Memoir of the Life of John Quincy Adams.
by Josiah Quincy
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



During the second term of Mr. Monroe's Presidency, Mr. Adams continued to take his full proportion of responsibility in the measures of the administration. Questions concerning the Bank of the United States, the currency, the extinction or extension of slavery, the bankrupt law, the tariff, and internal improvements, brought into discussion the interests of the great States of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, combined with the never-ceasing struggles for power of parties and individuals. Candidates for the office of President and Vice-President were brought into the field by their respective adherents. Every topic which could exalt or depress either was put in requisition, and office-holders and office-seekers became anxious and alert.

In July, 1821, at the request of the citizens of Washington, Mr. Adams delivered an address on the anniversary of American Independence. It did not receive the indulgence usually extended to such efforts, but was made the occasion of severe animadversions on his character and talents. In December his friends called his attention to calumnies and aspersions copied into the City Gazette, from papers issued in Georgia and Tennessee, and expressed their opinions that they ought to be answered by him, as they knew they could be most triumphantly. Mr. Adams replied: "Should I comply with your request, it will be immediately said, I was canvassing for the Presidency. I never, that I can recollect, but once, undertook to answer anything that was published against me, and that was when I was in private life. To answer newspaper accusations would be an endless task. The tongue of falsehood can never be silenced. I have not time to spare from public business to the vindication of myself."

To place Philip P. Barbour, of Virginia, in the Speaker's chair, and to prevent the reelection of John W. Taylor, of New York, the tried friend of the administration, became the next object of all those who hoped to rise by opposing it. The partisans of Barbour were successful, and the consequences of his elevation were immediately apparent. As the Committee of Foreign Relations was, by a practical rule, the medium of communication between Congress and the executive government, it was customary for the Speaker to constitute it chiefly of members who coincided in their views. But many of those now appointed by Barbour, especially the chairman, were hostile to their politics. To this committee all the delicate and critical papers relative to the foreign relations of the United States were to be confidentially communicated. No arrangement could have been more annoying to Mr. Monroe and his cabinet, or more symptomatic of a settled opposition.

By a vote passed in March, 1817, the Senate had required of Mr. Adams a report on weights and measures; and in December, 1819, the House of Representatives had by a resolution made the same requisition. To this subject he had directed his attention when in Russia; and had devoted the leisure his duties as Secretary of State permitted, without approximating to its completion, owing to the number and perplexity of details its pursuit involved.

In the summer of 1820 he relinquished a visit to his father and friends in Massachusetts, and concentrated his attention, during six months, exclusively on this report, which he finished and made to Congress, in February, 1821. At the conclusion of his work he thus expresses himself: "This subject has occupied, for the last sixty years, many of the ablest men in Europe, and to it all the powers, and all the philosophical and mathematical learning and ingenuity, of France and Great Britain, have been incessantly directed. It was a fearful and oppressive task. It has been executed, and it will be for the public judgment to pass upon it."

From the abstruse character of this work, the labor, research, and talent, it evidences have never been generally and justly appreciated. It commences with the wants of individuals antecedent to the existence of communities, and deduces from man's physical organization, and from the exigences of domestic society, the origin of measures of surface, distance, and capacity; and that of weight, from the difference between the specific gravity of substances and its importance in the exchange of traffic consequent on the multiplication of human wants, with the increase of the social relations. He then proceeds to state and analyze the powers and duties of legislators on the subject, with their respective limitations. The results of his researches relative to the weights and measures of the Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, are successively stated. From the institutions of the nations of antiquity he derives those of modern Europe and of the United States. He praises the "stupendous and untiring perseverance of England and France" in this field, and explains the causes which have not rendered their success adequate to their endeavors. The system of modern France on this subject he investigates and applauds, as "one of those attempts to improve the condition of human kind, which, although it may ultimately fail, deserves admiration, as approaching more nearly than any other to the ideal perfection of uniformity in weights and measures." After stating the difficulties which prevented other nations from seconding the endeavors of France, Mr. Adams concludes this elaborate treatise with the opinion that universal uniformity on the subject can only be effected by a general convention, to which all the nations of the world should be parties. Until such a general course of measures be adopted, he regards it as inexpedient for the United States to make any change in their present system. After an elaborate enumeration of the regulations of the several states of the Union, accompanied by voluminous documents, he concludes with proposing, "first, to fix the standard with the partial uniformity of which it is susceptible for the present, excluding all innovation. Second, to consult with foreign nations for the future and ultimate establishment of permanent and universal uniformity."

The Senate ordered six hundred copies of this report to be printed. But its final suggestions were not made the subject of action in either branch. A writer of the day said, with equal truth and severity, "It was not noticed in Congress, where ability was wanting, or labor refused, to understand it." As Mr. Adams was one of the candidates in the approaching presidential election, party spirit was inclined to treat with silence and neglect labors which it realized could not fail to command admiration and approval. In England the merits of this report were more justly appreciated. In 1834, Col. Pasley, royal engineer, in a learned work on measures and money, acknowledged the benefits he had derived from "an official report upon weights and measures, published in 1821, by a distinguished American statesman, John Quincy Adams. This author," he adds, "has thrown more light into the history of our old English weights and measures than all former writers on the subject; and his views of historical facts, even when occasionally in opposition to the reports of our own parliamentary committees, appear to me most correct. For my own part, I do not think I could have seen my way into the history of English weights and measures in the feudal ages without his guidance."

In the summer of 1821 Mr. Adams was apprized that rumors, very unfavorable to his reputation, even for integrity, had been industriously circulated in the Western country. It had been stated that he had made a proposition at Ghent to grant to the British the right to navigate the Mississippi, in return for the Newfoundland fisheries, and that it was in that section represented as a high misdemeanor. Mr. Adams said, that a proposition to confirm both those rights as they had stood before the war, and as stipulated by the treaty of 1783, had been offered to the British commissioners, not by him, but by the whole American mission, every one of whom had subscribed to it. The proposition was not made by him, but by Mr. Gallatin, who knew it would be nothing to the British but a mere naked right, of which they could not make any use. It was accordingly promptly rejected by the British commissioners, and made the ground of a counter proposition of renouncing the right they had, under the treaty of 1783, of navigating that river, on condition of our renouncing the old article on the fisheries. Mr. Adams at once declared that, if it was acceded to, he would never sign the treaty; and it was promptly rejected by the American commissioners. When he was again told that he would be accused in the Western States of the proposition to confirm the British rights as they stood before the war, he replied, that he had no doubt it would be so; for Mr. Clay had already, in one of his speeches in Congress, represented that this proposition had been made by a majority of the Ghent commissioners, he being in the minority, without acknowledging that he had himself signed the note by which the offer was made, and without disclosing how lightly the concession was estimated by the British commissioners, and how promptly they rejected it.

Accordingly, on the 18th of April, 1822, John Floyd, of Virginia, who, both in that state and in Congress, was active in seeking and scattering malign imputations concerning the political course of Mr. Adams, called, in the House of Representatives, for a letter, written by Jonathan Russell, in 1814, to Mr. Monroe, then Secretary of State, and, as he stated, deposited in that office.

This call of Floyd was the springing of the mine for a long-meditated explosion. On searching the records of state, no such letter could be found. Mr. Russell immediately volunteered a copy, and deposited it in that office. This letter was addressed to James Monroe, then Secretary of State, and was dated Paris, 11th of February, 1815. It was a letter of seven folio sheets of paper, and amounted, said Mr. Adams, to little less than a denunciation of a majority of the Ghent commissioners for proposing the article recognizing the fishery, and the British right to navigate the Mississippi,—a proposition in which Mr. Russell had concurred. He wrote this letter at Paris, where all the commissioners then were, without ever communicating it to Mr. Adams, or letting him know he had any intention of writing such a letter. It was a most elaborate, disingenuous, and sophistical argument against principles in which Mr. Russell himself concurred, and against the joint letters of the 14th December, 1814, to which he signed his name. His motives, Mr. Adams considered, for writing then to a Virginian Secretary of State, under a Virginian President, were, apparently, at once to recommend himself to their sectional prejudices about the Mississippi, and to injure him in their esteem and favor, for future effect; and that his motive for now abetting Floyd, in his call for these papers as a public document, was to diminish the popularity of Mr. Adams in the Western States.

With these views of the purposes of Floyd and Russell, Mr. Adams immediately endeavored to obtain the original letter, of which Mr. Russell had now deposited in the Secretary of State's office a paper purporting to be a copy. The original he ascertained was still in the possession of Mr. Monroe, who had received it soon after its date; but, as it was marked "private" by Mr. Russell, he considered it confidential, and did not place it in the office of the Secretary of State. On ascertaining these facts, Mr. Adams claimed the original letter from Mr. Monroe, believing, from internal evidence, that the duplicate, instead of being a true copy of the original, had been in some respects adapted to present effect. Mr. Monroe declined to listen to the repeated remonstrances of Mr. Adams, and continued to maintain that he could not, with honor, make the original letter public. He did not consent until he was called upon for it by a vote of the House of Representatives, proposed by the friends of Mr. Adams, and resisted by Floyd and his party. The original letter being thus obtained, Mr. Adams prepared and published a severe and scrutinizing examination of its facts and suggestions, of the motives which prompted those who had brought it before the public, and of the discrepancies between the original and the alleged copy which Mr. Russell had volunteered to place in the office of the Secretary of State. Mr. Russell replied through the newspapers; on which reply Mr. Adams bestowed a searching and caustic analysis, commenting with great severity on his language and conduct.

The whole of this controversy was published immediately in an octavo pamphlet, including important documents relative to the subject and to the transactions of the commissioners at Ghent, by means of which Mr. Adams vindicates himself and his colleagues from the charges brought against them. This elaborate and powerful defence, on which the strength and character of his mind are deeply impressed, was regarded as triumphant.[1]

[1] This publication is contained in Niles' Weekly Register, vol. XXII., pp. 198, 209, 220, 296, 327, and continued in vol. XXIII., pp. 6 and 9.

Mr. Gallatin also published a pamphlet, generally corroborative of the statements of Mr. Adams; an example which Mr. Clay, another of the Ghent commissioners, being at that time a prominent competitor with Mr. Adams for the Presidency, did not see fit to follow. But, as total silence on his part might be construed to his disadvantage, he published in the newspapers a letter, dated the 15th of November, 1822, in which he intimated that there were some errors, both as to matter of fact and opinion, in the letter of Mr. Adams, as well as in that of Mr. Gallatin; and declared that he would at some future period, more propitious to calm and dispassionate consideration, and when there could be no misrepresentation of motives, lay before the public his own narrative of these transactions.

Mr. Adams, on the 18th of the ensuing December, in a communication to the National Intelligencer, expressed the pleasure it would have given him, had Mr. Clay thought it advisable to have specified the errors he had intimated, to have rectified them by acknowledgment. He added, that whenever Mr. Clay's accepted time to publish his promised narrative should come, he would be ready, if living, to acknowledge indicated errors, and vindicate contested truth. But, lest it might be postponed until both should be summoned to account for all their errors before a higher tribunal than that of their country, he felt called upon to say that what he had written and published concerning this controversy would, in every particular essential or important to the interest of the nation, or to the character of Mr. Clay, be found to abide unshaken the test of human scrutiny, of talents, and of time.

In July, 1822, a plan for an independent newspaper was proposed to Mr. Adams by some members of Congress, and the necessity of such a paper was urged upon him with great earnestness. He replied: "An independent newspaper is very necessary to make truth known to the people; but an editor really independent must have a heart of oak, nerves of iron, and a soul of adamant, to carry it through. His first attempt will bring a hornet's nest about his head; and, if they do not sting him to death or to blindness, he will have to pursue his march with them continually swarming over him, and be beset on all sides with obloquy and slander."

In August, 1822, paragraphs from newspapers, laudatory of other candidates, and depreciatory of Mr. Adams, were shown to him, on which he remarked, "The thing is not new. From the nature of our institutions, competitors for public favor and their respective partisans seek success by slander of each other. I disdain the ignoble warfare, and neither wage it myself or encourage it in my friends. But, from appearances, they will decide the election to the Presidency."

In December, 1822, Alexander Smyth, also a representative of one of the districts of Virginia, followed the example of Mr. Floyd, and, in an address to his constituents, took occasion to introduce malign imputations upon the political course of Mr. Adams. To this end, having ransacked the journals of the Senate of the United States at the time when Mr. Adams was a member, he undertook to attribute to him base motives for the votes he had given, particularly such as would be likely most to affect his popularity in Virginia. Mr. Adams immediately caused to be printed and published an address to the freeholders of Smyth's district; the nature and spirit of which reply will be shown by the following extracts:

"Friends and Fellow-Citizens: By these titles I presume to address you, though personally known to few of you, because my character has been arraigned before you by your representative in Congress, in a printed handbill, soliciting your suffrages for reelection, who seems to have considered his first claim to the continuance of your favor to consist in the bitterness with which he could censure me. I shall never solicit your suffrages, nor those of your representatives, for anything. But I value your good opinion, and wish to show you that I do not deserve to lose it."—"I come to repel the charges of General Smyth, but neither for the purpose of moving you to withhold your suffrages from him, nor induce the General himself to reconsider his opinion concerning me."—"As to his opinions, you will permit me to be indifferent to the opinions of a man capable of forming his judgment of character from such premises as he has alleged in support of his estimate of mine."—"His mode of proof is this: He has ransacked the journals of the Senate during the five years I had the honor of a seat in that body,—a period the expiration of which is nearly fifteen years distant,—and wherever he has found in the list of yeas and nays my name recorded to a vote which he disapproves, he has imputed it, without knowing any of the grounds on which it was given, to the worst of motives, for the purpose of ascribing them to me. Is this fair? Is this candid? Is this just? Where is the man who ever served in a legislative capacity in your councils whose character could stand a test like this?"

Mr. Adams then proceeds to reply to all the charges brought against him by Alexander Smyth, analyzing and explaining every vote which he had made the subject of animadversion fully and successfully. The close of his defence is as follows:

"Fellow-Citizens: I have explained to you the reasons and real motives of all the votes which your representative, General Alexander Smyth, has laid to my charge, in a printed address to you, and to which unusual publicity has been given in the newspapers. I am aware that, in presenting myself before you to give this explanation, my conduct may again be attributed to unworthy motives. The best actions may be, and have been, and will be, traced to impure sources, by those to whom troubled waters are a delight. If, in many cases, when the characters of public men are canvassed, however severely, it is their duty to suffer and be silent, there are others, in my belief many others, wherein their duty to their country, as well as to themselves and their children, is to stand forth the guardians and protectors of their own honest fame. Had your representative, in asking again for your votes, contented himself with declaring to you his intentions concerning me, you never would have heard from me in answer to him. But when he imputes to me a character and disposition unworthy of any public man, and adduces in proof mere naked votes upon questions of great public interest, all given under the solemn sense of duty, impressed by an oath to support the constitution, and by the sacred obligations of a public trust, to defend myself against charges so groundless and unprovoked is, in my judgment, a duty of respect to you, no less than a duty of self-vindication to me. I declare to you that not one of the votes which General Smyth has culled from an arduous service of five years in the Senate of the Union, to stigmatize them in the face of the country, was given from any of the passions or motives to which he ascribes them; that I never gave a vote either in hostility to the administration of Mr. Jefferson, or in disregard to republican principles, or in aversion to republican patriots, or in favor of the slave-trade, or in denial of due protection to commerce. I will add, that, having often differed in judgment upon particular measures with many of the best and wisest men of this Union of all parties, I have never lost sight either of the candor due to them in the estimate of their motives, or of the diffidence with which it was my duty to maintain the result of my own opinions in opposition to theirs."

In 1823, as the Presidential election approached, the influences to control and secure the interests predominating in the different sections of the country became more active. Crawford, of Georgia, Calhoun, of South Carolina, Adams, of Massachusetts, and Clay, of Kentucky, were the most prominent candidates. In December, Barbour, of Virginia, was superseded, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, by Clay, of Kentucky; an event ominous to the hopes of Crawford, and to that resistance to the tariff, and to internal improvements, which was regarded as dependent on his success. The question whether a Congressional caucus, by the instrumentality of which Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, had obtained the Presidency, should be again held to nominate a candidate for that office, was the next cause of political excitement. The Southern party, whose hopes rested on the success of Crawford, were clamorous for a caucus. The friends of the other candidates were either lukewarm or hostile to that expedient. Pennsylvania, whose general policy favored a protective tariff and public improvements, hesitated. In 1816 she had manifested an opposition to that plan of Congressional influence, and in 1823 a majority of her representatives declined attending any partial meeting of members of Congress that might attempt a nomination. But the Democracy of that state, ever subservient to the views of the Southern aristocracy, held meetings at Philadelphia, and elsewhere, recommending a Congressional caucus. This motion would have been probably adopted, had not the Legislature of Alabama, about this time, nominated Andrew Jackson for the Presidency, and accompanied their resolutions in his favor with a recommendation to their representatives to use their best exertions to prevent a Congressional nomination of a President. The popularity of Jackson, and the obvious importance to his success of the policy recommended by Alabama, fixed the wavering counsels of Pennsylvania, so that only three representatives from that state attended the Congressional caucus, which was soon after called, and which consisted of only sixty members, out of two hundred and sixty-one, the whole number of the House of Representatives; of which Virginia and New York, under the lead of Mr. Van Buren, constituted nearly one half. Notwithstanding this meagre assemblage, Mr. Crawford was nominated for the Presidency, under a confident expectation that the influence of the caucus would be conclusive with the people, and the candidate and policy of Virginia would be confirmed in ascendency. But the days of Congressional caucuses were now numbered. The people took the nomination of President into their own hands, and the insolent assumption of members of Congress to dictate their choice in respect of this office was henceforth rebuked.

While these intrigues were progressing, Mr. Adams was zealously and laboriously fulfilling his duties as Secretary of State, neither endeavoring himself, nor exciting his friends, to counteract these political movements, one of the chief objects of which was to defeat his chance for the Presidency.

The course of Mr. Adams relative to the application of the Greeks, then struggling for independence, for the aid and countenance of the United States, next brought him into opposition to the prevailing tendency of the popular feeling of the time. A letter was addressed to him, as Secretary of State, by Andrew Luriottis, envoy of the provisional government of the Greeks, at London, entreating that political and commercial relations might be established between the United States and Greece, and proposing to enter upon discussions which might lead to advantageous treaties between the two countries. Mr. Rush, the American minister in London, enclosed this letter to Mr. Adams, and recommended the subject to the favorable attention of our government. Mr. Adams, after expressing the sympathy of the American administration in the cause of Greek freedom and independence, and their best wishes for its success, proceeded to state that their duties precluded their taking part in the war, peace with all the world being the settled policy of the United States; but that if, in the progress of events, the Greeks should establish and organize an independent government, the United States would welcome them, and form with them such diplomatic and commercial relations as were suitable to their respective relations. Mr. Adams also wrote a letter to Mr. Rush, requesting him to explain to Mr. Luriottis that the executive of the United States sympathized with the Greek cause, and would render the Greeks any service consistent with neutrality; but that assistance given by the application of the public force or revenue would involve them in a war with the Sublime Porte, or perhaps with the Barbary powers; that such aid could not be given without an act of Congress, and that the policy of the United States was essentially pacific.

The popular feeling in favor of granting aid to the Greeks soon began to be general and intense. Balls were held and benefits given to raise funds for their relief, and sermons and orations delivered in their behalf, in many parts of the United States. "On this subject," Mr. Adams remarked, "there are two sources of eloquence: the one, with reference to sentiment and enthusiasm; the other, to action. For the Greeks all is enthusiasm. As for action, there is seldom an agreement, and after discussion the subject is apt to be left precisely where it was. Nothing definite, nothing practical, is proposed." The United States were at peace with the Sublime Porte, and he did not think slightly of a war with Turkey. He had not much esteem for that enthusiasm for the Greeks which evaporated in words.

In the ensuing session, on the 9th of January, 1824, Mr. Webster, in the Senate of the United States, proposed a resolve "that provision ought to be made by law for defraying the expense incident to the appointment of an agent or commissioner to Greece, whenever the President shall deem it expedient to make such appointment;" supporting it by a speech adapted to catch the popular tide, then at the full, and, in fact, doing nothing with the appearance of doing something. A member of Congress consulted Mr. Adams on an amendment he proposed to make to the project of Mr. Webster, as specified in his resolve, it being then under consideration in the House of Representatives. Mr. Adams replied, it was immaterial what form the resolution might assume; the objection to it would be the same in every form. It was, in his opinion, the intermeddling of the legislature with the duties of the executive; it was the adoption of Clay's South American system; seizing upon the popular feeling of the moment to embarrass the administration. A few days afterwards, Mr. Adams took occasion to state his reasons to Mr. Webster for being averse to his resolution.

Notwithstanding the Virginia doctrine, that the constitution does not authorize the application of public moneys to internal improvement, was one of the hinges on which the selection of candidates in the Southern States turned, Mr. Adams did not refrain from openly expressing his own opinion. In a letter to a gentleman in Maryland, dated January, 1824, he stated that "Congress does possess the power of appropriating money for public improvements. Roads and canals are among the most essential means of improving the condition of nations; and a people which should deliberately, by the organization of its authorized power, deprive itself of the faculty of multiplying its own blessings, would be as wise as a Creator who should undertake to constitute a human being without a heart."[2]

[2] Niles' Register, vol. XXVI., pp. 251-328.

While the election of President was pending, and the event uncertain, a member of Congress from Ohio told Mr. Adams there were sanguine hopes of his success; on which he remarked: "We know so little of that in futurity which is best for ourselves, that whether I ought to wish for success is among the greatest uncertainties of the election. Were it possible to look with philosophical indifference to the event, that is the temper of mind to which I should aspire. But who can hold a firebrand in his hand by thinking of the frosty Caucasus? To suffer without feeling is not in human nature; and when I consider that to me alone, of all the candidates before the nation, failure of success would be equivalent to a vote of censure by the nation upon my past services, I cannot dissemble to myself that I have more at stake in the result than any other individual. Yet a man qualified for the duties of chief magistrate of ten millions of people should be a man proof alike to prosperous and adverse fortune. If I am able to bear success, I must be tempered to endure defeat. He who is equal to the task of serving a nation as her chief ruler must possess resources of a power to serve her, even against her own will. This I would impress indelibly on my own mind; and for a practical realization of which, in its proper result, I look for wisdom and strength from above."

At the close of the year 1824, Mr. Adams responded to a like intimation: "You will be disappointed. To me both alternatives are distressing in prospect. The most formidable is that of success. All the danger is on the pinnacle. The humiliation of failure will be so much more than compensated by the safety in which it will leave me, that I ought to regard it as a consummation devoutly to be wished."

At this period an apprehension being expressed to him that if he was elected Federalists would be excluded from office, he said, he should exclude no person for political opinion, or on account of personal opposition to him; but that his great object would be to break up the remnant of all party distinctions, and to bring the whole people together, in point of sentiment, as much as possible; and that he should turn no one out of office on account of his conduct or opinions in the approaching election.

The result of this electioneering conflict was, that, by the returns of the electoral colleges of the several states, it appeared that none of the candidates had the requisite constitutional majority; the whole number of votes being two hundred and sixty-one—of which Andrew Jackson had ninety-nine, John Quincy Adams eighty-four, William H. Crawford forty-one, and Henry Clay thirty-seven. For the office of Vice-President, John C. Calhoun had one hundred and eighty votes, and was elected.

This result had not been generally anticipated by the friends of Mr. Adams. His political course had been, for sixteen years, identified with the policy of the leading statesmen of the Southern States, and had been acceptable to that section of the Union. It had therefore been hoped that, with regard to him, the general and inherent antipathy to a Northern President, which there existed, would have been weakened, if not subdued. His diplomatic talents had been successfully exercised in carrying into effect Mr. Madison's views during the whole of that statesman's administration. He had been the pillar on which Mr. Monroe had, during both terms of his Presidency, leaned for support, if not for direction. It was, therefore, not without reason anticipated that at least a partial support would have been given to him in the region where the influences of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, were predominant. But, of the eighty-four votes cast for Mr. Adams, not one was given by either of the three great Southern slaveholding states. Seventy-seven were given to him by New England and New York. The other seven were cast by the Middle or recently admitted states.

The selection of President from the candidates now devolved on the House of Representatives, under the provisions of the constitution. But, again, Mr. Adams had the support of none of those slaveholding states, with the exception of Kentucky, and her delegates were equally divided between him and General Jackson. The decisive vote was, in effect, in the hands of Mr. Clay, then Speaker of the House, who cast it for Mr. Adams;[3] a responsibility he did not hesitate to assume, notwithstanding the equal division of the Kentucky delegation, and in defiance of a resolution passed by the Legislature of that state, declaring their preference for General Jackson.[4] On the final vote Andrew Jackson had seven votes, William H. Crawford four, and John Quincy Adams thirteen; who was, therefore, forthwith declared President of the United States for four years ensuing the 4th of March, 1825.

[3] Niles' Register, vol. XXVII., p. 387.

[4] Ibid., vol. XXVII., p. 321.

In the answer of Mr. Adams to the official notice of his election by the House of Representatives, after paying tribute to the talents and public services of his competitors, he declared that if, by refusal to accept the trust thus delegated to him, he could give immediate opportunity to the people to express, with a nearer approach to unanimity, the object of their preference, he would not hesitate to decline the momentous charge. But the constitution having, in case of such refusal, otherwise disposed of the resulting contingency, he declared his acceptance of the trust assigned to him by his country through her constitutional organs, confiding in the wisdom of the legislative councils for his guide, and relying above all on the direction of a superintending Providence.



Those sectional, party, and personal influences, which at all times tend to throw a republic out of the path of duty and safety, were singularly active and powerful during the Presidency of Mr. Adams. They were peculiar and unavoidable. His administration, beyond all others, was assailed by an unprincipled and audacious rivalry. Its course and consequences belong to the history of the United States, and will be here no further stated, or made the subject of comment, than as they affect or throw light on his policy and character.

Immediately after his inauguration, Mr. Adams appointed Henry Clay, of Kentucky, Secretary of State; Richard Rush, of Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Treasury; James Barbour, of Virginia, Secretary of War; Samuel L. Southard, of New Jersey, Secretary of the Navy; John McLean, of Ohio, Postmaster-General; and William Wirt, of Virginia, Attorney-General. The election of Mr. Adams to the Presidency depended on the vote of Henry Clay, who recognized and voluntarily assumed the responsibility. By voting for General Jackson, he would have coincided with the majority of popular voices; but, actuated, as he declared, by an irrepressible sense of public duty, in open disregard of instructions from the dominant party in Kentucky, he dared to expose himself to the coming storm, the violence of which he anticipated, and soon experienced. In a letter to Mr. F. Brooke, dated 28th of January, 1825, which was soon published,[1] he thus expressed his views: "As a friend to liberty and the permanence of our institutions, I cannot consent, in this early stage of their existence, by contributing to the election of a military chieftain, to give the strongest guaranty that this republic will march in the fatal road which has conducted every other republic to ruin." In a letter dated the 26th of March, 1825, addressed to the people of his Congressional district, in Kentucky, Mr. Clay more fully illustrated the motives for his vote: "I did not believe General Jackson so competent to discharge the various intricate and complex duties of the office of chief magistrate as his competitor. If he has exhibited, either in the councils of the Union, or in those of his own state or territory, the qualities of a statesman, the evidence of the fact has escaped my observation."—"It would be as painful as it is unnecessary to recapitulate some of the incidents, which must be fresh in your recollection, of his public life, but I was greatly deceived in my judgment if they proved him to be endowed with that prudence, temper, and discretion, which are necessary for civil administration."—"In his elevation, too, I thought I perceived the establishment of a fearful precedent."—"Undoubtedly there are other and many dangers to public liberty, besides that which proceeds from military idolatry; but I have yet to acquire the knowledge of it, if there be one more pernicious or more frequent. Of Mr. Adams it is but truth and justice to say that he is highly gifted, profoundly learned, and long and greatly experienced in public affairs, at home and abroad. Intimately conversant with the rise and progress of every negotiation with foreign powers, pending or concluded; personally acquainted with the capacity and attainments of most of the public men of this country whom it might be proper to employ in the public service; extensively possessed of much of that valuable kind of information which is to be acquired neither from books nor tradition, but which is the fruit of largely participating in public affairs; discreet and sagacious, he will enter upon the duties of the office with great advantages."[2]

[1] Niles' Weekly Register, vol. XXVII., p. 386.

[2] Niles' Weekly Register, vol. XXVIII., p. 71.

General Jackson was deeply mortified and irritated by Mr. Clay's preference of Mr. Adams, and still more by his avowal of the motives on which it was founded. In a letter to Samuel Swartwout, dated the 23d of February, 1825,[3] by whom it was immediately published, he complained bitterly of the term "military chieftain," which Mr. Clay, in his letter to Mr. Brooke, had applied to him; and, utterly disregarding the rights and duties which the provisions of the constitution had conferred and imposed on Mr. Clay, he assumed that he was himself entitled, by the plurality of votes he had received, to be regarded as the object indicated by "the supremacy of the people's will." Treating the objections as personal, and as ominously bearing on his future political prospects, after insinuating that there had been "art or management to entice a representative in Congress from a conscientious responsibility to his own or the wishes of his constituents," he declared his intention "to appeal from this opprobrium and censure to the judgment of an enlightened, patriotic, uncorrupted people."

[3] Ibid., p. 20.

Not content with uttering these general insinuations against Mr. Clay and Mr. Adams, he immediately put into circulation among his friends and partisans an unqualified statement to the effect that Mr. Adams had obtained the Presidency by means of a corrupt bargain with Henry Clay, on the condition that he should be elevated to the office of Secretary of State. To this calumny Jackson gave his name and authority, asserting that he possessed evidence of its truth; and, although Mr. Clay and his friends publicly denied the charge, and challenged proof of it, two years elapsed before they could compel him to produce his evidence. This, when adduced, proved utterly groundless, and the charge false; the whole being but the creation of an irritated and disappointed mind. Though detected and exposed, the calumny had the effect for which it was calculated. Jackson's numerous partisans and friends made it the source of an uninterrupted stream of abuse upon Mr. Adams, through his whole administration.

The Legislature of Tennessee immediately responded to General Jackson's appeal to the people, by nominating him as their candidate for the office of President, at the next election; a distinction which he joyfully accepted, and on that account immediately resigned his seat in the Senate of the United States.

Thus, before Mr. Adams had made any development of his policy as President, an opposition to him and his administration was publicly organized by his chief competitor, under the authority of one of the states of the Union, which manifested itself in party bitterness, and animosity to every act and proposition having any bearing on his political prospects. The appointment of Henry Clay to the office of Secretary of State was seized upon as unequivocal proof of Jackson's allegation; yet it was impossible to designate any leading politician who had such just, unequivocal, and high pretensions to that station, or one more popular, especially at the South and the West. Mr. Clay had been a prominent candidate for the Presidency in opposition to Mr. Adams. His talents were unquestionable, and a long career in public life rendered him more conspicuous and suitable for the office than any other statesman of the period. These qualifications weighed nothing in the scale of popular opinion and prejudice. The strength of opposition, based on the calumny circulated by Jackson, became apparent on every question which could be construed to affect the popularity of Mr. Adams; especially with regard to those measures which were obviously near his heart, and which tended to give a permanent and effective character to his administration.

In his inaugural address, on the 4th of March, 1825, after enumerating the duties of the people and their rulers, he proceeded to intimate the views which characterized his policy: "There remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by individuals, throughout the nation, who have heretofore followed the standard 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 on those who bore the badge of party communion."

His thoughts on this subject were again expressed in May, 1825: "The custom-house officers throughout the Union, in all probability, were opposed to my election. They are all now in my power; and I have been urged very earnestly, and from various quarters, to sweep away my opponents, and provide for my friends with their places. I can justify the refusal to adopt this policy only by the steadiness and consistency of my adhesion to my own. If I depart from this in any one instance, I shall be called upon by my friends to do the same in many. An invidious and inquisitorial scrutiny into the personal disposition of public officers will creep through the whole Union, and the most sordid and selfish passions will be kindled into activity, to distort the conduct and misrepresent the feelings of men, whose places may become the prize of slander upon them."

He made but two removals, both from unquestionable causes; and, in his new appointments, he was scrupulous in selecting candidates whose talents were adapted to the public service. It was averred, in the spirit of complaint or disappointment, that he often conferred offices on men who immediately coincided with the opponents and became calumniators of his administration. He was soon made to realize the impracticability of disregarding the old lines of party. On being informed, by some of his friends in the Southern States, that the objections to the appointment of Federalists were insuperable, and would everywhere affect the popularity of his administration, he observed: "On such appointments all the wormwood and gall of the old party hatred ooze out. Not a vacancy to any office occurs but there is a distinguished Federalist started and pushed home as a candidate to fill it, always well qualified, sometimes in an eminent degree, and yet so obnoxious to the Republican party, that they cannot be appointed without exciting a vehement clamor against him and the administration. It becomes thus impossible to fill any vacancy in appointment without offending one half of the community—the Federalists, if their associate is overlooked; the Republicans, if he be preferred. To this disposition justice must sometimes make resistance, and policy must often yield."

The intention of Mr. Adams, avowed and invariably pursued, to make integrity and qualification the only criterions of appointment to office,—to remove no incumbent on account of political hostility, and to appoint no one from the sole consideration of political adherence,—diminished the power of the administration. The most active members of party, who follow for reward, either of place or station, were discouraged, and preferred to continue their allegiance to those from whom pay was certain, rather than to transfer it to an administration whose continuance, from the well-known influences on which political power in this country depends, was dubious, and probably short-lived. These consequences were familiar to the mind of Mr. Adams; but his spirit was of a temper which chose rather to fall in upholding the constitution of his country on its true and pure principles, than to become the abettor of corruption, and participator in its wages, for the sake of power. The firmness of these principles was put to frequent trial during his Presidency, but his resolution never wavered.

The confiding spirit in which he conducted his intercourse with his cabinet was thus stated by himself in November, 1825: "I have given the draft of my annual message to the members of the administration, who are to meet and examine it by themselves, and then discuss the result with me. I have adopted this mode of scrutinizing the message because I wish to have the benefit of every objection that can be made by every member of the administration. But it has never been practised before, and I am not sure that it will be a safe precedent to follow. In England the message or speech is delivered by a person under no responsibility for its contents; but here, where he who delivers it is alone responsible, and those who advise have no responsibility at all, there may be some danger in placing the composition of it under the control of cabinet members, by giving it up to discussion entirely among themselves."

His first message to Congress contained the following special recommendations: "The maturing into a permanent and regular system the application of all the superfluous revenues of the Union to internal improvement." "The establishment of a uniform standard of weights and measures, which had been a duty expressly enjoined on Congress by the constitution of the United States." "The establishment of a naval school of instruction for the formation of scientific and accomplished officers; the want of which is felt with a daily and increasing aggravation." "The establishment of a national university, which had been more than once earnestly recommended to Congress by Washington, and for which he had made express provision in his will." "Connected with a university, or separated from it, the erection of an astronomical observatory, with provision for the support of an astronomer." Every one of these recommendations was obviously intimately associated with the progress and character of the nation, and independent of all personal or party influences. Yet they were treated with utter neglect, or, after having been permitted to pass through the forms of commitment and report, were suffered to lie unnoticed on the tables of both houses, or to be lost by indefinite postponement.

The firmness of Mr. Adams, and his independence of personal considerations, were constantly manifested. Thus, in November, 1825, when he was urged by some of his influential friends to put into his message something soothing to South Carolina, he replied: "South Carolina has put it out of my power. She persists in a law[4] which a judge of the United States has declared to be in direct violation of the constitution of the United States, and which the Attorney-General of the United States has also declared to be an infringement of the rights of foreign nations; against which the British government has repeatedly remonstrated, and upon which we have promised them that the cause of complaint should be removed;—a promise which the obstinate adherence of the government of South Carolina to their law has disenabled us from fulfilling. The Governor of South Carolina has not even answered the letter from the Department of State, transmitting to them the complaint of the British government against this law. In this state of things, for me to say anything gratifying to the feelings of the South Carolinians on this subject, would be to abandon the ground taken by the administration of Mr. Monroe, and disable us from taking hereafter measures concerning the law, which we may be compelled to take. To be silent is not to interfere with any state rights, and renounces no right of ourselves or others."

[4] In the year 1823 the State of South Carolina passed a law making it the duty of the sheriff of any district to apprehend any free negro or person of color, brought into that state by any vessel, and confine him in jail until such vessel depart, and then to liberate him only on condition of payment of the expenses of such detention. To this law William Johnson, a South Carolinian, and a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, in a letter to Mr. Adams, then Secretary of State, called the attention of the President of the United States, as a violation of the constitution; and declared his belief "that it had been passed as much for the pleasure of bringing the functionaries of the United States into contempt, by exposing their impotence, as from any other cause whatsoever;" they being precluded from resorting to the writ of habeas corpus and injunction because the cases assumed the form of state prosecutions. William Wirt, also, the Attorney-General of the United States, in a letter to Mr. Adams, then Secretary of State, pronounced that law "as being against the constitution, treaties, and laws, and incompatible with the rights of all nations in amity with the United States."

The same trait of character is evidenced by his persisting in recommending the application of the superfluous revenue to internal improvements, notwithstanding he well knew its unpopularity in Virginia, where it was denounced as realizing the prophecy of Patrick Henry, that "the Federal government would be a magnificent government." After delivering his first message, he was told, by a leading and influential member of Congress from Virginia, that "excitement against the general government was great and universal in that state; that opinions there had been before divided, but that now the whole state would move in one solid column." And the same member read to him letters from Jefferson and Madison, denouncing the doctrines of the message in the most emphatic terms.

A letter from distinguished friends of De Witt Clinton, stating that his adherents predominated in the Legislature of New York, and recommending a course to conciliate their influence, was shown to Mr. Adams in 1826. On this suggestion he remarked: "A conciliatory course, so far as may be compatible with self-respect, is proper and necessary towards all; but, in the protracted agony of character and reputation which it is the will of a superior power I should pass through, it is my duty to link myself to the fortunes of no man. In the balance of politics it is seldom wise to make one scale preponderate by weights taken from another. Neutrality towards parties is the proper policy of a President in office."

When officially informed that a senator from Georgia threatened that, unless the lands of the Creek Indians, claimed by that state as within its boundaries, were ceded, her weight would be thrown for General Jackson, Mr. Adams replied, "that we ought not to yield to Georgia, because we could not do so without gross injustice; and that, as to her being driven to support General Jackson, he felt little care about that. He had no more confidence in the one party than the other."

A similar reply was made to an influential New York politician, who told him that the friends of De Witt Clinton would probably support the administration, but that Van Buren and his bucktails would be inveterate in their opposition. "I consider it," said he, "a lottery-ticket whether either of those parties would support the administration."

The opposition to the election, and subsequently to the administration of Mr. Adams, in the South, had its origin and support, as we have seen, first, in the fact that he was (with the exception of his father) the only President who had not been a slaveholder; and, next, in the fixed determination, in that section of the Union, to keep the Presidency, if possible, in the hands of an individual belonging to that class. If, from circumstances, this should be no longer practicable, then their policy would be to select a candidate who had no sympathy for the slave, and whose subserviency to the supremacy of Southern interests was unquestionable. The attempt to extinguish slavery in Missouri, although it had resulted in what was called the Missouri compromise, had created towards all who were not slaveholders a feverish jealousy in the South, which descended on Mr. Adams with double violence because his free spirit was known. This was not diminished by the fact that he had, neither in act nor language, ever transcended the provisions of the constitution, but had, in every instance, fully recognized its obligations.

In February, 1826, two resolutions, which had been adopted in executive session, were brought to Mr. Adams. The first declared "that the expediency of the Panama mission ought to be debated in Senate with open doors, unless the publication of the documents, to which it would be necessary to refer in debate, would prejudice existing negotiations. The second was a respectful request to the President of the United States to inform the Senate whether such objection exists to the publication of all or any part of those documents; and, if so, to specify to what part it applies."

"These resolutions," said Mr. Adams, "are the fruit of the ingenuity of Martin Van Buren, and bear the impress of his character. The resolution to debate an executive nomination with open doors is without example; and the thirty-sixth rule of the Senate is explicit and unqualified, that all documents communicated in confidence by the President to the Senate shall be kept secret by the members. The request to me to specify the particular documents the publication of which would affect negotiations was delicate and ensnaring. The limitation was not of papers the publication of which might be injurious, but merely of such as would affect existing negotiations; and, this being necessarily a matter of opinion, if I should specify passages in the document as of such a character, any senator might make it a question for discussion in the Senate, and they might finally publish the whole, under color of entertaining an opinion different from mine upon the probable effect of the publication. Besides, should the precedent once be established of opening the doors of the Senate in the midst of a debate upon executive business, there would be no prospect of ever keeping them shut again. I answered the resolution of the Senate by a message stating that all the communications I had made on this subject had been confidential; and that, believing it important to the public interest that the confidence between the Executive and the Senate should continue unimpaired, I should leave to themselves the determination of a question, upon the motives of which, not being informed, I was not competent to decide."

When the intrigues which embarrassed and disturbed the Presidency of Mr. Adams were in full vigor, his spirit and strength of character were conspicuously manifested. In April, 1827, whilst the state elections were pending, letters were shown to him complaining that the administration did not support its friends, and intimating that time and money must be sacrificed to his success. Mr. Adams remarked: "I have observed the tendency of our elections to venality, and shall not encourage it. There is much money expended by the adversaries of the administration, and it runs chiefly in the channels of the press. They work by slander to vitiate the public spirit, and pay for defamation, to receive their reward in votes."

At the beginning of the third year of his term of office the currents of party began to run strongly towards the approaching struggle for the Presidency. Mr. Adams, writing concerning the aspects of the time, remarked. "General politics and electioneering topics appear to be the only material of interest and of discourse to men in the public service. There are in several states, at this time, and Maryland is one of them, meetings and counter meetings, committees of correspondence, delegations, and addresses, for and against the administration; and thousands of persons are occupied with little else than to work up the passions of the people preparatory to the presidential election, still more than eighteen months distant."

Complaints were constantly made that the administration neglected its friends, and gave offices to its enemies. Applications for appointments, especially for clerkships, in the departments, were continual, and were often made to Mr. Adams himself. He always refused to interfere directly, or by influence, unless his opinion was sought by the heads of the departments themselves, saying that to them the selection and responsibility properly belonged. "One of the heaviest burdens of my station," he observed, "is to hear applications for office, often urged, accompanied with the cry of distress, almost every day in the year, sometimes several times in the day, and having it scarcely ever in my power to administer the desired relief."

In May, 1827, Mr. Adams wrote to a friend: "Mr. Van Buren paid me a visit this morning. He is on his return from a tour through Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, with C. C. Cambreling, since the close of the last session of Congress. They are generally understood to be electioneering; and Van Buren is now the great manager for Jackson, as he was, before the last election, for Mr. Crawford. He is now acting over the part in the Union which Aaron Burr performed in 1799. Van Buren, however, has improved, in the art of electioneering, upon Burr, as the State of New York has grown in relative strength and importance in the Union. Van Buren has now every prospect of success in his present movements, and he will avoid the rock on which Burr afterwards split." These general conclusions, formed on observation and knowledge of character, projects, and movements, time has proved to be just. At this day there can be no doubt that, during a tour through the Southern section of the Union, in April and May, 1827, by Van Buren and Cambreling, one a senator, the other a representative in Congress from New York, an alliance was formed between the former and Jackson, having for its object to supersede Mr. Adams and to elevate themselves in succession to the Presidency. The result is illustrative of the means and the arts by which ambition shapes the destinies of republics, by pampering the passions and prejudices of the multitude, by casting malign suggestions on laborious merit, effective talent, and faithful services.

In June, 1827, some of the friends of Mr. Adams urged him to attend the celebration at the opening of the Pennsylvania Canal, to meet the German farmers, and speak to them in their own language. He replied: "I am highly obliged to my friends for their good opinion; but this mode of electioneering is suited neither to my taste nor my principles. I think it equally unsuitable to my personal character, and to the station in which I am placed."

As the year drew towards the close, Van Buren, who had increased his influence by union with De Witt Clinton, triumphed throughout the State of New York. "The consequences," said Mr. Adams, "are decisive on the next presidential election; but the principles on which my administration has been conducted cannot be overthrown. A session of Congress of unexampled violence and fury is anticipated by its friends. My own mind is made up for it. I have only to ask that as my day is so may my strength be."

A letter from Thomas Mann Randolph, on the opinions of Mr. Jefferson relative to the last presidential election, which had been recently published in Ohio, was at this time shown to Mr. Adams, and it was proposed to him to publish a letter to his father from Mr. Jefferson, on that subject; which he declined, saying: "The letter is not here, but if it were I would not publish it. I possess it only as executor to my father; and, it having been confidential, the executors of Mr. Jefferson have undoubtedly a copy of it, and, as depositaries of his confidence, are the only persons who can, with propriety, authorize its publication." He added: "The divulging private and confidential letters is one of the worst features of electioneering practised among us. Though often tempted and provoked to it, I have constantly refrained from it."

At this period Mr. Rush read to Mr. Adams his report on the finances, in which he largely discussed the policy of encouraging and protecting domestic manufactures. "It will, of course," said Mr. Adams, "be roughly handled in Congress and out of it; but the policy it recommends will outlive the blast of faction, and abide the test of time."

At the opening of the Twentieth Congress, in December, 1827, the election of Andrew Stevenson, of Virginia, a man decidedly hostile to the administration, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, manifested that the opposition had now gained a majority in both houses of Congress; a state of affairs which had never before occurred under the government of the United States.

Mr. Adams, being informed that it was Mr. Clay's intention to issue another pamphlet in refutation of the charge of bargaining and corruption, which General Jackson and his partisans under his authority had brought against them both, remarked: "They have been already amply refuted; but, in the excitement of contested elections, and of party spirit, judgment becomes the slave of the will. Men of intelligence, talent, and even of integrity upon other occasions, surrender themselves to their passions, believe anything, with and without, and even against evidence, according as it suits their own wishes."

Mr. Clay and his friends were not disposed to permit a calumny so opprobrious to pass without disproof; yet during two years they could only oppose to it a general denial; but, in March, 1827, a letter from Mr. Carter Beverly, a friend of General Jackson, came into their possession, by which it appeared that Jackson, before a large company, in Beverly's presence, had declared that, "concerning the election of Mr. Adams to the Presidency, Mr. Clay's friends made a proposition to his friends, that if they would promise for him not to put Mr. Adams into the seat of Secretary of State, Mr. Clay and his friends would in one hour make him the President;"[5]—a proposition which, Jackson said, he indignantly rejected. No sooner was this statement made known to Mr. Clay, than he pronounced it "a gross fabrication, of a calumnious character, put forth for the double purpose of injuring his public character and propping up the cause of General Jackson; and that, for himself and his friends, he defied the substantiation of the charge before any fair tribunal whatever." This compelled General Jackson, in self-defence, to come before the public; and in a letter to Carter Beverly, dated the 5th of June, 1827, he made specific charges against Mr. Clay and Mr. Adams. He stated that early in January, 1825, a member of Congress, of high respectability, informed him that there was a great intrigue going on, which it was right he should know; that the friends of Mr. Adams had made overtures to the friends of Mr. Clay, that if they would unite in the election of Mr. Adams, Mr. Clay should be Secretary of State; that the friends of Mr. Adams were urging, as a reason to induce the friends of Mr. Clay to accede to their proposition, that if he (Gen. Jackson) was elected President, Mr. Adams would be continued Secretary of State [Innuendo, there would be no room for Kentucky]; that the friends of Mr. Clay stated, that the West did not wish to separate from the West, and if he would say, or permit any of his confidential friends to say, that, in case he was elected President, Mr. Adams should not be continued Secretary of State, by a complete union of Mr. Clay and his friends they would put an end to the presidential contest in one hour; and that this respectable member of Congress declared that he was of opinion it was right to fight such intriguers with their own weapons. To which General Jackson replied, that he would never step into the presidential chair by such means of bargain and corruption; and added, that the second day after this communication and reply, it was announced in the newspapers that Mr. Clay had come out openly and avowedly in favor of Mr. Adams.[6]

[5] Niles' Weekly Register, vol. XXXII., p. 162.

[6] Niles' Weekly Register, vol. XXXII., p. 316.

To this accusation Mr. Clay, in a letter to the public, dated the 4th of July, 1827, made "a direct, unqualified, and indignant denial," and called on General Jackson "to substantiate his charges by satisfactory evidence." General Jackson immediately gave to the public the name of James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, as "the respectable member of Congress" who made to him this communication and proposition. This declaration compelled Mr. Buchanan to come before the public; who accordingly, in a letter dated the 8th of August, 1827,[7] published to the world what he declared to be "the only conversation which he ever held with General Jackson," in which he stated to him that, having heard a rumor that he intended, in case of his election, to appoint Mr. Adams Secretary of State, and thinking such an appointment would "cool the ardor of his friends," he called on him, and informed him of the rumor, and asked him whether he had ever intimated such intention; that Jackson replied he had not, and that, if elected President, he would enter upon the office untrammelled; and that this was substantially the whole conversation. Mr. Buchanan added, that he did not call upon General Jackson as the agent of Mr. Clay, or his friends, which he was not; and that he was incapable of entertaining the opinion Jackson had charged him with, that "it was right to fight such intriguers with their own weapons;" and that he thought that Jackson "could not have received this impression until after Mr. Clay and his friends had actually elected Mr. Adams President, and Mr. Adams had appointed Mr. Clay Secretary of State."

[7] Ibid., p. 415.

A more full, direct, and conclusive contradiction of every fact asserted by General Jackson is impossible. Yet it had no effect upon his prospects or policy. His partisans continued to propagate the calumny, and profess their belief in it; and he gave encouragement to this course by maintaining a scrupulous silence on Mr. Buchanan's contradiction. Mr. Clay, speaking on this point, observed: "After Mr. Buchanan's statement appeared, there were many persons who believed that General Jackson's magnanimity would immediately prompt him to retract his charge. I did not participate in that just expectation, and therefore felt no disappointment that it was not realized."[8]

[8] Niles' Register, vol. XXXIII., p. 297.

The calumny had done its work. It had been, for more than two years, cankering the public mind. General Jackson realized that it was an efficient means of victory, and was not disposed to diminish its power. His partisans, as Mr. Adams anticipated, had "surrendered themselves to their passions, and believed, without evidence and against evidence, as suited their own wishes."

The inveteracy of opposition to the administration of Mr. Adams was systematic, violent, and unprincipled. Party spirit determined that it should be prostrated. It was stated publicly that "a highly-respected member of Congress, of General Jackson's party, had declared that it was to be put down though it be as pure as the angels which stand at the right hand of the throne of God." No respect was paid, no regard had, for either faithful services or acknowledged integrity. An administration conducted on the most elevated and consistent principles, as far above party and selfish motives as it is possible for human beings to attain, was destined to be sacrificed. General Jackson entered upon his civil career in the spirit of a military chieftain. He knew well how to collect round his standard those intriguers in the free states who were content to adopt his badge, and ride into power in his train. Of the slave states he was sure, from both affinity and policy.

Mr. Clay, in his address to the public in December, 1827, thus represents the spirit of General Jackson's party at that period:[9] "The rancor of party spirit spares nothing. It penetrates and pervades everywhere. It does not scruple to violate the sanctity of social and private intercourse. It substitutes for facts dark surmises and malevolent insinuations. It misrepresents, and holds up in false and insidious lights, incidents perfectly harmless in themselves, of ordinary occurrence, or of mere common civility."

[9] Niles' Register, vol. XXXIII., p. 303.

During these agitations Mr. Adams was diligently watching over the great interests of the country, and assiduously fulfilling the duties of his station, and no further interesting himself in the struggles of party than when compelled to notice them by their virulence, or by the earnestness of political friends. A member of the Senate having asked him how the interdiction of commerce by our vessels with the British colonies could be counteracted, "My opinion is," he replied, "that there should be an act of Congress totally interdicting the trade with all her colonies, both in the West Indies and North America; but the same act should provide for reopening the trade, upon terms of reciprocity, whenever Great Britain should be disposed to assent to them."

Early in 1828 Mr. Adams was informed that the question of Free-masonry was the conclusive criterion on which the elections in the western parts of the State of New York would turn; and that it was industriously circulated that he was a Free-mason. If the assertion was denied, offers had been made to produce extracts from the books of the lodge to which he belonged. He was, therefore, requested publicly to deny being a Mason. He replied, that he was not, and never had been, a Free-mason; but that, if he should publicly deny it, he would not be surprised if a forged extract from some imaginary lodge should be produced to counteract his statement. Such are the morals of electioneering!

On the subject of the Indians in the State of Georgia Mr. Adams said: "Our engagements with them and among ourselves, in relation to the lands lying within that state, are inconsistent. We have contracted with the State of Georgia to extinguish the title to the Indian lands lying within that state, and at the same time have stipulated with the Creeks and Cherokees that they should hold their lands forever. We have talked about benevolence and humanity, and preached them into civilization; but none of this benevolence is felt when the rights of the Indians come into collision with the interests of the white man. The Cherokees have now been making a written constitution; but this imperium in imperio is impracticable; and, in the instance of the New York Indians removed to Green Bay, and of the Cherokees removed to the Territory of Arkansas, we have scarce given them time to build their wigwams before we are called upon by our own people to drive them out again. My own opinion is that the most benevolent course towards them would be to give them the rights and subject them to the duties of citizens, as a part of our own people. But even this the people of the states within which they are situated would not permit."

In January, 1828, Mr. Adams received a letter from his friends in Pennsylvania, proposing a subscription for the purchase and setting up a German newspaper in support of the administration, and inquiring if he would permit his son, John Adams, to contribute to that object. He replied that, on full consideration of the transaction, he deemed it his duty to decline; that how far the employment of money to promote the success of the election might be proper in others, it was not for him to determine; he could only lament the necessity, if it existed; but to apply money himself for the promotion of his own election he thought incorrect in principle, and had invariably avoided it. He knew that others were less scrupulous, and that it had been done by one individual to the pecuniary embarrassment of his whole life. He had been solicited to adopt a like course, but had uniformly declined, not from pecuniary considerations, but because he could not approve of the thing.

In January, 1828, Mr. Floyd, of Virginia, who had taken upon himself the inglorious office of hunting up and disseminating malign aspersions against President Adams, brought before the House of Representatives statements concerning his accounts, which had been long before settled at the treasury of the United States; and, after recapitulating the number of the public offices he had held, and swelling to the utmost the amount he had received out of the public treasury, terminated his censorious attack with the mean sneer that he did not complain, since every man should make his own living, if he can. To this, Mr. Everett, of Massachusetts, replied, with truth and dignity, that whatever Mr. Adams had received, be it great or small, was sanctioned by other administrations, with which Mr. Adams had nothing to do, either in establishing the office fixing the compensations, or seeking the employment. For a third of a century passed in the service of his country, neither he, nor his friends for him, with his knowledge nor without his knowledge, ever solicited any public office or employment; and that, taking into consideration the number of years passed by him in the public service, and the variety and importance of the missions with which he had been intrusted in whole or in part, no foreign minister had ever received less than Mr. Adams, while many have received more. These statements he supported by many minute, accurate, and unanswerable details. In a like spirit Mr. Sargent, of Philadelphia, reprobated and refuted the calumnies uttered against the administration relative to these accounts.

In January, 1828, Mr. Chilton, of Kentucky, introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives, declaring the necessity of retrenchments, to save money and pay off the national debt; and proposing reductions not only in executive contingencies, but also in those of the two houses. This movement disconcerted the party to which Mr. Chilton belonged. They were disposed to point the battery against the administration, but charges of abusive applications of the public moneys by the past as well as the present administration, and both houses of Congress, did not suit party purposes. Randolph, of Virginia, Ingham, of Pennsylvania, and McDuffie, of South Carolina, accordingly strove, by amendments, to narrow down the discussion so as to make it bear upon Mr. Adams or Mr. Clay, and to give countenance to every slander with which the newspapers were teeming against them, but deprecating all general investigations.

Being repeatedly asked concerning his rule of conduct relative to appointments to office, Mr. Adams answered: "My system has been, and continues to be, to nominate for reaeppointment all officers, for a term of years, whose commissions expire, unless official or moral misconduct is charged and substantiated against them. This does not suit the Falstaff friends 'who follow for the reward;' and I am importuned to serve my friends, and reproached for neglecting them, because I will not dismiss, or drop from executive favor, officers faithful and able, because they are my political opponents, to provide for my own partisans. This I will not do."

In February, 1828, Mr. Wright, of Ohio, defended Mr. Adams and his administration, on the subject of his votes in the Senate on the acquisition of Louisiana, on the Mississippi and fishery question at Ghent, on an expression in his message to Congress in December, 1825, and other charges and falsehoods which the friends of General Jackson were publishing against him in newspapers, handbills, and stump speeches, throughout the Union.

Mr. Adams was earnestly entreated by his friends to reply to a pamphlet by Samuel D. Ingham, of which many thousands had been franked by members of Congress to their constituents. He refused to do it, saying, "The slanders and falsehoods of that pamphlet have already been abundantly refuted in the speeches of Jonathan Roberts, Edward Everett, and John C. Wright."

In the committee on retrenchments, Mr. Wickliffe and Mr. Ingham were extremely busy in search of charges against the administration, and asserted that there was a large item of secret services, vouched only by the certificate of Mr. Adams. A member of Congress informed him of their proceedings, and asked, if there should be any clamorers on that subject, whether he would have any objection to make a communication with regard to it. Mr. Adams replied: "Certainly. The secret was enjoined on me by the constitution and the law, and I shall not divulge it. It might be alleged as probable—and such was the fact—that, although the accounts had been but lately settled, the expenditures had been incurred and the payment authorized by the direction of the late President Monroe."

As the electioneering struggle was progressing, Mr. Adams, being asked to advance money in aid of his own election, replied: "The Presidency of the United States is not an office to be either sought or declined. To pay money for securing it is, in my opinion, incorrect in principle. The practices of all parties are tending to render elections altogether venal, and I am not disposed to countenance them."

On the subject of personal interviews with the President, he thus expressed himself: "I have never denied access to me as President to any one, of any color; and, in my opinion of the duties of that office, it never ought to be denied. Place-hunters are not pleasant visitors, or correspondents, and they consume an enormous disproportion of time. To this personal importunity the President ought not to be subjected; but it is, perhaps, not possible to relieve him from it, without excluding him from interviews with the people more, perhaps, than comports with the nature of our institutions."

In Kentucky the Senate of the state constituted itself into an inquisition on a charge against Mr. Adams of corruption, sent for persons and papers, and invited ex parte depositions and garbled statements, where the parties inculpated had no opportunity of being heard, and where the testimony given and the testimony suppressed were alike adapted to promote groundless slanders.

In South Carolina movements were made towards civil war and the dissolution of the Union, for the purpose of carrying the election by intimidation, or, if they should fail in that, of laying the foundation of a future forcible resistance, to break down or overawe the administration after the event.

Evidences of the vehement party war stimulated and personally waged by General Jackson against Mr. Adams might be easily multiplied; but enough has been stated to vindicate the character of his administration and the judgment of Henry Clay. By daring to exercise his constitutional rights, by taking the responsibility of preferring Mr. Adams to General Jackson, Mr. Clay postponed for four years an administration characteristic of its leader, violent, intriguing, headstrong, and corrupt. After the passions and interests of the present day have passed away, his vote on that occasion will be regarded by posterity as his choicest and purest title to their remembrance.

To aid the adversaries of Mr. Adams, and to awaken against him in the Northern States, where his strength lay, the dormant passions of former times, the name and influence of Mr. Jefferson were brought into the field. In December, 1825, a letter had been drawn from him, by William B. Giles, a devoted partisan of Jackson, and given to the public with appropriate commentaries and asperities. In this letter Mr. Jefferson, after acknowledging that "his memory was so broken, or gone, as to be almost a blank," undertook to relate a conversation he had with Mr. Adams in 1808, and connected it with facts with which it had no relation, and which occurred several years afterwards, while Mr. Adams was in Europe. These mistakes, in the opinion of Mr. Adams, required explanations. He, therefore, gave a full statement of the facts, so far as he was concerned, and of the communications he had made in 1808 to Mr. Jefferson. These explanations had the tendency which Mr. Giles and the authors of the scheme intended; but the controversies which ensued are not within the scope of this memoir. Feelings and passions, which had slept for almost twenty years, were awakened. Correspondences ensued, in which the policy and events of a former period were discussed with earnestness and warmth. But the ultimate object, for which the broken and incoherent recollections of Mr. Jefferson's old age were brought before the public, was not attained. Those who differed from the opinions of Mr. Adams, and had condemned his political course in former times, although their sentiments remained unchanged, were satisfied with the principles and ability he evinced in his present high station, and indicated no inclination to aid the projects of his opponents. The embers of former animosity were indeed uncovered, but in the Eastern States, where the friends of Mr. Adams were most numerous, no disposition was evinced to favor the elevation of General Jackson to the Presidency.

In other sections of the Union a combination of influences tended to defeat the reelection of Mr. Adams. In Virginia William B. Giles engaged in giving publicity to violent and inflammatory papers against his administration; Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, strenuously endeavored to destroy his popularity in the West; while Martin Van Buren, the leader of the party which then controlled New York, also devoted his efforts to secure Jackson's ascendency.

When Mr. Adams was informed that Mr. Clay's final and full vindication of himself against the aspersions of General Jackson had appeared from the press, he said: "It is unnecessary. Enough has already been said to put down that infamous slander, which has been more than once publicly branded as falsehood. The conspiracy will, however, probably succeed. When suspicions have been kindled into popular delusion, truth, reason, and justice, speak to the ears of adders. The sacrifice must be consummated. There will then be a reaection in public opinion. It may not be rapid, but it will be certain."

By one of those party arrangements which ever have shaped, and to human view forever will decide, the destinies of this republic,—a coalition being effected between the leading influences of the slave states and those of New York and Pennsylvania,—Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun, both slaveholders, were respectively elected President and Vice-President of the United States.



On the 4th of March, 1829, Andrew Jackson was inaugurated President of the United States, and Mr. Adams retired, as he then thought forever, from public life. His active, energetic spirit required neither indulgence nor rest, and he immediately directed his attention to those philosophical, literary, and religious researches, in which he took unceasing delight. The works of Cicero became the object of study, analysis, and criticism. Commentaries on that master-mind of antiquity were among his daily labors. The translation of the Psalms of David into English verse was a frequent exercise; and his study of the Scriptures was accompanied by critical remarks, pursued in the spirit of free inquiry, chastened by a solemn reference to their origin, and influence on the conduct and hopes of human life. His favorite science, astronomy, led to the frequent observation of the planets and stars; and his attention was also turned to agriculture and horticulture. He collected and planted the seeds of forest trees, and kept a record of their development, and, in the summer season, labored two or three hours daily in his garden. With these pursuits were combined sketches preparatory to a full biography of his father, which he then contemplated as one of his chief future employments.

From the subjects to which the labors of his life had been principally devoted his thoughts could not be wholly withdrawn. As early as the 27th of April, 1829, a citizen of Washington spoke to him with great severity on the condition of public affairs, and of the scandals in circulation concerning them; stating that removals from office were continuing with great perseverance; that the custom-houses in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Portsmouth in New Hampshire, and New Orleans, had been swept clear; that violent partisans of Jackson were exclusively appointed, and that every editor of a scurrilous newspaper had been provided for.

Again, in June of the same year Mr. Adams wrote: "Mr. Van Buren is now Secretary of State. He is the manager by whom the present administration has been brought into power. He has played over again the game of Aaron Burr in 1800, with the addition of political inconsistency, in transferring his allegiance from Crawford to Jackson. He sold the State of New York to them both. The first bargain failed by the result of the choice of electors in the Legislature. The second was barely accomplished by the system of party management established in that state; and Van Buren is now enjoying his reward."

On the abolition of slavery, Mr. Adams observed: "It is the only part of European democracy which will find no favor in the United States. It may aggravate the condition of slaves in the South, but the result of the Missouri question, and the attitude of parties, have silenced most of the declaimers on that subject. This state of things is not to continue forever. It is possible that the danger of the abolition doctrines, when brought home to Southern statesmen, may teach them the value of the Union, as the only thing which can maintain their system of slavery."

On the course and feelings of Mr. Jefferson on this subject, Mr. Adams thus expressed himself: "His love of liberty was sincere and ardent, but confined to himself, like that of most of his fellow-slaveholders. He was above that execrable sophistry of the South Carolina nullifiers, which would make of slavery the corner-stone of the temple of liberty. He saw the gross inconsistency between the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the fact of negro slavery; and he could not, or would not, prostitute the faculties of his mind to the vindication of that slavery, which, from his soul, he abhorred. But Jefferson had not the spirit of martyrdom. He would have introduced a flaming denunciation of slavery into the Declaration of Independence, but the discretion of his colleagues struck it out. He did insert a most eloquent and impassioned argument against it in his Notes on Virginia; but, on that very account, the book was published almost against his will. He projected a plan of a general emancipation, in his revision of the Virginia laws, but finally presented a plan leaving slavery precisely where it was; and, in his Memoir, he leaves a posthumous warning to the planters that they must, at no distant day, emancipate their slaves, or that worse will follow; but he withheld the publication of his prophecy till he should himself be in the grave."

Mr. Adams was not long permitted to remain in retirement. In October, 1830, he was nominated, in the newspapers, to represent in Congress the district of Massachusetts in which he resided. When asked if he would consent to be a candidate, he replied, in the spirit which had governed his whole life, never to seek and never to decline public service: "It must first be seen whether the people of the district will invite me to represent them. I shall not ask their votes. I wish them to act their pleasure." In the ensuing November he was elected Representative of the twelfth Congressional district of Massachusetts.

On the 3d of January, 1831, Mr. Adams thus remarked on the resolutions of the Legislature of Georgia setting at defiance the Supreme Court of the United States: "They are published and approved in the Telegraph, the administration newspaper at Washington. By extending the laws of Georgia over the country and people of the Cherokees, the constitution, laws, and treaties, of the United States, were quoad hoc set aside. They were chaff before the wind. In pursuance of these laws of Georgia, a Cherokee Indian is prosecuted for the murder of another Indian, before a state court of Georgia, tried by a jury of white men, and sentenced to death. He applies to a chief justice of the Court of the United States, who issues an injunction to the Governor and executive officers of Georgia, upon the appeal to the laws and treaties of the United States. The Governor of Georgia refuses obedience to the injunction, and the Legislature pass resolutions that they will not appear to answer before the Supreme Court of the United States. The constitution, the laws, and treaties, of the United States, are prostrate in the State of Georgia. Is there any remedy for this state of things? None; because the State of Georgia is in league with the Executive of the United States, who will not take care that the laws be faithfully executed. A majority of both houses of Congress sustain this neglect and violation of duty. There is no harmony in the government of the Union. The arm refuses its office. 'The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.' This example of the State of Georgia will be imitated by other states, and with regard to other national interests,—perhaps the tariff, more probably the public lands. As the Executive and Legislature now fail to sustain the Judiciary, it is not improbable cases may arise in which the Judiciary may fail to sustain them. The Union is in the most imminent danger of dissolution from the old, inherent vice of confederacies, anarchy in the members. To this end one third of the people is perverted, one third slumbers, and the rest wring their hands, with unavailing lamentations, in the foresight of evils they cannot avert."

On the 4th of July, 1831, Mr. Adams delivered an oration before the inhabitants of the town of Quincy, in which he controverted the doctrine of Blackstone, the great commentator upon the laws of England, who maintained "that there is, and must be, in all forms of government, however they began, and by what right soever they subsist, a supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority, in which the jura summi imperii, or the rights of sovereignty, reside." "It is not true," Mr. Adams remarks, "that there must reside in all governments an absolute, uncontrolled, irresistible, and despotic power; nor is such a power absolutely essential to sovereignty. The direct converse of the proposition is true. Uncontrollable power exists in no government upon earth. The sternest despotisms, in every region and every age of the world, are and have been under perpetual control; compelled, as Burke expresses it, to truckle and huckster. Unlimited power belongs not to the nature of man, and rotten will be the foundation of every government leaning upon such a maxim for its support. Least of all can it be predicated of any government professing to be founded upon an original compact. The pretence of an absolute, irresistible, despotic power, existing in every government somewhere, is incompatible with the first principle of natural right."

This proposition Mr. Adams proceeds fully to illustrate, and thus to apply: "This political sophism of identity between sovereign and despotic power has led, and continues to lead, into many vagaries, some of the statists of this our happy but disputatious Union. It seizes upon the brain of a heated politician, sometimes in one state, sometimes in another, and its natural offspring is the doctrine of nullification; that is, the sovereign power of any one state of the confederacy to nullify any act of the whole twenty-four states which the sovereign state shall please to consider as unconstitutional. Stripped of the sophistical argumentation in which this doctrine has been habited, its naked nature is an effort to organize insurrection against the laws of the United States; to interpose the arm of state sovereignty between rebellion and the halter, and to rescue the traitor from the gibbet. Although conducted under the auspices of state sovereignty, it would not the less be levying war against the Union; but, as a state cannot be punished for treason, nullification cases herself in the complete steel of sovereign power." "The citizen of the nullifying state becomes a traitor to his country by obedience to the law of his state,—a traitor to his state by obedience to the law of his country. The scaffold and the battle-field stream alternately with the blood of their victims. The event of a conflict in arms between the Union and one of its members, whether terminating in victory or defeat, would be but an alternative of calamity to all."

Mr. Adams took his seat in the House of Representatives in December, 1831, and immediately announced to his constituents that he should hold himself bound in allegiance to no party, whether sectional or political. Ten years afterwards he had occasion to explain to his fellow-citizens his policy and feelings at this period. "I thought this independence of party was a duty imposed upon me by my peculiar position. I had spent the greatest part of my life in the service of the whole nation, and had been honored by their highest trust; my duty of fidelity, of affection, and of gratitude, to the whole, was not merely inseparable from, but identical with, that which was due from me to my own commonwealth. The internal conflict between slavery and freedom had been, and still was, scarcely perceptible in the national councils. The Missouri compromise had laid it asleep, it was hoped, forever. The development of the moral principle which pronounced slavery a crime of man against his brother-man had not yet reached the conscience of Christendom. England, earnestly and zealously occupied in rallying the physical, moral, and intellectual energies of the civilized world against the African slave-trade, had scarcely yet discovered that it was but an instrument, and in truth a mitigation, of the great, irremissible wrong of slavery. Her final policy, the extinction of slavery throughout the earth, was not yet disclosed. The Jackson project of dismembering Mexico for the acquisition of Texas, already organized and in full operation, was yet profoundly a secret. I entered Congress without one sentiment of discrimination between the interests of the North and the South; and my first act, as a member of the House, was, on presenting fifteen petitions from Pennsylvania for the abolition of slavery within the District of Columbia, to declare, while moving their reference to the committee of the District, that I was not prepared to support the measure myself, and that I should not. I was not then a sectional partisan, and I never have been."[1]

[1] Address of John Quincy Adams to his Constituents, at Braintree, September 17, 1842, p. 27.

When Mr. Adams was entering this new field of labor, Mr. Clay asked him how he felt at turning boy again, and going into the House of Representatives; and observed that he would find his situation extremely laborious. Mr. Adams replied: "I well know this; but labor I shall not refuse so long as my hands, my eyes, and my brain, do not desert me."

To understand the position in which Mr. Adams was placed, on his taking his seat in the House of Representatives, it is important that some of the events which had occurred during his absence from public life should be briefly recapitulated. General Jackson had been two years President of the United States. The alliance which he had entered into with Mr. Van Buren for their mutual advancement, to which allusion has been made in a former chapter, had not resulted immediately as the high contracting parties probably intended. An obstacle to the advancement of Mr. Van Buren to the Vice-Presidency presented itself which was insurmountable. John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, possessed an influence in the slave states which it was important to conciliate, and imprudent to set at defiance. The allies were, consequently, compelled to accede to his nomination as Vice-President, and Van Buren was forced to be content with the prospect of being appointed Secretary of State.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse