; he saw the first efforts for deliverance. Whilst yet a little child, he listened with eagerness to the whispers of freedom as they breathed from the lips of her almost inspired apostles: he caught the fire that was then kindled; his eye beamed with the first ray; he watched the day spring from on high, and long before he departed from earth, it was graciously vouchsafed unto him to behold the effulgence of her noontide glory. * * * * * * *
"He disrobed himself with dignity of the vestures of office, not to retire to the shades of Quincy, but, in the maturity of his intellect, in the vigor of his thought, to leap into this arena, and to continue, as he had begun, a disciple, an ardent devotee at the temple of his country's freedom. How, in this department, he ministered to his country's wants, we all know, and have witnessed. How often we have crowded into that aisle, and clustered around that now vacant desk, to listen to the counsels of wisdom, as they fell from the lips of the venerable sage, we can all remember, for it was but of yesterday. But what a change! How wondrous! how sudden! 'Tis like a vision of the night. That form which we beheld but a few days since, is now cold in death!
"But the last Sabbath, and in this hall, he worshipped with others. Now his spirit mingles with the noble army of martyrs, and the just made perfect, in the eternal adoration of the living God. With him "this is the end of earth." He sleeps the sleep that knows no waking. He is gone—and forever! The sun that ushers in the morn of that next holy day, while it gilds the lofty dome of the capitol, shall rest with soft and mellow light upon the consecrated spot beneath whose turf forever lies the PATRIOT FATHER and the PATRIOT SAGE!"
The following resolutions were unanimously passed by the House of Representatives:—
"Resolved, That this House has heard with the deepest sensibility, of the death in this capitol of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, a Member of the House from the State of Massachusetts.
"Resolved, That, as a testimony of respect for the memory of this distinguished statesman, the officers and members of the House will wear the usual badge of mourning, and attend the funeral in this hall on Saturday next, at 12 o'clock.
"Resolved, That a committee of thirty be appointed to superintend the funeral solemnities.
"Resolved, That the proceedings of this House in relation to the death of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS be communicated to the family of the deceased by the Clerk.
"Resolved, That the seat in this hall just vacated by the death of the late JOHN QUINCY ADAMS be unoccupied for thirty days, and that it, together with the hall, remain clothed with the symbol of mourning during that time.
"Resolved, That the Speaker appoint one member of this House from each State and Territory, as a committee to escort the remains of our venerable friend, the Honorable JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, to the place designated by his friends for his interment.
"Resolved, That this House, as a further mark of respect for the memory of the deceased, do adjourn to Saturday next, the day appointed for the funeral."
In the Senate, after a formal annunciation of the death of Mr. Adams, in a message from the House of Representatives, Mr. Davis, of Massachusetts, arose and delivered a feeling address, on the life and services of the deceased patriot. The following are extracts:—
"Mr. President: By the recent affliction of my colleague, (Mr. Webster,) a painful duty devolves upon me. The message just delivered from the House proves that the hand of God has been again among us. A great and good man has gone from our midst. If, in speaking of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, I can give utterance to the language of my own heart, I am confident I shall meet with a response from the Senate.
"He was born in the then Province of Massachusetts, while she was girding herself for the great revolutionary struggle which was then before her. His parentage is too well known to need even an allusion; yet I may be pardoned if I say, that his father seemed born to aid in the establishment of our free Government, and his mother was a suitable companion and co-laborer of such a patriot. The cradle hymns of the child were the songs of liberty. The power and competence of man for self-government were the topics which he most frequently heard discussed by the wise men of the day, and the inspiration thus caught gave form and pressure to his after life. Thus early imbued with the love of free institutions, educated by his father for the service of his country, and early led by WASHINGTON to its altar, he has stood before the world as one of its eminent statesmen. He has occupied, in turn, almost every place of honor which the country could give him, and for more than half a century, has been thus identified with its history. * * * * *
"It is believed to have been the earnest wish of his heart to die, like Chatham, in the midst of his labors. It was a sublime thought, that where he had toiled in the house of the nation, in hours of the day devoted to its service, the stroke of death should reach him, and there sever the ties of love and patriotism which bound him to earth. He fell in his seat, attacked by paralysis, of which he had before been a subject. To describe the scene which ensued would be impossible. It was more than the spontaneous gush of feeling which all such events call forth, so much to the honor of our nature. It was the expression of reverence for his moral worth, of admiration for his great intellectual endowments, and of veneration for his age and public services. All gathered round the sufferer, and the strong sympathy and deep feeling which were manifested, showed that the business of the House (which was instantly adjourned) was forgotten amid the distressing anxieties of the moment. He was soon removed to the apartment of the Speaker, where he remained surrounded by afflicted friends till the weary clay resigned its immortal spirit. 'This is the end of earth!' Brief but emphatic words. They were among the last uttered by the dying Christian."
When Mr. Davis had concluded his remarks, Mr. Benton, of Missouri, delivered a most beautiful eulogy on the character of Mr. Adams. He said:—
"Mr. President: The voice of his native State has been heard through one of the Senators of Massachusetts, announcing the death of her aged and most distinguished son. The voice of the other Senator, (Mr. Webster,) is not heard, nor is his presence seen. A domestic calamity, known to us all, and felt by us all, confines him to the chamber of private grief, while the Senate is occupied with the public manifestations of a respect and sorrow which a national loss inspires. In the absence of that Senator, and as the member of this body longest here, it is not unfitting or unbecoming in me to second the motion which has been made for extending the last honors of the Senate to him who, forty-five years ago, was a member of this body, who, at the time of his death, was among the oldest members of the House of Representatives, and who, putting the years of his service together, was the oldest of all the members of the American Government.
"The eulogium of Mr. Adams is made in the facts of his life, which the Senator from Massachusetts (Mr. Davis) has so strikingly stated, that, from early manhood to octogenarian age, he has been constantly and most honorably employed in the public service. For a period of more than fifty years, from the time of his first appointment as Minister abroad under Washington, to his last election to the House of Representatives by the people of his native district, he has been constantly retained in the public service, and that, not by the favor of a Sovereign, or by hereditary title, but by the elections and appointments of republican Government. This fact makes the eulogy of the illustrious deceased. For what, except a union of all the qualities which command the esteem and confidence of man, could have ensured a public service so long, by appointments free and popular, and from sources so various and exalted? Minister many times abroad; member of this body; member of the House of Representatives; cabinet Minister; President of the United States; such has been the galaxy of his splendid appointments. And what but moral excellence the most perfect—intellectual ability the most eminent— fidelity the most unwavering—service the most useful, could have commanded such a succession of appointments so exalted, and from sources so various and so eminent? Nothing less could have commanded such a series of appointments; and accordingly we see the union of all these great qualities in him who has received them.
"In this long career of public service Mr. Adams was distinguished not only by faithful attention to all the great duties of his stations, but to all their less and minor duties. He was not the Salaminian galley, to be launched only on extraordinary occasions, but he was the ready vessel, always launched when the duties of his station required it, be the occasion great or small. As President, as cabinet Minister, as Minister abroad, he examined all questions that came before him, and examined all in all their parts, in all the minutiae of their detail, as well as in all the vastness of their comprehension. As Senator, and as a member of the House of Representatives, the obscure committee-room was as much the witness of his laborious application to the drudgery of legislation, as the halls of the two Houses were to the ever ready speech, replete with knowledge, which instructed all hearers, enlightened all subjects, and gave dignity and ornament to debate.
"In the observance of all the proprieties of life, Mr. Adams was a most noble and impressive example. He cultivated the minor as well as the greater virtues. Wherever his presence could give aid and countenance to what was useful and honorable to man, there he was. In the exercises of the school and of the college—in the meritorious meetings of the agricultural, mechanical, and commercial societies—in attendance upon Divine worship—he gave the punctual attendance rarely seen but in those who are free from the weight of public cares.
"Punctual to every duty, death found him at the post of duty; and where else could it have found him, at any stage of his career, for the fifty years of his illustrious public life? From the time of his first appointment by Washington to his last election by the people of his native town, where could death have found him but at the post of duty? At that post, in the fullness of age in the ripeness of renown, crowned with honors, surrounded by his family, his friends, and admirers, and in the very presence of the national representation, he has been gathered to his fathers, leaving behind him the memory of public services which are the history of his country for half a century, and the example of a life, public and private, which should be the study and the model of the generations of his countrymen."
At the conclusion of Mr. Benton's address, the following resolutions, introduced by Mr. Davis, were passed by the Senate:—
"Resolved, That the Senate has received with deep sensibility the message from the House of Representatives announcing the death of the Hon. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, a Representative from the State of Massachusetts.
"Resolved, That, in token of respect for the memory of the deceased, the Senate will attend his funeral at the hour appointed by the House of Representatives, and will wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.
"Resolved, That, as a further mark of respect for the memory of the deceased, the Senate do now adjourn until Saturday next, the time appointed for the funeral."
President Polk issued a Proclamation announcing to the nation its bereavement, and directing the suspension of all public business for the day. The public offices were clothed in mourning. Orders were issued from the War and Navy Departments, directing that at every military and naval station, on the day after the order should be received, the honors customary to the illustrious dead should be paid.
At 12 o'clock on Saturday, the 26th of February, the funeral took place in the capitol. It was a solemn, an imposing scene. The Hall of Representatives was hung in sable habiliments. The portraits of Washington and La Fayette, the beautiful statue of the Muse of History in the car of Time, and the vacant chair of the deceased, were wreathed in crape. In the midst, and the most conspicuous of all, was the coffin containing the remains of the illustrious dead, covered with its velvet pall. The President of the United States, and the Heads of Departments, the Members of both Houses of Congress, the Judges of the Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministers, Officers of the Army and Navy, Members of State Legislatures, and an immense concourse of the great, the wise, and the good, were present, to bestow honor on all that remained of the statesman, the philosopher, and the Christian.
A discourse was delivered on the occasion, by the Rev. R. R. Gurley, chaplain to the House of Representatives, from Job xi. 17, 18—"And thine age shall be clearer than the noon-day; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning: and thou shalt be secure, because there is hope." The following are extracts from the sermon:—
"In some circumstances, on some occasions, we most naturally express our emotions in silence and in tears. What voice of man can add to the impressiveness and solemnity of this scene? The presence and aspect of this vast assembly, the Chief Magistrate, Counsellors, Judges, Senators, and Representatives of the nation, distinguished officers of the army and the navy, and the honored Ambassadors from foreign powers,—these symbols and badges of a universal mourning, darkening this hall into sympathy with our sorrow, leave no place for the question, 'Know ye not that a prince and a great man is fallen in Israel?' Near to us, indeed, has come the invisible hand of the Almighty—that hand in which is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind; in this very hall, from yonder seat, which he so long occupied, in the midst of the representatives of the people, has it taken one full of years and honors, eminent, for more than half a century, in various departments of the public service; who adorned every station, even the highest, by his abilities and virtues; and whose influence, powerful in its beneficence, is felt in many, if not in all the States of the civilized world. * * * * *
"Not more certainly is the body invigorated and preserved by suitable food, by manly exercises, by the vital air, than are the intellectual and moral faculties by the investigation and reception of divine truths, by habits of obedience to the divine will, by cheerful submission to the order and discipline of Divine Providence. Nor let us ever distrust the Father of our spirits, who knows perfectly all the wants of our nature, but rest assured that his commandments in the sacred Scriptures are entirely in harmony with the decrees of his providence; and that as to fear Him and keep His commandments is the whole duty (because the highest duty, and comprehending all others), so will it prove the whole and eternal happiness of man. If the indissoluble and harmonious connection between the laws of nature, of Providence and the moral law, be not always obvious, it is always certain. Over all the darkness, disturbances, and evils of the world shines revealed, more or less clearly, like the serene and cheerful heavens, this immutable law, binding virtue, however obscure, persecuted, or forsaken, to reward; duty, however humble or arduous, to happiness. Hence the declaration, that all things shall work together for good to them who love God, and that all things are theirs—the past and future, things temporal and spiritual, prosperity and adversity, angels, and principalities, and powers, and God himself, in all the resources of his wisdom and all the eternity of his reign.
"How shone out, clear as the noonday, yet mild and gentle as the morning, even in age, in the life and character of that great and venerable man, around whose precious, but, alas! inanimate form we all press in gratitude, admiration, and love, those high virtues derived from faith in God, and nurtured by his revealed truth, this bereaved Congress, and, I may add, this nation witnesses. * * * * * *
"Truly emblematic of his moral integrity and strength of character would be the granite column from his native hills, one and entire, just in its proportions, towering in its height, immoveable in its foundations, and pointing to Heaven as the temple and throne of everlasting authority, the final refuge, the imperishable home of all regenerated and faithful souls.
"Independence of mere human authority in the use of his reason, on all subjects, was united with veneration most sincere and profound for the sacred Scriptures, as a supernatural revelation from God, 'whose prerogative extends not less to the reason than the will of man,' and from a daily perusal of the Divine Word, and a constant and devout attendance upon the public worship of the Sabbath, although differing on some points from common opinions, he cherished enlarged views of Christian communion, and recognized in most, if not all the religious denominations of this country, members of one and the same family and kingdom of Jesus Christ. * * * * * * *
"Alas, the sad and appalling ruins of death! 'This is the end of earth.' Approach! lovers of pleasure, seekers after wisdom, aspirants, by pre-eminence in station, and power, and influence among men, to fame; see the end of human distinctions and earthly greatness! Surely man walketh in a vain show; surely man in his best estate is altogether vanity. How pertinent to this scene the words of Job: 'He leadeth princes away spoiled, and overthroweth the mighty. He removeth away the speech of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged. He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death!' How, indeed, is the mighty fallen, and the head of the wise laid low! All flesh is grass—all the glory of man as the flower of the field. And shall this vast congregation soon be brought to the grave—that house appointed for all the living? Hear, then, the great announcement of the Son of God: 'I am the resurrection and the life, and whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.' Is it strange that he who communed so much with the future as the great statesman to whose virtues and memory we now pay this sad, final, solemn tribute of honor and affection, should, in the last conversation I ever had with him, have expressed both regret and astonishment at the indifference among too many of our public men to the truths and ordinances of our holy religion? Is it to affect our hearts that he has been permitted to fall in the midst of us, to arouse us from this insensibility, and cause us to press towards the gates of the eternal city of God? Let us bless God for another great example to shine upon us, that another star (we humbly trust) is planted amid the heavenly constellations to guide us to eternity!"
At the conclusion of the exercises in the capitol, a vast procession, escorted by military companies, conveyed the remains to the Congressional burying ground, where they were to rest until preparations for their removal to Quincy should be completed.
"Sad was the pomp that yesterday beheld, As with the mourner's heart the anthem swelled; The rich-plumed canopy, the gorgeous pall, The sacred march, and sable vested wall!— These were not rites of inexpressive show, But hallowed as the types of real woe! Illustrious deceased! a NATION'S sighs, A NATION'S HEART, went with thine obsequies!"
The following letter of thanks from Mrs. Adams, addressed to the Speaker, was laid before the House of Representatives:—
"Washington, February 29, 1848. "SIR: The resolutions in honor of my dear deceased husband, passed by the illustrious assembly over which you preside, and of which he at the moment of his death was a member, have been duly communicated to me.
"Penetrated with grief at this distressing event of my life, mourning the loss of one who has been at once my example and my support through the trials of half a century, permit me nevertheless to express through you my deepest gratitude for the signal manner in which the public regard has been voluntarily manifested by your honorable body, and the consolation derived to me and mine from the reflection that the unwearied efforts of an old public servant have not even in this world proved without their reward in the generous appreciation of them by his country.
"With great respect, I remain, sir, your obedient servant, "LOUISA CATHARINE ADAMS."
On the following week, the Committee of one from each State and Territory in the Union, appointed by the House of Representatives to take charge of the remains of the deceased ex-President, and convey them to Quincy for final interment, commenced their journey. It was a new, yet inexpressibly thrilling and imposing spectacle. The dead body of "the Old Man Eloquent," surrounded and guarded by a son of each of the States and Territories of that Union which he had so largely assisted in consolidating and sustaining, leaves the capitol of the nation, where for more than thirty years he had acted the most conspicuous part among the fathers of the land, to rest in the tomb of its ancestors, amid the venerable shades of Quincy. How solemn the progress of such a procession. It was indeed, "the Funeral March of the Dead!" Wherever it passed, the people rose up and paid the utmost marks of respect to the remains of one who had occupied so large a space in the history of his country. In towns, in villages, in cities, as the mournful cortege swept through, business was suspended, flags were displayed at half mast, bells were tolled, minute guns were fired, civil and military processions received the sacred remains, and watched over them by night and by day, and passed them on from State to State.
"What a progress was it which the dead patriot thus made! From the capitol of the nation, beneath whose dome, and while at his post of duty, he was seized by death—within sight almost of that Mount Vernon where repose the ashes of him, the Father of his Country, who first distinguished, encouraged and employed the extraordinary capacity of the youthful Adams—through cities that in his life time have grown up from villages—passing, at Baltimore, almost beneath the shadow of the monument which there testifies of the valor of those who fell for country in the war of 1812—and in Philadelphia halting and reposing within the hall where his great father; John Adams, had fearlessly stood for Independence, and where Independence was proclaimed—the dead passed on, everywhere followed by the reverential gaze and the mourning heart, till, reaching the great metropolis of New York, where the same father had been sworn in and taken his seat, as the first Vice President of the United States, with George Washington for President! Thence away the march was resumed, till it reached old Faneuil Hall—the cradle of American liberty, the fitting final restingplace, while yet unburied, of the body of one in whose heart, at no moment of life, did the love of liberty, imbibed or strengthened in that hall, suffer the slightest abatement." [Footnote: King's Eulogy.]
Faneuil Hall was clothed in the dark drapery of mourning, fitting to receive the body of one of the greatest of the many noble sons of the venerable Bay State. Amid solemn dirges and appropriate ceremonies, the chairman of the Congressional Committee surrendered to a Committee from the Legislature of Massachusetts, the sacred remains they had accompanied from the capitol of the United States.—
"Throughout the journey," said the chairman, "there have been displayed manifestations of the highest admiration and respect for the memory of your late distinguished fellow-citizen. In the large cities through which we expected to pass, we anticipated such demonstrations; but in every village and hamlet, at the humblest cottage which we passed, and from the laborers in the field, the same profound respect was testified by their uncovered heads."
The Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature having thus received the body from its Congressional escort, in turn surrendered it to the keeping of the municipal authorities of Boston, for burial at Quincy. This ceremony was performed by Mr. Buckingham, chairman of the Legislative Committee, in these impressive words:—
"In the name and behalf of the Government and People of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, whose honored but humble servant I this day am, I consign to your faithful keeping, Mr. Mayor, the remains of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS—all that was mortal of that venerable man, whose age and whose virtues had rendered him an object of intense interest and admiration to his country and to the world. We place these sacred remains in your possession, to be conveyed to their appointed home—to sleep in the sepulchre and with the dust of his fathers."
Mr. Quincy, the Mayor, in accepting the guardianship conferred upon him in behalf of the city of Boston, replied in the following terms:—
"There is something sublime in the scene that surrounds us. An honored son of Massachusetts—one who was educated by a signer of the Declaration of Independence—one who heard the thunder of the great struggle for liberty on yonder hill, has, after a life of unparalleled usefulness and fidelity, fallen in the capitol of the country he served. His remains were escorted here by delegates from every State in the Union. They have passed over spots ever memorable in history. They have everywhere been received with funeral honors. They have reposed in the hall of independence. They now lie in the cradle of liberty. As a citizen of Massachusetts, I cannot but acknowledge our sense of the honor paid to her distinguished son. Mourned by a nation at its capitol, attended by the representatives of millions to the grave, he has received a tribute to his memory unequalled among men.
"These remains now rest in the cradle of liberty. It is their last resting-place on their journey home. As a statesman's, 'this is to them the last of earth!' To-morrow they will be deposited in the peaceful church-yard of the village of his birth, there to be mourned, not as statesmen mourn for statesmen, but as friends mourn for friends.
"He will be 'gathered to his fathers!' And how great, in this case, is the significance of the expression! It is possible that other men may be attended as he will be to the grave. But when again shall the tomb of a President of the United States open its doors to receive a son who has filled the same office?"
On the following day, the body, under the charge of the municipal officers of Boston, was conveyed to Quincy. In the Unitarian church, in the presence of old neighbors and friends, the last funeral exercises were held, and the last sad burial service was performed.
By the side of the graves of his fathers, overshadowed by aged trees, which had sheltered his head in the days of boyhood, in a plain tomb, prepared under his own direction, and inscribed simply with his name, sleep the ashes of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
"Let no weak drops Be shed for him. The virgin in her bloom Cut off, the joyous youth, and darling child, These are the tombs that claim the tender tear And elegiac songs. But Adams calls For other notes of gratulation high; That now he wanders thro' those endless worlds He here so well descried; and, wondering, talks And hymns their Author with his glad compeers. Columbia's boast! whether with angels thou Sittest in dread discourse, or fellow blest Who joy to see the honor of their kind; Or whether, mounted on cherubic wing, Thy swift career is with the whirling orbs, Comparing things with things, in rapture lost, And grateful adoration for that light So plenteous ray'd into thy mind below From Light himself—oh! look with pity down On human kind, a frail, erroneous race! Exalt the spirit of a downward world! O'er thy dejected country chief preside, And be her Genius called! her studies raise, Correct her manners, and inspire her youth; For, though deprav'd and sunk, she brought thee forth, And glories in thy name. She points thee out To all her sons, and bids them eye thy star— Thy star, which, followed steadfastly, shall lead To wisdom, virtue, glory here, and joy Unspeakable in worlds to come."
EULOGY.[Footnote: Delivered before the Legislature of New York, by Wm. H. Seward.]
We are in the midst of extraordinary events. British-American Civilization and Spanish-American Society have come into collision, each in its fullest maturity. The armies of the North have penetrated the chapparels at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma—passed the fortresses of Monterey, and rolled back upon the heart of Mexico the unavailing tide of strong resistance from the mountain-side of Buena Vista. Martial colonists are encamped on the coasts of California, while San Juan d'Ulloa has fallen, and the invaders have swept the gorge of Cerro Gordo—carried Perote and Puebla, and planted the banner of burning stars and ever-multiplying stripes on the towers of the city of the Aztecs.
The thirtieth Congress assembles in this conjuncture, and the debates are solemn, earnest, and bewildering. Interest, passion, conscience, freedom, and humanity, all have their advocates. Shall new loans and levies be granted to prosecute still farther a war so glorious? or shall it be abandoned? Shall we be content with the humiliation of the foe? or shall we complete his subjugation? Would that severity be magnanimous, or even just? Nay, is the war itself just? Who provoked, and by what unpardonable offence, this disastrous strife between two eminent Republics, so scandalous to Democratic Institutions? Where shall we trace anew the ever-advancing line of our empire? Shall it be drawn on the shore of the Rio Grande, or on the summit of the Sierra Madre? or shall Mexican Independence be extinguished, and our eagle close his adventurous pinions only when he looks off upon the waves that separate us from the Indies? Does Freedom own and accept our profuse oblations of blood, or does she reject the sacrifice? Will these conquests extend her domain, or will they be usurped by ever-grasping slavery? What, effect will this new-born ambition have upon ourselves? Will it leave us the virtue to continue the career of social progress? How shall we govern the conquered people? Shall we incorporate their mingled races with ourselves, or rule them with the despotism of proconsular power? Can we preserve these remote and hostile possessions in any way, without forfeiting our own blood-bought heritage of freedom?
Steam and lightning, which have become docile messengers, make the American people listeners to this high debate, and anxiety, and interest, intense and universal, absorb them all. Suddenly the council is dissolved. Silence is in the capitol, and sorrow has thrown its pall over the land. What new event is this? Has some Cromwell closed the legislative chambers? or has some Caesar, returning from his distant conquests, passed the Rubicon, seized the purple, and fallen in the Senate beneath the swords of self-appointed executioners of his country's vengeance? No! nothing of all this. What means, then, this abrupt and fearful silence? What unlooked for calamity has quelled the debates of the Senate and calmed the excitement of the people? An old man, whose tongue once indeed was eloquent, but now through age had well nigh lost its cunning, has fallen into the swoon of death. He was not an actor in the drama of conquest—nor had his feeble voice yet mingled in the lofty argument—
"A grey-haired sire, whose eye intent Was on the visioned future bent."
And now he has dreamed out at last the troubled dream of life. Sighs of unavailing grief ascend to Heaven. Panegyric, fluent in long-stifled praise, performs its office. The army and the navy pay conventional honors, with the pomp of national woe, and then the hearse moves onward. It rests appropriately, on its way, in the hall where independence was proclaimed, and again under the dome where freedom was born. At length the tomb of JOHN ADAMS opens to receive a SON, who also, born a subject of a king had stood as a representative of his emancipated country, before principalities and powers, and had won by merit, and worn without reproach, the honors of the Republic.
From that scene, so impressive in itself, and impressive because it never before happened, and can never happen again, we have come up to this place surrounded with the decent drapery of public mourning, on a day set apart by authority, to recite the history of the citizen, who, in the ripeness of age, and fulness of honors, has thus descended to his rest. It is fit to do so, because it is by such exercises that nations regenerate their early virtues and renew their constitutions. All nations must perpetually renovate their virtues and their constitutions, or perish. Never was there more need to renovate ours than now, when we seem to be passing from the safe old policy of peace and moderation into a career of conquest and martial renown. Never was the duty of preserving our free institutions in all their purity, more obvious than it is now, when they have become beacons to mankind in what seems to be a general dissolution of their ancient social systems.
The history of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS is one that opens no new truth in the philosophy of virtue; for there is no undiscovered truth in that philosophy. But it is a history that sheds marvellous confirmation on maxims which all mankind know, and yet are prone to undervalue and forget. The exalted character before us was formed by the combination of virtue, courage, assiduity, and modesty, under favorable conditions, with native talent and genius, and illustrates the truth, that in morals as in nature, simplicity is the chief element of the sublime.
John Quincy Adams was fortunate in his lineage; in the period, and in the place of his nativity; in all the circumstances of education; in the age and country in which he lived; in the incidents, as well as the occasions of his public service; and in the period and manner of his death. He was a descendant from one of the Puritan planters of Massachusetts, and a son of the most intrepid actor in the Revolution of Independence. Quincy, the place of his birth, is a plain, bounded on the west by towering granite hills, and swept without defence by every wind from the ocean. Its soil in ancient times was as sterile as its climate is always rigorous.
Born on the eleventh day of July, 1767, in the hour of the agitation of rebellion, and reared within sight and sound of gathering war, the earliest political ideas he received were such as John Adams then uttered—"We must fight." "Sink or swim—live or die—survive or perish with my country, is my unalterable determination." A mother fervently pious, and eminent in intellectual gifts, directed with more than maternal assiduity and solicitude the education of him who was to render her own name immortal. Never quite divorced from home, yet twice, and for long periods in his youth, a visitor in Europe, he enjoyed always the parental discipline of one of the founders of the American State, and often the daily conversation of Franklin and Jefferson; and combined travel in France, Spain, England, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, and even diplomatic experience, with the instructions of the schools of Paris, of the University at Leyden, and of Harvard University at Cambridge; and all these influences fell upon him at a period when his country, then opening the way to human liberty through trials of fire, fixed the attention of mankind.
The establishment of the Republic of the United States of America, is the most important secular event in the history of the human race. It did not disentangle the confused theory of the origin of Government, but cut through the bonds of power existing by prescription, at a blow; and thus directly and immediately affected the opinions and the actions of men in every part of the civilized world. It animated them everywhere to seek freedom from despotic power and aristocratic restraint. Whenever and wherever they have since moved, either by peaceful agitation or by physical force, to meliorate systems of government, whether in France at the close of the last century, or afterward on the second subversion of the elder branch of the Bourbons, or in the recent overthrow of the constitutional king, or in Ireland, or in England, or in Italy, or in Greece, or in South America, whether they succeeded or failed, there, in the tumult or in the strife, was the spirit of the American Revolution. "It gave an example of a great people, not merely emancipating themselves, but governing themselves, without either a monarch to control, or an aristocracy to restrain them; and it demonstrated, for the first time in the history of the world, contrary to the predictions and theories of speculative philosophy, that a great nation, when duly prepared, is capable of self-government by purely republican institutions."
But the establishment of the American Republic was too great an achievement to be made all at once. It was a drama of five grand acts, each of which filled a considerable period, and called upon the stage actors of peculiar powers and distinguished virtues. Those acts were, colonization, preparation, revolution, organization, consolidation.
Two of these acts were closed before John Quincy Adams was born. The third, the revolution, the shortest of them all, dazzles the contemplation by the rapidity and the martial character of its incidents. The fourth, the organization of the Government, by the splendors of genius elicited, and the felicity of the new form of government presented, satisfies the superficial inquirer that, when the Constitution had been adopted, nothing remained to perfect the great achievement. But other nations have had successful revolutions, and have set up free constitutions, and have yet sunk again under reinvigorated despotism. The CONSOLIDATION of the American Republic—the crowning act—occupied forty years, reaching from 1789 to 1829. During that period, John Quincy Adams participated continually in public affairs, and ultimately became the principal actor.
The new Government was purely an experiment. In opposition to the fixed habits of mankind, it established suffrage practically universal, and representation so perfect that not one Legislative House only, but both Houses; not legislative officers only, but all officers, executive, ministerial, and even judicial, were directly or indirectly elected by the people. The longest term of the senatorial trust was but six years, and the shortest only two, and even the tenure of the executive power was only four years. This Government, betraying so much popular jealousy, was invested with only special and limited sovereignty. The conduct of merely municipal affairs was distributed within the States, among Governments even more popular than the federal structure, and without whose ever-renewed support that structure must fall.
The Government thus constituted, so new, so complex and artificial, was to be consolidated, in the midst of difficulties at home, and of dangers abroad. The constitution had been adopted only upon convictions of absolute necessity, and with evanescent dispositions of compromise. By nearly half of the people it was thought too feeble to sustain itself, and secure the rights for which governments are instituted among men. By as many it was thought liable to be converted into an over-shadowing despotism, more formidable and more odious than the monarchy which had been subverted. These conflicting opinions revealed themselves in like discordance upon every important question of administration, and were made the basis of parties, which soon became jealous and irreconcilable, and ultimately inveterate, and even in some degree disloyal.
These domestic feuds were aggravated by pernicious influences from Europe. In the progress of western civilization, the nations of the earth had become social. The new Republic could not, like the Celestial Empire, or that of Japan, confine itself within its own boundaries, and exist without national intercourse. It had entered the family of nations. But the position it was to assume, and the advantages it was to be allowed to enjoy, were yet to be ascertained and fixed. Its independence, confessed to be only a doubtful experiment at home, was naturally thought ephemeral in Europe. Its example was ominous, and the European Powers willingly believed that, if discountenanced and baffled, America would soon relapse into colonial subjugation. Such prejudices were founded in the fixed habits of society. Not only the thirteen colonies, but the whole American hemisphere, had been governed by European States from the period of its discovery. The very soil belonged to the trans-atlantic monarchs by discovery, or by ecclesiastical gift. Dominion over it attached by divine right to their persons, and drew after it obligations of inalienable allegiance upon those who became the inhabitants of the new world. The new world was indeed divided between different powers, but the system of government was the same. It was administered for the benefit of the parental State alone. Each power prohibited all foreign trade with its Colonies, and all intercourse between them and other plantations, supplied its Colonies with what they needed from abroad, interdicted their manufactures, and monopolized their trade. The prevalence of this system over the whole continent of America and the adjacent islands prevented all enterprize in the colonies, discouraged all improvement, and retarded their progress to independence.
The American Revolution sundered these bonds only so far as they confined thirteen of the British Colonies, and left the remaining British dominions, and the continent, from Georgia around Cape Horn to the Northern Ocean, under the same thraldom as before. Even the United States had attained only physical independence. The moral influences of the colonial system oppressed them still. Their trade, their laws, their science, their literature, their social connections, their ecclesiastical relations, their manners and their habits, were still colonial; and their thoughts continually clung around the ancient and majestic States of the Eastern Continent.
The American Revolution, so happily concluded here, broke out in France simultaneously with the beginning of Washington's administration. The French nation passed in fifteen years from absolute despotism under Louis XVI., through all the phases of democracy to a military despotism under Napoleon Bonaparte; and retained through all these changes, only two characteristics—unceasing ferocity of faction, and increasing violence of aggression against foreign States. The scandal of the French Revolution fell back upon the United States of America, who were regarded as the first disturbers of the ancient social system. The principal European monarchs combined, under the guidance of England, to arrest the presumptuous career of France and extirpate democracy by the sword. Nevertheless, the republican cause, however odious in Europe, was our national cause. The sympathies of a large portion of the American people could not be withdrawn from the French nation, which always claimed, even when marshalled into legions under the Corsican conqueror, to be fighting the battles of freedom; while, on the other side, the citizens who regarded innovation as worse than tyranny, considered England and her allies as engaged in sustaining the cause of order, of government, and of society itself.
The line already drawn between the American people in regard to their organic law, naturally became the dividing line of the popular sympathies in the great European conflict. Thus deeply furrowed, that line became "a great gulf fixed." The Federal party unconsciously became an English party, although it indignantly disowned the epithet; and the Republican party became a French party, although with equal sincerity it denied the gross impeachment. Each belligerent was thus encouraged to hope some aid from the United States, through the ever-expected triumph of its friends; while both conceived contemptuous opinions of a people who, from too eager interest in a foreign fray, suffered their own national rights to be trampled upon with impunity by the contending States.
Washington set the new machine of government in motion. He formed his cabinet of recognized leaders of the adverse parties. Hamilton and Knox of the Federal party were balanced by Jefferson and Randolph of the adverse party. "Washington took part with neither, but held the balance between them with the scrupulous justice which marked his lofty nature." On the 25th of April, 1793, he announced the neutrality of the United States between the belligerents, and his decision, without winning the respect of either, exasperated both. Each invaded our national rights more flagrantly than before, and excused the injustice by the plea of necessary retaliation against its adversary, and each found willing apologists in a sympathizing faction in our own country.
Commercial and political relations were to be established between the United States and the European Powers in this season of conflict. Ministers were needed who could maintain and vindicate abroad the same impartiality practised by Washington at home. There was one citizen eminently qualified for such a trust in such a conjuncture. Need I say that citizen was the younger Adams, and that Washington had the sagacity to discover him?
John Quincy Adams successively completed missions at the Hague and at Berlin, in the period intervening between 1794 and 1801, with such advantage and success, that in 1802 he was honored by his native commonwealth with a seat as her representative in the Senate of the United States. The insults offered to our country by the belligerents increased in aggravation as the contest between them became more violent and convulsive. France, in 1804, laid aside even the name and forms of a Republic, and the first consul, dropping the emblems of popular power, placed the long-coveted diadem upon his brow, where its jewels sparkled among the laurels he had won in the conquest of Italy. Washington's administration had passed away, leaving the American people in sullen discontent. John Adams had succeeded, and had atoned by the loss of power for the offence he had given by causing a just but unavailing war to be declared against France. Jefferson was at the head of the Government; he thought the belligerents might be reduced to forbearance by depriving them of our commercial contributions of supplies, and recommended, first an embargo, and then non-intercourse. Britain was an insular and France a continental power. The effects of these measures would therefore be more severe on the former than on the latter, and, unhappily, they were more severe on our own country than on either of the offenders.
Massachusetts was the chief commercial State in the Union. She saw the ruin of her commerce involved in the policy of Jefferson, and regarded it as an unworthy concession to the usurper of the French throne. In this emergency John Quincy Adams turned his back on Massachusetts, and threw into the uprising scale of the administration, the weight of his talents and of his already eminent fame. Massachusetts instructed the recusant to recant. He refused to obey, and resigned his place. His change of political relations astounded the country, and, with the customary charity of partisan zeal, was attributed to venality. It is now seen by us in the light reflected upon it by the habitual independence, unquestioned purity, and lofty patriotism of his whole life; and thus seen, constitutes only the first marked one of many instances wherein he broke the green withes which party fastened upon him, and maintained the cause of his country, referring the care of his fame to God and to an impartial posterity. Like Decimus Brutus, whom Julius Caesar saluted among his executioners with the exclamation "Et tu, Brute!" John Quincy Adams was not unfaithful, but he could not be obliged where he was not left free.
Jefferson retired in 1809, leaving to his successor, the scholastic and peace-loving Madison, the perilous legacy of perplexed foreign relations, and embittered domestic feuds. Great Britain now filled the measure of exasperations, by insolently searching our vessels on the high seas, and impressing into her marine all whom she chose to suspect of having been born in her allegiance, even though they had renounced it and had assumed the relations of American citizens. War was therefore imminent and inevitable. Russia was then coming forward to a position of commanding influence in Europe, and her youthful Emperor Alexander had won, by his chivalrous bearing, the respect of mankind. John Quincy Adams was wisely sent by the United States, to establish relations of amity with the great power of the North; and while he was thus engaged, the flames of European war, which had been so long averted, involved his own country. War was declared against Great Britain.
It was just. It was necessary. Yet it was a war that dared Great Britain to re-assert her ancient sovereignty. It was a war with a power whose wealth and credit were practically inexhaustible, a power whose navy rode unchecked over all the seas, and whose impregnable garrisons encircled the globe.
Against such a power the war was waged by a nation that had not yet accumulated wealth, nor established credit, nor even opened avenues suitable for transporting munitions of war through its extended territories—that had only the germ of a navy, an inconsiderable army, and not one substantial fortress. Yet such a war, under such circumstances, was denounced as unnecessary and unjust, though for no better reason than because greater contumelies had been endured at the hands of France. Thus a domestic feud, based on the very question of the war itself, enervated the national strength, and encouraged the mighty adversary.
The desperate valor displayed at Chippewa and Lundy's Lane, at Fort Erie and Plattsburgh, and the brilliant victories won in contests between single ships of war on the ocean and armed fleets on the lakes, vindicated the military prowess of the United States, but brought us no decisive advantage. A suspension of the conflict in Europe followed Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, and left America alone opposed to her great adversary. Peace was necessary, because the national credit was exhausted—because the fortunes of the war were inclining against us—and because the opposition to it was ripening into disorganizing councils. Adams had prepared the way by securing the mediation of Alexander. Then, in that critical period, associated with Russell, Bayard, the learned and versatile Gallatin, and the eloquent and chivalric Clay, he negotiated with firmness, with assiduity, with patience, and with consummate ability, a definitive treaty of peace—a treaty of peace which, although it omitted the causes of the war already obsolete, saved and established and confirmed in its whole integrity the independence of the Republic—a treaty of peace that yet endures, and, we willingly hope, may endure forever.
After fulfilling a subsequent mission at the Court of St. James, the pacificator entered the domestic service of the country as Secretary of State in the administration of James Monroe; and at the expiration of that administration became President of the United States. He attained the honors of the Republic at the age of fifty-seven, in the forty-ninth year of independence. He was sixth in the succession, and with him closed the line of Chief Magistrates who had rendered to their country some tribute of their talents in civil or military service in the war of independence.
John Quincy Adams, on entering civil life, had found the Republic unstable. He retired in 1829, leaving it firmly established. It was thus his happy fortune to preside at the completion of that work of consolidation, the beginning of which was the end of the labors of Washington.
John Quincy Adams engaged in this great work while yet in private life, in 1793. He showed to his fellow-citizens, in a series of essays, the inability of the French people to maintain free institutions at that time, and the consequent necessity of American neutrality in the European war. These publications aided Washington so much the more because they anticipated his own decision. Adams sustained the same great cause when he strengthened the administration of Jefferson against the preponderating influence of Great Britain. His diplomatic services in Holland and Russia secured, at a critical period, a favorable consideration in the Courts of those countries, which conduced to the same end; and his brilliant success in restoring peace to the country so sorely pressed, relieved her from her enemies, reassured her, and gave to sceptical Europe conclusive proof that her republican institutions were destined to endure.
The administration of John Quincy Adams blends so intimately with that of Monroe, in which he was chief Minister, that no dividing line can be drawn between them. Adams may be said, without derogation from the fame of Monroe, to have swayed the Government during his presidency; and with equal truth, Monroe may be admitted to have continued his administration through that of his successor.
The consolidation of the Republic required that faction should be extinguished. Monroe began this difficult task cautiously, and pursued it with good effect. John Quincy Adams completed the achievement. The dignity and moderation which marked his acceptance of the highest trust which a free people could confer, beautifully foreshadowed the magnanimity with which it was to be discharged. He confessed himself deeply sensible of the circumstances under which it had been conferred:—
All my predecessors (he said) have been honored with majorities of the electoral voices, in the primary colleges. It has been my fortune to be placed, by the divisions of sentiment prevailing among our countrymen, on this occasion, in competition, friendly and honorable, with three of my fellow-citizens, all justly enjoying, in eminent degrees, the public favor; and of whose worth, talents and services, no one entertains a higher and more respectful sense than myself. The names of two of them were, in the fulfilment of the provisions of the constitution, presented to the selection of the House of Representatives, in concurrence with my own, names closely associated with the glory of the nation, and one of them farther recommended by a larger majority of the primary electoral suffrages than mine. In this state of things, could my refusal to accept the trust thus delegated to me give an opportunity to the people to form and to express, with a nearer approach to unanimity, the object of their preference, I should not hesitate to decline the acceptance of this eminent charge, and to submit the decision of this momentous question again to their determination.
It argued a noble consciousness of virtue to express, on such an occasion, so ingenuously, the emotions of a generous ambition.
He displayed the same great quality no less when he called to the post of chief Minister, in spite of clamors of corruption, Henry Clay, that one of his late rivals who alone among his countrymen had the talents and generosity which the responsibilities of the period exacted.
John Quincy Adams signalized his accession to the post of dangerous elevation by avowing the sentiments concerning parties by which he was inflexibly governed throughout his administration:—
Of the two great political parties [he said] which have divided the opinions and feelings of our country, the candid and the just will now admit, that both have contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent patriotism, and disinterested sacrifices, to the formation and administration of the Government, and that both have required a liberal indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error. The revolutionary wars of Europe, commencing precisely at the moment when the Government of the United States first went into operation under the constitution, excited collisions of sentiments, and of sympathies, which kindled all the passions and embittered the conflict of parties, till the nation was involved in war, and the Union was shaken to its centre. This time of trial embraced a period of five-and-twenty years, during which the policy of the Union in its relations with Europe constituted the principal basis of our own political divisions, and the most arduous part of action of the Federal Government. With the catastrophe in which the wars of the French Revolution terminated, and our own subsequent peace with Great Britain, this baneful weed of party strife was uprooted. From that time no difference of principle, connected with the theory of government, or with our intercourse with foreign nations, has existed or been called forth in force sufficient to sustain a continued combination of parties, or given more than wholesome animation to public sentiment or legislative debate. Our political creed, without a dissenting voice that can be heard, is that the will of the people is the source, and the happiness of the people is the end, of all legitimate government upon earth—that the best security for the beneficence, and the best guaranty against the abuse of power, consists in the freedom, the purity, and the frequency of popular elections. That the General Government of the Union, and the separate Governments of the States, are all sovereignties of legitimate powers; fellow servants of the same masters, uncontrolled within their respective spheres—uncontrollable by encroachments on each other. If there have been those who doubted whether a confederated representative democracy was a government competent to the wise and orderly management of the common concerns of a mighty nation, those doubts have been dispelled. If there have been projects of partial confederacies to be erected upon the ruins of the Union, they have been scattered to the winds. If there have been dangerous attachments to one foreign nation, and antipathies against another, they have been extinguished. Ten years of peace at home and abroad have assuaged the animosities of political contention and blended into harmony the most discordant elements of public opinion. There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the individuals throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing, as countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents and virtue alone that confidence which, in times of contention for principle, was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party communion.
During the administration of John Quincy Adams, he was really the Chief Magistrate. He submitted neither his reason nor his conscience to the control of any partisan cabal. No man was appointed to office in obedience to political dictation, and no faithful public servant was proscribed. The result rewarded his magnanimity. Faction ceased to exist. When South Carolina, a few years afterward, assumed the very ground that the ancient republican party had indicated as lawful and constitutional, and claimed the right and power to set aside, within her own limits, acts of Congress which she pronounced void, because they transcended the Federal authority, she called on the republican party throughout the Union in vain. The dangerous heresy had been renounced forever. Since that time there has been no serious project of a combination to resist the laws of the Union, much less of a conspiracy to subvert the Union itself.
What though the elements of political strife remain? They are necessary for the life of free States. What though there still are parties, and the din and turmoil of their contests are ceaselessly heard? They are founded now on questions of mere administration, or on the more ephemeral questions of personal merit. Such parties are dangerous only in the decline, not in the vigor of Republics. Rome was no longer fit for freedom, and needed a Dictator and a Sovereign, when Pompey and Caesar divided the citizens. What though the magnanimity of Adams was not appreciated, and his contemporaries preferred his military competitor in the subsequent election? The sword gathers none but ripe fruits, and the masses of any people will sometimes prefer them to the long maturing harvest, which the statesmen of the living generations sow, to be reaped by their successors. For all this Adams cared not. He had extinguished the factions which for forty years had endangered the State. He had left on the records of history instructions and an example teaching how faction could be overthrown, and his country might resort to them when danger should recur. For himself he knew well, none knew better, that
"He who ascends to mountain-tops shall find The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow. He who surpasses or subdues mankind, Must look down on the hate of those below. Though high above the sun of glory glow, And far beneath the earth and ocean spread, Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow Contending tempests on his naked head, And thus reward the toils which to their summits led."
The federal authority had so long been factiously opposed, that the popular respect for its laws needed to be renewed. The State of Georgia presented the fit occasion. She insisted on expelling, forcibly, remnants of Indian tribes, within her limits, in virtue of a treaty which was impeached for fraud, and came for revision before the Supreme Court and the Senate. The President met the emergency with boldness and decision. The demonstration thus given that good faith should be practised, and the law have its way, no matter how unequal the litigating parties, operated favorably toward restoring the moral influence of the Government. That influence, although sometimes checked, has recently increased in strength, until the federal authority is universally regarded as final, and liberty again walks confidently hand in hand with law.
John Quincy Adams "loved peace and ensued it." He loved peace as a Christian, because war was at enmity with the spirit and precepts of a religion which he held to be divine. As a statesman and magistrate, he loved peace, because war was not merely injurious to national prosperity, but because, whether successful or adverse, it was subversive of liberty. Democracies are prone to war, and war consumes them. He favored, therefore, all the philanthropic efforts of the age to cultivate the spirit of peace, and looked forward with benevolent hope to the ultimate institution of a General Congress of nations for the adjustment of their controversies. But he was no visionary and no enthusiast. He knew that as yet war was often inevitable—that pusillanimity provoked it, and that national honor was national property of the highest value; because it was the best national defence. He admitted only defensive war—but he did not narrowly define it. He held that to be a defensive war, which was waged to sustain what could not be surrendered or relinquished without compromising the independence, the just influence, or even the proper dignity of the State. Thus he had supported the war with Great Britain—thus in later years he sustained President Jackson in his bold demonstration against France, when that power wantonly refused to perform the stipulations it had made in a treaty of indemnity; and thus he yielded his support to what was thought a warlike measure of the present administration in the diplomatic controversy with Great Britain concerning the Territory of Oregon. The living and the dead have mutual rights, and therefore it must be added that he considered the present war with Mexico as unnecessary, unjust, and criminal. His opinion on this exciting question is among those on which he referred himself to that future age which he so often constituted the umpire between himself and his contemporaries.