Read CHAPTER II. of Memoir of the Life of John Quincy Adams. , free online book, by Josiah Quincy, on ReadCentral.com.

RESIDENCE IN BOSTON.RETURNS TO THE BAR.ELECTED TO THE SENATE OF MASSACHUSETTS.TO THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES.HIS COURSE RELATIVE TO THE ATTACK OF THE LEOPARD ON THE CHESAPEAKE.RESIGNS HIS SEAT AS SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES.APPOINTED MINISTER TO RUSSIA.FINAL SEPARATION FROM THE FEDERAL PARTY.

Under the circumstances stated in the preceding chapter, Mr. Adams returned to the United States in no disposition to coaelesce with either division of the Federal party. He regarded it as fortunate for himself that events, in producing which he had no agency, had placed him in a position free from any constructive pledges to a party which in its original form no longer existed, and at liberty to shape his future course according to his own independent views of private interest and public duty. Resuming his residence in Boston, and his place at the bar of Massachusetts, under circumstances far from being pleasant or encouraging, after eight years’ employment in foreign official stations, he had old studies to revise, and new statutes and recent decisions to explore. To the broad field of diplomacy had succeeded the intricate and narrow windings of special pleading and local laws. His juniors were in the field; by the failure of European bankers his property had been diminished; he had a family to support; yet, neither dispirited nor complaining, he reentered his profession, and, devoting his leisure hours to literature and science, apparently abandoned the political arena, without manifesting a design or desire to return to it. But he was not destined to remain long in private life. At this period the Federalists had lost the control of national affairs, but they retained their superiority in Massachusetts. Their union as a party was not sustained by the same identity of feeling and view by which, in earlier periods, it had been characterized. It was cemented rather by antipathy to the prevailing power than by any hope of regaining it. A division, more real than apparent, separated the friends of the elder Adams from those who, uniting with Hamilton, had condemned his policy in the presidency. The former were probably larger in number; the latter had the advantage in talent, activity, and influence. Both soon united in placing Mr. Adams in the Senate of the state, without any solicitation or intimation of political coincidence from him. In this election the opponents of his father’s policy were acquiescent rather than content. They knew the independence and self-relying spirit of Mr. Adams, his restiveness in the trammels of party, his disposition to lead rather than follow; and yielded silently to a result which they could not prevent. The spirit which they anticipated was soon made evident.

At the annual organization of the state government it had been usual to choose the members of the Governor’s Council from his political friends. Mr. Adams at once proposed to place in it one or more of his political opponents. This measure, which he maintained was wise and prudent, was regarded, according to the usual charity of party spirit, as designed to gain favor with the Democracy, and was immediately rejected. In other instances his disposition to think and act independently of the Federal party was manifested, and was of course not acceptable to its leaders.

In November he was urged to accept a nomination as a member of the House of Representatives in Congress. This he refused, saying that “he would not stand in the way of Mr. Quincy," who had been the candidate at the preceding election. This objection was immediately removed, by an assurance of the previous determination of the latter to decline, and of the satisfaction with which he regarded the nomination of Mr. Adams. The result was unsuccessful. Out of thirty-seven hundred votes, William Eustis was elected by a majority of fifty-nine. The newspapers assigned as the cause that the day of the election was rainy. Mr. Adams surmised that it was owing to the indifference to his success of the leaders of the old Federal party, and remarked on the occasion, “This is among the thousand proofs how large a portion of Federalism is a mere fair-weather principle, too weak to overcome a shower of rain. It shows the degree of dependence that can be placed on such friends. As a party their adversaries are more sure and more earnest.”

In an oration, delivered in May of this year, before the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society, Mr. Adams paid a just and feeling tribute to the memory of George Richards Minot, then recently deceased, in which the character of that historian, the purity of his life, moral worth, and intellectual endowments, are celebrated with great fulness and truth. In December he delivered, at Plymouth, an address commemorative of the Pilgrim Fathers.

During the remainder of the civil year Mr. Adams had more than once indicated his independence of party, and his settled purpose of thinking and acting on all subjects for himself. When, therefore, in February, 1803, a vacancy in the Senate of the United States occurred, the nomination of Mr. Adams was opposed by that of Timothy Pickering, who was deemed by his friends better entitled to the office, from age and long familiarity with public affairs. To their extreme disappointment, however, after three ballotings, without success, in the House of Representatives, Mr. Adams was chosen, and his election was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. In March following, another vacancy in the Senate of the United States having occurred, Mr. Pickering was elected. Thus, by a singular course of events, two statesmen were placed as colleagues in the Senate of the United States, from Massachusetts, between whom, from antecedent circumstances and known want of sympathy in political opinion, cordial cooeperation could scarcely be anticipated. Apparent harmony of principles and views was, however, manifested. Mr. Adams well understood the delicacy of his position, arising from the ill-concealed jealousy of the Federalists, on the one hand, and the open dislike of the Democracy, on the other. He considered himself placed between two batteries, neither of which regarded him as one of their soldiers. He early adopted two principles, as rules of his political conduct, from which he never deviated,to seek or solicit no public office, and, to whatever station he might be called by his country, to use no instrument for success or advancement but efficient public service.

In October, 1803, Mr. Adams removed his family to Washington, and took his seat in the Senate of the United States. On the 26th of that month he took ground in opposition to the administration upon the bill enabling the President to take possession of Louisiana, and on which he voted in coincidence with his Federal colleagues. His objection was to the second section, which provided “that all the military, civil and judicial powers, exercised by the officers of the existing government of Louisiana, shall be vested in such person and persons, and shall be exercised in such manner, as the President of the United States shall direct.” The transfer of such a power to the President of the United States, Mr. Adams deemed and maintained, was unconstitutional; and he called upon the supporters of the bill to point out the article, section, or paragraph, of the constitution, which authorized Congress to confer it on the President. He regarded the constitution of the United States to be one of limited powers; and he declared that he could not reconcile it to his judgment that the authority exercised in this section was within the legitimate powers conferred by the constitution. Many years afterwards, when his vote on this occasion was made a subject of party censure and obloquy, in addition to the preceding reasons Mr. Adams gave to the public the following solemn convictions which influenced his course:

“The people of the United States had notmuch less had the people of Louisianagiven to the Congress of the United States the power to form this union; and, until the consent of both people could be obtained, every act of legislation by the Congress of the United States over the people of Louisiana, distinct from that of taking possession of the territory, was, in my view, unconstitutional, and an act of usurped authority. My opinion, therefore, was that the sense of the people, both of the United States and Louisiana, should be immediately taken: of the first, by an amendment of the constitution, to be proposed and acted upon in the regular form; and of the last, by taking the votes of the people of Louisiana immediately after possession of the territory should be taken by the United States under the treaty. I had no doubt that the consent of both people would be obtained with as much ease and little more loss of time than it actually took Congress to prepare an act for the government of the territory; and I thought this course of proceeding, while it would terminate in the same result as the immediate exercise of ungranted transcendental powers by Congress, would serve as a landmark of correct principles for future times,as a memorial of homage to the fundamental principles of civil society, to the primitive sovereignty of the people, and the unalienable rights of man.”

On the 3d of the ensuing November he manifested his independent spirit by voting in favor of the appropriation of eleven millions of dollars for carrying into effect the treaty for the purchase of Louisiana, in opposition to the other senators of the Federal party;a vote which, many years afterwards, in consequence of comments of party, he took the opportunity publicly to explain. The critical nature of the course to which he foresaw he was destined was thus expressed by himself: “I have had already occasion to experience, what I had before reason to expect, the danger of adhering to my own principles. The country is so totally given up to the spirit of party, that not to follow the one or the other is an unexpiable offence. The worst of these has the popular current in its favor, and uses its triumph with all the unprincipled fury of faction; while the other is waiting, with all the impatience of revenge, for the time when its turn may come to oppress and punish by the popular favor. But my choice is made. If I cannot hope to give satisfaction to my country, I am at least determined to have the approbation of my own reflections.”

On the 10th of January, 1804, Mr. Adams introduced two resolutions for the consideration of the Senate: the one declaring that “the people of the United States have never, in any manner, delegated to this Senate the power of giving its legislative concurrence to any act imposing taxes upon the inhabitants of Louisiana without their consent;” the other, “that, by concurring in any act of legislation for imposing taxes upon the inhabitants of Louisiana, without their consent, this Senate would assume a power unwarranted by the constitution, and dangerous to the liberties of the people of the United States.” After a debate of three hours, both resolutions were rejected, as he anticipated; only three senatorsTracy, of Connecticut, Olcott, of New Hampshire, and White, of Delawarevoting with him in favor of the first, and twenty-two voting in the negative; Mr. Pickering, his colleague, asking to be excused from voting, and Mr. Hillhouse, the remaining Federalist in the Senate, absenting himself, obviously to avoid voting: after which the last was unanimously rejected. Concerning his course on this occasion Mr. Adams wrote: “I have no doubt of incurring much censure and obloquy for this measure. I hope I shall be prepared for and able to bear it, from the consciousness of my sincerity and of my duty.”

Mr. Adams alone spoke against the bill for the temporary government of Louisiana, which passed on the ensuing 18th of February; and only four senatorsMessrs. Hillhouse, Olcott, Plummer, and Stonevoted with him in the negative; Mr. Pickering absenting himself from the question.

In August, 1805, the corporation of Harvard College elected Mr. Adams Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory on the Boylston foundation. After modifications of the statutes, which he suggested, were adopted, he accepted, and immediately entered upon a course of preparatory studies, reviving his knowledge of the Greek, and making researches among English, Latin, and French writers, relative to the objects of his professorship. In the ensuing December, as a member of the Ninth Congress, he took an active part in the debates and measures of the Senate.

In January, 1806, he was appointed on a committee, of which Mr. Smith, of Maryland, was chairman, on that part of the President’s message “relative to the spoliations of our commerce on the high seas, and the new principles assumed by the British courts of admiralty, as a pretext for the condemnation of our vessels in their prize courts.” The debates in that committee resulted in two resolutions, both offered by Mr. Adams, adopted, reported, and finally passed by the Senate, with some modifications; Mr. Pickering, Mr. Hillhouse, and Mr. Tracy, the three Federalists in the Senate, voting for them.

British aggressions and British policy towards neutrals were, in the judgment of Mr. Adams, to be resisted at every hazard. His opinions on these subjects had been formed from opportunities which no other American statesman had equally enjoyed. In 1783 he had been present at the signature of the treaty of peace, and had imbibed the opinions and feelings then entertained by the American ministers. In 1795 he had been engaged in negotiations with British statesmen, particularly with Lord Grenville. Their views in respect of American commercial rights he considered selfish and insolent; resistance to them as an emanation from the spirit of patriotism, to which others gave the name of “prejudice,” or “antipathy.” Of these opinions and feelings he made no concealment; and to them may be traced the course of policy which, shortly after, separated him from the Federal party, and subjected him temporarily to their reproaches and censures.

In June, 1806, Mr. Adams was inaugurated Professor of Oratory in Harvard University, and during the ensuing two years delivered a course of lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, which have been published in two octavo volumes, and constitute an enduring monument of fidelity, laborious research, and eloquent illustration of the objects and duties of his academic station. While engaged in these labors, an event occurred which intensely excited his feelings as a man and a statesman.

On the 22d of June, 1807, during the recess of Congress, an attack by the British ship Leopard upon the American frigate Chesapeake, by which several of her crew were killed, and four of them taken away, created surprise and indignation throughout the Union. From the previous state of his opinions, no one partook more strongly of these feelings than Mr. Adams. He immediately urged his political friends to call a town-meeting in Faneuil Hall on the subject; but the measure was utterly discouraged by the leaders of the Federal party. Soon, however, a meeting of the inhabitants of Boston and the neighboring towns was called at the Statehouse to consider that outrage. The meeting was not numerous, and consisted almost entirely of the friends of the administration. Mr. Gerry was chosen chairman, and Mr. Adams, who had attended it, was appointed on the committee to prepare appropriate resolutions. These, when reported and modified according to suggestions made by Mr. Adams, were unanimously adopted. When it was intimated to him that his course was regarded as symptomatic of party apostasy, he replied that his sense of duty should never yield to the pleasure of party.

Soon after, in consequence of letters from a committee of correspondence at Norfolk, a town-meeting was called at Faneuil Hall, at which resolutions were passed, reported by a committee of which Mr. Adams was chairman. Mr. Otis offered a resolution calling on government for the protection of a naval force; but, Mr. Adams objecting, it was withdrawn.

On the 27th of October, 1807, Mr. Jefferson called a special meeting of Congress, chiefly on account of the affair of the Chesapeake. On this subject the discrepancy of the opinions and views of Mr. Adams with those of the leaders of the Federal party were so openly manifested, that his separation from it was generally anticipated. He had now been a member of the Senate during four sessions, but had not been permitted to exercise any decided influence on the subjects of debate. Many of his propositions had failed under circumstances which indicated a disposition to discourage him from such attempts. Some, which on his motion had been negatived, had been subsequently easily carried, when moved by members of the administration party. In respect of the general policy of the country, he had been uniformly in a small and decreasing minority. His opinion and votes, however, had been oftener in unison with the administration than with their opponents; and he had met with quite as much opposition from his party friends as from their adversaries. At this crisis, however, he took the lead, and, immediately on the delivery of the President’s message, offered to the Senate two resolutionst. “That so much of the President’s message as related to the recent outrages committed by British armed vessels within the jurisdiction and in the waters of the United States, and to the legislative provisions which may be expedient as resulting from them, be referred to a select committee, with leave to report by bill or otherwise.” 2d. “That so much of the said message as relates to the formation of the seamen of the United States into a special militia, for the purpose of occasional defence of the harbors against sudden attacks, be referred to a special committee, with leave to report by bill or otherwise.”

Both these resolutions were adopted, and on the first Mr. Adams was appointed chairman. Soon after, in the course of the same session, Mr. Adams took the incipient step on several important subjects, and was appointed chairman of the committee to whom they were intrusted in each of them; thus manifesting that he intended no longer to take a subordinate part in the proceedings of the Senate, and that a disposition to disappoint him was no longer a feeling entertained by a majority of that body.

On the 24th of November, Mr. Adams reported a bill on the British outrages, and, on a motion to strike out of it a section providing that “no British armed vessel shall be admitted to enter the harbors and waters under the jurisdiction of the United States, except when forced in by distress, by the dangers of the sea, or when charged with public dispatches, or coming as a public packet.” Mr. Adams, with twenty-five others, voted in the negative. Messrs. Goodrich, Pickering, and Hillhouse, the only three Federal senators, alone voted in the affirmative. On the final passage of the bill, Mr. Adams voted with the majority, in the affirmative, and the three Federal senators in the negative.

On the 18th of December, 1807, Mr. Jefferson sent a message to Congress recommending an embargo. A bill in conformity having been immediately reported, a motion was made, in the Senate, that the rule which required three different readings on three different days should be suspended for three days. Violent debates ensued. On the vote to suspend, Mr. Adams voted in the affirmative. His colleague and every other Federalist voted in the negative.

On the final passage of the bill laying the embargo, and on the subject of British aggressions, Mr. Adams again repeatedly separated from his colleagues and the other members of the Federal party, and voted in coincidence with the administration.

Newspaper asperities and severities in debate ensued, which he supported, as he averred, in the consciousness that the course of the administration was the only safe one for his country, and in the belief that it would be justified by events, and receive the sanction of future times. His course had been, however, opposite to that of the other Federal members in both houses of Congress. On a subject so momentous to the commercial states, his colleague, Mr. Pickering, thought proper to justify to the people of Massachusetts the course and motives of the Federal party, and on the 16th of February, 1808, addressed a letter to James Sullivan, Governor of that commonwealth, stating what papers “had been submitted to Congress by the President in justification of the embargo,” and endeavored to show, by facts and reasonings, that the measure had been passed “without sufficient motive or legitimate object; that the avowed dangers were imaginary and assumed; and that the real motives for it were contained in those French dispatches which had been confidentially submitted to Congress, and withdrawn by Mr. Jefferson, in which the French emperor had declared that he will have no neutrals;” that the embargo was “a substitutea mild compliance with this harsh demand;” that he (Mr. Pickering) had reason to believe that the President contemplated its continuance until the French emperor repealed his decrees. He concluded by asserting that an embargo was not necessary to the safety of our seamen, our vessels, or our merchandise, and was calculated to mislead the public mind to the public ruin.

This letter, though intended for the Legislature of Massachusetts, was not communicated to it, the political path of Governor Sullivan not being coincident with that of Colonel Pickering. But it was soon published by a friend of the writer. In a letter to Harrison G. Otis, on the 31st of March, 1808, Mr. Adams published a reply, stating that Mr. Pickering, in enumerating the pretences (for he thinks there were no causes) for the embargo, totally omitted the British orders in council, which, although not made the subject of special communication by the President, had been published in the National Intelligencer antecedent to the embargo, the sweeping tendency of whose effects formed, to his understanding, a powerful motive, and together with the papers a decisive one, for assenting to the embargo; a measure which he regarded as “the only shelter from the tempest, the last refuge of our violated peace.” He adds: “The most serious effect of Mr. Pickering’s letter is its tendency to reconcile the commercial states to the servitude of British protection, and war with all the rest of Europe.” Regarding it as a proposition to strike the standard of the nation, he proceeded to investigate the claims of Great Britain in respect of impressment, and to her denying neutrals the right of any commerce with her enemies and their colonies, which was not allowed in time of peace. This result of the rule of 1756, he asserted, was “in itself and its consequences one of the deadliest poisons in which it was possible for Great Britain to tinge the weapons of her hostility.” The decrees of France and Spain, by which every neutral vessel which submitted to English search was declared “denationalized,” and became English property, though cruel in execution, and too foolish and absurd to be refuted, were but the reasoning of British jurists, and the simple application to the circumstances and powers of France of the rule of the war of 1756. Mr. Adams then proceeded to state and reason upon other aggressions of Great Britain on our commerce, and asserted that “between unqualified submission and offensive resistance against the war declared against American commerce by the concurring decrees of all the belligerent powers, the embargo had been adopted; and having the double tendency of promoting peace and preparing for war, in its operation is the great advantage which more than outweighs all its evils.”

A course thus independent, and in harmony with the policy of the administration, caused Mr. Adams to become obnoxious to suspicions inevitably incident to every man who, in critical periods, amid party struggles, changes his political relations. Of the dissatisfaction of the Legislature of Massachusetts Mr. Adams received an immediate proof. His senatorial term would expire on the 3d of March, 1809. To indicate their disapprobation of his course, they anticipated the time of electing a senator of the United States, which, according to usage, would have been in the legislative session of that year. James Lloyd was chosen senator from Massachusetts by a vote of two hundred and forty-eight over two hundred and thirteen for Mr. Adams, in the House of Representatives, and of twenty-one over seventeen, in the Senate. On the same day anti-embargo resolutions were passed in both branches by like majorities.

The next day Mr. Adams addressed a letter to that Legislature, in which he stated that it had been his endeavor, deeming it his duty, to support the administration of the general government in all necessary measures to preserve the persons and property of our citizens from depredation, and to vindicate the rights essential to the independence of our country; that certain resolutions having passed the Legislature, expressing disapprobation of measures to which, under these motives, he had given assent, and which he considered as enjoining upon the representatives of the state in Congress a sort of opposition to the national administration in which, consistently with his principles, he could not concur, he, therefore, to give the Legislature an opportunity to place in the Senate of the United States a member whose views might be more coincident with those they entertained, resigned his seat in that body. James Lloyd was immediately chosen by the Legislature to take the seat thus vacated.

In the midst of these political agitations Mr. Adams was constantly employed in writing and delivering lectures, as Professor of Rhetoric, and in pursuing his studies of the Greek language and the science of astronomy. During the ensuing summer, the neglect or withdrawal of some former friends, and the open asperities of others, were often trying to his feelings. Rumors were circulated of promises made or of expectations held out to him by the administration; and, although he unequivocally denied their truth, belief in them was in accordance with the party passions of the moment, and was diligently inculcated on the popular mind by pamphlets and newspapers. Also in the summer and winter of 1808 he had to support an oppressive weight of obloquy, from which he had no relief, as he asserted, but an unshaken confidence that his course had been coincident with the true interests of his country, and would finally be approved by it.

In the winter of 1809 he attended the Supreme Court of the United States at Washington, and while there first received from Mr. Madison, two days after his inauguration as President of the United States, an intimation of his intention to offer him the appointment of minister plenipotentiary to St. Petersburg. When this nomination and the concurrence of the Senate became public, it was seized and commented upon as unquestionable evidence of the motives which had occasioned the change in his political course, and was made the subject of severe animadversions in all the forms in which indignant partisans are accustomed to express censure and reproach. This appointment his political adversaries announced as at once a proof and the reward of his apostasy. Such insinuations were felt by Mr. Adams as an insupportable wrong. For seven years he had previously represented his country at foreign courts, in stations to which he had been first appointed by Washington himself; who had declared that he must not think of retiring from the diplomatic line, and pronounced him the ablest, and destined ultimately to become the head, of the diplomatic corps. Under these circumstances he felt that even party spirit itself might have spared towards him this reproach, and have recognized higher motives than seeking and receiving reward for party services. Actuated by this sense of wrong, while preparing for his departure on the mission to Russia, he issued from the press a series of strictures, at once severe and vindictive, on the policy of the Federal leaders, in the form of a review of the writings of Fisher Ames; which were regarded by the public, and probably intended by himself, as an evidence of irreconcilable abandonment of the party to which he had formerly belonged, and a permanent adhesion to that of the national administration.