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


On the 4th of March, 1837, Martin Van Buren succeeded to the Presidency of the United States. The undeviating zeal with which he had supported all the plans of Andrew Jackson, especially those for dismembering Mexico and annexing Texas to the Union as a slave state, had proved, to the satisfaction of the slaveholders, that reliance might be placed on a Northern man to carry into effect Southern policy.

On the 14th of October ensuing Mr. Adams delivered a speech, in the House of Representatives, on a bill for “adjusting the remaining claims upon the late deposit banks.” When this bill was in discussion in a committee of the whole house, Mr. Adams asked the author of it (Mr. Cambreling, of New York) to what banks certain words, which he stated, were intended to apply. Cambreling replied that Mr. Adams could answer his own interrogatory by reading the bill himself. Mr. Adams then proceeded to state several other objections to the terms of the bill, and confessed that his faculties of comprehension did not permit him to understand its phraseology. Mr. Cambreling rose quickly, and remarked that, at so late a period of the session, the last working night, he could not waste his time in discussing nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adverbs, with the gentleman from Massachusetts. Mr. Adams replied: “Well, sir, as language is composed of nouns and pronouns, verbs and adverbs, when they are put together to constitute the law of the land the meaning of them may surely be demanded of the legislator, and those parts of speech may well be used for such a purpose. But, if such explanation be impossible, it certainly ought not to be expected that this house will consent to pass a law, composed of nouns and pronouns, verbs and adverbs, which the author of it himself does not understand."

“On which,” said Mr. Adams, “I took the floor, and, in a speech of upwards of two hours, exposed the true character of the bill, and of that to which it is a supplement, in all their iniquity and fraud. I made free use of the computations I had drawn from the reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, and minutely scrutinized the bill in all its parts, and denounced the bargain made in the face of the house by Cambreling and the members of the debtor states, procuring their votes for the postponement of the bill by promising them increased indulgence for their banks. Cambreling, who could not answer me, kept up a continual succession of interruptions and calls to order, in despite of which I went through, with constant attention from the house, and not a mark of impatience, except from Cambreling. When I finished, he moved to lay the bill aside, and take up the appropriation bill, which was done.”

On this subject the editor of the National Register remarks: “Mr. Adams’ speech upon nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adverbs, displays a degree of patient labor and research, which must convince both political friends and foes that neither time nor circumstances have impaired the strength or acuteness of his mind, or his zeal in behalf of what he deems to be the interests of the people. Familiar as we have been, for a series of years, with minute calculations and statistical details, the most powerful but least prized modes of exhibiting results, we have been surprised and delighted at the clearness and force with which every point is illustrated, and most warmly commend the speech to all who wish to understand the questions on which it treats."

The name thus given, of “A Speech on Nouns and Pronouns, Verbs and Adverbs,” was assumed by Mr. Adams, and adopted as its title.

On the 22d of June, 1838, Mr. Adams addressed a letter to certain young men of Baltimore, who had written to him a very respectful letter, asking his advice concerning the books or authors he would recommend. After a general expression of his sense of their confidence, and regret of his inability fully to recommend any list of books or authors worthy of the attention of all, he proceeds to speak of the Bible as almost the only book deserving such universal recommendation, and as the book, of all others, to be read at all ages and in all conditions of human lifeto be read in small portions, one or two chapters every day, never to be intermitted unless by some overruling necessity. He then enters at large into the advantages of such a practice, and into the mode of conducting it, and proceeds to suggest other subsidiary studies in history, biography, and poetry, concluding with the advice of the serving-man to a young student, in Shakspeare“Study what you most affect."

On the 4th of July, 1837, Mr. Adams delivered at Newburyport, at the request of its inhabitants, an oration on the Declaration of Independence, the spirit of which may be discerned in the following extract:

“Our government is a complicated machine. We have twenty-six states, with governments administered by separate legislatures and executive chiefs, and represented by equal numbers in the general Senate of the nation. This organization is an anomaly in the history of the world. It is that which distinguishes us from all other nations, ancient and modern: from the simple monarchies and republics of Europe, and from the confederacies which have figured in any age upon the face of the globe. The seeds of this complicated machine were all sown in the Declaration of Independence; and their fruits can never be eradicated but by the dissolution of the Union. The calculators of the value of the Union, who would palm upon you, in the place of this sublime invention, a mere cluster of sovereign, confederated states, do but sow the wind to reap the whirlwind.

“One lamentable evidence of deep degeneracy from the spirit of the Declaration of Independence is the countenance which has been occasionally given, in various parts of the Union, to this doctrine; but it is consolatory to know that, whenever it has been distinctly disclosed to the people, it has been rejected by them with pointed reprobation. It has, indeed, presented itself in its most malignant form in that portion of the Union the civil institutions of which are most infected by the gangrene of slavery. The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the Southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself. No insincerity or hypocrisy can fairly be laid to their charge. Never, from their lips, was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country; and they saw that, before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the memoir of his life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves. ’Nothing is more certainly written,’ said he, ’in the book of fate, than that these people are to be free.’ My countrymen! it is written in a better volume than the book of fate; it is written in the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.

“We are told, indeed, by the learned doctors of the nullification school, that color operates as a forfeiture of the rights of human nature: that a dark skin turns a man into a chattel; that crispy hair transforms a human being into a four-footed beast. The master-priest informs you that slavery is consecrated and sanctified by the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament: that Ham was the father of Canaan, and all his posterity were doomed, by his own father, to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the descendants of Shem and Japhet: that the native Americans of African descent are the children of Ham, with the curse of Noah still fastened upon them; and the native Americans of European descent are children of Japhet, pure Anglo-Saxon blood, born to command, and to live by the sweat of another’s brow. The master-philosopher teaches you that slavery is no curse, but a blessing! that ProvidenceProvidence!has so ordered it that this country should be inhabited by two races of men,one born to wield the scourge, and the other to bear the record of its stripes upon his back; one to earn, through a toilsome life, the other’s bread, and to feed him on a bed of roses; that slavery is the guardian and promoter of wisdom and virtue; that the slave, by laboring for another’s enjoyment, learns disinterestedness and humility; that the master, nurtured, clothed, and sheltered, by another’s toils, learns to be generous and grateful to the slave, and sometimes to feel for him as a father for his child; that, released from the necessity of supplying his own wants, he acquires opportunity of leisure to improve his mind, to purify his heart, to cultivate his taste; that he has time on his hands to plunge into the depths of philosophy, and to soar to the clear empyrean of seraphic morality. The master-statesmanay, the statesman in the land of the Declaration of Independence, in the halls of national legislation, with the muse of history recording his words as they drop from his lips, with the colossal figure of American Liberty leaning on a column entwined with the emblem of eternity over his head, with the forms of Washington and Lafayette speaking to him from the canvasturns to the image of the father of his country, and, forgetting that the last act of his life was to emancipate his slaves, to bolster up the cause of slavery says, ‘That man was a slaveholder.’

“My countrymen! these are the tenets of the modern nullification school. Can you wonder that they shrink from the light of free discussionthat they skulk from the grasp of freedom and of truth? Is there among you one who hears me, solicitous above all things for the preservation of the Union so truly dear to usof that Union proclaimed in the Declaration of Independenceof that Union never to be divided by any act whateverand who dreads that the discussion of the merits of slavery will endanger the continuance of the Union? Let him discard his terrors, and be assured that they are no other than the phantom fears of nullification; that, while doctrines like these are taught in her schools of philosophy, preached in her pulpits, and avowed in her legislative councils, the free, unrestrained discussion of the rights and wrongs of slavery, far from endangering the Union of these states, is the only condition upon which that Union can be preserved and perpetuated. What! are you to be told, with one breath, that the transcendent glory of this day consists in the proclamation that all lawful government is founded on the inalienable rights of man, and, with the next breath, that you must not whisper this truth to the winds, lest they should taint the atmosphere with freedom, and kindle the flame of insurrection? Are you to bless the earth beneath your feet because she spurns the footsteps of a slave, and then to choke the utterance of your voice lest the sound of liberty should be reechoed from the palmetto-groves, mingled with the discordant notes of disunion? No! no! Freedom of speech is the only safety-valve which, under the high pressure of slavery, can preserve your political boiler from a fearful and fatal explosion. Let it be admitted that slavery is an institution of internal police, exclusively subject to the separate jurisdiction of the states where it is cherished as a blessing, or tolerated as an evil as yet irremediable. But let that slavery which intrenches herself within the walls of her own impregnable fortress not sally forth to conquest over the domain of freedom. Intrude not beyond the hallowed bounds of oppression; but, if you have by solemn compact doomed your ears to hear the distant clanking of the chain, let not the fetters of the slave be forged afresh upon your own soil; far less permit them to be riveted upon your own feet. Quench not the spirit of freedom. Let it go forth, not in panoply of fleshly wisdom, but with the promise of peace, and the voice of persuasion, clad in the whole armor of truth, conquering and to conquer.”

In July, 1838, Mr. Adams published a speech “on the right of the people, men and women, to petition; on the freedom of speech and debate in the House of Representatives of the United States; on the resolutions of seven State Legislatures, and on the petitions of more than one hundred thousand petitioners, relative to the annexation of Texas to this Union;” the report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on these subjects being under the consideration of the House. In this publication he states and analyzes the course of that “conspiracy for the dismemberment of Mexico, the reinstitution of slavery in the dismembered portion of that republic, and the acquisition, by purchase or by conquest, of the territory, to sustain, spread, and perpetuate, the moral and religious blessing of slavery in this Union;” and which he declares to be in the full tide of successful experiment. But a few only of the topics illustrated in this publication, which expanded into a pamphlet of one hundred and thirty octavo pages, can here be touched. It is, in fact, a history of the disgraceful proceedings by which that conspiracy effected its purpose.

Mr. Adams inquired of the committee whether they had given as much as five minutes’ consideration to the resolutions of the Legislatures, and the very numerous petitions of individuals, which had been referred to them. One of the committee, Hugh S. Legare, of South Carolina, answered, he had not read the papers, nor looked into one of them. Mr. Adams exclaimed, “I denounce, in the face of the country, the proceeding of the committee, in reporting upon papers referred to them, without looking into any one of them, as utterly incorrect. I assert, as a great general principle, that when resolutions from Legislatures of states, and petitions from a vast multitude of our fellow-citizens, on a subject of deep, vital importance to the country, are referred to a committee of this house, if that committee make up an opinion without looking into such resolutions and memorials, the committee betray their trust to their constituents and this house. I give this out to the nation.”

A long and exciting debate, lasting from the 16th of June to the 7th of July, on the report of the committee relative to the annexation of Texas, ensued; the heat and violence of which were chiefly directed upon Mr. Adams.

One of the topics agitated during this debate arose upon a speech of Mr. Howard, of Maryland. Among the petitions against the annexation of Texas were many signed by women. On these Mr. Howard said, he always felt a regret when petitions thus signed were presented to the house, relating to political subjects. He thought these females could have a sufficient field for the exercise of their influence in the discharge of their duties to their fathers, their husbands, or their children, cheering the domestic circle, and shedding over it the mild radiance of the social virtues, instead of rushing into the fierce struggles of political life. He considered it discreditable, not only to their particular section of country, but also to the national character.

Mr. Adams immediately entered into a long and animated defence of the right of petition by women; in the course of which he asked “whether women, by petitioning this house in favor of suffering and distress, perform an office ‘discreditable’ to themselves, to the section of the country where they reside, and to this nation. The gentleman says that women have no right to petition Congress on political subjects. Why? Sir, what does the gentleman understand by ‘political subjects’? Everything in which the house has an agencyeverything which relates to peace and relates to war, or to any other of the great interests of society. Are women to have no opinions or actions on subjects relating to the general welfare? Where did the gentleman get this principle? Did he find it in sacred historyin the language of Miriam the prophetess, in one of the noblest and most 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? Sir, I might go through the whole of the sacred history of the Jews to the advent of our Saviour, and find innumerable examples of women, who not only took an active part in the politics of their times, but who are held up with honor to posterity for doing so Our Saviour himself, while on earth, performed that most stupendous miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, at the petition of a woman! To go from sacred history to profane, does the gentleman there find it ‘discreditable’ for women to take any interest or any part in political affairs? In the history of Greece, let him read and examine the character of Aspasia, in a country in which the character and conduct of women were more restricted than in any modern nation, save among the Turks. Has he forgotten that 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 not remember Cloelia and her hundred companions, who swam across the river, under a shower of darts, escaping from Porsenna? Has he forgotten Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, who declared that her children were her jewels? And why? Because they were the champions of freedom. Does he not remember Portia, the wife of Brutus and daughter of Cato, and in what terms she is represented in the history of Rome? Has he not read of Arria, who, under imperial despotism, when her husband was condemned to die by a tyrant, plunged the sword into her own bosom, and, handing it to her husband, said, ’Take it, Paetus, it does not hurt,’ and expired?

“To come to a later period,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, the two Catharines of Russia, and of Isabella of Castile, the patroness of Columbus, the discoverer in substance of this hemisphere, for without her that discovery would not have been made? Did she bring ‘discredit’ on her sex by mingling in politics? To come nearer home,what were the women of the United States in the struggle of the Revolution? Or what would the men have been but for the influence of the women of that day? Were they devoted exclusively to the duties and enjoyments of the fireside? Take, for example, the ladies of Philadelphia.”

Mr. Adams here read a long extract from Judge Johnson’s life of General Greene, relating that during the Revolutionary War a call came from General Washington stating that the troops were destitute of shirts, and of many indispensable articles of clothing. “And from whence,” writes Judge Johnson, “did relief arrive, at last? From the heart where patriotism erects her favorite shrine, and from the hand which is seldom withdrawn when the soldier solicits. The ladies of Philadelphia immortalized themselves by commencing the generous work, and it was a work too grateful to the American fair not to be followed up with zeal and alacrity.”

Mr. Adams then read a long quotation from Dr. Ramsay’s history of South Carolina, “which speaks,” said he, “trumpet-tongued, of the daring and intrepid spirit of patriotism burning in the bosoms of the ladies of that state.” After reading an extract from this history, Mr. Adams thus comments upon it: “Politics, sir! ’rushing into the vortex of politics!’glorying in being called rebel ladies; refusing to attend balls and entertainments, but crowding to the prison-ships! Mark this, and remember it was done with no small danger to their own persons, and to the safety of their families. But it manifested the spirit by which they were animated; and, sir, is that spirit to be charged here, in this hall where we are sitting, as being ‘discreditable’ to our country’s name? Shall it be said that such conduct was a national reproach, because it was the conduct of women who left ’their domestic concerns, and rushed into the vortex of politics’? Sir, these women did more; they petitionedyes, they petitionedand that in a matter of politics. It was for the life of Hayne.”

In connection with this eloquent defence of the right of women to interfere in politics, of which the above extracts are but an outline, Mr. Adams thus applies the result to the particular subject of controversy:

“The broad principle is morally wrong, vicious, and the very reverse of that which ought to prevail. Why does it follow that women are fitted for nothing but the cares of domestic life: for bearing children, and cooking the food of a family; devoting all their time to the domestic circle,to promoting the immediate personal comfort of their husbands, brothers, and sons? Observe, sir, the point of departure between the chairman of the committee and myself. I admit that it is their duty to attend to these things. I subscribe fully to the elegant compliment passed by him upon those members of the female sex who devote their time to these duties. But I say that the correct principle is that women are not only justified, but exhibit the most exalted virtue, when they do depart from the domestic circle, and enter on the concerns of their country, of humanity, and of their God. The mere departure of woman from the duties of the domestic circle, far from being a reproach to her, is a virtue of the highest order, when it is done from purity of motive, by appropriate means, and towards a virtuous purpose. There is the true distinction. The motive must be pure, the means appropriate, and the purpose good; and I say that woman, by the discharge of such duties, has manifested a virtue which is even above the virtues of mankind, and approaches to a superior nature. That is the principle I maintain, and which the chairman of the committee has to refute, if he applies the position he has taken to the mothers, the sisters, and the daughters, of the men of my district who voted to send me here. Now, I aver further, that, in the instance to which his observation refers, namely, in the act of petitioning against the annexation of Texas to this Union, the motive was pure, the means appropriate, and the purpose virtuous, in the highest degree. As an evident proof of this, I recur to the particular petition from which this debate took its rise, namely, to the first petition I presented here against the annexationa petition consisting of three lines, and signed by two hundred and thirty-eight women of Plymouth, a principal town in my own district. Their words are:

“’The undersigned, women of Plymouth (Mass.), thoroughly aware of the sinfulness of slavery, and the consequent impolicy and disastrous tendency of its extension in our country, do most respectfully remonstrate, with all our souls, against the annexation of Texas to the United States as a slaveholding territory.’

“These are the words of their memorial; and I say that, in presenting it here, their motive was pure, and of the highest order of purity. They petitioned under a conviction that the consequence of the annexation would be the advancement of that which is sin in the sight of God, namely, slavery. I say, further, that the means were appropriate, because it is Congress who must decide on the question; and therefore it is proper that they should petition Congress, if they wish to prevent the annexation. And I say, in the third place, that the end was virtuous, pure, and of the most exalted character, namely, to prevent the perpetuation and spread of slavery throughout America. I say, moreover, that I subscribe, in my own person, to every word the petition contains. I do believe slavery to be a sin before God; and that is the reason, and the only insurmountable reason, why we should refuse to annex Texas to this Union.”

On the 28th July, 1838, to an invitation from the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to attend their celebration of the anniversary of the day upon which slavery was abolished in the colonial possessions of Great Britain, Mr. Adams responded:

“It would give me pleasure to comply with this invitation; but my health is not very firm. My voice has been affected by the intense heat of the season; and a multiplicity of applications, from societies political and literary, to attend and address their meetings, have imposed upon me the necessity of pleading the privilege of my years, and declining them all.

“I rejoice that the defence of the cause of human freedom is falling into younger and more vigorous hands. That, in three-score years from the day of the Declaration of Independence, its self-evident truths should be yet struggling for existence against the degeneracy of an age pampered with prosperity, and languishing into servitude, is a melancholy truth, from which I should in vain attempt to shut my eyes. But the summons has gone forth. The youthful champions of the rights of human nature have buckled and are buckling on their armor; and the scourging overseer, and the lynching lawyer, and the servile sophist, and the faithless scribe, and the priestly parasite, will vanish before them like Satan touched by the spear of Ithuriel. I live in the faith and hope of the progressive advancement of Christian liberty, and expect to abide by the same in death. You have a glorious though arduous career before you; and it is among the consolations of my last days that I am able to cheer you in the pursuit, and exhort you to be steadfast and immovable in it. So shall you not fail, whatever may betide, to reap a rich reward in the blessing of him that is ready to perish, upon your soul.”

In August, 1838, Mr. Adams addressed a letter to the inhabitants of his district, in which, after stating what had been done on the same subject by the Legislature of Massachusetts and other states, he proceeded to recapitulate the wrongs which had been done to the colored races of Africa on this continent, “which have indeed been of long standing, but which in these latter days have been aggravated beyond all measure. To repair the injustice of our fathers to these races had been, from the day of the Declaration of Independence, the conscience of the good and the counsel of the wise rulers of the land. Washington, by his own example in the testamentary disposal of his property,Jefferson, by the unhesitating convictions of his own mind, by unanswerable argument and eloquent persuasion, addressed almost incessantly, throughout a long life, to the reason and feelings of his countrymen,had done homage to the self-evident principles which the nation, at her birth, had been the first to proclaim. Emancipation, universal emancipation, was the lesson they had urged on their contemporaries, and held forth as transcendent and irremissible duties to their children of the present age. Instead of which, what have we seen? Communities of slaveholding braggarts, setting at defiance the laws of nature and nature’s God, restoring slavery where it had been extinguished, and vainly dreaming to make it eternal; forming, in the sacred name of liberty, constitutions of government interdicting to the legislative authority itself that most blessed of human powers, the power of giving liberty to the slave! Governors of states urging upon their Legislatures to make the exercise of the freedom of speech to propagate the right of the slave to freedom felony, without benefit of clergy! Ministers of the gospel, like the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan, coming and looking at the bleeding victim of the highway robber, and passing on the other side; or, baser still, perverting the pages of the sacred volume to turn into a code of slavery the very word of God! Philosophers, like the Sophists of ancient Greece, pulverized by the sober sense of Socrates, elaborating theories of moral slavery from the alembic of a sugar plantation, and vaporing about lofty sentiments and generous benevolence to be learnt from the hereditary bondage of man to man! Infuriated mobs, murdering the peaceful ministers of Christ for the purpose of extinguishing the light of a printing-press, and burning with unhallowed fire the hall of freedom, the orphan’s school, and the church devoted to the worship of God! And, last of all, both houses of Congress turning a deaf ear to hundreds of thousands of petitioners, and quibbling away their duty to read, to listen, and consider, in doubtful disputations whether they shall receive, or, receiving, refuse to read or hear, the complaints and prayers of their fellow-citizens and fellow-men!”

Mr. Adams proceeds, in a like spirit of eloquent plainness, to denounce the violation of that beneficent change which both Washington and Jefferson had devised for the red man of the forest, and had assured to him by solemn treaties pledging the faith of the nation, and by laws interdicting by severe penalties the intrusion of the white man on his domain. “In contempt of those treaties,” said he, “and in defiance of those laws, the sovereign State of Georgia had extended her jurisdiction over these Indian lands, and lavished, in lottery-tickets to her people, the growing harvests, the cultivated fields, and furnished dwellings, of the Cherokee, setting at naught the solemn adjudication of the Supreme Court of the United States, pronouncing this licensed robbery alike lawless and unconstitutional.” He then proceeds, in a strain of severe animadversion, to reprobate the conduct of the Executive administration, in “truckling to these usurpations of Georgia;” and reviews that of Congress, in refusing “the petitions of fifteen thousand of these cheated and plundered people,” when thousands of our own citizens joined in their supplications.

In this letter Mr. Adams states and explains the origin of the treaty of peace and alliance between Southern nullification and Northern pro-slavery, and the nature and consequences of that alliance. In the course of his illustrations on this subject he repels, with an irresistible power of argument, the attempt of the slaveholder to sow the seeds of discord among the freemen of the North. “The condition of master and slave is,” he considered, “by the laws of nature and of God, a state of perpetual, inextinguishable war. The slaveholder, deeply conscious of this, soothes his soul by sophistical reasonings into a belief that this same war still exists in free communities between the capitalist and free labor.” The fallacy and falsehood of this theory he analyzes and exposes, and proceeds to state and reason upon various measures of Congress connected with these topics, at great length, and with laborious elucidation.

On the 27th of October, 1838, Mr. Adams addressed a letter to the district he represented in Congress, in which he touched on those points of national policy which most deeply affected his mind. Among many remarks worthy of anxious thought, which subsequent events have confirmed and are confirming, he traces the “smothering for nearly three years, in legislative halls, the right of petition and freedom of debate,” to the influence of slavery, “which shrinks, and will shrink, from the eye of day. Northern subserviency to Southern dictation is the price paid by a Northern administration for Southern support. The people of the North still support by their suffrages the men who have truckled to Southern domination. I believe it impossible that this total subversion of every principle of liberty should be much longer submitted to by the people of the free states of this Union. But their fate is in their own hands. If they choose to be represented by slaves, they will find servility enough to represent and betray them. The suspension of the right of petition, the suppression of the freedom of debate, the thirst for the annexation of Texas, the war-whoop of two successive Presidents against Mexico, are all but varied symptoms of a deadly disease seated in the marrow of our bones, and that deadly disease is slavery.”

When, in the latter part of June, 1838, news of the success of Mr. Rush in obtaining the Smithsonian bequest, and information that he had already received on account of it more than half a million of dollars, were announced to the public, Mr. Adams lost no time in endeavoring to give a right direction to the government on the subject. He immediately waited upon the President of the United States, and, in a conversation of two hours, explained the views he entertained in regard to the application of that fund, and entreated him to have a plan prepared, to recommend to Congress, for the foundation of the institution, at the commencement of the next session. “I suggested to him,” said Mr. Adams, “the establishment of an Astronomical Observatory, with a salary for an astronomer and assistant, for nightly observations and periodical publications; annual courses of lectures upon the natural, moral, and political sciences. Above all, no jobbing, no sinecure, no monkish stalls for lazy idlers. I urged the deep responsibility of the nation to the world and to all posterity worthily to fulfil the great object of the testator. I only lamented my inability to communicate half the solicitude with which my heart is on this subject full, and the sluggishness with which I failed properly to pursue it.” “Mr. Van Buren,” Mr. Adams added, “received all this with complacency and apparent concurrence of opinion, seemed favorably disposed to my views and willing to do right, and asked me to name any person whom I thought might be usefully consulted.”

The phenomena of the heavens were constantly observed and often recorded by Mr. Adams. Thus, on the 3d of October, 1838, he writes: “As the clock struck five this morning, I saw the planets Venus and Mercury in conjunction, Mercury being about two thirds of a sun’s disk below and northward of Venus. Three quarters of an hour later Mercury was barely perceptible, and five minutes after could not be traced by my naked eye, Venus being for ten minutes longer visible. I ascertained, therefore, that, in the clear sky of this latitude, Mercury, at his greatest elongation from the sun, may be seen by a very imperfect naked eye, in the morning twilight, for the space of one hour. I observed, also, the rapidity of his movements, by the diminished distance between these planets since the day before yesterday.”

In the following November he again writes: “To make observations on the movements of the heavenly bodies has been, for a great portion of my life, a pleasure of gratified curiosity, of ever-returning wonder, and of reverence for the great Creator and Mover of these innumerable worlds. There is something of awful enjoyment in observing the rising and the setting of the sun. That flashing beam of his first appearing upon the horizon; that sinking of the last ray beneath it; that perpetual revolution of the Great and Little Bear around the pole; that rising of the whole constellation of Orion from the horizon to the perpendicular position, and his ride through the heavens with his belt, his nebulous sword, and his four corner stars of the first magnitude, are sources of delight which never tire. Even the optical delusion, by which the motion of the earth from west to east appears to the eye as the movement of the whole firmament from east to west, swells the conception of magnificence to the incomprehensible infinite.”

When one of his friends expressed a hope that we should hereafter know more of the brilliant stars around us, Mr. Adams replied: “I trust so. I cannot conceive of a world where the stars are not visible, and, if there is one, I trust I shall never be sent to it. Nothing conveys to my mind the idea of eternity so forcibly as the grand spectacle of the heavens in a clear night.”

To a letter addressed to him by the Secretary of State, by direction of the President, requesting him to communicate the result of his reflections on the Smithsonian Institution, Mr. Adams made the following reply:

“QUINCY, October 11, 1838.

“SIR: I have reserved for a separate letter what I proposed to say in recommending the erection and establishment of an Astronomical Observatory at Washington, as one and the first application of the annual income from the Smithsonian bequest, because that, of all that I have to say, I deem it by far the most important; and because, having for many years believed that the national character of our country demanded of us the establishment of such an institution as a debt of honor to the cause of science and to the world of civilized man, I have hailed with cheering hope this opportunity of removing the greatest obstacle which has hitherto disappointed the earnest wishes that I have entertained of witnessing, before my own departure for another world, now near at hand, the disappearance of a stain upon our good name, in the neglect to provide the means of increasing and diffusing knowledge among men, by a systematic and scientific continued series of observations on the phenomena of the numberless worlds suspended over our headsthe sublimest of physical sciences, and that in which the field of future discovery is as unbounded as the universe itself. I allude to the continued and necessary expense of such an establishment.

“In my former letter I proposed that, to preserve entire and unimpaired the Smithsonian fund, as the principal of a perpetual annuity, the annual appropriations from its proceeds should be strictly confined to its annual income; that, assuming the amount of the fund to be five hundred thousand dollars, it should be so invested as to secure a permanent yearly income of thirty thousand; and that it should be committed to an incorporated board of trustees, with a secretary and treasurer, the only person of the board to receive a pecuniary compensation from the fund.”

Mr. Adams then refers to a report made by C. F. Mercer, chairman of a committee of the House of Representatives, on the 18th of March, 1826 (during his own administration), relative to the expenses of an Observatory, for much valuable information, and thus proceeds:

“But, as it is desirable that the principal building, the Observatory itself, should be, for the purposes of observation, unsurpassed by any other edifice constructed for the same purposes, I would devote one year’s interest from the fund to the construction of the buildings; a second and a third to constitute a fund, from the income of which the salaries of the astronomer, his assistants and attendants, should be paid; a fourth and fifth for the necessary instruments and books; a sixth and seventh for a fund, from the income of which the expense should be defrayed of publishing the ephemeris of observation, and a yearly nautical almanac. These appropriations may be so distributed as to apply a part of the appropriation of each year to each of those necessary expenditures; but for an establishment so complete as may do honor in all time alike to the testator and his trustees, the United States of America, I cannot reduce my estimate of the necessary expense below two hundred thousand dollars.

“My principles for this disposal of funds are these:

“1st. That the most complete establishment of an Astronomical Observatory in the world should be founded by the United States of America; the whole expense of which, both its first cost and its perpetual maintenance, should be amply provided for, without costing one dollar either to the people or to the principal sum of the Smithsonian bequest.

“2d. That, by providing from the income alone of the fund a supplementary fund, from the interest of which all the salaries shall be paid, and all the annual expenses of publication shall be defrayed, the fund itself would, instead of being impaired, accumulate with the lapse of years. I do most fervently wish that this principle might be made the fundamental law, now and hereafter, so far as may be practicable, of all the appropriations of the Smithsonian bequest.

“3d. That, by the establishment of an Observatory upon the largest and most liberal scale, and providing for the publication of a yearly nautical almanac, knowledge will be dispersed among men, the reputation of our country will rise to honor and reverence among the civilized nations of the earth, and our navigators and mariners on every ocean be no longer dependent on English or French observers or calculators for tables indispensable to conduct their path upon the deep.”

Mr. Adams, about this period, expressed himself with deep dissatisfaction at the course pursued by the President relative to the Smithsonian bequest, combining the general expression of a disposition to aid his views with apparently a total indifference as to the expenditure of the money. “The subject,” said he, “weighs deeply upon my mind. The private interests and sordid passions into which that fund has already fallen fill me with anxiety and apprehensions that it will be squandered upon cormorants, or wasted in electioneering bribery. Almost all the heads of department are indifferent to its application according to the testator’s bequest; distinguished senators open or disguised enemies to the establishment of the institution in any form. The utter prostration of public spirit in the Senate, proved by the selfish project to apply it to the establishment of a university; the investment of the whole fund, more than half a million of dollars, in Arkansas and Michigan state stocks; the mean trick of filching ten thousand dollars, last winter, to pay for the charges of procuring it, are all so utterly discouraging that I despair of effecting anything for the honor of the country, or even to accomplish the purpose of the bequest, the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men. It is hard to toil through life for a great purpose, with a conviction that it will be in vain; but possibly seed now sown may bring forth some good fruits. In my report, in January, 1836, I laid down all the general principles on which the fund should have been accepted and administered. I was then wholly successful. My bill passed without opposition, and under its provisions the money was procured and deposited in the treasury in gold. If I cannot prevent the disgrace of the country by the failure of the testator’s intention, I can leave a record to future time of what I have done, and what I would have done, to accomplish the great design, if executed well. And let not the supplication to the Author of Good be wanting.”

In November, 1838, the anti-slavery party made the immediate abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia a test question, on which Mr. Adams remarked: “This is absurd, because notoriously impracticable. The house would refuse to consider the question two to one.” Writing on the same subject, in December of the same year, “I doubt,” said he, “if there are five members in the house who would vote to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia at this time. The conflict between the principle of liberty and the fact of slavery is coming gradually to an issue. Slavery has now the power, and falls into convulsions at the approach of freedom. That the fall of slavery is predetermined in the councils of Omnipotence I cannot doubt. It is a part of the great moral improvement in the condition of man attested by all the records of history. But the conflict will be terrible, and the progress of improvement retrograde, before its final progress to consummation.”

In January, 1839, Mr. Adams, in presenting a large number of petitions for the abolition of slavery, asked leave to explain to the house his reasons for the course he had adopted in relation to petitions of this character. He asked it as a courtesy. He had received a mass of letters threatening him with assassination for this course. His real position was not understood by his country. The house having granted the leave, he proceeded to state that, although he had zealously advocated the right to petition for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, he was not himself then, prepared to grant their prayer; that, if the question should be presented at once, he should vote against it. He knew not what change might be produced on his mind by a full and fair discussion, but he had not yet seen any reason to change his opinion, although he had read all that abolitionists themselves had written and published on the subject. He then presented the petitions, and moved appropriate resolutions.

On the 21st of February, 1839, Mr. Adams presented to the house several resolutions, proposing, in the form prescribed by the constitution of the United States, 1st. That after the 4th day of July, 1842, there shall be no hereditary slavery in the United States, and that every child born on and after that day, within the United States and their territories, shall be born fred. That, with exception of Florida, there shall henceforth never be admitted into this Union any state the constitution of which shall tolerate within the same the existence of slaverd That from and after the 4th of July, 1848, there shall be neither slavery nor slave-trade at the seat of government of the United States.

Mr. Adams proceeded to state that he had in his possession a paper, which he desired to present, and on which these resolutions were founded. It was a petition from John Jay, and forty-three most respectable citizens of the city of New York. Being here interrupted by violent cries of “Order!” he at that time refrained from further pressing the subject.

On the 30th of April, 1839, Mr. Adams delivered before the Historical Society of New York a discourse entitled “The Jubilee of the Constitution;” it being the fiftieth year after the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States. Of all his occasional productions, this was, probably, the most labored. In it he traces the history of the constitution of the United States from the period antecedent to the American Revolution, through the events of that war, to the circumstances which led to its adoption, concluding with a solemn admonition to adhere to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, practically interwoven into the constitution of the United States.

In October, 1839, in an address to the inhabitants of Braintree, of which “Education” was the topic, he traces that of New England to the Christian religion, of which the Bible was the text-book and foundation, and the revelation of eternal life. He then illustrated the history of that religion by recapitulating the difficulties it had to encounter through ages of persecution; commented upon the ecclesiastical hierarchy established under Constantine, and the abuses arising from the policy of the Church of Rome, until their final exposure by Martin Luther, out of which emanated the Protestant faith. The display of learning, the power of reasoning, and the suggestive thoughts, in this occasional essay, exhibit the extent and depth of his studies of the sacred volume, to which, more than to any other, the strength of his mind had been devoted.

About this time was published in the newspapers a letter from Mr. Adams to Dr. Thomas Sewall, concerning his two letters on Phrenology, and giving his own opinion on that subject in the following characteristic language: “I have never been able to persuade myself to think of the science of Phrenology as a serious speculation. I have classed it with judicial astrology, with alchemy, and with augury; and, as Cicero says he wonders how two Roman augurs could have looked each other in the face without laughing, I have felt something of the same surprise that two learned phrenologists can meet without like temptation. But, as it has been said of Bishop Berkeley’s anti-material system, that he has demonstrated, beyond the possibility of refutation, what no man in his senses can believe, so, without your assistance, I should never have been able to encounter the system of thirty-three or thirty-five faculties of the immortal soul all clustered on the blind side of the head. I thank you for furnishing me with argument to meet the doctors who pack up the five senses in thirty-five parcels of the brain. I hope your lectures will be successful in recalling the sober sense of the material philosophers to the dignity of an imperishable mind.”

With an urgent request, contained in a letter dated the 28th of June, 1839, for his opinion on the constitutionality and expediency of the law, then recently sanctioned by two Legislatures of Massachusetts, called the license law, Mr. Adams declined complying, for reasons stated at length. He regarded the purpose of the law as “in the highest degree pure, patriotic, and benevolent.” It had, however, given rise to two evils, which were already manifested. “The first, a spirit of concerted and determined resistance to its execution. The second, a concerted effort to turn the dissatisfaction of the people with the law into a political engine against the administration of the state. There is no duty more impressive upon the Legislature than that of accommodating the exercise of its power to the spirit of those over whom it is to operate. Abstract right, deserving as it is of the profound reverence of every ruler over men, is yet not the principle which must guide and govern his conduct; and whoever undertakes to make it exclusively his guide will soon find in the community a resistance that will overrule him and his principles. The Supreme Ruler of the universe declares himself, in the holy Scriptures, that, in dealing with the prévarications of his chosen people, he sometimes gave them statutes which were not good.”

On the 2d December, 1839, at the opening of the Twenty-Sixth Congress, the clerk began to call the roll of the members, according to custom. When he came to New Jersey, he stated that five seats of the members from that state were contested, and that, not feeling himself authorized to decide the question, he should pass over those names, and proceed with the call. This gave rise to a general and violent debate on the steps to be pursued under such circumstances. It was declared by Mr. Adams that the proceeding of the clerk was evidently preconcerted to exclude the five members from New Jersey from voting at the organization of the house. Innumerable questions were raised, but the house could not agree upon the mode of proceeding, and from the 2d to the 5th it remained in a perfectly disorganized state, and in apparently inextricable confusion. The remainder of the scene is thus described, in the newspapers, by one apparently an eye-witness:

“Mr. Adams, from the opening of this scene of confusion and anarchy, had maintained a profound silence. He appeared to be engaged most of the time in writing. To a common observer he seemed to be reckless of everything around him. But nothing, not the slightest incident, escaped him.

“The fourth day of the struggle had now commenced. Mr. Hugh A. Garland, the clerk, was directed to call the roll again. He commenced with Maine, as usual in those days, and was proceeding towards Massachusetts. I turned and saw that Mr. Adams was ready to get the floor at the earliest moment possible. His eye was riveted on the clerk, his hands clasped the front edge of his desk, where he always placed them to assist him in rising. He looked, in the language of Otway, like a ‘fowler eager for his prey,’

“‘New Jersey!’ ejaculated Mr. Hugh Garland, ‘and

“Mr. Adams immediately sprang to the floor.

“‘I rise to interrupt the clerk,’ was his first exclamation.

“‘Silence! Silence!’ resounded through the hall. ’Hear him! Hear
him! Hear what he has to say! Hear John Quincy Adams!’ was
vociferated on all sides.

“In an instant the most profound stillness reigned throughout the hall,you might have heard a leaf of paper fall in any part of it,and every eye was riveted on the venerable Nestor of Massachusettsthe purest of statesmen, and the noblest of men! He paused for a moment, and, having given Mr. Garland a withering look, he proceeded to address the multitude.

“‘It was not my intention,’ said he, ’to take any part in these extraordinary proceedings. I had hoped this house would succeed in organizing itself; that a speaker and clerk would be elected, and that the ordinary business of legislation would be progressed in. This is not the time or place to discuss the merits of conflicting claimants from New Jersey. That subject belongs to the House of Representatives, which, by the constitution, is made the ultimate arbiter of the qualifications of its members. But what a spectacle we here present! We degrade and disgrace our constituents and the country. We do not and cannot organize; and why? Because the clerk of this housethe mere clerk, whom we create, whom we employ, and whose existence depends upon our willusurps the throne, and sets us, the representatives, the vicegerents of the whole American people, at defiance, and holds us in contempt! And what is this clerk of yours? Is he to suspend, by his mere negative, the functions of government, and put an end to this Congress? He refuses to call the roll! It is in your power to compel him to call it, if he will not do it voluntarily.’ [Here he was interrupted by a member, who said that he was authorized to say that compulsion could not reach the clerk, who had avowed that he would resign rather than call the State of New Jersey.] ’Well, sir, let him resign,’ continued Mr. Adams, ’and we may possibly discover some way by which we can get along without the aid of his all-powerful talent, learning, and genius!

“’If we cannot organize in any other way,if this clerk of yours will not consent to our discharging the trust confided to us by our constituents,then let us imitate the example of the Virginia House of Burgesses, which, when the colonial Governor Dinwiddie ordered it to disperse, refused to obey the imperious and insulting mandate, and, like men

“The multitude could not contain or repress their enthusiasm any longer, but saluted the eloquent and indignant speaker, and interrupted him with loud and deafening cheers, which seemed to shake the capitol to its centre. The very genii of applause and enthusiasm seemed to float in the atmosphere of the hall, and every heart expanded with an indescribable feeling of pride and exultation. The turmoil, the darkness, the very ‘chaos of anarchy,’ which had for three successive days pervaded the American Congress, was dispelled by the magic, the talismanic eloquence, of a single man; and once more the wheels of government and legislation were put in motion.

“Having, by this powerful appeal, brought the yet unorganized assembly to a perception of its hazardous position, he submitted a motion requiring the acting clerk to call the roll. Accordingly Mr. Adams was interrupted by a burst of voices demanding, ’How shall the question be put?’ ‘Who will put the question?’ The voice of Mr. Adams was heard above the tumult: ’I intend to put the question myself!’ That word brought order out of chaos. There was the master mind.

“As soon as the multitude had recovered itself, and the excitement of irrepressible enthusiasm had abated, Mr. Richard Barnwell Rhett, of South Carolina, leaped upon one of the desks, waved his hand, and exclaimed: ’I move that the Honorable John Quincy Adams take the chair of the Speaker of the house, and officiate as presiding officer till the house be organized by the election of its constitutional officers. As many as are agreed to this will say Ay; those

“He had not an opportunity to complete the sentence, ’those who are
not agreed will say No;’ for one universal, deafening, thundering
AY responded to the nomination.

“Hereupon it was moved and ordered that Lewis Williams, of North
Carolina, and Richard Barnwell Rhett, conduct John Quincy Adams to
the chair.

“Well did Mr. Wise, of Virginia, say: ’Sir, I regard it as the proudest hour of your life; and if, when you shall be gathered to your fathers, I were asked to select the words which, in my judgment, are best calculated to give at once the character of the man, I would inscribe upon your tomb this sentence: I will put the question myself.’”