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Transcribed by Sharon Elijah December 26, 2020
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the sixth President of the United States, 1827-‘9, was born in the rural home of his honored father, John Adams, in Quincy, Massachusetts, July 11, 1867. His mother, a woman of exalted worth, watched over his childhood during the almost constant absence of his father. He commenced his education at the village school, giving at an early period indications of superior mental endowments.
When eleven years of age he sailed with his father for Europe, where the latter was associated with Franklin and Lee as Minister Plenipotentiary. The intelligence of John Quincy attracted the attention of these men and received from them flattering marks of attention. Mr. Adams had scarcely returned to this country in 1779 ere he was again sent abroad, and John Quincy again accompanied him. On this voyage he commenced a diary, which practice he continued, with but few interruptions, until his death. He journeyed with his father from Ferrol, in Spain, to Paris. Here he applied himself for six months to study; then accompanied his father to Holland, where he entered, first a school in Amsterdam, and then the University of Leyden. In 1781, when only fourteen years of age, he was selected by Mr. Dana, our Minister to the Russian court, as his private secretary. In this school of incessant labor he spent fourteen months, and then returned alone to Holland through Sweden, Denmark, Hamburg and Bremen. Again he resumed his studies under a private tutor, at The Hague.
In the spring of 1782 he accompanied his father to Paris, forming acquaintance with the most distinguished men on the Continent. After a short visit to England, he returned to Paris and studied until May, 1785, when he returned to America, leaving his father an embassador at the court of St. James. In 1876 he entered the junior class in Harvard University, and graduated with the second honor of his class. The oration he delivered on this occasion, the “Importance of Public Faith to the Well-being of a Community”, was published — an event very rare in this or any other land.
Upon leaving college at the age of twenty he studied law three years with the Hon. Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport. In 1790 he opened a law office in Boston. The profession was crowded with able men, and the fees were small. The first year he had no clients, but not a moment was lost. The second year passed away, still no clients, and still he was dependent upon his parents for support. Anxiously he awaited the third year. The reward now came. Clients began to enter his office, and before the end of the year he was so crowded with business that all solicitude respecting a support was at an end.
When Great Britain commenced war against France, in 1793, Mr. Adams wrote some articles, urging entire neutrality on the part of the United States. The view was not a popular one. Many felt that as France had helped us, we were bound to help France. But President Washington coincided with Mr. Adams, and issued his proclamation of neutrality. His writings at this time in Boston journals gave him so high a reputation, that in June, 1794, he was appointed by Washington resident Minister at the Netherlands. In July, 1797, he left The Hague to go to Portugal as Minister Plenipotentiary. Washington at this time wrote to his father, John Adams:
“Without intending to compliment the father or the mother, or to censure any others, I give it as my decided opinion, that Mr. Adams is the most valuable character we have abroad; and there remains no doubt in my mind that he will prove the ablest of our diplomatic corps.”
On his way to Portugal, upon his arrival in London, he met with dispatches directing him to the court of Berlin, but requesting him to remain in London until he should receive instructions. While waiting he was married to Miss Louisa Catherine Johnson, to whom he had been previously engaged. Miss Johnson was a daughter of Mr. Joshua Johnson, American Consul in London, and was a lady endowed with that beauty and those accomplishments which fitted her to move in the elevated sphere for which she was destined.
In July, 1799, having fulfilled as the purposes of his mission, Mr. Adams returned. In 1802 he was chosen to the Senate of Massachusetts from Boston, and then was elected Senator of the United States for six years from March 4, 1804. His reputation, his ability and his experience, placed him immediately among the most prominent and influential members of that body. He sustained the Government in its measures of resistance to the encroachments of England, destroying our commerce and insulting our flag. There was no man in America more familiar with the arrogance of the British court upon these points, and not one more resolved to present a firm resistance. This course, so truly patriotic, and which scarcely a voice will now be found to condemn, alienated him from the Federal party dominant in Boston, and subjected him to censure.
In 1805 Mr. Adams was chosen professor of rhetoric in Harvard College. His lectures at this place were subsequently published. In 1809 he was sent as Minister to Russia. He was one of the commissioners that negotiated the treaty of peace with Great Britain, signed December 24, 1814, and he was appointed Minister to the court of St. James in 1815. In 1817 he became Secretary of State in Mr. Monroe’s cabinet in which position he remained eight years. Few will now contradict the assertion that the duties of that office were never more ably discharged. Probably the most important measure which Mr. Adams conducted was the purchase of Florida from Spain for $5,000,000.
The campaign of 1824 was an exciting one. Four candidates were in the field. Of the 260 electoral votes that were cast, Andrew Jackson received ninety-nine; John Quincy Adams, eighty-four; William H. Crawford, forty-one, and Henry Clay, thirty-seven. As there was no choice by the people, the question went to the House of Representatives. Mr. Clay gave the vote of Kentucky to Mr. Adams, and he was elected.
The friends of all disappointed candidates now combined in a venomous assault upon Mr. Adams. There is nothing more disgraceful in the past history of our country than the abuse which was poured in one uninterrupted stream upon this high-minded, upright, patriotic man. There was never an administration more pure in principles, more conscientiously devoted to the best interests of the country, than that of John Quincy Adams; and never, perhaps, was there an administration more unscrupulously assailed. Mr. Adams took his seat in the presidential chair resolved not to know any partisanship, but only to consult for the interests of the whole Republic.
He refused to dismiss any man from office for his political views. If he was a faithful officer that was enough. Bitter must have his disappointment to find that the Nation could not appreciate such conduct.
Mr. Adams, in his public manners, was cold and repulsive; though with his personal friends he was at times very genial. This chilling address very seriously detracted from his popularity. No one can read an impartial record of his administration without admitting that a more noble example of uncompromising dignity can scarcely be found. It was stated publicly that Mr. Adams’ administration was to be put down, “though it be as pure as the angels which stand at the right hand of the throne of God.” Many of the active participants in these scenes lived to regret the course they pursued. Some years after, Warren R. Davis, of South Carolina, turning to Mr. Adams, then a member of the House of Representatives, said:
“Well do I remember the enthusiastic zeal with which we reproached the administration of that gentleman, and the ardor and vehemence with which we labored to bring in another. For the share I had in these transactions, and it was not a small one, I hope God will forgive me, for I shall never forgive myself.”
March 4, 1829, Mr. Adams retired from the Presidency and was succeeded by Andrew Jackson, the latter receiving 168 out of 261 electoral votes. John C. Calhoun was elected Vice-President. The slavery question now began to assume pretentious magnitude. Mr. Adams returned to Quincy, and pursued his studies with unabated zeal. But he was not long permitted to remain in retirement. In November, 1830, he was elected to Congress. In this he recognized the principle that it is honorable for the General of yesterday to act as Corporal to-day, if by so doing he can render service to his country. Deep as are our obligations to John Quincy Adams for his services as ambassador, as Secretary of State and as President; in his capacity as legislator in the House of Representatives, he conferred benefits upon our land which eclipsed all the rest, and which can never be over-estimated.
For seventeen years, until his death, he occupied the post of Representative, towering above all his peers, ever ready to do brave battle for freedom, and winning the title of “the old man eloquent.” Upon taking his seat in the House, he announced that he should hold himself bound to no party. He was usually the first in his place in the morning, and the last to leave his seat in the evening. Not a measure could escape his scrutiny. The battle which he fought, almost singly, against the pro-slavery party in the Government, was sublime in its moral daring and heroism. For persisting in presenting petitions for the abolition of slavery, he was threatened with indictment by the Grand Jury, with expulsion from the House, with assassination; but no threats could intimidate him, and his final triumph was complete.
On one occasion Mr. Adams presented a petition, signed by several women, against the annexation of Texas for the purpose of cutting it up into slave States. Mr. Howard, of Maryland, said that these women discredited not only themselves, but their section of the country, by turning from their domestic duties to the conflicts of political life.
“Are women,” exclaimed Mr. Adams, “to have no opinions or actions on subjects relating to the general welfare? Where did the gentleman get his principle? Did he find it in sacred history,--in the language of Miriam, the prophetess, in one of the noblest and sublime songs of triumph that ever met the human eye or ear? Did the gentleman never hear of Deborah, to whom the children of Israel came up for judgment? Has he forgotten the deed of Jael, who slew the dreaded enemy of her country? Has he forgotten Esther, who, by her petition saved her people and her country?
“To go from sacred history to profane, does the gentleman there find it ‘discreditable’ for women to take an interest in political affairs? Has he forgotten the Spartan mother, who said to her son when going out to battle, ‘My son, come back to me with thy shield, or upon thy shield?’ Does he remember Cloelia and her hundred companions, who swam across the river under a shower of darts, escaping from Prosena? Has he forgotten Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi? Does he not remember Portia, the wife of Brutus and the daughter of Cato?
“To come to later periods, what says the history of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors? To say nothing of Boadicea, the British heroine in the time of the Caesars, what name is more illustrious than that of Elizabeth? Or, if he will go to the continent, will he not find the names of Maria Theresa of Hungary, of the two Catherines of Prussia, and of Isabella of Castile, the patroness of Columbus? Did she bring ‘discredit’ on her sex by mingling in politics?”
In this glowing strain Mr. Adams silenced and overwhelmed his antagonists.
In January, 1842, Mr. Adams presented a petition from fifty-five citizens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, praying for a peaceable dissolution of the Union. The pro-slavery party in Congress, who were then plotting the destruction of the Government, were aroused to a pretense of commotion such as even our stormy hall of legislation has rarely witnessed. They met in caucus, and, finding that they probably would not be able to expel Mr. Adams from the House drew up a serious of resolutions, which, if adopted, would inflect upon his disgrace, equivalent to expulsion. Mr. Adams had presented the petition, which was most respectfully worded, and had moved that it be referred to a committee instructed to report an answer, showing the reason why the prayer ought not to be granted.
It was the 25th of January. The whole body of the pro-slavery party came crowding together in the House, prepared to crush Mr. Adams forever. One of the number, Thomas F. Marshall, of Kentucky, was appointed to read the resolutions, which accused Mr. Adams of high treason, of having insulted the Government, and of meriting expulsion; but for which deserved punishment, the House, in its great mercy, would substitute its severest censure. With the assumption of a very solemn and magisterial air, there being breathless silence in the audience, Mr. Marshall hurled the carefully prepared anathemas at his victim. Mr. Adams stood alone, the whole pro-slavery party against him.
As soon as the resolutions were read, every eye being fixed upon him, that bold old man, whose scattered locks were whitened by seventy-five years, casting a withering glance in the direction of his assailants, in a clear, shrill tone, tremulous with suppressed emotion, said:
“In reply to this 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 rights of a people to reform, to change, and to dissolve their Government.’
The attitude, the manner, the tone, the words; the venerable old man, with flashing eye and flushed cheek, and whose very form seemed to expand under the inspiration of the occasion — all presented a scene over-flowing in its sublimity. There was breathless silence as that paragraph was read, in defense of whose principles our fathers had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. It was a proud hour to Mr. Adams as they were all compelled to listen to the words:
“That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
That one sentence routed and baffled the foe. The heroic old man looked around upon the audience, and thundered out, “Read that again!” It was again read. Then in a few fiery, logical words he stated his defense in terms which even prejudiced minds could not resist. His discomfited assailants made several attempts to rally. After a conflict of eleven days they gave up vanquished and their resolution was ignominiously laid upon the table.
In January, 1846, when seventy-eight years of age, he took part in the great debate on the Oregon question, displaying intellectual vigor, and an extent and accuracy of acquaintance with the subject that excited great admiration.
On the 21st of February, 1848, he rose on the floor of Congress with a paper in his hand to address the Speaker. Suddenly he fell, stricken by paralysis, and was caught in the arms of those around him. For a time he was senseless and was conveyed to a sofa in the rotunda. With reviving consciousness he opened his eye, looked calmly around and said, “This is the end of earth.” Then after a moment’s pause, he added, “I am content.” These were his last words, and he soon breathed his last, in the apartment beneath the dome of the capitol — the theater of his labors and his triumphs. In the language of hymnology, he “died at his post;” he “ceased at once to work and live.”
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