Why astronomical science should be the object to which the income of this fund should be first applied he thus proceeds to set forth:
"The express object of an observatory is the increase of knowledge by new discovery. The physical relations between the firmament of heaven and the globe allotted by the Creator of all to be the abode of man are discoverable only by the organ of the eye. Many of these relations are indispensable to the existence of human life, and perhaps of the earth itself. Who, that can conceive the idea of a world without a sun, but must connect with it the extinction of light and heat, of all animal life, of all vegetation and production, leaving the lifeless clod of matter to return to the primitive state of chaos, or to be consumed by elemental fire? The influence of the moon—of the planets, our next-door neighbors of the solar system—of the fixed stars, scattered over the blue expanse in multitudes exceeding the power of human computation, and at distances of which imagination herself can form no distinct conception;—the influence of all these upon the globe which we inhabit, and upon the condition of man, its dying and deathless inhabitant, is great and mysterious, and, in the search for final causes, to a great degree inscrutable to his finite and limited faculties. The extent to which they are discoverable is and must remain unknown; but, to the vigilance of a sleepless eye, to the toil of a tireless hand, and to the meditations of a thinking, combining, and analyzing mind, secrets are successively revealed, not only of the deepest import to the welfare of man in his earthly career, but which seem to lift him from the earth to the threshold of his eternal abode; to lead him blindfold up to the council-chamber of Omnipotence, and there, stripping the bandage from his eyes, bid him look undazzled at the throne of God.
"In the history of the human species, so far as it is known to us, astronomical observation was one of the first objects of pursuit for the acquisition of knowledge. In the first chapter of the sacred volume we are told that, in the process of creation, 'God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years.' By the special appointment, then, of the Creator, they were made the standards for the measurement of time upon earth. They were made for more: not only for seasons, for days, and for years, but for SIGNS. Signs of what? It may be that the word, in this passage, has reference to the signs of the Egyptian zodiac, to mark the succession of solar months; or it may indicate a more latent connection between the heavens and the earth, of the nature of judicial astrology. These relations are not only apparent to the most superficial observation of man, but many of them remain inexhaustible funds of successive discovery, perhaps as long as the continued existence of man upon earth. What an unknown world of mind, for example, is yet teeming in the womb of time, to be revealed in tracing the causes of the sympathy between the magnet and the pole—that unseen, immaterial spirit, which walks with us through the most entangled forests, over the most interminable wilderness, and across every region of the pathless deep, by day, by night, in the calm serene of a cloudless sky, and in the howling of the hurricane or the typhoon? Who can witness the movements of that tremulous needle, poised upon its centre, still tending to the polar star, but obedient to his distant hand, armed with a metallic guide, round every point of the compass, at the fiat of his will, without feeling a thrill of amazement approaching to superstition? The discovery of the attractive power of the magnet was made before the invention of the alphabet, or the age of hieroglyphics. No record of the event is found upon the annals of human history. But seven hundred years have scarcely passed away since its polarity was first known to the civilized European man. It was by observation of the periodical revolution of the earth in her orbit round the sun, compared with her daily revolution round her axis, that was disclosed the fact that her annual period was composed of three hundred and sixty-five of her daily revolutions; or, in other words, that the year was composed of three hundred and sixty-five days. But the shepherds of Egypt, watching their flocks by night, could not but observe the movements of the dog-star, next to the sun the most brilliant of the luminaries of heaven. They worshipped that star as a god; and, losing sight of him for about forty days every year, during his conjunction with the sun, they watched with intense anxiety for his reaeppearance in the sky, and with that day commenced their year. By this practice it failed not soon to be found that, although the reaeppearance of the star for three successive years was at the end of three hundred and sixty-five days, it would, on the fourth year, be delayed one day longer; and, after repeated observation of this phenomenon, they added six hours to the computed duration of the year, and established the canicular period of four years, consisting of one thousand four hundred and sixty-one days. It was not until the days of Julius Caesar that this computation of time was adopted in the Roman calendar; and fifteen centuries from that time had elapsed before the yearly celebration of the Christian paschal festivals, founded upon the Passover of the Levitical law, revealed the fact that the annual revolution of the earth in her orbit round the sun is not precisely of three hundred and sixty-five days and one quarter, but of between eleven and twelve minutes less; and thus the duration of the year was ascertained, as a measure of time, to an accuracy of three or four seconds, more or less—a mistake which would scarcely amount to one day in twenty thousand years.
"It is, then, to the successive discoveries of persevering astronomical observation, through a period of fifty centuries, that we are indebted for a fixed and permanent standard for the measurement of time. And by the same science has man acquired, so far as he possesses it, a standard for the measurement of space. A standard for the measurement of the dimensions and distances of the fixed stars from ourselves is yet to be found; and, if ever found, will be through the means of astronomical observation.
"The influence of all these discoveries upon the condition of man is no doubt infinitely diversified in relative importance; but all, even the minutest, contribute to the increase and diffusion of knowledge. There is no richer field of science opened to the exploration of man in search of knowledge than astronomical observation; nor is there, in the opinion of this committee, any duty more impressively incumbent upon all human governments than that of furnishing means, and facilities, and rewards, to those who devote the labors of their lives to the indefatigable industry, the unceasing vigilance, and the bright intelligence, indispensable to success in these pursuits."
These remarks are succeeded by others on the Royal Observatory of Greenwich, on the connection of astronomy with the art of navigation, on the increase of observatories in the British Islands, in France, and in Russia; and, after repeating the objections to applying the fund of Mr. Smithson to a school devoted to any particular branch of science, or for general education, Mr. Adams, in behalf of the committee, submitted a bill for the consideration of the house, embracing the principles maintained in his report.
On May 8th, 1840, a bill to insure a more faithful execution of the laws relating to the collection of duties on imports being under consideration of the house, Mr. Adams, after commenting on the nature and injurious consequences of the fraud which it was the object of the bill to prevent, said that this practice was "a sort of national thing," to such an extent were the citizens of Great Britain accustomed to come over to this country to cheat us out of our revenue, and to defraud our manufacturing interest, and added:
"I have said that there is something national in this matter, and I will now proceed to state what, in my judgment, lies at the bottom of this proceeding. It is a maxim of British commercial law that it is lawful for the citizens of one nation to defraud the revenues of other nations. The author of the maxim was a man famous throughout the civilized world,—a man of transcendent talents, who fixed, more, perhaps, than any other man of the same century, his impress on the age in which he lived, and upon the laws of England,—I mean Lord Mansfield. In some respects it has been greatly to the advantage of those laws, but in others as much to their disadvantage and discredit, of which the maxim of which I now speak is a signal instance. He was the first British judge who established the principle that it is a lawful thing for Englishmen to cheat the revenue laws of other nations, especially those of Spain and Portugal.
"This principle was first settled in an act of Parliament, the object of which was to suppress what are denominated wager policies of insurance—a species of instrument well known to lawyers as gambling policies, being entered into when the party insuring has no interest in the property insured. It had been a question whether such policies were lawful by the common law. The practice had greatly increased, insomuch that wager policies had become a common thing. It was with a view to suppress these that the statute of the nineteenth of George the Second, chapter thirty-seventh, was passed. The object of that statute was good; it was remedial in its character; it went to suppress a public evil; but, while it prohibited wager policies in all other cases, it contained an express exception in favor of those made on vessels trading to Spain and Portugal."
After commenting on this act of the British Parliament, he quotes the words of Blackstone, who, after stating the nature of these smuggling policies, and dwelling upon their immorality and pernicious tendency, refers to the law above mentioned, which enacts "that they shall be totally null and void, except as to policies on privateers in the Spanish and Portuguese trade, for reasons sufficiently obvious." (2 Blackstone, ch. XXX., p. 4, Sec. 1.) On this statement of Blackstone Mr. Adams remarks:
"It is an old maxim of the schools that frauds are always concealed under generalities. What were these obvious reasons? Why were they concealed? It is known to the committee that, in the celebrated controversy of the man in the mask,—I mean Junius with Blackstone,—he said, that for the defence of law, of justice, and of truth, let any man consult the work of that great judge, his Commentaries upon the laws of England; but, if a man wanted to cheat his neighbor out of his estate, he should consult the doctor himself. I go a little further than Junius, although I do it with great reluctance, for I hold the book to be one of the best books in the world. I say that the observation of Junius applies to the book as much as to the judge, when, from reasons like those with which scoundrels cover their consciences, that book evades telling why the exception was made in regard to Spain and Portugal, and what those reasons were which the judge declares to be 'sufficiently obvious.'
"This exception of the British law was infectious; it spread into France, whose government adopted the same provision by way of reprisal."
Mr. Adams then read from Emerigon, the principal authority of French lawyers on insurance, who denies the principles of the English statute; and M. Pothier, not a mere lawyer, but a philosopher and moralist, who protests against this doctrine, and appeals to the eternal laws of morality. He then cites the second volume Term Reports, p. 164, in which Judge Buller states, "I have heard Lord Mansfield say that the reason of that allowance was to favor the smuggling of bullion from those countries." On which Mr. Adams remarks:
"This is the sum of the whole matter. Judge Buller heard Lord Mansfield say that the object of the exception in regard to Spain and Portugal was to encourage—yes, to encourage—the smuggling trade. The object was that smugglers should not only escape the effect of their villany, but should be actually encouraged by government in its perpetration.
"I think I have now established the position which I assumed, that the lawfulness of violating the revenue laws of other nations is a principle of English law,—a principle sanctioned by the Legislature and the judicial courts of Great Britain,—but one which the best elementary writers, proceeding on the great and eternal principles of morality, have condemned as a false principle; and I have thought it necessary to do this with a view to trace these frauds upon our revenue, committed by British subjects, to what I believe to be their original source in the false morality in the English Parliament and English judges. What is the natural effect of the promulgation of such principles by such authority? What can it be but to encourage frauds on the revenue of other nations? When a principle like this goes out, sanctioned with the legislative authority, it will have its effect on the nation.
"'Quid leges sine moribus.' The whole moral principle of a nation is contaminated by the legislative authorization and judicial sanction of a practice dishonest in itself, which necessarily includes not merely a permission, but a stimulant, to perjury. If an English merchant, subscribing to this principle, goes to establish himself in a foreign country, he goes as an enemy, warranted, by the sanction of his own courts and Parliament, to do anything that can defraud its revenue. Perhaps this may be one of the causes of the vulgar saying,—which all must have heard, but which, thank God, I still hope is not warranted by the practice of the native merchants of our country,—that custom-house oaths have no validity. There is a feeling, but too prevalent, which distinguishes between custom-house oaths and other oaths. It is obvious that smuggling can not be carried on to any extent without the commission of perjury. There must be false swearing; and it is that false swearing which the British laws have sanctioned. None of this bullion, of which Justice Buller speaks, could be smuggled out of Spain and Portugal without false oaths; and you will find, from the details of a case which I shall presently call to your attention, that false swearing is at the bottom of the frauds which this bill seeks to correct—frauds in consequence of which seven eighths of all the woollens imported into New York escaped the payment of the duty charged by law. These people do not hold themselves bound to respect our revenue laws, and thus proceed without scruples to the perpetration of perjury in order to carry on with success the evasion of them."
In the conclusion of his speech Mr. Adams paid the following tribute to the English nation, saying:
"That of the English nation he entertained sentiments of the most exalted admiration; that he was proud of being himself descended from that stock, although two hundred years had passed away, during which all his ancestors had been natives of this country. He claimed the great men of England of former ages as his countrymen, and could say with the poet Cowper, in hearty concurrence with the sentiment, that it is
'Praise enough To fill the ambition of a common man, That Chatham's language was his mother tongue, And Wolfe's great name compatriot with his own.'
"He believed that no nation, of ancient or modern times, was more entitled to veneration for its exertion in the cause of human improvement than the British. He thought their code of laws admirable; but, in the discussion of the bill before the committee, he had been compelled, in the discharge of his duty, to expose one great erroneous principle of morals incorporated into their laws; a principle, the natural and necessary consequence of which had been the occasion of the bill now before the committee; a principle enacted by the British Parliament, and sanctioned by the decision of their highest judicial tribunals, with the express and avowed purpose of encouraging the subjects of Great Britain to the practice of defrauding, even by the commission of perjury, the revenues of a foreign country."
In July, 1840, a memorial was presented to Congress, from the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, asking the aid of government to carry on a series of magnetic and meteorological observations. This application was made in cooeperation with the Royal Society of Great Britain, and at their solicitation, and had for its object an extended system of magnetic observations at fixed magnetic observatories in different quarters of the globe. Mr. Adams, having been appointed chairman of a committee on the memorial, made a report setting forth at large the motives for concurrence, and the importance of the object asked for. The following extracts illustrate his comprehensive views and appreciation of the subject:
"Among the most powerful, most wonderful, and most mysterious agents in the economy of the physical universe, is the magnet. Its attractive properties, its perpetual tendency to the poles of the earth and of the heavens, and its exclusive sympathies with one of the mineral productions of the earth, have been brought within the scope of human observation at different periods of the history of mankind, separated by the distance of many centuries from each other. The attractive power of the magnet was known in ages of antiquity so remote that it transcends even the remembrance of the name of its first discoverer, and the time of its accession to the mass of human knowledge. Its polarity, or, at least, the application of that property to the purposes of navigation beyond the sight of land, was unknown in Europe, and probably throughout the world, until the twelfth or thirteenth century of the Christian era; and its horizontal variation from the tendency directly to the pole was first perceived by Christopher Columbus, in that transcendent voyage of discovery which gave a new hemisphere to the industry and intelligence of civilized man;—an incident then so alarming to him and his company, that, but for the inflexible and persevering spirit of this intrepid and daring mariner, it would have sunk them into despair, and buried the New World for ages upon ages longer from the knowledge of the Old. Centuries have again passed away, disclosing gradually new properties of the magnet to the ardent and eager pursuit of human curiosity, still stimulated by constant observation of the phenomena connected with this metallic substance, dug from the bowels of the earth, yet seeming more and more to elude or defy all the ordinary laws of matter. Thus, in the process of observation to ascertain the horizontal variation of the needle from its polar direction, it was found that it differed in intensity in the different regions of the earth and the seas; that its variations were affected by different causes, some tending in the same direction, alternately east and west, through a succession of years, of ages, even of centuries, and others accomplishing their circle of existence from day to day, perhaps from hour to hour, or at stated hours of the day. It was found that there was a perpendicular as well as a horizontal deviation from the polar direction; and it became a matter of anxious inquiry to ascertain the intensity both of the dip and variation of the needle at every spot on the surface of the globe. It was inferred, from the different intensities of variation in different latitudes, that there were magnetic poles not coincident with those of the earth; and the northern of these poles has been recently traced to its actual location by the British circumnavigators, Parry and Ross.
"The attractive power, the polarity, the deviations from the polar direction, horizontal and perpendicular, the varieties even of these deviations, and the detection of the northern magnetic pole, have still left materials for further observation, and suggested problems for solution to the perseverance and ingenuity of the human mind.
"In the spring of 1836 that illustrious philosopher and statesman, Baron Alexander Von Humboldt, addressed to the Duke of Sussex, then President of the Royal Society, a letter upon the means of perfecting the knowledge of terrestrial magnetism, by the establishment of magnetic stations and corresponding observations; and solicited the powerful concurrence of the Royal Society in favor of the labors then already undertaken by a learned association in Germany, and which, radiating at once from several great scientific central points in Europe, might lead progressively to the more precise knowledge of the laws of nature."
Mr. Adams then proceeds to state the subsequent proceedings of the Royal Society, and the measures the British government had taken to carry into effect the views of that society, earnestly recommending the compliance with the request of the American Philosophical Society, and adds:
"The committee would hail, with feelings of hope and encouragement, the virtual alliance of great and mighty nations for this union of efforts in the promotion of the cause of science. Long enough have the leagues and federations between the potentates of the earth been confined to alliances, offensive and defensive, to promote purposes of mutual hatred and hostility. It is refreshing to the friends of humanity to witness the rise and progress of a spirit of common and concerted inquiry into the secrets of material nature, the results of which not only go to accumulate the mass of human knowledge, but to harmonize in a community of enjoyments the varied tribes of man throughout the habitable globe. The invitation to participate in these labors, and to acquire the credit and reputation of having contributed to the beneficial results which may confidently be expected from them, is itself creditable to the character of our own country."
In conclusion, the committee recommend the adoption of a resolution, which they report, appropriating twenty thousand dollars for the establishment of five several stations for making observations on terrestrial magnetism and meteorology, conformably to the invitation of the Royal Society of Great Britain to the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia.
In July, 1840, at the closing of the congressional session, Mr. Adams thus expressed his opinion of the state of public affairs: "The late session of Congress has been painful to me beyond all former experience, by the demonstration it has given of degenerating institutions. Parties are falling into profligate factions. I have seen this before; but the worst symptom now is the change in the manners of the people. The continuance of the present administration will, if accomplished, open wide all the floodgates of corruption. Will a change produce a reform? Pause and ponder! Slavery, the Indians, the public lands, the collection and disbursement of public moneys, the tariff, and foreign affairs—what is to become of them?"
In September, 1840, Mr. Adams remarked, on the electioneering addresses then made, preparatory to the next election of President: "This practice of itinerant speech-making has suddenly broken out in this country to a fearful extent. Electioneering for the Presidency has spread its contagion to the President himself, to his now only competitor, to his immediate predecessor, to the candidates Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, and to many distinguished members of both branches of Congress. The tendency of all this is to the corruption of popular elections both by violence and fraud."
Again, in October ensuing: "One of the peculiarities of the present time is that the principal leaders of the political parties are travelling about the country from state to state, and holding forth, like Methodist preachers, to assembled multitudes, under the broad canopy of heaven. Webster, Clay, W. C. Rives, Silas Wright, and James Buchanan, are among the first and foremost in this canvassing oratory; while Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren, with his heads of departments, are harping on another string of the political accordion, by writing controversial electioneering letters. Besides the principal leaders of the parties, numerous subaltern officers of the administration are summoned to the same service, and, instead of attending to the duties of their offices, roam, recite, and madden, round the land."
In a speech made on the 28th of December, 1840, Mr. Adams severely denounced the policy pursued by the government in respect of the navy pension fund; stating that it amounted to one million two hundred thousand dollars; that, without any authority, it had been loaned to different states, and vested in their stocks, which, for the most part, were either depreciated in value, wholly lost, or unsalable. That fund, he maintained, was a sacred trust, and proceeded to state fully and at large the manner in which it had been violated without authority.
Mr. Adams then went on to state the proceedings of the Executive relative to the Smithsonian fund. He said that about the 1st of September, 1838, the sum of five hundred and nine thousand dollars had been deposited in the Mint of Philadelphia in gold,—in mint-drops;—a sacred trust, which the United States had accepted, on the pledge of their faith to keep it whole, entire, for the purpose for which it had been given by a foreigner. Within three days the five hundred thousand dollars were on their way to Arkansas to make a bank. The members of the Senate and of the House from Arkansas had a quick scent of these moneys coming into the Treasury; and care had been taken to insert into a bill for a very different object a provision authorizing the President and Secretary of the Treasury to loan to the states that sum of money when it should come into the Treasury. This was three months beforehand; and three days after the money was received the plan was carried into execution.
"Now, we had heard," said Mr. Adams, "of British gold carrying the elections, which had resulted, not in favor of the present incumbent of the presidential chair, but against him. There he could put his finger upon five hundred and nine thousand dollars of British gold, which contributed, so far as it could go, to the election of the present executive magistrate; and he thought he had shown the means by which it was done. Go to the State of Arkansas. The dollars are not there, but they were there, and they were sent there from the Mint of the United States. Here was policy—profound policy—economy—democracy; and all this accompanied with so great a horror at the idea of assuming state debts, that the hair of the gentlemen stood on end at the mere mention of the possibility of such a thing. Was not here a debt of the State of Arkansas of half a million of dollars? Had not the general government assumed that debt? Had they not employed trust-money? If Arkansas should declare herself insolvent to-morrow, Congress must pay that debt; they had assumed it."
About this time, Mr. Adams, in some of his writings, thus graphically illustrates the political influences which have mainly shaped the destinies of the United States: "A very curious philosophical history of parties might be made by giving a catalogue raisonne of the candidates for the Presidency voted for in the electoral colleges since the establishment of the constitution of the United States. It would contain a history of the influences of the presidential office. Would not the retrospect furnish practical principles concerning the operation of the constitution?—1st. That the direct and infallible path to the Presidency is military service, coupled with demagogue policy. 2d. That, in the absence of military service, demagogue policy is the first and most indispensable element of success, and the art of party drilling the second. 3d. That the drill consists in combining the Southern interest in domestic slavery with the Northern riotous democracy. 4th. That this policy and drill, first organized by Thomas Jefferson, accomplished his election, and established the Virginia dynasty of twenty-four years;—a perpetual practical contradiction of its own principles. 5th. That the same policy and drill, invigorated by success and fortified by experience, has now placed Martin Van Buren in the President's chair, and disclosed to the unprincipled ambition of the North the art of rising upon the principles of the South. And 6th. That it has exposed in broad day the overruling influence of the institution of domestic slavery upon the history and policy of the Union."
In the case of a contested election Mr. Adams remarked: "The conduct of a majority of the House has, from beginning to end, been governed by will, and not by judgment; and so I fear it will be always in every case of contested elections."
"The speech of Horace Everett, of Vermont," (made on the 8th June, 1836, on the Indian annuity bill,) said Mr. Adams, "gives a perfectly clear and distinct exposition of the origin and causes of the Florida war, and demonstrates, beyond all possibility of being gainsaid, that the wrong of the war is on our side. It depresses the spirits, and humiliates the soul, that this war is now running into its fifth year, has cost thirty millions of dollars, has successively baffled and disgraced all our chief military generals,—Gaines, Scott, Jesup, and Macomb,—and that our last resources now are bloodhounds and no quarter. Sixteen millions of Anglo-Saxons unable to subdue, in five years, by force and by fraud, by secret treachery and by open war, sixteen hundred savage warriors! There is a disregard of all appearance of right, in our transactions with the Indians, which I feel as a cruel disparagement of the honor of my country."
On the 1st of January, 1841, Mr. Adams, referring to the accounts he had received that the attendance at the Presidential levees was much smaller than usual, and that the visitors were chiefly from among the President's old adversaries, the Whigs, remarked:
"'Donec eris felix multos numerabis amicos Tempora si fuerint nubila solus eris.'
There is, perhaps, no occasion in human affairs," he added, "which more uniformly exemplifies this propensity of human nature than the exit of a President of the United States from office."
On the 4th of February, 1841, there arose, incidentally, in the House of Representatives, a debate upon the act to suppress duelling. Mr. Wise, of Virginia, had said, in the course of a former debate: "The anti-duelling law is producing its bitter fruits. It is making this house a bear-garden. We have an example in the present instance. Here, with permission of the chair and committee, and without a call to order from anybody, we see and hear one member (Mr. Johnson) say to another (Mr. Duncan) that he had been branded as a coward on this floor. The other says back that 'he is a liar!' And, sir, there the matter will stop. There will be no fight." Before proceeding to comment, Mr. Adams called for the reading of this statement, as reported in the National Intelligencer. On which Mr. Wise said publicly, in the house, "That is a correct report."
 See, for all the proceedings on this subject, the Congressional Globe, vol. IX., pp. 320-322.
After this acknowledgment, Mr. Adams proceeded to remark with severity on this statement and language, occasioning an excitement in the house, particularly among the duellists, which belongs to the history of the period. After stating that he understood that statement and language "as maintaining that duelling, between members of this house, for matters passing within this house, is a practice that ought not to be suppressed," he continued: "I maintain the contrary; and I maintain it for the independence of this house, for my own independence, for the independence of those with whom I act, for the independence of the members from the Northern section of this country, who not only abhor duelling in theory, but in practice; in consequence of which members from other sections are perpetually insulting them on this floor, under the impression that the insult will not be resented."
Here Mr. Campbell, of South Carolina, as the reporter states, called Mr. Adams to order. The chairman said something, of which not a word could be heard, the house being in such a state of tempestuous uproar. When the voice of Mr. Adams again caught the ear of the reporter, he was proceeding as follows:
"Would you smother discussion on the duelling law? There is not a point in the affairs of this nation more important than this very practice of duelling,—considered as a point of honor in one part of the Union, and a point of infamy in another,—with its consequences. I say there is no more important subject that can go forth, North and South, East and West; and I therefore take my issue upon it. I have come here determined to do so between the different portions of this house, in order to see whether this practice is to be continued; whether the members from that section of the Union whose principles are against duelling are to be insulted, upon every topic of discussion, because it is supposed that the insult will not be resented, and that 'there will be no fight.'"
Mr. Adams here called for the reading of "the act to suppress duelling;" which the clerk having read, he proceeded:
"I was going on to say that the reason why I had brought this subject into the discussion is because it is most intimately connected with all the transactions in this house and this nation; and because I think it time to settle this question between the duellists and non-duellists, whoever they may be. I say that, in consequence of my principles, and what I believe to be the principles of a very large portion of the people in that part of the country from which I came, I will not, as regards the approaching administration, put myself under the lead of any man who considers the duelling law in this district as having borne any bitter fruits whatever. It may not, indeed, be sufficiently potent in its operation to prevent the thirst for blood which follows offensive words; but I believe it has prevented, and will prevent, any such occurrences as we have witnessed here. But, as it bears upon the affairs of the nation, I am not willing to sit any longer here, and see other members from my own section of the country, or those who may be my successors here, made subject to any such law as the law of the duellist. I am unwilling that they should not have full freedom of speech in this house on all occasions—as much so as the primest duellist in the land. I do not want to hear perpetual intimations, when a man from one part of the country means to insult another coming from other parts of the country, as, 'I am ready to answer here or elsewhere;' and 'The gentleman knows where I am to be found;' saying, as the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. W. C. Johnson) did just now, that he would call to account any person who dared make allusion to what had taken place between him and another member of this house. I do not intend to hear that any more, for myself or others, if I can help it. Therefore I move to bring the matter up for full discussion here, whether we are to be twitted and taunted with remarks that a man is ready to meet us here or elsewhere. It goes to the independence of this house; it goes to the independence of every individual member of this house; it goes to the right of speech and freedom of debate in this house; and I felt myself bound to bear my testimony in the most decided manner against the practice of duelling, or anything in the shape of even a virtual challenge taking place in this house, now and forever. If the committee think proper to put me down, after a debate of three weeks, involving almost every topic under the sun, and in which not one man has been called to order, I must submit. It shall go out to the country, and I am willing that the sober sentiment of the whole nation shall be my final judge on this subject."
Mr. Adams, after having recapitulated his course of proceedings on various topics, and explained his motives and their relations on former occasions, and his present general views on those subjects, closes his remarks on duelling by declaring that what he had said had been from motives of pure public spirit, with no disposition to offend any gentleman, and least of all the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wise); but that he had felt it his duty to say what he had said, because he believed that the application of the principle of duelling, as regards different portions of this house, is such that it must be discarded; that duelling must be considered as a crime, and that it must not be countenanced by professions of any necessity for its existence.
In January and March, 1841, Mr. Adams delivered his celebrated argument before the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of the United States, appellants, against Cinque and others, appellees. This was afterwards published at length. In it he publicly arraigned before that court and the civilized world the conduct of the then existing administration, for having, in all their proceedings relating to these unfortunate Africans, exhibited sympathy for one of the parties, and antipathy for the other; sympathy for the white, antipathy to the black; sympathy for the slaveholders, in place of protection for the unfortunate and oppressed. It is impossible by any abstract or outline to do justice to the laborious ability with which this argument is sustained. The just severity with which he scrutinizes the proceedings of the Executive and the demands of the Spanish Minister, the completeness with which he vindicates for these Africans their right to freedom,—the extensive research into the law of nations, and the broad principles of eternal justice, on which he supports their claim to be liberated, were probably not excelled by any public effort at that period, whether of the bar or the senate. He concluded with the following touching reminiscences of distinguished members of the bench and the bar, with whom in former times he had been associated:
"May it please your honors: On the 7th of February, 1804, now more than thirty-seven years past, my name was entered, and yet stands recorded, on both the rolls, as one of the attorneys and counsellors of this court. Five years later, in February and March, 1809, I appeared for the last time before this court, in defence of the cause of justice and of important rights, in which many of my fellow-citizens had property to a large amount at stake. Very shortly afterwards I was called to the discharge of other duties, first in distant lands, and in later years within our own country, but in different departments of her government. Little did I imagine that I should ever again be required to claim the right of appearing in the capacity of an officer of this court; yet such has been the dictate of my destiny, and I appear again to plead the cause of justice, and now of liberty and life, in behalf of many of my fellow-men, before that same court which, in a former age, I had addressed in support of rights of property. I stand again, I trust for the last time, before the same court. 'Hic caestus, artemque repono.' I stand before the same court, but not before the same judges, nor aided by the same associates, nor resisted by the same opponents. As I cast my eyes along those seats of honor and of public trust now occupied by you, they seek in vain for one of those honored and honorable persons whose indulgence listened then to my voice. Marshall, Cushing, Chase, Washington, Johnson, Livingston, Todd,—where are they? Where is that eloquent statesman and learned lawyer who was my associate counsel in the management of that cause, Robert Goodloe Harper? Where is that brilliant luminary, so long the pride of Maryland and of the American bar, then my opposing counsel, Luther Martin? Where is the excellent clerk of that day, whose name has been inscribed on the shores of Africa as a monument of his abhorrence of the African slave-trade, Elias B. Caldwell? Where is the marshal—where are the criers of the court? Alas! where is one of the very judges of the court, arbiter of life and death, before whom I commenced this anxious argument, even now prematurely closed? Where are they all? Gone—gone—all gone! Gone from the services which in their day and generation they faithfully tendered to their country. From the excellent characters which they sustained in life, so far as I have had the means of knowing, I humbly hope, and fondly trust, they have gone to receive the rewards of blessedness on high.
"In taking, then, my final leave of this bar, and of this honorable court, I can only ejaculate a fervent petition to Heaven that every member of it may go to his final account with as little of earthly frailty to answer for as those illustrious dead; and that every one, after the close of a long and virtuous career in this world, may be received at the portals of the next with the approving sentence, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'"
WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.—HIS DEATH.— VICE-PRESIDENT JOHN TYLER SUCCEEDS.—REMARKS OF MR. ADAMS ON THE OCCASION.—HIS SPEECH ON THE CASE OF ALEXANDER M'LEOD.—HIS VIEWS CONCERNING COMMONPLACE BOOKS.—HIS LECTURE ON CHINA AND CHINESE COMMERCE.—REMARKS ON THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY, AND HIS DUTY IN RELATION TO IT.—HIS PRESENTATION OF A PETITION FOR THE DISSOLUTION OF THE UNION, AND THE VOTE TO CENSURE HIM FOR DOING IT.—HIS THIRD REPORT ON MR. SMITHSON'S BEQUEST.—HIS SPEECH ON THE MISSION TO MEXICO.
On the 4th of March, 1841, William Henry Harrison, of Ohio, was inaugurated President of the United States, and John Tyler, of Virginia, Vice-President; each of whom had two hundred and thirty-four out of two hundred and ninety-four votes,—the whole number,—and Martin Van Buren, the only other candidate for the Presidency, had sixty. Mr. Adams remarked that this inauguration was celebrated with demonstrations of popular feeling unexampled since that of Washington, in 1789, and at the same time with so much order and tranquillity that not the slightest symptom of conflicting passions occurred to disturb the enjoyments of the day. Many thousands of people from the adjoining, and considerable numbers from distant states, were assembled to witness the ceremony.
On the 4th of April, 1841,—precisely one calendar month after his inauguration,—President Harrison died. On this occasion Mr. Adams thus expressed himself:
"The first impression of this event here, where it occurred, is of the frailty of all human enjoyments, and the awful vicissitudes woven into the lot of mortal man. He had reached, but one short month since, the pinnacle of honor and power in his own country. He lies a lifeless corpse in the palace provided by his country for his abode. He was amiable and benevolent. Sympathy for his suffering and his fate is the prevailing sentiment of his fellow-citizens. The bereavement and distress of his family are felt intensely, albeit they are strangers here, and known scarcely to any one.
"The influence of this event upon the condition and history of the country can scarcely be foreseen. It makes the Vice-President of the United States, John Tyler, of Virginia, acting President of the Union for four years, less one month.
"Tyler is a political sectarian, of the slave-driving, Virginian, Jeffersonian school; principled against all improvement; with all the interests and passions and vices of slavery rooted in his moral and political constitution; with talents not above mediocrity, and a spirit incapable of expansion to the dimensions of the station on which he has been cast by the hand of Providence, unseen, through the apparent agency of chance. To that benign and healing hand of Providence I trust, in humble hope of the good which it always brings forth out of evil. In upwards of half a century this is the first instance of a Vice-President being called to act as President of the United States, and brings to the test that provision of the constitution which places in the executive chair a man never thought of for it by anybody.
"Tyler deems himself qualified to perform the duties and exercise the powers and office of President, on the death of President Harrison, without any other oath than that which he has taken as Vice-President; yet, as doubts might arise, and for greater caution, he will take and subscribe the oath as President. May the blessing of Heaven upon this nation attend and follow this providential revolution in its government! For the present it is not joyous, but grievous.
"The moral condition of this country is degenerating, and especially through the effect of that part of its constitution which is organized by the process of unceasing elections. The spirit of the age and country is to accumulate power in the hands of the multitude: to shorten terms of service in high public places; to multiply elections, and diminish executive power; to weaken all agencies protective of property, or repressive of crime; to abolish capital punishments and imprisonment for debt. Slavery, intemperance, land-jobbing, bankruptcy, and sundry controversies with Great Britain, constitute the materials for the history of John Tyler's administration. But the improvement of the condition of man will form no part of his policy, and the improvement of his country will be an object of his most inveterate and inflexible opposition."
In September, 1841, one Alexander McLeod was imprisoned at Lockport, in the State of New York, under an indictment for murder. The following circumstances were the occasion of these proceedings. A steamer, called the Caroline, owned and fitted out at Buffalo, had been engaged in aiding certain insurgents against the Canadian government with military apparatus and provisions; and an expedition, sent by the British authorities, had cut the Caroline out of the port of Buffalo, set her on fire, and sent her floating over the Niagara Falls. In the fight which occurred one of the men on board the Caroline was killed.
The excitement was general and excessive throughout the State of New York. McLeod was the leader in this expedition, and having, after the lapse of some time, visited that state, he was arrested, imprisoned, indicted, and the popular voice was clamorous that he should be hanged. Notwithstanding the British government had declared that he had acted under their authority as a military man, simply obeying the order of his superiors, a like state of feeling and purpose had extended to Congress, and a resolution had been introduced requesting the President to inform the House "whether any officer of the army, or the Attorney-General, had been directed to visit the State of New York for any purpose connected with the imprisonment or trial of Alexander McLeod; or whether, by any executive measures, the British government had been given to understand that McLeod would be released."
Fearing that the result of these proceedings might lead to a great and most formidable issue of peace and war between the United States and Great Britain, Mr. Adams took this occasion to express his views on the subject.
"The first question which occurs to me is," he said, "what is the object of this resolution, and for what purpose has the house been agitated with it from the commencement of the session to this day? The gentleman who offered it has disclaimed all party purposes; he breathes in a lofty atmosphere, elevated high above that of party. But what sort of comprehension had both the friends and the opponents of the resolution put upon it? No party complexion! O, no! No; it was patriotism—pure patriotism—patriotism pure and undefiled! Well; I am disposed to give gentlemen on all sides of the house credit for whatever patriotism they profess; but sure it is that patriotism is a coat of many colors, and suited to very different complexions; and, if it had not been for that unqualified profession of patriotism and no party, which had rung through this house, from every gentleman who had supported this resolution, I should have felt bound to believe it the rankest party measure that ever was introduced into this house.
"What is the object of this resolution? It is to make an issue with Great Britain—an issue of right or wrong—upon the affair of burning the Caroline. No, sir; never shall my voice be for going to war upon that issue. I will not go to war upon an issue upon which, when we go to a third power to arbitrate upon it, they will say we are wrong. The issue will be decided against us. We shall be told it is not the thing for us to quarrel about.
"I have not the time, were I possessed of the information, to give a history of the affair of the Caroline; and it is known as much to every member of the house as it is to me. We have heard a great deal of talk about territorial rights, and independence, and of state rights. But, in a question of that kind, other nations do not look much to your state rights nor to your independence questions. They will not talk of your independence; but they will say who is right, and who is wrong. Who struck the first blow? I take it, will be the main question with them. I take it that in the late affair the Caroline was in hostile array against the British government, and that the parties concerned in it were employed in acts of war against it; and I do not subscribe to the very learned opinion of the Chief Justice of the State of New York (not, I hear, the Chief Justice, but a Judge of the Supreme Court of that state), that there was no act of war committed. Nor do I subscribe to it that every nation goes to war only on issuing a declaration or proclamation of war. This is not the fact. Nations often wage war for years without issuing any declaration of war. The question is here not upon a declaration of war, but acts of war. And I say that, in the judgment of all impartial men of other nations, we shall be held as a nation responsible; that the Caroline there was in a state of war against Great Britain; for purposes of war, and the worst kind of war,—to sustain an insurrection—I will not say rebellion, because rebellion is a crime, and because I heard them talked of as 'patriots.' Yes; and I have heard, in the course of the discussion here, these patriots represented as carrying on a righteous cause, and that we ought to have assisted them; that we ought to have given them that assistance that a nation fighting for its liberty is entitled to from the generosity of other nations. Well, admit that merely for a moment. If we were bound to do it, we were bound to do it avowedly and above-board. But we disclaimed all intention of taking any part in it; and yet there was very little disguise about this expedition, and that this vessel was there for the purposes of hostility against the Canadian government. I say, therefore, that we struck the first blow; and if, instead of pressing this matter to a war, we were to refer it to a third power, even if it should be to a European republic,—if any such thing is remaining,—and should say there had been an invasion of our territory, they would ask us a question something like that which was put to a character in a play of Moliere: Que diable allait il faire dans cette galere?—What the devil had we to do in that galley?
"Now, I think the arbitrator would say, "What the devil had you to do with that steamboat?" He would say that we struck the first blow. Now, admit that,—and none of your state rights men can deny it,—admit that, and all the rest follows of course. They will say it was wrong—abstractly, if you please. Talking of abstractions, it was wrong for an expedition to come over and burn the steamboat, and send her over the falls. But what was your steamboat about? What had she been doing? What was she to do the next morning? And what ought you to do? You have reparation to make for all the men, and for all the arms and implements of war, which we were transporting, and going to transport, to the other side, to foment and instigate rebellion in Canada. That is what the third party would say to us. And it would come, in the end, after all the blood and treasure had been wasted by a war between the two countries, to this, that we must shake hands and drink champagne together, after having made a mutual apology for mutual transgression. That is the way things are settled between individuals,—'If you said so, why, I said so,'—and thus the dispute is amicably settled. So we should have to do with this national matter; for there is not any great difference in the essentials of quarrelling and making up between nations and individuals."
Mr. Adams then proceeded to another point of view in which he objected to this resolution. He said:
"A prodigious affair has been made of this matter, as if the government of the United States had outraged the State of New York, because the great empire State of New York had undertaken to say that she would hang McLeod, whatever Great Britain or the general government might do. Yes; whatever they might do, the great empire State of New York would hang McLeod! That was the language.
"What, sir, I ask, is the object of this resolution? To inquire of the President of the United States whether any officer of the army, or the Attorney-General of the United States, since the 4th of March last, has visited the State of New York for any purpose connected with the trial of Alexander McLeod. What then? Has not the President a right to send the Attorney-General to New York on that or any other subject? Where is the constitutional provision prohibiting him from sending the Attorney-General to New York on that or any other of the subjects which are before the judicial courts of that state? Yes, the Attorney-General has been sent there, and we have his instructions. And I have heard here, on the part of some of my forty friends from New York, a great deal about the conscious dignity and honor of this Empire State of New York. I am not very fond of that term 'empire state,' in the language of this Union; and I say that if there is an 'empire state' in the Union, it is Delaware. To be magniloquent, and talk about the empire state, may well become the forty gentlemen who represent the state on this floor, having reference to their own numbers, and the numbers of their constituents, or to the extent, fertility, and beauty, of her soil; yet this is a distinction not recognized in the constitution of the United States. They are all, as members of this Union, equal, and the State of Delaware has as good a right to be called the 'empire state' as New York. Now, if my forty friends from New York choose to call it the 'empire state,' I will not quarrel with them. It is only as to consequences that I enter my caveat against the too frequent use of those terms on this floor; for there is meaning in those words, 'empire state,' when used among co-estates, more than meets the ear.
"Suppose that it was in Delaware that such an event had occurred; do you suppose my friend here (Mr. Rodney) from Delaware would have offered such a resolution as this? And, by the terms of the resolution, I should presume my friends from New York think there is a little more dignity and power in forty representatives than only one."
In September, 1841, a plan for a newly-invented Commonplace Book, as an improvement upon Locke's, was brought to Mr. Adams for his recommendatory notice; which he declined, from a general rule he had adopted on the subject, but said he thought it might be very useful, if a practical system of such a manual could be simplified to the intellect and industry of common minds, which he doubted. "I had occupied and amused a long life," said he, "in the search of such a compendious wisdom-box, but without being able to find or make it. I had made myself more than one of Locke's Commonplace Books, but never used any one of them. I had learnt and practised Byrom's Shorthand Writing, but no one could read it but myself. I had kept accounts by double entry,—day-book, journal, and ledger, with cash-book, bank-book, house-book, and letter-book. I had made extracts, copies, translations, and quotations, more perhaps than other man living, without ever being able to pack up my knowledge or my labors in any methodical order; and now doubt whether I might not have employed my time more profitably in some one great, well-compacted, comprehensive pursuit, adapting every hour of labor to the attainment of some great end."
In December, 1841, Mr. Adams delivered before the Massachusetts Historical Society a lecture on the war then existing between Great Britain and China. The principles stated and maintained in that lecture were so much in advance of the opinions entertained at the time, that it is believed to have been published in but a single newspaper in this country or in Europe, and never in a pamphlet form, except by the proprietors of the Chinese Repository, published in Macao, China, in May, 1842. Though his views were ridiculed or repudiated by many when delivered, they are at this day acknowledged; and are made some of the chief grounds of the justification of that invasion of the Chinese empire now apparently in successful progress. The subject is of preeminent importance, and is canvassed with that laborious research and independence eminently characteristic of the author.
In this lecture, after controverting the doctrine of an eminent French writer, who contended that there was no such thing as international law, and that the word law is not applicable to the obligations incumbent upon nations, on the ground that law is a rule of conduct prescribed by a superior; and that nations, being independent, acknowledge no superior, and have no common sovereign from whom they can receive law,—Mr. Adams proceeds to maintain that "by the law of nations is to be understood, not one code of laws, binding alike on all the nations of the earth, but a system of rules varying according to the character and condition of the parties concerned." There is a law of nations, among Christian communities, which is the law recognized by the constitution of the United States as obligatory upon them in their intercourse with European states and colonies. But we have a different law of nations regulating our intercourse with the Indian tribes on this continent; another, between us and the woolly-headed natives of Africa; another, with the Barbary powers; another, with the flowery land, or Celestial empire. This last is the nation with which Great Britain is now at war. Then, reasoning on the rights of property, established by labor, by occupancy, and by compact, he maintains that the right of exchange, barter,—in other words, of commerce,—necessarily follows; that a state of nature among men is a state of peace; the pursuit of happiness man's natural right; that it is the duty of men to contribute as much as is in their power to one another's happiness, and that there is no other way by which they can so well contribute to the comfort and well-being of one another as by commerce, or the mutual exchange of equivalents. These views and principles he thus illustrates:
"The duty of commercial intercourse between nations is laid down in terms sufficiently positive by Vattel, but he afterwards qualifies it by a restriction, which, unless itself restricted, annuls it altogether. He says that, although the general duty of commercial intercourse is incumbent upon nations, yet every nation may exclude any particular branch or article of trade which it may deem injurious to its own interest. This cannot be denied. But, then, a nation may multiply these particular exclusions, until they become general, and equivalent to a total interdict of commerce; and this, time out of mind, has been the inflexible policy of the Chinese empire. So says Vattel, without affixing any note of censure upon it. Yet it is manifestly incompatible with the position which he had previously laid down, that commercial intercourse between nations is a moral obligation incumbent upon them all.
"The empire of China is said to extend over three hundred millions of human beings. It is said to cover a space of seven millions of square miles—about four times larger than the surface of these United States. The people are not Christians, nor can a Christian nation appeal to the principles of a common faith to settle the question of right and wrong between them. The moral obligation of commercial intercourse between nations is founded entirely and exclusively upon the Christian precept to love your neighbor as yourself. With this principle, you cannot refuse commercial intercourse with your neighbor, because, commerce consisting of a voluntary exchange of property mutually beneficial to both parties, excites in both the selfish and the social propensities, and enables each of the parties to promote the happiness of his neighbors by the same act whereby he provides for his own. But, China not being a Christian nation, its inhabitants do not consider themselves bound by the Christian precept to love their neighbors as themselves. The right of commercial intercourse with them reverts not to the execrable principle of Hobbes, that the state of nature is a state of war, where every one has a right to buy, but no one is obliged to sell. Commerce becomes altogether a matter of convention. The right of each party is only to propose; that of the other is to accept or refuse, and to his result he may be guided exclusively by the consideration of his own interest, without regard to the interests, the wishes, or other wants, of his neighbor.
"This is a churlish and unsocial system; and I take occasion here to say that whoever examines the Christian system of morals with a philosophical spirit, setting aside all the external and historical evidences of its truth, will find all its precepts tending to exalt the nature of the animal man; all its purpose to be peace on earth and good will towards men. Ask the atheist, the deist, the Chinese, and they will tell you that the foundation of their system of morals is selfish enjoyment. Ask the philosophers of the Grecian schools,—Epicurus, Socrates, Zeno, Plato, Lucretius, Cicero, Seneca,—and you will find them discoursing upon the Supreme Good. They will tell you it is pleasure, ease, temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice: not one of them will whisper the name of love, unless in its gross and physical sense, as an instrument of pleasure; not one of them will tell you that the source of all moral relation between you and the rest of mankind is to love your neighbor as yourself—to do unto him as you would that he should do unto you.
"The Chinese recognize no such law. Their internal government is a hereditary patriarchical despotism, and their own exclusive interest is the measure of all their relations with the rest of mankind. Their own government is founded upon the principle that as a nation they are superior to the rest of mankind. They believe themselves and their country especially privileged over all others; that their dominion is the celestial empire, and their territory the flowery land.
"The fundamental principle of the Chinese empire is anti-commercial. It is founded entirely upon the second and third of Vattel's general principles, to the total exclusion of the first. It admits no obligation to hold commercial intercourse with others. It utterly denies the equality of other nations with itself, and even their independence. It holds itself to be the centre of the terraqueous globe,—equal to the heavenly host,—and all other nations with whom it has any relations, political or commercial, as outside tributary barbarians, reverently submissive to the will of its despotic chief. It is upon this principle, openly avowed and inflexibly maintained, that the principal maritime nations of Europe for several centuries, and the United States of America from the time of their acknowledged independence, have been content to hold commercial intercourse with the empire of China.
"It is time that this enormous outrage upon the rights of human nature, and upon the first principle of the rights of nations, should cease. These principles of the Chinese empire, too long connived at and truckled to by the mightiest Christian nations of the civilized world, have at length been brought into conflict with the principles and the power of the British empire; and I cannot forbear to express the hope that Britain, after taking the lead in the abolition of the African slave-trade and of slavery, and of the still more degrading tribute to the Barbary African Mahometans, will extend her liberating arm to the furthest bound of Asia, and at the close of the present contest insist upon concluding the peace upon terms of perfect equality with the Chinese empire, and that the future commerce shall be carried on upon terms of equality and reciprocity between the two communities parties to the trade, for the benefit of both; each retaining the right of prohibition and of regulation, to interdict any article or branch of trade injurious to itself, as for example the article of opium, and to secure itself against the practices of fraudulent traders and smugglers. This is the truth, and I apprehend the only question at issue between the governments and nations of Great Britain and China. It is a general, but I believe altogether a mistaken opinion, that the quarrel is merely for certain chests of opium, imported by British merchants into China, and seized by the Chinese government for having been imported contrary to law. This is a mere incident to the dispute, but no more the cause of war than the throwing overboard of the tea in Boston harbor was the cause of the North American Revolution.
"The cause of the war is the pretension on the part of the Chinese that in all their intercourse with other nations, political or commercial, their superiority must be implicitly acknowledged, and manifested in humiliating forms. It is not creditable to the great, powerful, and enlightened nations of Europe, that for several centuries they have, for the sake of a profitable trade, submitted to these insolent and insulting pretensions, equally contrary to the first principles of the law of nature and of revealed religion—the natural equality of mankind—
"'Auri sacra fames, quid non mortalia pectora cogis?'
"This submission to insult is the more extraordinary for being practised by Christian nations, which, in their intercourse with one another, push the principle of equality and reciprocity to the minutest punctilios of form."
This lecture concludes with a sketch of the treatment of Lord Macartney by the Chinese emperor, in 1792, when sent to that court as ambassador from Great Britain, illustrating and supporting its general argument. The remarks of Mr. Adams upon the distinction with a very small difference between "the bended knee" and "entire prostration," as a token of homage,—admitted as to the first, denied as to the last, by the British ambassador,—are characteristic.
"The narrative of Sir George Staunton distinctly and positively affirms that Lord Macartney was admitted to the presence of the Emperor Kienlung, and presented to him his credentials, without performing the prostration of the Kotow—the Chinese act of homage from the vassal to the sovereign lord. Ceremonies between superiors and inferiors are the personification of principles. Nearly twenty-five years after the repulse of Lord Macartney, in 1816, another splendid embassy was despatched by the British government, in the person of Lord Amherst, who was much more rudely dismissed, without even being admitted to the presence of the emperor, or passing a single hour at Pekin. A Dutch embassy instituted shortly after the failure of that of Lord Macartney, fared no better, although the ambassador submitted with a good grace to the prostration of the Kotow. A philosophical republican may smile at the distinction by which a British nobleman saw no objection to delivering his credentials on the bended knee, but could not bring his stomach to the attitude of entire prostration. In the discussion which arose between Lord Amherst and the celestials on this question, the Chinese, to a man, insisted inflexibly that Lord Macartney had performed the Kotow; and Kiaking, the successor of Kienlung, who had been present at the reception of Lord Macartney, personally pledged himself that he had seen his lordship in that attitude. Against the testimony to the fact of the imperial witness in person, it may well be conjectured how impossible it was for the British noble to maintain his position, which was, after all, of small moment. The bended knee, no less than the full prostration to the ground, is a symbol of homage from an inferior to a superior, and if not equally humiliating to the performer, it is only because he has been made familiar by practice with one, and not with the other. In Europe, the bended knee is exclusively appropriated to the relations of sovereign and subject; and no representative of any sovereign in Christendom ever bends his knee in presenting his credentials to another. But the personal prostration of the ambassador before the emperor was, in the Chinese principle of exaction, symbolical not only of the acknowledgment of subjection, but of the fundamental law of the empire prohibiting all official intercourse upon a footing of equality between the government of China and the government of any other nation. All are included under the general denomination of outside barbarians: and the commercial intercourse with the maritime or navigating nations is maintained through the exclusive monopoly of the Hong merchants."
At the opening of the session of Congress, on the 3d of December, 1841, Mr. Adams thus wrote concerning his own course and the country's prospects:
"Between the obligation to discharge my duty to the country and the obvious impossibility of accomplishing anything for the improvement of its condition by legislation, my deliberate judgment warns me to a systematic adherence to inaction upon all the controverted topics which cannot fail to be brought into debate. Upon the rule-question (that is, refusing to receive or refer petitions on the subject of slavery) I cannot be silent, but shall be left alone, as heretofore. I await the opening of the session with great anxiety; more from an apprehension of my own imprudence than from a belief that the fortunes of the country will be much affected, for good or evil, by anything that will be done. There is neither spotless integrity nor consummate ability at the helm of the ship, and she will be more than ever the sport of winds and waves, drifting between breakers and quicksands. May the wise and good Disposer send her home in safety!"
On the 24th of January, 1842, Mr. Adams presented the petition of forty-five citizens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, praying that Congress would immediately take measures peaceably to dissolve the Union of these States. 1st. Because no Union can be agreeable which does not present prospects of reciprocal benefits. 2d. Because a vast proportion of the resources of one section of the Union is annually drained to sustain the views and course of another section, without any adequate return. 3d. Because, judging from the history of past nations, that Union, if persisted in, in the present course of things, will certainly overwhelm the whole nation in utter destruction. Mr. Adams moved that the petition be referred to a select committee, with instructions to report an answer showing the reasons why the prayer of it ought not to be granted.
The excitement the presentation of this petition produced was immediate and intense. Mr. Hopkins, of Virginia, moved to burn it in presence of the house. Mr. Wise, of the same state, asked the speaker if it was in order to move to censure any member for presenting such a petition. Mr. Gilmer, also of Virginia, moved a resolution, that Mr. Adams, for presenting such a petition, had justly incurred the censure of the house. Mr. Adams said that he hoped the resolution would be received and discussed. A desultory debate ensued, and was continued until the house adjourned. A caucus was immediately held by the opponents of Mr. Adams among the representatives from the South and West, to take measures to effect his expulsion. It was feared that the two thirds vote requisite to expel a member could not be obtained. Three resolutions were therefore prepared, the adoption of which it was deemed would in popular effect be equivalent to an expulsion. Thomas F. Marshall, of Kentucky, consented to present them the next day. The consideration of these resolutions, which continued until the 5th of February, produced a series of as violent and personal debates as perhaps the halls of Congress ever witnessed. They were in these words:
"WHEREAS, The federal constitution is a permanent form of government, and of perpetual obligation, until altered or modified in the mode pointed out in that instrument; and the members of this House, deriving their political character and powers from the same, are sworn to support it; and the dissolution of the Union necessarily implies the destruction of that instrument, the overthrow of the American republic, and the extinction of our national existence: a proposition, therefore, to the representatives of the people, to dissolve the organic laws framed by their constituents, and to support which they are commanded by those constituents to be sworn before they can enter into the execution of the political powers created by it and intrusted to them, is a high breach of privilege, a contempt offered to this House, a direct proposition to the legislature and each member of it to commit perjury, and involving necessarily in its execution and its consequences the destruction of our country, and the crime of high treason.
"Resolved, therefore, That the Honorable John Quincy Adams, member from Massachusetts, in presenting for the consideration of the House of Representatives of the United States a petition praying for the dissolution of the Union, has offered the deepest indignity to the House of which he is a member, an insult to the people of the United States, of which that House is the legislative organ; and will, if this outrage be permitted to pass unrebuked and unpunished, have disgraced his country, through their representatives, in the eyes of the whole world.
"Resolved, further, That the aforesaid John Quincy Adams, for this insult, the first of the kind ever offered to the government, and for the wound which he has permitted to be aimed, through his instrumentality, at the constitution and existence of his country, the peace, the security, and liberty of the people of these States, might well be held to merit expulsion from the national councils; and the House deem it an act of grace and mercy when they only inflict upon him their severest censure for conduct so utterly unworthy of his past relations to the state, and his present position. This they hereby do, for the maintenance of their own purity and dignity. For the rest, they turn him over to his own conscience, and the indignation of all true American citizens."
The scene which occurred, on their presentation, is thus graphically described in the newspapers of the day:
"On the 25th of January, the whole body of Southerners came into the House, apparently resolved to crush Mr. Adams and his cause forever. They gathered in groups, conversed in deep whispers, and the whole aspect of their conduct at twelve o'clock indicated a conspiracy portending a revolution. Thomas F. Marshall, of Kentucky, rose, and, having asked and received of Mr. Gilmer leave to offer a substitute for his resolution of censure which was pending at the adjournment, presented the three prepared resolutions. He assumed a manner and tone as if he felt the historical importance of his position; spoke with great coolness and solemnity,—a style wholly unusual with him; assumed a solemn, magisterial air, and judicial elevation, as if he thought, in the insolence of his conceit, that he was about to pour down the thunder of condemnation on the venerable object of his attack, as a judge pronouncing sentence on a convicted culprit, in the sight of approving men and angels. Warming somewhat with the silent, imposing attention of the vast audience before whom he spoke, he expanded into an inflated exhibition of his own past relations to the object of his attack, and thus represented himself eminently qualified to act the part he had assumed of prosecutor, judge, and executioner. When he finished, the speaker announced to Mr. Adams that his position entitled him to the floor, bringing up to the imagination a parallel scene: 'Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.'
"Up rose, then, that bald, gray old man, his hands trembling with constitutional infirmity and age, upon whose consecrated head the vials of tyrannic wrath had been outpoured. Among the crowd of slaveholders who filled the galleries he could seek no friends, and but a few among those immediately around him. Unexcited, he raised his voice, high-keyed, as was usual with him, but clear, untremulous, and firm. In a moment his infirmities disappeared, although his shaking hand could not but be noticed: trembling not with fear, but with age. At first there was nothing of indignation in his tone, manner, or words. Surprise and cold contempt were all. But anon a flash of withering scorn struck the unhappy Marshall. A single breath blew all his mock-judicial array into air and smoke. In a tone of insulted majesty and reinvigorated spirit, Mr. Adams then said, in reply to the audacious, atrocious charge of 'high treason:' 'I call for the reading of the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Read it! read it! and see what that says of the right of a people to reform, to change, and to dissolve their government.'
"The look, the tone, the gesture, of the insulted patriot, at that instant were most imposing. The voice was that of sovereign command. The burthen of seventy-five winters rolled off, and he rose above the puny things around him, who thought themselves his equals, from being his associates.
"When the passage of the Declaration was read that solemnly proclaims the right of reform, revolution, and resistance to oppression, the old man thundered out, 'Read that again!' and he looked proudly round on the listening audience, as he heard his triumphant vindication sounded forth in the glorious sentences of the revolutionary Magna Charta.
"The sympathetic revulsion of feeling was intense, though voiceless. Every drop of free, honest blood in that vast assemblage bounded with high impulse, every fibre thrilled with excitement.
"A strong exhibition of the facts in the case, mostly in cold, calm, logical, measured sentences, concluded the high appeal of Mr. Adams, from the slaveholders of the present generation to the Father of that system of revolutionary liberty with which he is the coeval and the noblest champion. And then he sat down vindicated, victorious."
Apart from the excited interest of friends, the malign aspersions of political enemies, and his own indignant response to the hollow tirade of his assailants, his defence, reduced to its elements, was simply this: that the petition was sent to him for presentation; that it was a subject for which the signers of it had a constitutional right to petition, and that in presenting it he had proposed that the committee should be instructed to report reasons why it ought not to be granted. He said that he should not enter further into his self-defence at that time, but should wait to see the action of the house upon those resolutions. But whenever the proper time for his defence should come, he pledged himself to show that "a portion of the country from which the assailants came was endeavoring to destroy the right of habeas corpus, and of trial by jury, and all the rights in which the liberties of the country consist;"—"that there was in that portion of country a systematic attempt even to carry it to the dissolution of the Union, with a continual system and purpose to destroy all the principles of civil liberty among the free states, and by power to force the detested principles of slavery on the free States of this Union;" a pledge which in the course of his subsequent argument he fully redeemed.
The last of January, Mr. Adams thus expressed himself concerning these proceedings: "My occupations during the month have been confined entirely to the business of the house, and for the last ten days to the defence of myself against an extensive combination and conspiracy, in and out of Congress, to crush the liberties of the free people of this Union, by disgracing me with the brand of censure, and displacing me from the chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, for my perseverance in presenting abolition petitions. I am in the midst of that fiery ordeal, and day and night absorbed in the struggle against this attempt at my ruin. God send me a good deliverance!"
Intemperate debates, with violence undiminished, succeeded, in which all the topics of party censure, from the adoption of the constitution, were collected and heaped upon Mr. Adams by Marshall, Wise, Gilmer, and others.
On the 3d of February Mr. Adams took the floor, and spoke for two hours in his own defence, with an eloquence and effect to which no description can do justice. He touched the low underplot of the Committee on Foreign Affairs with pointed severity and bitter truth, and then gave amusing particulars of missives he had received from the South threatening him with assassination. Among other kindly hints sent through the post-office was a colored lithograph portrait of himself, with the picturesque annotation of a rifle-ball on the forehead, and a promise that such a remedy "would stop his music." He alluded to these communications with perfect good nature, some of them being identical with words used towards him by Mr. Gilmer. A further account of them will be given from the correspondent of the newspapers of the day.
 See the Boston Courier and New York American of the period.
"Among the many strange impressions of these singular scenes, nothing is more striking than the total, disgraceful ignorance which prevails as to who John Quincy Adams is. That he has been President of the United States, and had previously borne high offices, seems occasionally to be vaguely remembered by a few of the most intelligent of his persecutors. But of the part which he has borne for half a century in the history of America and of the world they know no more than they do of the Vedas and Puranas.
"The thread of this great discourse was his present and past relations to Virginia and Virginians. After gratefully acknowledging his infinite obligations to the great Virginians of the first age of the federal republic, he modestly and unpretendingly recounted the unsought exalted honors heaped upon him by Washington, Madison, and Monroe, and detailed with touching simplicity and force some of his leading actions in the discharge of those weighty trusts. As he went back through the historic vista of patriotic achievements, he seemed to renew his youth like the eagles, and rose into a still loftier and bolder strain than in the withering retort with which he struck down Wise and Marshall. In passing over the preliminaries of his discourse, he chanced to fix his eye on the latter, who was moving down one of the side aisles. Instantly, at the suggestion of the moment, he burst forth into a beautiful appeal to the hallowed memory of the venerated and immaculate Virginian who once bore the name of Marshall through a long career of judicial honor and usefulness. The general interest in this appeal to the past was impressive. The members of the house drew together around him; even his persecutors paid an involuntary tribute to 'the old man eloquent.'
"Lord Morpeth was an attentive spectator and auditor of these scenes of turbulence; and it was interesting to see a British statesman looking up to learn from such a source the unwritten history of his own country, as well as of Europe. For such it was, when Mr. Adams gave the history of the movements at the court of the Emperor Alexander, and his connection with them, which resulted in the Russo-British alliance and in the overthrow of Napoleon. The early-chosen favorite of Washington, the trusted counsellor of Jefferson, the much-honored agent of Madison, the guide and chief support of Monroe, the restorer of the purity of the Washingtonian epoch to the Presidential chair, and for the last ten years the bold champion of universal liberty, stood there baited by absurd charges of perjury and treason, by insignificant beings of yesterday.
"The monument of a past age, a beacon to the present, a landmark to the future, he towered above the little things around him. The beautiful poetic appeal to Virginia, with which he concluded, caused a thrill of delighted admiration in the whole assembly. The emphasis, the pathetic intonation, touched every heart. The triumph of Mr. Adams was complete."
On the eleventh day of this debate, Mr. Adams, in opening his defence, said that he had been charged by his assailant with consuming an unreasonable portion of the time of the house with his own affairs; but he thought that six days could not be deemed an extravagant requirement for the defence of a man situated as he was, when a great portion of that period had been consumed by his assailants, their associates, and others. He did not desire to be responsible for any unnecessary consumption of the hours of debate. He wished, indeed, to state the whole affair; and, to accomplish this, he should require a great deal more time. He had laid out a great platform for his defence, if he was forced to continue it; but he was willing to forego it all, provided it could be done without sacrificing his rights, the rights of his constituents, and those of the petitioners. He then stated that if any gentleman would make a motion to lay the whole subject on the table, he would forbear to proceed any further with his defence. This motion was immediately made by Mr. Botts, of Virginia, and the house decided in its favor, by a vote of one hundred and six to ninety-three. The petition from Haverhill was then taken up and refused to be received; one hundred and sixty-six in the affirmative to forty in the negative.
On the 12th of April, 1842, Mr. Adams, as chairman of the committee on the Smithsonian fund, made a report in the form of a bill, the object of which was to settle three fundamental principles for the administration and management of the fund in all after time. The bill provided, First, that the principal fund should be preserved and maintained unimpaired, with an income secured upon it at the rate of six per cent. a year, from which all appropriations for the purposes of the founder should be made. Second, that the portions of the income already accrued and invested in state stocks should be constituted funds, from the annual income of which an astronomical observer, with suitable assistants, should be supported. Third, that in the future management of this fund no part of it should be applied to any institution of education, or religious establishment.
To the persevering spirit with which Mr. Adams on every occasion urged upon Congress and the people of the United States the observance of those fundamental principles which he had first asserted and which he afterwards uninterruptedly maintained, notwithstanding a local and interested opposition to them, may be justly attributed the preservation of that fund, and its subsequent application to the objects of the founder's bequest, although in his prevailing desire that an astronomical observatory should be one of them, he did not succeed. Connected with this report, all the previous proceedings in relation to it were again published, for the information of Congress and the public.
On the 14th of the same month, a bill making appropriations for the civil and diplomatic expenses of government being under consideration, Mr. Linn, of New York, moved to strike out so much of it as related to a minister to Mexico, expressing his belief that the object of this mission was to bring about the annexation of Texas. A debate ensued, which was desultory and declamatory on the part of those advocating the appropriation. Mr. Wise, of Virginia, said that the tyrant of Mexico was now at war with Texas; that he threatened to invade her territory, and never stop until he had driven slavery beyond the Sabine; and that the gentlemen opposed to the mission would let him loose his servile horde, and yet send no minister to remonstrate or to threaten. Our citizens had claims on that government to the amount of twelve or thirteen millions. Ten or a dozen of our citizens—of our own native citizens—were in degrading bondage in the mines of Mexico, or sweeping its streets; and yet a minister to Mexico was opposed because the President and a party in this country wished to annex Texas to the Union. It was not only the duty of this government to demand the liquidation of our claims and the liberation of our citizens, but to go further, and demand the non-invasion of Texas. We should at once say to Mexico, "If you strike Texas, you strike us." And if England, standing by, should dare to intermeddle and ask, "Do you take part with Texas?" his prompt answer would be, "Yes, and against you."
Mr. Ingersoll, of Pennsylvania, followed on the same side, maintaining that Texas ought to be annexed to the Union, even at the risk of a war with Great Britain. He said that he was a man of peace, and was not insensible to the evils of war, but he contended that they were greatly exaggerated. He wished the British minister to understand that war would not do us so much harm as it would his own country. In the first place, if we chose to apply the principles of war, it paid all the state debts at once,—two hundred millions of dollars. At all events, it suspended the interest during the war. We had a sufficient population, the capacity of drilling that population, and all the materials for war. There were two vessels now within the sound of his voice to which there was nothing in a British or French navy to be compared. Our lakes were covered with transporting steamboats, which could easily be made effective for harbor defence. We lived in a republican country, in an armed nation; and he would rather take this nation as it was than the most completely armed nation in the world. Having proceeded at great length in this strain, stating various particulars, some of which may be gathered from Mr. Adams' reply, he concluded by challenging opposition to the opinion that there was no right of search in time of war, and that such a claim was a monstrosity. The greatest question in the world, which now agitated nearly all Christendom, was this mixed question of the slave-trade and the right of visit and search. To statements and arguments of this force and nature Mr. Adams made a scrutinizing and unanswerable reply, of which the following extract will sufficiently exhibit the power and quality.
"The gentleman from Pennsylvania began by saying that he was for peace—for universal peace. Then followed a most learned dissertation to prove that it was an entire mistake to suppose that we are not now prepared for war; and to demonstrate that a nation which goes into a war unprepared will infallibly conquer; that it must be so; that every unarmed and unprepared nation always had conquered its armed opposers. No; we are not unprepared for war,—not at all,—because we have in sight of the windows of this capitol two armed steamers; one of them, as I am informed, nearly disabled, so that she will need, in a great measure, to be rebuilt, leaving for our use, in case of immediate hostilities, one entire steamer, and with that we are to burn London; and though the gentleman readily admitted that it was possible, nay, very probable, that New York would be burnt too, yet, as London was four or five times as large, we should have a great balance of burning on our side. Yes; we were to conquer Great Britain and burn London, and we were told that it would be a very cheap price for all this to have the city of New York burnt in turn, or burnt first. And this was an argument for peace!
"What else did the gentlemen say? What else did he not say? He made a great argument and a valorous display of zeal in relation to the right of search. O, that—that was a point never to be conceded—no, never. He maintained that there is no such thing as a right of search—no such right in time of war, none in time of peace. Well, I do agree with the gentleman partially on that one point, so far as to believe that there is no need of our coming to an issue with Great Britain there, and we have not as yet. After reading, as I have done, and carefully examining the papers put forth on both sides, I asked myself, What is the question between us? And I have heard men of the first intelligence say that they found themselves in the very same situation. The gentleman has made a total misrepresentation of the demand of Great Britain in the matter. She has never claimed the right to search American vessels—no such thing. On the contrary, she has explicitly disclaimed any such pretension, and that to the whole extent we can possibly demand. What is it we do demand? Not that Great Britain should disclaim the right to search American vessels, but we deny her the right to board pirates who hoist the American flag. Yes; and to search British vessels, too, that have been declared to be pirates by the laws of nations, pirates by the laws of Great Britain, pirates by the laws of the United States. That is the demand of our late minister to London, whose letters are so much admired by the gentleman from Pennsylvania. Now, it happens that behind all this exceeding great zeal against the right of search is a question which the gentleman took care not to bring into view, and that is the support and perpetuation of the African slave-trade. That is the real question between the ministers of America and Great Britain: whether slave-traders, pirates, by merely hoisting the American flag, shall be saved from capture.