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

"The subscribers are under a deep and solemn conviction that the provision in the constitution of the United States, as it has been and yet is construed, and which the resolves of the Legislature of Massachusetts propose to discard and erase therefrom, is repugnant to the first and vital principles of republican popular representation; to the self-evident truths proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; to the letter and spirit of the constitution of the United States itself; to the letter and spirit of the constitutions of almost all the states in the Union; to the liberties of the whole people of all the free states, and of all that portion of the people of the states where domestic slavery is established, other than owners of the slaves themselves; that this is its essential and unextinguishable character in principle, and that its fruits, in its practical operation upon the government of the land, as felt with daily increasing aggravation by the people, correspond with that character. To place these truths in the clearest light of demonstration, and beyond the reach of contradiction, the subscribers proceed, in the order of these averments, to adduce the facts and the arguments by which they will be maintained."

The report then proceeds, in reply to the reasoning of the majority of the committee, to maintain that "the principle of republican popular representation is that the terms of representative and constituent are correlative;" that "democracy admits no representation of property;" that "the slave representation is repugnant to the self-evident truths proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence." The truths in that Declaration the report illustrates from history, from Scripture, and from the teachings of Jesus Christ; who was aware that wars, and their attendant, slavery, would continue among men, and that the destiny of his Gospel itself was often to be indebted for its progressive advancement to war.

"'I came not,' said he, 'to send peace upon earth, but a sword;' meaning, not that this was the object of his mission, but that, in the purposes of the Divine nature, war itself should be made instrumental to promote the final consummation of universal peace. Slavery has not ceased upon the earth; but the impression upon the human heart and mind that slavery is a wrong,—a crime against the laws of nature and of nature's God,—has been deepening and widening, till it may now be pronounced universal upon every soul in Christendom not warped by personal interest, or tainted with disbelief in Christianity. The owner of ten slaves believes that slavery is not an evil. The owner of a hundred believes it a blessing. The philosophical infidel has no faith in Hebrew prophecies, or in the Gospel of Jesus. He says in his heart, though he will not tell you to your face, that the proclamation of the natural equality of mankind, in the Declaration of Independence, is untrue; that the African race are physically, morally, and intellectually, inferior to the white European man; that they are not of one blood, nor descendants of the same stock; that the African is born to be a slave, and the white man to be his master. The worshipper of mammon and the philosophical atheist hold no communion with the signers of the declaration that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. But, with these exceptions, poll the whole mass of Christian men, of every name, sect, or denomination, throughout the globe, and you will not hear a solitary voice deny that slavery is a wrong, a crime, and a curse."

This report then proceeds to maintain that the representation of slaves as persons, conferred not upon themselves but their owners, is repugnant to the self-evident truth proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and equally repugnant both to the spirit and letter of the constitution of the United States, and to the constitution of almost every state of the Union; that it is deceptive, and inconsistent with the principle of popular representation;—all which is supported by reference to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, concerning the relations of master and slave. It is shown how, by the effect of that article in the constitution, all political power in the states is absorbed and engrossed by the owners of slaves, and the cunning by which this has been effected is explained. The report then enters into the history of slavery, declaring that "the resolves of the Legislature of Massachusetts speak the unanimous opinions and sentiments of the people—unanimous, with the exception of the sordid souls linked to the cause of slavery by the hopes and expectations of patronage."

In June, 1844, Mr. Adams, as chairman of a select committee on the Smithsonian fund, reported a bill, in which he referred to its actual state, and proposed measures tending to give immediate operation to that bequest. In support of its provisions, he stated that, on the first day of September, 1838, there had been deposited in the mint of the United States, in gold, half a million of dollars,—the full amount of the bequest of Mr. Smithson,—which, on the same day, under the authority of an act of Congress, and with the approbation of the President, had been vested by the Secretary of the Treasury in bonds of the States of Arkansas, Michigan, and Illinois; that the payment of the interest on these bonds had been almost entirely neglected; that the principal and arrears of interest then accumulating amounted to upwards of six hundred and ninety-nine thousand dollars; that the payment of these bonds was remote, and unavailable by Congress for application to the objects of this bequest.

In accepting this legacy, the faith of the United States had been pledged that all money received from it should be applied to the humane and generous purpose prescribed by the testator; and he contended that, for the redemption of this pledge, it was indispensably requisite that the funds thus locked up in the treasury, in bonds of these states, with the accruing and suspended interest thereon, should be made available for the disposal of Congress, to enable them to execute the sacred trust they had assumed.

The committee then reported a bill providing, in effect, for the assumption by Congress of the whole sum and interest, as a loan to the United States, invested in their stock, bearing an annual interest of six per cent., payable half-yearly, and redeemable at the pleasure of Congress by the substitution of other funds of equal value. In connection with this purpose they reported a bill making appropriations to enable Congress to proceed immediately to the execution of the trust committed to them by the testator, and for the fulfilment of which the faith of the nation had been pledged.

In specifying the objects to which it should be applied, that of the establishment of an Astronomical Observatory was not omitted. This recommendation decided the fate of the bill; for there was no purpose on which the predominating party were more fixed than to prevent the gratification of Mr. Adams in this well-known cherished wish of his heart.

In October, 1823, Mr. Adams, being then Secretary of State, had addressed a letter to a member of the corporation of Harvard University, urging the erection of an Astronomical Observatory in connection with that institution, and tendering a subscription, on his own account, of one thousand dollars, on condition a requisite sum should be raised, for that purpose, within two years. His proposal not meeting correspondent spirit among the friends of science at that time, in October, 1825, he renewed the offer, on the same condition and limitation. In both cases a concealment of his name was made imperative.[1]

[1] Quincy's History of Harvard University, vol. II., p. 567.

The establishment of an Astronomical Observatory was recommended in his first message to Congress, as President of the United States; but the proposition fell on a political soil glowing with a red heat, enkindled by disappointed ambition. Opposition to the design became identified with party spirit, and to defeat it no language of contempt or of ridicule was omitted by the partisans of General Jackson. In every appropriation which it was apprehended might be converted to its accomplishment, the restriction "and to no other" was carefully inserted. In the second section of an act passed on the 10th of July, 1832, providing for the survey of the coasts of the United States, the following limitation was inserted: "Provided that nothing in this act, or in the act hereby revived, shall be construed to authorize the construction or maintenance of a permanent Astronomical Observatory." Yet, at the time of passing this act, it was well understood that the appropriation it contained was to be applied to that object; and subsequently, in direct defiance of this prohibition, Congress permitted that and other appropriations to be applied to the erection of an Astronomical Observatory in the city of Washington, to which annual appropriations were successively granted in the bill providing for the navy department; the authors of the proviso being aware of the uses to which the fund would be applied, but causing its insertion for the purpose of preventing its erection from being attributed to the influence of Mr. Adams. To such disreputable subterfuges party spirit can condescend, to gratify malignity, or to obscure merit from the knowledge of the world, to the power of which it is itself compelled to yield.

Nothing was effectually done, on the subject of the Smithsonian fund, until the 22d of April, 1846, when a bill to carry into effect that bequest was reported by Mr. Owen, of Indiana, and earnestly supported by him and others. In its important general features it coincided with the views of Mr. Adams, except only that it made no provision for an Astronomical Observatory. After various amendments, it received the sanction of both houses of Congress, Mr. Adams voting in its favor. On the 10th of August, 1846, it received the signature of the President of the United States.

During the debate upon this bill, its supporters acknowledged "that Mr. Adams had labored in this good cause with more zeal and perseverance than any other man."

In the course of the same debate it was said by one member that, "inasmuch as the views of Mr. Adams had been carried out in respect of an Astronomical Observatory, by the government, in the District of Columbia,"—and by another, that, "as building light-houses in the skies had grown into popular favor,"—it was hoped he would find no difficulty in giving his vote for the bill. On which Mr. Adams observed, that "he was very glad to hear that the 'building light-houses in the skies had grown into popular favor.' The appropriation for this Astronomical Observatory had been clandestinely smuggled into the law, under the head of a depot for charts, when, a short time before, a provision had been inserted in a bill passed that no appropriation should be applied to an Astronomical Observatory. He claimed no merit for the erection of an Astronomical Observatory, but, in the course of his whole life, no conferring of honor, of interest, or of office, had given him more delight than the belief that he had contributed, in some small degree, to produce these Astronomical Observatories both here and elsewhere.[2] He no longer wished any portion of the Smithsonian fund to be applied to an Astronomical Observatory."

[2] Congressional Globe, vol. XV., p. 738.

Notwithstanding this disclaimer, the four reports of Mr. Adams, on the Smithsonian fund, in 1836, 1840, 1842, and 1844, which were neither coincident with the views nor within the comprehension of his opponents, will remain imperishable monuments of the extent and elevation of his mind on this subject. When the continued and strenuous exertions with which Mr. Adams opposed, at every step, the efforts to convert that fund to projects of personal interest or ambition are appreciated, it will be evident that the people of the United States owe to him whatever benefit may result from the munificence of James Smithson. History will be just to his memory, and will not fail to record his early interest and strenuous zeal for the advancement of astronomical science, and the influence his eloquence and untiring perseverance, in illustrating its importance with an unsurpassed array of appropriate learning, exerted on the public mind in the United States, not only in effecting the establishment of other Astronomical Observatories, but absolutely compelling party spirit, notwithstanding its open, bitter animosity, to lay the foundation of that Observatory which now bears the name of "National."

In February, 1843, Andrew Jackson addressed a letter to Aaron Vail Brown, a member of Congress, strongly recommending the annexation of Texas, and giving his reasons for that measure, which he commenced by stating the following facts:

"Soon after my election, in 1829, it was made known to me by Mr. Erwin, formerly our minister at the court of Madrid, that whilst at that court he had laid the foundation of a treaty with Spain for the cession of the Floridas, and the settlement of the boundary of Louisiana, fixing the western limit of the latter at the Rio Grande, agreeably to the understanding of France; that he had written home to our government for power to complete and sign this negotiation; but that, instead of receiving such authority, the negotiation was taken out of his hands, and transferred to Washington, and a new treaty was there concluded, by which the Sabine, and not the Rio Grande, was recognized and established as the boundary of Louisiana. Finding that these statements were true, and that our government did really give up that important territory, when it was at its option to retain it, I was filled with astonishment. The right to the territory was obtained from France, Spain stood ready to acknowledge it to the Rio Grande, and yet the authority asked by our minister to insert the true boundary was not only withheld, but, in lieu of it, a limit was adopted which stripped us of the whole vast country lying between the two rivers."

The letter containing this statement Aaron Vail Brown kept concealed from the public until March, 1844, when he gave it publicity to counteract a letter from Mr. Webster against the annexation of Texas to the United States. This statement of Andrew Jackson having thus been brought to the knowledge of Mr. Adams, he took occasion, on the 7th of October in that year, in an address to a political society of young men in Boston, to contradict and expose it in the following terms:

"I have read the whole of this letter to you, for I intend to prolong its existence for the benefit of posterity." [After reading the above extract from the letter of Andrew Jackson, Mr. Adams proceeds.] "He was filled with astonishment, fellow-citizens! I am repeating to you the words of a man who has been eight years President of the United States; words deliberately written, and published to the world more than a year after they were written; words importing a statement of his conduct in his office as chief magistrate of this Union; words impeaching of treason the government of his predecessor, James Monroe, and in an especial manner, though without daring to name him, the Secretary of State,—a government to which he (Andrew Jackson) was under deep obligations of gratitude.

"In what language of composure or of decency can I say to you that there is in this bitter and venomous charge not one single word of truth; that it is from beginning to end grossly, glaringly, wilfully false?—false even in the name of the man from whom he pretends to have derived his information. There never was a minister of the United States in Spain by the name of Erwin. The name of the man who went to him on this honorable errand, soon after his election in 1829, was George W. Erving, of whom and of whose revelations I shall also have something to say. I do not charge this distortion of the name as wilfully made; but it shows how carelessly and loosely all his relations and intercourse with him hung upon his memory, and how little he cared for the man.

"The blunder of the name, however, is in itself a matter of little moment. Mr. George W. Erving never did make to Mr. Jackson any such communication as he pretends to have found true, and to have filled him with astonishment. Mr. Erving never did pretend, nor will he dare to affirm, that he had laid the foundation of a treaty with Spain for the cession of the Floridas, and the settlement of the boundary of Louisiana, fixing the western limit at the Rio Grande. The charge, therefore, that our government did really give up that important territory, when it was at its option to retain it, is purely and unqualifiedly untrue; and I now charge that it was known by Mr. Brown to be so when he published General Jackson's letter; for, in the postscript to Jackson's letter, he says 'the papers furnished by Mr. Erwin, to which he had referred in it, could be placed in Mr. Brown's possession, if desired.'

"They were accordingly placed in Mr. Brown's possession, who, when he published Jackson's letter to the Globe, alluding to this passage asserting that Erving had laid the foundation of a treaty with Spain, fixing the western limit at the Rio Grande, otherwise called the Rio del Norte, subjoined the following note: 'That this boundary could have been obtained was doubtless the belief of our minister; but the offer of the Spanish government was probably to the Colorado—certainly a line far west of the Sabine.'

"This is the note of Aaron Vail Brown, and my fellow-citizens will please to observe,—

"First, That it blows to atoms the whole statement of Andrew Jackson that Erving had laid the foundation of a treaty by which our western bounds upon the Spanish possessions should be at the Rio Grande; and, of course, grinds to impalpable powder his charge that our government did give up that important territory when it was at its option to retain it.

"Secondly, That this note of Aaron Vail Brown, while it so effectually demolishes Jackson's fable of Erving's treaty with Spain for the boundary of the Rio del Norte, and his libellous charge against our government for surrendering the territory which they had the option to retain, is, with this exception, as wide and as wilful a departure from the truth as the calumny of Jackson itself, which it indirectly contradicts."

Mr. Adams then enters into a lucid and elaborate statement of Erving's connection with this negotiation with the Spanish government, with minute and important illustrations, highly interesting and conclusive; severely animadverting upon the conduct of General Jackson and Mr. Brown. He says:

"The object of the publication of that letter of Andrew Jackson was to trump up a shadow of argument for a pretended reaennexation of Texas to the United States, by a fabulous pretension that it had been treacherously surrendered to Spain, in the Florida treaty of 1819, by our government,—meaning thereby the Secretary of State of that day, John Quincy Adams,—in return for greater obligations than any one public servant of this nation was ever indebted for to another. The argument for the annexation, or reaennexation, of Texas is as gross an imposture as ever was palmed upon the credulity of an honest people."

In conclusion Mr. Adams addresses in a serious and exciting strain of eloquence the young men of Boston; and, after recapitulating part of an oration which he delivered on the 4th of July, 1793, before their fathers and forefathers, in that city, he closes thus:

"Young men of Boston, the generations of men to whom fifty-one years bygone I gave this solemn pledge have passed entirely away. They in whose name I gave it are, like him who addresses you, dropping into the grave. But they have redeemed their and my pledge. They were your fathers, and they have maintained the freedom transmitted to them by their sires of the war of independence. They have transmitted that freedom to you; and upon you now devolves the duty of transmitting it unimpaired to your posterity. Your trial is approaching. The spirit of freedom and the spirit of slavery are drawing together for the deadly conflict of arms. The annexation of Texas to this Union is the blast of a trumpet for a foreign, civil, servile, and Indian war, of which the government of your country, fallen into faithless hands, have already twice given the signal: first by a shameless treaty, rejected by a virtuous Senate; and again by the glove of defiance hurled by the apostle of nullification at the avowed policy of the British empire peacefully to promote the extinction of slavery throughout the world. Young men of Boston, burnish your armor—prepare for the conflict; and I say to you, in the language of Galgacus to the ancient Britons, 'Think of your forefathers! think of your posterity!'"[3]

[3] Niles' National Register, Second Series, vol. XVII., pp. 105-111.

On the 30th of the same month Mr. Adams delivered to his constituents at Weymouth an address equally elaborate, comprehensive, and historical, in a like fervid and characteristic spirit,[4] which thus concludes:

[4] Niles' National Register, Second Series, vol. XVII., pp. 154-159.

"Texas and slavery are interwoven in every banner floating on the Democratic breeze. 'Freedom or death' should be inscribed on ours. A war for slavery! Can you enlist under such a standard? May the Ruler of the universe preserve you from such degradation! 'Freedom! Peace! Union!' be this the watchword of your camp; and if Ate, hot from hell, will come and cry 'Havoc!' fight—fight and conquer, under the banner of universal freedom."

In February, 1845, our title to Oregon being the subject of debate in Congress, Mr. Adams joined in it, displaying his full knowledge of the subject, and declaring that it was time to give notice to Great Britain that the affair must be settled. He was desirous as any man to bring this subject to an issue, but he did not wish to enter upon the discussion of this matter before the world until we could show that we had the best of the argument. He wished to have the reasons given to the world for our taking possession of seven degrees of latitude, and perhaps more; and whenever we took it, too, he hoped we should have it defined geographically, defined politically, and, more than all the rest, defined morally; and then, if we came to question with Great Britain, we should say, "Come on, Macduff!" In answer to the inquiry who had been the means of giving this country a title to Oregon, Mr. Adams answered, it was a citizen of Massachusetts that discovered the Columbia River; and that he (Mr. Adams) had the credit of inserting the clause in the treaty on which our right was based. If it had not been for the attacks which had been made upon him, the fact would have gone with him to the grave.

In February, 1845, in a speech on the army bill, he treated ironically the spirit of conquest then manifesting itself towards Mexico, Oregon, and California. He said, at some future day we might hear the Speaker not only announce on this floor "the gentleman from the Rocky Mountains," or "the gentleman from the Pacific," or "the gentleman from Patagonia," but "the gentleman from the North Pole," and also "the gentleman from the South Pole;" and the poor original thirteen states would dwindle into comparative insignificance as parts of this mighty republic.

In November, 1845, in answer to a letter soliciting his opinion on the constitutionality of the law of Congress retroceding Alexandria to Virginia, Mr. Adams replied: "I have no hesitation to say I hold that act unconstitutional and void. How the Supreme Court of the United States would consider it I cannot undertake to judge, nor how they would carry it into execution, should they determine the act unconstitutional. The constitution of the United States 'Stat magna nominis umbra.'"

In the great debate on the Oregon question, which commenced in January, 1846, the intellectual power of Mr. Adams, and the extent and accuracy of his acquaintance with the facts connected with that subject, were preeminently manifested. Though conscious, being then in his seventy-eighth year, that he stood on the threshold of human life, he sought no relaxation from duty, no exemption from its performance. To counteract the effect of a nervous tremor, to which he was constitutionally subject, he used for many years an instrument to steady his hand when writing, on the ivory label of which he inscribed the motto "Toil and trust," indicative of the determined will, which had characterized his whole life, "to scorn delights and live laborious days." His step, however, now became more feeble, and his voice less audible, but his indomitable spirit never failed to uplift him in defence of liberty and the constitution of his country, when assailed.

In a debate on the Oregon question, in August, 1846, when Mr. Adams arose to speak, the hall was found too extensive for the state of his voice, and the members rushed to hear him, filling the area in front of the Speaker. That officer, in behalf of the few who remained in their seats, called the house to order, and Mr. Adams continued his remarks with his accustomed clearness and energy.

At the close of the session, in 1846, he returned to his seat in Quincy, with unimpaired intellectual powers, and with no perceptible symptom of immediately declining health, until the 19th of November, when, walking in the streets of Boston, an attack of paralysis deprived him of the power of speech, and affected his right side. In the course of three months, however, he was sufficiently recovered to resume his official duties at Washington.

On the 16th of February, 1847, as he entered the Hall of the House of Representatives for the first time since his illness, the house rose as one man, business was at once suspended, his usual seat surrendered to him by the gentleman to whom it had been assigned, and he was formally conducted to it by two members. After resuming it, Mr. Adams expressed his thanks to the member who had voluntarily relinquished his right in his favor, and said: "Had I a more powerful voice, I might respond to the congratulations of my friends, and the members of this house, for the honor which has been done me. But, enfeebled as I am by disease, I beg you will excuse me."

After this period, on one occasion alone he addressed the house. On the refusal of President Polk to give information, on their demand, as to the objects of the then existing war with Mexico, and the instructions given by the Executive relative to negotiations for peace, Mr. Adams rose, and maintained the constitutional power of the house to call for that information; denying that in this case the refusal was justified by that of President Washington on a similar demand; and declaring that the house ought to sustain, in the strongest manner, their right to call for information upon questions in which war and peace were concerned.

From this time, though daily in his seat in the House of Representatives, he took no part in debate. On the 21st of February, 1848, he answered to the call of his name in a voice clear and emphatic. Soon after, he rose, with a paper in his hand, and addressed the Speaker, when paralysis returned, and, uttering the words, "This is the last of earth; I am content," he fell into the arms of the occupant of an adjoining seat, who sprang to his aid. The house immediately adjourned. The members, greatly agitated, closed around him, until dispersed by their associates of the medical faculty, who conveyed him to a sofa in the rotundo, and from thence, at the request of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Robert C. Winthrop, he was removed to the Speaker's apartment in the capitol. There Mrs. Adams and his family were summoned to his side, and he continued, sedulously watched and attended, in a state of almost entire insensibility, until the evening of the 23d of February, when his spirit peacefully departed.

The gate of fear and envy was now shut; that of honor and fame opened. Men of all parties united in just tributes to the memory of John Quincy Adams. The halls of Congress resounded with voices of apt eulogy. After a pathetic discourse by the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, the remains of the departed statesman were followed by his family and immediate friends, and by the senators and representatives of the State of Massachusetts, as chief mourners. The President of the United States, the heads of departments, both branches of the national legislature, the members of the executive, judicial, and diplomatic corps, the officers of the army and navy, the corporations of all the literary and public societies in the District of Columbia, also joined the procession, which proceeded with a military escort to the Congressional cemetery. From thence his remains were removed, attended by thirty members of the House of Representatives,—one from each state in the Union,—to Massachusetts.

Every token of honor and respect was manifested in the cities and villages through which they passed. In Boston they were received by a committee appointed by the Legislature of Massachusetts, and by the municipal government; and, passing through the principal streets, were deposited, under care of the mayor of the city, in Faneuil Hall, which was appropriately draped in mourning. Here they lay in state until the next day, when, attended by the representatives of the nation, the Executive and Legislature of Massachusetts, and the municipal authorities of Boston, they were removed to Quincy, the birthplace of Mr. Adams. There, in its Congregational church, after an eloquent address,[5] these national tributes to the departed patriot closed, beside the sepulchre of his parents, amidst the scenes most familiar and dear to his heart.

[5] By William P. Lunt, minister of the First Congregational Church in Quincy.

* * * *

The life of a statesman second to none in diligent and effective preparation for public service, and faithful and fearless fulfilment of public duty, has now been sketched, chiefly from materials taken from his published works. The light of his own mind has been thrown on his labors, motives, principles, and spirit. In times better adapted to appreciate his worth, his merits and virtues will receive a more enduring memorial. The present is not a moment propitious to weigh them in a true balance. He knew how little a majority of the men of his own time were disposed or qualified to estimate his character with justice. To a future age he was accustomed to look with confidence. "Alteri saeculo" was the appeal made by him through his whole life, and is now engraven on his monument.

The basis of his moral character was the religious principle. His spirit of liberty was fostered and inspired by the writings of Milton, Sydney, and Locke, of which the American Declaration of Independence was an emanation, and the constitution of the United States, with the exception of the clauses conceded to slavery, an embodiment. He was the associate of statesmen and diplomatists at a crisis when war and desolation swept over Europe, when monarchs were perplexed with fear of change, and the welfare of the United States was involved in the common danger. After leading the councils which restored peace to conflicting nations, he returned to support the administration of a veteran statesman, and then wielded the chief powers of the republic with unsurpassed purity and steadiness of purpose, energy, and wisdom. Removed by faction from the helm of state, he re-entered the national councils, and, in his old age, stood panoplied in the principles of Washington and his associates, the ablest and most dreaded champion of freedom, until, from the station assigned him by his country, he departed, happy in a life devoted to duty, in a death crowned with every honor his country could bestow, and blessed with the hope which inspires those who defend the rights, and uphold, when menaced, momentous interests of mankind.


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