[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected. The original spelling has been retained. Missing page numbers correspond to blank pages. Page numbers for illustration have been changed in the index to match the content of this file.]
STANDARD LIBRARY EDITION
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
JOHN T. MORSE, JR.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge
Copyright, 1882 and 1898, By JOHN T. MORSE, JR.
Copyright, 1898, By HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
All rights reserved.
PREFACE (p. v)
Nearly sixteen years have elapsed since this book was written. In that time sundry inaccuracies have been called to my attention, and have been corrected, and it may be fairly hoped that after the lapse of so long a period all errors in matters of fact have been eliminated. I am not aware that any fresh material has been made public, or that any new views have been presented which would properly lead to alterations in the substance of what is herein said. If I were now writing the book for the first time, I should do what so many of the later contributors to the series have very wisely and advantageously done: I should demand more space. But this was the first volume published, and at a time when the enterprise was still an experiment insistence upon such a point, especially on the part of the editor, would have been unreasonable. Thus it happens that, though Mr. Adams was appointed minister resident at the Hague in 1794, and thereafter continued in public life, almost without interruption, until his death in (p. vi) February, 1848, the narrative of his career is compressed within little more than three hundred pages. The proper function of a work upon this scale is to draw a picture of the man.
With the picture which I have drawn of Mr. Adams, I still remain moderately contented—by which remark I mean nothing more egotistical than that I believe it to be a correct picture, and done with whatever measure of skill I may happen to possess in portraiture. I should like to change it only in one particular, viz.: by infusing throughout the volume somewhat more of admiration. Adams has never received the praise which was his due, and probably he never will receive it. In order that justice should be done him by the public, his biographer ought to speak somewhat better of him than his real deserts would require. He presents one of those cases where exaggeration is the servant of truth; for this moderate excess of appreciation would only offset that discount from an accurate estimate which his personal unpopularity always has caused, and probably always will cause, to be made. He was a good instance of the rule that the world will for the most part treat the individual as the individual treats the world. Adams was censorious, not to say uncharitable in the extreme, (p. vii) always in an attitude of antagonism, always unsparing and denunciatory. The measure which he meted has been by others in their turn meted to him. This habit of ungracious criticism was his great fault; perhaps it was almost his only very serious fault; it cost him dear in his life, and has continued to cost his memory dear since his death. Sometimes we are not sorry to see men get the punishments which they have brought on themselves; yet we ought to be sorry for Mr. Adams. After all, his fault-finding was in part the result of his respect for virtue and his hatred of all that was ignoble and unworthy. If he despised a low standard, at least he held his own standard high, and himself lived by the rules by which he measured others. Men with vastly greater defects have been much more kindly served both by contemporaries and by posterity. There can be no question that Adams deserved all the esteem which ought to be accorded to the highest moral qualities, to very high, if a little short of the highest, intellectual endowment, and to immense acquirements. His political integrity was of a grade rarely seen; and, in unison with his extraordinary courage and independence, it seemed to the average politician actually irritating and offensive. He was in the same difficulty in which Aristides the Just found himself. But neither (p. viii) assaults nor political solitude daunted or discouraged him. His career in the House of Representatives is a tale which has not a rival in congressional history. I regret that it could not be told here at greater length. Stubbornly fighting for freedom of speech and against the slaveholders, fierce and unwearied in old age, falling literally out of the midst of the conflict into his grave, Mr. Adams, during the closing years of his life, is one of the most striking figures of modern times. I beg the reader of this volume to put into its pages more warmth of praise than he will find therein, and so do a more correct justice to an honest statesman and a gallant friend of the oppressed. Doing this, he will improve my book in the particular wherein I think that it chiefly needs improvement. JOHN T. MORSE, JR. July, 1898.
CHAPTER I. Page Youth and Diplomacy 1
Secretary of State and President 101
In the House of Representatives 225
John Quincy Adams Frontispiece
From the original painting by John Singleton Copley, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.
The vignette of Mr. Adams's home in Quincy is from a photograph. Page William H. Crawford 107
From the painting by Henry Ulke, in the Treasury Department at Washington.
Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.
Stratford Canning 149
After a drawing (1853) by George Richmond. Autograph from "Life of Stratford Canning."
Henry A. Wise 291
From a photograph by Brady, in the Library of the State Department at Washington.
Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (p. 001)
YOUTH AND DIPLOMACY
On July 11, 1767, in the North Parish of Braintree, since set off as the town of Quincy, in Massachusetts, was born John Quincy Adams. Two streams of as good blood as flowed in the colony mingled in the veins of the infant. If heredity counts for anything he began life with an excellent chance of becoming famous—non sine dis animosus infans. He was called after his great-grandfather on the mother's side, John Quincy, a man of local note who had borne in his day a distinguished part in provincial affairs. Such a naming was a simple and natural occurrence enough, but Mr. Adams afterward moralized upon it in his characteristic way:—
"The incident which gave rise to this circumstance is not without its moral to my heart. He was dying when I was baptized; and his daughter, my grandmother, present at my birth, requested that I might receive his name. The fact, recorded by my father at (p. 002) the time, has connected with that portion of my name a charm of mingled sensibility and devotion. It was filial tenderness that gave the name. It was the name of one passing from earth to immortality. These have been among the strongest links of my attachment to the name of Quincy, and have been to me through life a perpetual admonition to do nothing unworthy of it."
Fate, which had made such good preparation for him before his birth, was not less kind in arranging the circumstances of his early training and development. His father was deeply engaged in the patriot cause, and the first matters borne in upon his opening intelligence concerned the public discontent and resistance to tyranny. He was but seven years old when he clambered with his mother to the top of one of the high hills in the neighborhood of his home to listen to the sounds of conflict upon Bunker's Hill, and to watch the flaming ruin of Charlestown. Profound was the impression made upon him by the spectacle, and it was intensified by many an hour spent afterward upon the same spot during the siege and bombardment of Boston. Then John Adams went as a delegate to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, and his wife and children were left for twelve months, as John Quincy Adams says,—it is to be hoped with a little exaggeration of the barbarity of (p. 003) British troops toward women and babes,—"liable every hour of the day and of the night to be butchered in cold blood, or taken and carried into Boston as hostages, by any foraging or marauding detachment." Later, when the British had evacuated Boston, the boy, barely nine years old, became "post-rider" between the city and the farm, a distance of eleven miles each way, in order to bring all the latest news to his mother.
Not much regular schooling was to be got amid such surroundings of times and events, but the lad had a natural aptitude or affinity for knowledge which stood him in better stead than could any dame of a village school. The following letter to his father is worth preserving:—
BRAINTREE, June the 2d, 1777.
DEAR SIR,—I love to receive letters very well, much better than I love to write them. I make but a poor figure at composition, my head is much too fickle, my thoughts are running after birds' eggs, play and trifles till I get vexed with myself. I have but just entered the 3d volume of Smollett, tho' I had designed to have got it half through by this time. I have determined this week to be more diligent, as Mr. Thaxter will be absent at Court and I Cannot pursue my other Studies. I have Set myself a Stent and determine to read the 3d volume Half out. If I can but (p. 004) keep my resolution I will write again at the end of the week and give a better account of myself. I wish, Sir, you would give me some instructions with regard to my time, and advise me how to proportion my Studies and my Play, in writing, and I will keep them by me and endeavor to follow them. I am, dear Sir, with a present determination of growing better. Yours.
P.S. Sir, if you will be so good as to favor me with a Blank book, I will transcribe the most remarkable occurrences I met with in my reading, which will serve to fix them upon my mind.
Not long after the writing of this model epistle, the simple village life was interrupted by an unexpected change. John Adams was sent on a diplomatic journey to Paris, and on February 13, 1778, embarked in the frigate Boston. John Quincy Adams, then eleven years old, accompanied his father and thus made his first acquaintance with the foreign lands where so many of his coming years were to be passed. This initial visit, however, was brief; and he was hardly well established at school when events caused his father to start for home. Unfortunately this return trip was a needless loss of time, since within three months of their setting foot upon American shores the two travellers were again on their stormy way back across the Atlantic in a leaky ship, which had to land them at the nearest port in Spain. One (p. 005) more quotation must be given from a letter written just after the first arrival in France:—
PASSY, September the 27th, 1778.
HONORED MAMMA,—My Pappa enjoins it upon me to keep a Journal, or a Diary of the Events that happen to me, and of objects that I see, and of Characters that I converse with from day to day; and altho' I am Convinced of the utility, importance and necessity of this Exercise, yet I have not patience and perseverance enough to do it so Constantly as I ought. My Pappa, who takes a great deal of pains to put me in the right way, has also advised me to Preserve Copies of all my letters, and has given me a Convenient Blank Book for this end; and altho' I shall have the mortification a few years hence to read a great deal of my Childish nonsense, yet I shall have the Pleasure and advantage of Remarking the several steps by which I shall have advanced in taste, judgment and knowledge. A Journal Book and a letter Book of a Lad of Eleven years old Can not be expected to Contain much of Science, Literature, arts, wisdom, or wit, yet it may serve to perpetuate many observations that I may make, and may hereafter help me to recollect both persons and things that would other ways escape my memory.
He continues with resolutions "to be more thoughtful and industrious for the future," and reflects with pleasure upon the prospect that his scheme "will be a sure means of improvement to myself, and (p. 006) enable me to be more entertaining to you." What gratification must this letter from one who was quite justified in signing himself her "dutiful and affectionate son" have brought to the Puritan bosom of the good mother at home! If the plan for the diary was not pursued during the first short flitting abroad, it can hardly be laid at the door of the "lad of eleven years" as a serious fault. He did in fact begin it when setting out on the aforementioned second trip to Europe, calling it
A JOURNAL BY J. Q. A.,
From America to Spain.
Begun Friday, 12 of November, 1779.
The spark of life in the great undertaking flickered in a somewhat feeble and irregular way for many years thereafter, but apparently gained strength by degrees until in 1795, as Mr. C. F. Adams tells us, "what may be denominated the diary proper begins," a very vigorous work in more senses than one. Continued with astonishing persistency and faithfulness until within a few days of the writer's death, the latest entry is of the 4th of January, 1848. Mr. Adams achieved many successes during his life as the result of conscious effort, but (p. 007) the greatest success of all he achieved altogether unconsciously. He left a portrait of himself more full, correct, vivid, and picturesque than has ever been bequeathed to posterity by any other personage of the past ages. Any mistakes which may be made in estimating his mental or moral attributes must be charged to the dulness or prejudice of the judge, who could certainly not ask for better or more abundant evidence. Few of us know our most intimate friends better than any of us may know Mr. Adams, if we will but take the trouble. Even the brief extracts already given from his correspondence show us the boy; it only concerns us to get them into the proper light for seeing them accurately. If a lad of seven, nine, or eleven years of age should write such solemn little effusions amid the surroundings and influences of the present day, he would probably be set down justly enough as either an offensive young prig or a prematurely developed hypocrite. But the precocious Adams had only a little of the prig and nothing of the hypocrite in his nature. Being the outcome of many generations of simple, devout, intelligent Puritan ancestors, living in a community which loved virtue and sought knowledge, all inherited and all present influences combined to make him, as it may be put (p. 008) in a single word, sensible. He had inevitably a mental boyhood and youth, but morally he was never either a child or a lad; all his leading traits of character were as strongly marked when he was seven as when he was seventy, and at an age when most young people simply win love or cause annoyance, he was preferring wisdom to mischief, and actually in his earliest years was attracting a certain respect.
These few but bold and striking touches which paint the boy are changed for an infinitely more elaborate and complex presentation from the time when the Diary begins. Even as abridged in the printing, this immense work ranks among the half-dozen longest diaries to be found in any library, and it is unquestionably by far the most valuable. Henceforth we are to travel along its broad route to the end; we shall see in it both the great and the small among public men halting onward in a way very different from that in which they march along the stately pages of the historian, and we shall find many side-lights, by no means colorless, thrown upon the persons and events of the procession. The persistence, fulness, and faithfulness with which it was kept throughout so busy a life are marvellous, but are also highly characteristic of the most persevering and industrious of men. (p. 009) That it has been preserved is cause not only for thankfulness but for some surprise also. For if its contents had been known, it is certain that all the public men of nearly two generations who figure in it would have combined into one vast and irresistible conspiracy to obtain and destroy it. There was always a superfluity of gall in the diarist's ink. Sooner or later every man of any note in the United States was mentioned in his pages, and there is scarcely one of them, who, if he could have read what was said of him, would not have preferred the ignominy of omission. As one turns the leaves he feels as though he were walking through a graveyard of slaughtered reputations wherein not many headstones show a few words of measured commendation. It is only the greatness and goodness of Mr. Adams himself which relieve the universal atmosphere of sadness far more depressing than the melancholy which pervades the novels of George Eliot. The reader who wishes to retain any comfortable degree of belief in his fellow men will turn to the wall all the portraits in the gallery except only the inimitable one of the writer himself. For it would be altogether too discouraging to think that so wide an experience of men as Mr. Adams enjoyed through his long, varied, and active life must lead to such an unpleasant array of human faces (p. 010) as those which are scattered along these twelve big octavos. Fortunately at present we have to do with only one of these likenesses, and that one we are able to admire while knowing also that it is beyond question accurate. One after another every trait of Mr. Adams comes out; we shall see that he was a man of a very high and noble character veined with some very notable and disagreeable blemishes; his aspirations were honorable, even the lowest of them being more than simply respectable; he had an avowed ambition, but it was of that pure kind which led him to render true and distinguished services to his countrymen; he was not only a zealous patriot, but a profound believer in the sound and practicable tenets of the liberal political creed of the United States; he had one of the most honest and independent natures that was ever given to man; personal integrity of course goes without saying, but he had the rarer gift of an elevated and rigid political honesty such as has been unfrequently seen in any age or any nation; in times of severe trial this quality was even cruelly tested, but we shall never see it fail; he was as courageous as if he had been a fanatic; indeed, for a long part of his life to maintain a single-handed fight in support of a despised or unpopular opinion seemed his natural function and almost exclusive calling; he was thoroughly conscientious and never knowingly did (p. 011) wrong, nor even sought to persuade himself that wrong was right; well read in literature and of wide and varied information in nearly all matters of knowledge, he was more especially remarkable for his acquirements in the domain of politics, where indeed they were vast and ever growing; he had a clear and generally a cool head, and was nearly always able to do full justice to himself and to his cause; he had an indomitable will, unconquerable persistence, and infinite laboriousness. Such were the qualities which made him a great statesman; but unfortunately we must behold a hardly less striking reverse to the picture, in the faults and shortcomings which made him so unpopular in his lifetime that posterity is only just beginning to forget the prejudices of his contemporaries and to render concerning him the judgment which he deserves. Never did a man of pure life and just purposes have fewer friends or more enemies than John Quincy Adams. His nature, said to have been very affectionate in his family relations, was in its aspect outside of that small circle singularly cold and repellent. If he could ever have gathered even a small personal following his character and abilities would have insured him a brilliant and prolonged success; but, for a man of his calibre (p. 012) and influence, we shall see him as one of the most lonely and desolate of the great men of history; instinct led the public men of his time to range themselves against him rather than with him, and we shall find them fighting beside him only when irresistibly compelled to do so by policy or strong convictions. As he had little sympathy with those with whom he was brought in contact, so he was very uncharitable in his judgment of them; and thus having really a low opinion of so many of them he could indulge his vindictive rancor without stint; his invective, always powerful, will sometimes startle us by its venom, and we shall be pained to see him apt to make enemies for a good cause by making them for himself.
This has been, perhaps, too long a lingering upon the threshold. But Mr. Adams's career in public life stretched over so long a period that to write a full historical memoir of him within the limited space of this volume is impossible. All that can be attempted is to present a sketch of the man with a few of his more prominent surroundings against a very meagre and insufficient background of the history of the times. So it may be permissible to begin with a general outline of his figure, to be filled in, shaded, and colored as we proceed. At best our task is much more difficult of satisfactory achievement (p. 013) than an historical biography of the customary elaborate order.
During his second visit to Europe, our mature youngster—if the word may be used of Mr. Adams even in his earliest years—began to see a good deal of the world and to mingle in very distinguished society. For a brief period he got a little schooling, first at Paris, next at Amsterdam, and then at Leyden; altogether the amount was insignificant, since he was not quite fourteen years old when he actually found himself engaged in a diplomatic career. Francis Dana, afterward Chief Justice of Massachusetts, was then accredited as an envoy to Russia from the United States, and he took Mr. Adams with him as his private secretary. Not much came of the mission, but it was a valuable experience for a lad of his years. Upon his return he spent six months in travel and then he rejoined his father in Paris, where that gentleman was engaged with Franklin and John Jay in negotiating the final treaty of peace between the revolted colonies and the mother country. The boy "was at once enlisted in the service as an additional secretary, and gave his help to the preparation of the papers necessary to the completion of that instrument which dispersed all possible doubt of the Independence of his Country."
On April 26, 1785, arrived the packet-ship Le Courier de L'Orient, (p. 014) bringing a letter from Mr. Gerry containing news of the appointment of John Adams as Minister to St. James's. This unforeseen occurrence made it necessary for the younger Adams to determine his own career, which apparently he was left to do for himself. He was indeed a singular young man, not unworthy of such confidence! The glimpses which we get of him during this stay abroad show him as the associate upon terms of equality with grown men of marked ability and exercising important functions. He preferred diplomacy to dissipation, statesmen to mistresses, and in the midst of all the temptations of the gayest capital in the world, the chariness with which he sprinkled his wild oats amid the alluring gardens chiefly devoted to the culture of those cereals might well have brought a blush to the cheeks of some among his elders, at least if the tongue of slander wags not with gross untruth concerning the colleagues of John Adams. But he was not in Europe to amuse himself, though at an age when amusement is natural and a tinge of sinfulness is so often pardoned; he was there with the definite and persistent purpose of steady improvement and acquisition. At his age most young men play the cards which a kind fortune puts into their hands, with the reckless intent only of immediate gain, (p. 015) but from the earliest moment when he began the game of life Adams coolly and wisely husbanded every card which came into his hand, with a steady view to probable future contingencies, and with the resolve to win in the long run. So now the resolution which he took in the present question illustrated the clearness of his mind and the strength of his character. To go with his father to England would be to enjoy a life precisely fitted to his natural and acquired tastes, to mingle with the men who were making history, to be cognizant of the weightiest of public affairs, to profit by all that the grandest city in the world had to show. It was easy to be not only allured by the prospect but also to be deceived by its apparent advantages. Adams, however, had the sense and courage to turn his back on it, and to go home to the meagre shores and small society of New England, there to become a boy again, to enter Harvard College, and come under all its at that time rigid and petty regulations. It almost seems a mistake, but it was not. Already he was too ripe and too wise to blunder. He himself gives us his characteristic and sufficient reasons:—
"Were I now to go with my father probably my immediate satisfaction might be greater than it will be in returning (p. 016) to America. After having been travelling for these seven years almost and all over Europe, and having been in the world and among company for three; to return to spend one or two years in the pale of a college, subjected to all the rules which I have so long been freed from; and afterwards not expect (however good an opinion I may have of myself) to bring myself into notice under three or four years more, if ever! It is really a prospect somewhat discouraging for a youth of my ambition, (for I have ambition though I hope its object is laudable). But still
'Oh! how wretched Is that poor man, that hangs on Princes' favors,'
or on those of any body else. I am determined that so long as I shall be able to get my own living in an honorable manner, I will depend upon no one. My father has been so much taken up all his lifetime with the interests of the public, that his own fortune has suffered by it: so that his children will have to provide for themselves, which I shall never be able to do if I loiter away my precious time in Europe and shun going home until I am forced to it. With an ordinary share of common sense, which I hope I enjoy, at least in America I can live independent and free; and rather than live otherwise I would wish to die before the time when I shall be left at my own discretion. I have before me a striking example of the distressing and humiliating situation a person is reduced to by adopting a different line of conduct, and I am determined not to fall into the same error."
It is needless to comment upon such spirit and sense, or upon (p. 017) such just appreciation of what was feasible, wise, and right for him, as a New Englander whose surroundings and prospects were widely different from those of the society about him. He must have been strongly imbued by nature with the instincts of his birthplace to have formed, after a seven years' absence at his impressible age, so correct a judgment of the necessities and possibilities of his own career in relationship to the people and ideas of his own country.
Home accordingly he came, and by assiduity prepared himself in a very short time to enter the junior class at Harvard College, whence he was graduated in high standing in 1787. From there he went to Newburyport, then a thriving and active seaport enriched by the noble trade of privateering in addition to more regular maritime business, and entered as a law student the office of Theophilus Parsons, afterwards the Chief Justice of Massachusetts. On July 15, 1790, being twenty-three years old, he was admitted to practice. Immediately afterward he established himself in Boston, where for a time he felt strangely solitary. Clients of course did not besiege his doors in the first year, and he appears to have waited rather stubbornly than cheerfully for more active days. These came in good time, and during the (p. 018) second, third, and fourth years, his business grew apace to encouraging dimensions.
He was, however, doing other work than that of the law, and much more important in its bearing upon his future career. He could not keep his thoughts, nor indeed his hands, from public affairs. When, in 1791, Thomas Paine produced the "Rights of Man," Thomas Jefferson acting as midwife to usher the bantling before the people of the United States, Adams's indignation was fired, and he published anonymously a series of refuting papers over the signature of Publicola. These attracted much attention, not only at home but also abroad, and were by many attributed to John Adams. Two years later, during the excitement aroused by the reception and subsequent outrageous behavior here of the French minister, Genet, Mr. Adams again published in the Boston "Centinel" some papers over the signature of Marcellus, discussing with much ability the then new and perplexing question of the neutrality which should be observed by this country in European wars. These were followed by more, over the signature of Columbus, and afterward by still more in the name of Barnevelt, all strongly reprobating the course of the crazy-headed foreigner. The writer was not permitted to remain long unknown. It is not certain, but it (p. 019) is highly probable, that to these articles was due the nomination which Mr. Adams received shortly afterward from President Washington, as Minister Resident at the Hague. This nomination was sent in to the Senate, May 29, 1794, and was unanimously confirmed on the following day. It may be imagined that the change from the moderate practice of his Boston law office to a European court, of which he so well knew the charms, was not distasteful to him. There are passages in his Diary which indicate that he had been chafing with irrepressible impatience "in that state of useless and disgraceful insignificancy," to which, as it seemed to him, he was relegated, so that at the age of twenty-five, when "many of the characters who were born for the benefit of their fellow creatures, have rendered themselves conspicuous among their contemporaries, ... I still find myself as obscure, as unknown to the world, as the most indolent or the most stupid of human beings." Entertaining such a restless ambition, he of course accepted the proffered office, though not without some expression of unexplained doubt. October 31, 1794, found him at the Hague, after a voyage of considerable peril in a leaky ship, commanded by a blundering captain. He was a young diplomat, indeed; it was on his twenty-seventh (p. 020) birthday that he received his commission.
The minister made his advent upon a tumultuous scene. All Europe was getting under arms in the long and desperate struggle with France. Scarcely had he presented his credentials to the Stadtholder ere that dignitary was obliged to flee before the conquering standards of the French. Pichegru marched into the capital city of the Low Countries, hung out the tri-color, and established the "Batavian Republic" as the ally of France. The diplomatic representatives of most of the European powers forthwith left, and Mr. Adams was strongly moved to do the same, though for reasons different from those which actuated his compeers. He was not, like them, placed in an unpleasant position by the new condition of affairs, but on the contrary he was very cordially treated by the French and their Dutch partisans, and was obliged to fall back upon his native prudence to resist their compromising overtures and dangerous friendship. Without giving offence he yet kept clear of entanglements, and showed a degree of wisdom and skill which many older and more experienced Americans failed to evince, either abroad or at home, during these exciting years. But he appeared to be left without occupation in the altered condition of affairs, and (p. 021) therefore was considering the propriety of returning, when advices from home induced him to stay. Washington especially wrote that he must not think of retiring, and prophesied that he would soon be "found at the head of the diplomatic corps, be the government administered by whomsoever the people may choose." He remained, therefore, at the Hague, a shrewd and close observer of the exciting events occurring around him, industriously pursuing an extensive course of study and reading, making useful acquaintances, acquiring familiarity with foreign languages, with the usages of diplomacy and the habits of distinguished society. He had little public business to transact, it is true; but at least his time was well spent for his own improvement.
An episode in his life at the Hague was his visit to England, where he was directed to exchange ratifications of the treaty lately negotiated by Mr. Jay. But a series of vexatious delays, apparently maliciously contrived, detained him so long that upon his arrival he found this specific task already accomplished by Mr. Deas. He was probably not disappointed that his name thus escaped connection with engagements so odious to a large part of the nation. He had, however, some further business of an informal character to transact with Lord Grenville, (p. 022) and in endeavoring to conduct it found himself rather awkwardly placed. He was not minister to the Court of St. James, having been only vaguely authorized to discuss certain arrangements in a tentative way, without the power to enter into any definitive agreement. But the English Cabinet strongly disliking Mr. Deas, who in the absence of Mr. Pinckney represented for the time the United States, and much preferring to negotiate with Mr. Adams, sought by many indirect and artful subterfuges to thrust upon him the character of a regularly accredited minister. He had much ado to avoid, without offence, the assumption of functions to which he had no title, but which were with designing courtesy forced upon him. His cool and moderate temper, however, carried him successfully through the whole business, alike in its social and its diplomatic aspect.
Another negotiation, of a private nature also, he brought to a successful issue during these few months in London. He made the acquaintance of Miss Louisa Catherine Johnson, daughter of Joshua Johnson, then American Consul at London, and niece of that Governor Johnson, of Maryland, who had signed the Declaration of Independence and was afterwards placed on the bench of the Supreme Court of (p. 023) the United States. To this lady he became engaged; and returning not long afterward he was married to her on July 26, 1797. It was a thoroughly happy and, for him, a life-long union.
President Washington, toward the close of his second term, transferred Mr. Adams to the Court of Portugal. But before his departure thither his destination was changed. Some degree of embarrassment was felt about this time concerning his further continuance in public office, by reason of his father's accession to the Presidency. He wrote to his mother a manly and spirited letter, rebuking her for carelessly dropping an expression indicative of a fear that he might look for some favor at his father's hands. He could neither solicit nor expect anything, he justly said, and he was pained that his mother should not know him better than to entertain any apprehension of his feeling otherwise. It was a perplexing position in which the two were placed. It would be a great hardship to cut short the son's career because of the success of the father, yet the reproach of nepotism could not be lightly encountered, even with the backing of clear consciences. Washington came kindly to the aid of his doubting successor, and in a letter highly complimentary to Mr. John Quincy Adams strongly urged that well-merited promotion ought not to be kept from him, (p. 024) foretelling for him a distinguished future in the diplomatic service. These representations prevailed; and the President's only action as concerned his son consisted in changing his destination from Portugal to Prussia, both missions being at that time of the same grade, though that to Prussia was then established for the first time by the making and confirming of this nomination.
To Berlin, accordingly, Mr. Adams proceeded in November, 1797, and had the somewhat cruel experience of being "questioned at the gates by a dapper lieutenant, who did not know, until one of his private soldiers explained to him, who the United States of America were." Overcoming this unusual obstacle to a ministerial advent, and succeeding, after many months, in getting through all the introductory formalities, he found not much more to be done at Berlin than there had been at the Hague. But such useful work as was open to him he accomplished in the shape of a treaty of amity and commerce between Prussia and the United States. This having been duly ratified by both the powers, his further stay seemed so useless that he wrote home suggesting his readiness to return; and while awaiting a reply he travelled through some portions of Europe which he had not before seen. His recall was one of the (p. 025) last acts of his father's administration, made, says Mr. Seward, "that Mr. Jefferson might have no embarrassment in that direction," but quite as probably dictated by a vindictive desire to show how wide was the gulf of animosity which had opened between the family of the disappointed ex-President and his triumphant rival.
Mr. Adams, immediately upon his arrival at home, prepared to return to the practice of his profession. It was not altogether an agreeable transition from an embassy at the courts of Europe to a law office in Boston, with the necessity of furbishing up long disused knowledge, and a second time patiently awaiting the influx of clients. But he faced it with his stubborn temper and practical sense. The slender promise which he was able to discern in the political outlook could not fail to disappoint him, since his native predilections were unquestionably and strongly in favor of a public career. During his absence party animosities had been developing rapidly. The first great party victory since the organization of the government had just been won, after a very bitter struggle, by the Republicans or Democrats, as they were then indifferently called, whose exuberant delight found its full counterpart in the angry despondency of the Federalists. That irascible old gentleman, the elder Adams, having experienced a (p. 026) very Waterloo defeat in the contest for the Presidency, had ridden away from the capital, actually in a wild rage, on the night of the 3d of March, 1801, to avoid the humiliating pageant of Mr. Jefferson's inauguration. Yet far more fierce than this natural party warfare was the internal dissension which rent the Federal party in twain. Those cracks upon the surface and subterraneous rumblings, which the experienced observer could for some time have noted, had opened with terrible uproar into a gaping chasm, when John Adams, still in the Presidency, suddenly announced his determination to send a mission to France at a crisis when nearly all his party were looking for war. Perhaps this step was, as his admirers claim, an act of pure and disinterested statesmanship. Certainly its result was fortunate for the country at large. But for John Adams it was ruinous. At the moment when he made the bold move, he doubtless expected to be followed by his party. Extreme was his disappointment and boundless his wrath, when he found that he had at his back only a fraction, not improbably less than half, of that party. He learned with infinite chagrin that he had only a divided empire with a private individual; that it was not safe for him, the President of the United States, to originate any important measure without first consulting a lawyer quietly (p. 027) engaged in the practice of his profession in New York; that, in short, at least a moiety, in which were to be found the most intelligent members, of the great Federal party, when in search of guidance, turned their faces toward Alexander Hamilton rather than toward John Adams. These Hamiltonians by no means relished the French mission, so that from this time forth a schism of intense bitterness kept the Federal party asunder, and John Adams hated Alexander Hamilton with a vigor not surpassed in the annals of human antipathies. His rage was not assuaged by the conduct of this dreaded foe in the presidential campaign; and the defeated candidate always preferred to charge his failure to Hamilton's machinations rather than to the real will of the people. This, however, was unfair; it was perfectly obvious that a majority of the nation had embraced Jeffersonian tenets, and that Federalism was moribund.
To this condition of affairs John Quincy Adams returned. Fortunately he had been compelled to bear no part in the embroilments of the past, and his sagacity must have led him, while listening with filial sympathy to the interpretations placed upon events by his incensed parent, yet to make liberal allowance for the distorting effects (p. 028) of the old gentleman's rage. Still it was in the main only natural for him to regard himself as a Federalist of the Adams faction. His proclivities had always been with that party. In Massachusetts the educated and well-to-do classes were almost unanimously of that way of thinking. The select coterie of gentlemen in the State, who in those times bore an active and influential part in politics, were nearly all Hamiltonians, but the adherents of President Adams were numerically strong. Nor was the younger Adams himself long left without his private grievance against Mr. Jefferson, who promptly used the authority vested in him by a new statute to remove Mr. Adams from the position of commissioner in bankruptcy, to which, at the time of his resuming business, he had been appointed by the judge of the district court. Long afterward Jefferson sought to escape the odium of this apparently malicious and, for those days, unusual action, by a very Jeffersonian explanation, tolerably satisfactory to those persons who believed it.
On April 5, 1802, Mr. Adams was chosen by the Federalists of Boston to represent them in the State Senate. The office was at that time still sought by men of the best ability and position, and though it was hardly a step upward on the political ladder for one who had represented the nation in foreign parts for eight years, yet (p. 029) Mr. Adams was well content to accept it. At least it reopened the door of political life, and moreover one of his steadfast maxims was never to refuse any function which the people sought to impose upon him. It is worth noting, for its bearing upon controversies soon to be encountered in this narrative, that forty-eight hours had not elapsed after Mr. Adams had taken his seat before he ventured upon a display of independence which caused much irritation to his Federalist associates. He had the hardihood to propose that the Federalist majority in the legislature should permit the Republican minority to enjoy a proportional representation in the council. "It was the first act of my legislative life," he wrote many years afterward, "and it marked the principle by which my whole public life has been governed from that day to this. My proposal was unsuccessful, and perhaps it forfeited whatever confidence might have been otherwise bestowed upon me as a party follower." Indeed, all his life long Mr. Adams was never submissive to the party whip, but voted upon every question precisely according to his opinion of its merits, without the slightest regard to the political company in which for the time being he might find himself. A compeer of his in the United States Senate once said (p. 030) of him, that he regarded every public measure which came up as he would a proposition in Euclid, abstracted from any party considerations. These frequent derelictions of his were at first forgiven with a magnanimity really very creditable, so long as it lasted, especially to the Hamiltonians in the Federal party; and so liberal was this forbearance that when in February, 1803, the legislature had to elect a Senator to the United States Senate, he was chosen upon the fourth ballot by 86 votes out of 171. This was the more gratifying to him and the more handsome on the part of the anti-Adams men in the party, because the place was eagerly sought by Timothy Pickering, an old man who had strong claims growing out of an almost life-long and very efficient service in their ranks, and who was moreover a most stanch adherent of General Hamilton.
So in October, 1803, we find Mr. Adams on his way to Washington, the raw and unattractive village which then constituted the national capital, wherein there was not, as the pious New Englander instantly noted, a church of any denomination; but those who were religiously disposed were obliged to attend services "usually performed on Sundays at the Treasury Office and at the Capitol." With what anticipations Mr. Adams's mind was filled during his journey to this embryotic (p. 031) city his Diary does not tell; but if they were in any degree cheerful or sanguine they were destined to cruel disappointment. He was now probably to appreciate for the first time the fierce vigor of the hostility which his father had excited. In Massachusetts social connections and friendships probably mitigated the open display of rancor to which in Washington full sway was given. It was not only the Republican majority who showed feelings which in them were at least fair if they were strong, but the Federal minority were maliciously pleased to find in the son of the ill-starred John Adams a victim on whom to vent that spleen and abuse which were so provokingly ineffective against the solid working majority of their opponents in Congress. The Republicans trampled upon the Federalists, and the Federalists trampled on John Quincy Adams. He spoke seldom, and certainly did not weary the Senators, yet whenever he rose to his feet he was sure of a cold, too often almost an insulting, reception. By no chance or possibility could anything which he said or suggested please his prejudiced auditors. The worst augury for any measure was his support; any motion which he made was sure to be voted down, though not unfrequently substantially the same matter being afterward moved by somebody else would be readily carried. That cordiality, (p. 032) assistance, and sense of fellowship which Senators from the same State customarily expect and obtain from each other could not be enjoyed by him. For shortly after his arrival in Washington, Mr. Pickering had been chosen to fill a vacancy in the other Massachusetts senatorship, and appeared upon the scene as a most unwelcome colleague. For a time, indeed, an outward semblance of political comradeship was maintained between them, but it would have been folly for an Adams to put faith in a Pickering, and perhaps vice versa. This position of his, as the unpopular member of an unpopular minority, could not be misunderstood, and many allusions to it occur in his Diary. One day he notes a motion rejected; another day, that he has "nothing to do but to make fruitless opposition;" he constantly recites that he has voted with a small minority, and at least once he himself composed the whole of that minority; soon after his arrival he says that an amendment proposed by him "will certainly not pass; and, indeed, I have already seen enough to ascertain that no amendments of my proposing will obtain in the Senate as now filled;" again, "I presented my three resolutions, which raised a storm as violent as I expected;" and on the same day he writes, "I have no doubt of incurring much censure and obloquy for this measure;" a day or two later he speaks of (p. 033) certain persons "who hate me rather more than they love any principle;" when he expressed an opinion in favor of ratifying a treaty with the Creeks, he remarks quite philosophically, that he believes it "surprised almost every member of the Senate, and dissatisfied almost all;" when he wanted a committee raised he did not move it himself, but suggested the idea to another Senator, for "I knew that if I moved it a spirit of jealousy would immediately be raised against doing anything." Writing once of some resolutions which he intended to propose, he says that they are "another feather against a whirlwind. A desperate and fearful cause in which I have embarked, but I must pursue it or feel myself either a coward or a traitor." Another time we find a committee, of which he was a member, making its report when he had not even been notified of its meeting.
It would be idle to suppose that any man could be sufficiently callous not to feel keenly such treatment. Mr. Adams was far from callous and he felt it deeply. But he was not crushed or discouraged by it, as weaker spirits would have been, nor betrayed into any acts of foolish anger which must have recoiled upon himself. In him warm feelings were found in singular combination with a cool head. An unyielding (p. 034) temper and an obstinate courage, an invincible confidence in his own judgment, and a stern conscientiousness carried him through these earlier years of severe trial as they had afterwards to carry him through many more. "The qualities of mind most peculiarly called for," he reflects in the Diary, "are firmness, perseverance, patience, coolness, and forbearance. The prospect is not promising; yet the part to act may be as honorably performed as if success could attend it." He understood the situation perfectly and met it with a better skill than that of the veteran politician. By a long and tedious but sure process he forced his way to steadily increasing influence, and by the close of his fourth year we find him taking a part in the business of the Senate which may be fairly called prominent and important. He was conquering success.
But if Mr. Adams's unpopularity was partly due to the fact that he was the son of his father, it was also largely attributable not only to his unconciliatory manners but to more substantial habits of mind and character. It is probably impossible for any public man, really independent in his political action, to lead a very comfortable life amid the struggles of party. Under the disadvantages involved in this habit Mr. Adams labored to a remarkable degree. Since parties (p. 035) were first organized in this Republic no American statesman has ever approached him in persistent freedom of thought, speech, and action. He was regarded as a Federalist, but his Federalism was subject to many modifications; the members of that party never were sure of his adherence, and felt bound to him by no very strong ties of political fellowship. Towards the close of his senatorial term he recorded, in reminiscence, that he had more often voted with the administration than with the opposition.
The first matter of importance concerning which he was obliged to act was the acquisition of Louisiana and its admission as a state of the Union. The Federalists were bitterly opposed to this measure, regarding it as an undue strengthening of the South and of the slavery influence, to the destruction of the fair balance of power between the two great sections of the country. It was not then the moral aspect of the slavery element which stirred the northern temper, but only the antagonism of interests between the commercial cities of the North and the agricultural communities of the South. In the discussions and votes which took place in this business Mr. Adams was in favor of the purchase, but denied with much emphasis the constitutionality of the process by which the purchased territory was brought into the (p. 036) fellowship of States. This imperfect allegiance to the party gave more offence than satisfaction, and he found himself soundly berated in leading Federalist newspapers in New England, and angrily threatened with expulsion from the party. But in the famous impeachment of Judge Chase, which aroused very strong feelings, Mr. Adams was fortunately able to vote for acquittal. He regarded this measure, as well as the impeachment of Judge Pickering at the preceding session, as parts of an elaborate scheme on the part of the President for degrading the national judiciary and rendering it subservient to the legislative branch of the government. So many, however, even of Mr. Jefferson's stanch adherents revolted against his requisitions on this occasion, and he himself so far lost heart before the final vote was taken, that several Republicans voted with the Federalists, and Mr. Adams could hardly claim much credit with his party for standing by them in this emergency.
It takes a long while for such a man to secure respect, and great ability for him ever to achieve influence. In time, however, Mr. Adams saw gratifying indications that he was acquiring both, and in February, 1806, we find him writing:—
"This is the third session I have sat in Congress. I came in (p. 037) as a member of a very small minority, and during the two former sessions almost uniformly avoided to take a lead; any other course would have been dishonest or ridiculous. On the very few and unimportant objects which I did undertake, I met at first with universal opposition. The last session my influence rose a little, at the present it has hitherto been apparently rising."
He was so far a cool and clear-headed judge, even in his own case, that this encouraging estimate may be accepted as correct upon his sole authority without other evidence. But the fair prospect was overcast almost in its dawning, and a period of supreme trial and of apparently irretrievable ruin was at hand.
Topics were coming forward for discussion concerning which no American could be indifferent, and no man of Mr. Adams's spirit could be silent. The policy of Great Britain towards this country, and the manner in which it was to be met, stirred profound feelings and opened such fierce dissensions as it is now difficult to appreciate. For a brief time Mr. Adams was to be a prominent actor before the people. It is fortunately needless to repeat, as it must ever be painful to remember, the familiar and too humiliating tale of the part which France and England were permitted for so many years to play in our national politics, when our parties were not divided upon American (p. 038) questions, but wholly by their sympathies with one or other of these contending European powers. Under Washington the English party had, with infinite difficulty, been able to prevent their adversaries from fairly enlisting the United States as active partisans of France, in spite of the fact that most insulting treatment was received from that country. Under John Adams the same so-called British faction had been baulked in their hope of precipitating a war with the French. Now in Mr. Jefferson's second administration, the French party having won the ascendant, the new phase of the same long struggle presented the question, whether or not we should be drawn into a war with Great Britain. Grave as must have been the disasters of such a war in 1806, grave as they were when the war actually came six years later, yet it is impossible to recall the provocations which were inflicted upon us without almost regretting that prudence was not cast to the winds and any woes encountered in preference to unresisting submission to such insolent outrages. Our gorge rises at the narration three quarters of a century after the acts were done.
Mr. Adams took his position early and boldly. In February, 1806, he introduced into the Senate certain resolutions strongly condemnatory of the right, claimed and vigorously exercised by the British, (p. 039) of seizing neutral vessels employed in conducting with the enemies of Great Britain any trade which had been customarily prohibited by that enemy in time of peace. This doctrine was designed to shut out American merchants from certain privileges in trading with French colonies, which had been accorded only since France had become involved in war with Great Britain. The principle was utterly illegal and extremely injurious. Mr. Adams, in his first resolution, stigmatized it "as an unprovoked aggression upon the property of the citizens of these United States, a violation of their neutral rights, and an encroachment upon their national independence." By his second resolution, the President was requested to demand and insist upon the restoration of property seized under this pretext, and upon indemnification for property already confiscated. By a rare good fortune, Mr. Adams had the pleasure of seeing his propositions carried, only slightly modified by the omission of the words "to insist." But they were carried, of course, by Republican votes, and they by no means advanced their mover in the favor of the Federalist party. Strange as it may seem, that party, of which many of the foremost supporters were engaged in the very commerce which Great Britain aimed to suppress and destroy, seemed not to be so much (p. 040) incensed against her as against their own government. The theory of the party was, substantially, that England had been driven into these measures by the friendly tone of our government towards France, and by her own stringent and overruling necessities. The cure was not to be sought in resistance, not even in indignation and remonstrance addressed to that power, but rather in cementing an alliance with her, and even, if need should be, in taking active part in her holy cause. The feeling seemed to be that we merited the chastisement because we had not allied ourselves with the chastiser. These singular notions of the Federalists, however, were by no means the notions of Mr. John Quincy Adams, as we shall soon see.
On April 18, 1806, the Non-importation Act received the approval of the President. It was the first measure indicative of resentment or retaliation which was taken by our government. When it was upon its passage it encountered the vigorous resistance of the Federalists, but received the support of Mr. Adams. On May 16, 1806, the British government made another long stride in the course of lawless oppression of neutrals, which phrase, as commerce then was, signified little else than Americans. A proclamation was issued declaring the whole (p. 041) coast of the European continent, from Brest to the mouth of the Elbe, to be under blockade. In fact, of course, the coast was not blockaded, and the proclamation was a falsehood, an unjustifiable effort to make words do the work of war-ships. The doctrine which it was thus endeavored to establish had never been admitted into international law, has ever since been repudiated by universal consent of all nations, and is intrinsically preposterous. The British, however, designed to make it effective, and set to work in earnest to confiscate all vessels and cargoes captured on their way from any neutral nation to any port within the proscribed district. On November 21, next following, Napoleon retaliated by the Berlin decree, so called, declaring the entire British Isles to be under blockade, and forbidding any vessel which had been in any English port after publication of his decree to enter any port in the dominions under his control. In January, 1807, England made the next move by an order, likewise in contravention of international law, forbidding to neutrals all commerce between ports of the enemies of Great Britain. On November 11, 1807, the famous British Order in Council was issued, declaring neutral vessels and cargoes bound to any port or colony of any country with which (p. 042) England was then at war, and which was closed to English ships, to be liable to capture and confiscation. A few days later, November 25, 1807, another Order established a rate of duties to be paid in England upon all neutral merchandise which should be permitted to be carried in neutral bottoms to countries at war with that power. December 17, 1807, Napoleon retorted by the Milan decree, which declared denationalized and subject to capture and condemnation every vessel, to whatsoever nation belonging, which should have submitted to search by an English ship, or should be on a voyage to England, or should have paid any tax to the English government. All these regulations, though purporting to be aimed at neutrals generally, in fact bore almost exclusively upon the United States, who alone were undertaking to conduct any neutral commerce worthy of mention. As Mr. Adams afterwards remarked, the effect of these illegal proclamations and unjustifiable novel doctrines "placed the commerce and shipping of the United States, with regard to all Europe and European colonies (Sweden alone excepted), in nearly the same state as it would have been, if, on that same 11th of November, England and France had both declared war against the United States." The merchants of this country might as well have burned their ships as have submitted to these decrees. (p. 043)
All this while the impressment of American seamen by British ships of war was being vigorously prosecuted. This is one of those outrages so long ago laid away among the mouldering tombs in the historical graveyard that few persons now appreciate its enormity, or the extent to which it was carried. Those who will be at the pains to ascertain the truth in the matter will feel that the bloodiest, most costly, and most disastrous war would have been better than tame endurance of treatment so brutal and unjustifiable that it finds no parallel even in the long and dark list of wrongs which Great Britain has been wont to inflict upon all the weaker or the uncivilized peoples with whom she has been brought or has gratuitously forced herself into unwelcome contact. It was not an occasional act of high-handed arrogance that was done; there were not only a few unfortunate victims, of whom a large proportion might be of unascertained nationality. It was an organized system worked upon a very large scale. Every American seaman felt it necessary to have a certificate of citizenship, accompanied by a description of his features and of all the marks upon his person, as Mr. Adams said, "like the advertisement for a runaway negro slave." Nor was even this protection by any means sure to be always (p. 044) efficient. The number of undoubted American citizens who were seized rose in a few years actually to many thousands. They were often taken without so much as a false pretence to right; but with the acknowledgment that they were Americans, they were seized upon the plea of a necessity for their services in the British ship. Some American vessels were left so denuded of seamen that they were lost at sea for want of hands to man them; the destruction of lives as well as property, unquestionably thus caused, was immense. When after the lapse of a long time and of infinite negotiation the American citizenship of some individual was clearly shown, still the chances of his return were small; some false and ignoble subterfuge was resorted to; he was not to be found; the name did not occur on the rolls of the navy; he had died, or been discharged, or had deserted, or had been shot. The more illegal the act committed by any British officer the more sure he was of reward, till it seemed that the impressment of American citizens was an even surer road to promotion than valor in an engagement with the enemy. Such were the substantial wrongs inflicted by Great Britain; nor were any pains taken to cloak their character; on the contrary, they were done with more than British insolence and offensiveness, and were accompanied with insults which alone (p. 045) constituted sufficient provocation to war. To all this, for a long time, nothing but empty and utterly futile protests were opposed by this country. The affair of the Chesapeake, indeed, threatened for a brief moment to bring things to a crisis. That vessel, an American frigate, commanded by Commodore Barron, sailed on June 22, 1807, from Hampton Roads. The Leopard, a British fifty-gun ship, followed her, and before she was out of sight of land, hailed her and demanded the delivery of four men, of whom three at least were surely native Americans. Barron refused the demand, though his ship was wholly unprepared for action. Thereupon the Englishman opened his broadsides, killed three men and wounded sixteen, boarded the Chesapeake and took off the four sailors. They were carried to Halifax and tried by court-martial for desertion: one of them was hanged; one died in confinement, and five years elapsed before the other two were returned to the Chesapeake in Boston harbor. This wound was sufficiently deep to arouse a real spirit of resentment and revenge, and England went so far as to dispatch Mr. Rose to this country upon a pretended mission of peace, though the fraudulent character of his errand was sufficiently indicated by the fact that within a few hours after his departure the first of the above named Orders in Council was issued but had not (p. 046) been communicated to him. As Mr. Adams indignantly said, "the same penful of ink which signed his instructions might have been used also to sign these illegal orders." Admiral Berkeley, the commander of the Leopard, received the punishment which he might justly have expected if precedent was to count for anything in the naval service of Great Britain,—he was promoted.
It is hardly worth while to endeavor to measure the comparative wrongfulness of the conduct of England and of France. The behavior of each was utterly unjustifiable; though England by committing the first extreme breach of international law gave to France the excuse of retaliation. There was, however, vast difference in the practical effect of the British and French decrees. The former wrought serious injury, falling little short of total destruction, to American shipping and commerce; the latter were only in a much less degree hurtful. The immense naval power of England and the channels in which our trade naturally flowed combined to make her destructive capacity as towards us very great. It was the outrages inflicted by her which brought the merchants of the United States face to face with ruin; they suffered not very greatly at the hands of Napoleon. Neither could the villainous process of impressment be conducted by Frenchmen. (p. 047) France gave us cause for war, but England seemed resolved to drive us into it.
As British aggressions grew steadily and rapidly more intolerable, Mr. Adams found himself straining farther and farther away from those Federalist moorings at which, it must be confessed, he had long swung very precariously. The constituency which he represented was indeed in a quandary so embarrassing as hardly to be capable of maintaining any consistent policy. The New England of that day was a trading community, of which the industry and capital were almost exclusively centred in ship-owning and commerce. The merchants, almost to a man, had long been the most Anglican of Federalists in their political sympathies. Now they found themselves suffering utterly ruinous treatment at the hands of those whom they had loved overmuch. They were being ruthlessly destroyed by their friends, to whom they had been, so to speak, almost disloyally loyal. They saw their business annihilated, their property seized, and yet could not give utterance to resentment, or counsel resistance, without such a humiliating devouring of all their own principles and sentiments as they could by no possibility bring themselves to endure. There was but one road open to them, and that was the ignoble one of casting themselves wholly (p. 048) into the arms of England, of rewarding her blows with caresses, of submitting to be fairly scourged into a servile alliance with her. It is not surprising that the independent temper of Mr. Adams revolted at the position which his party seemed not reluctant to assume at this juncture. Yet not very much better seemed for a time the policy of the administration. Jefferson was far from being a man for troubled seasons, which called for high spirit and executive energy. His flotillas of gunboats and like idle and silly fantasies only excited Mr. Adams's disgust. In fact, there was upon all sides a strong dread of a war with England, not always openly expressed, but now perfectly visible, arising with some from regard for that country, in others prompted by fear of her power. Alone among public men Mr. Adams, while earnestly hoping to escape war, was not willing to seek that escape by unlimited weakness and unbounded submission to lawless injury.
On November 17, 1807, Mr. Adams, who never in his life allowed fear to become a motive, wrote, with obvious contempt and indignation: "I observe among the members great embarrassment, alarm, anxiety, and confusion of mind, but no preparation for any measure of vigor, and an obvious strong disposition to yield all that Great Britain may (p. 049) require, to preserve peace, under a thin external show of dignity and bravery." This tame and vacillating spirit roused his ire, and as it was chiefly manifested by his own party it alienated him from them farther than ever. Yet his wrath was so far held in reasonable check by his discretion that he would still have liked to avoid the perilous conclusion of arms, and though his impulse was to fight, yet he could not but recognize that the sensible course was to be content, for the time at least, with a manifestation of resentment, and the most vigorous acts short of war which the government could be induced to undertake. On this sentiment were based his introduction of the aforementioned resolutions, his willingness to support the administration, and his vote for the Non-importation Act in spite of a dislike for it as a very imperfectly satisfactory measure. But it was not alone his naturally independent temper which led him thus to feel so differently from other members of his party. In Europe he had had opportunities of forming a judgment more accurate than was possible for most Americans concerning the sentiments and policy of England towards this country. Not only had he been present at the negotiations resulting in the treaty of peace, but he had also afterwards been for several months engaged in the personal discussion of commercial questions with (p. 050) the British minister of foreign affairs. From all that he had thus seen and heard he had reached the conviction, unquestionably correct, that the British were not only resolved to adopt a selfish course towards the United States, which might have been expected, but that they were consistently pursuing the further distinct design of crippling and destroying American commerce, to the utmost degree which their own extensive trade and great naval authority and power rendered possible. So long as he held this firm belief, it was inevitable that he should be at issue with the Federalists in all matters concerning our policy towards Great Britain. The ill-will naturally engendered in him by this conviction was increased to profound indignation when illiberal measures were succeeded by insults, by substantial wrongs in direct contravention of law, and by acts properly to be described as of real hostility. For Mr. Adams was by nature not only independent, but resentful and combative. When, soon after the attack of the Leopard upon the Chesapeake, he heard the transaction "openly justified at noon-day," by a prominent Federalist, "in a public insurance office upon the exchange at Boston," his temper rose. "This," he afterward wrote, "this was the cause ... which alienated me from that day (p. 051) and forever from the councils of the Federal party." When the news of that outrage reached Boston, Mr. Adams was there, and desired that the leading Federalists in the city should at once "take the lead in promoting a strong and clear expression of the sentiments of the people, and in an open and free-hearted manner, setting aside all party feelings, declare their determination at that crisis to support the government of their country." But unfortunately these gentlemen were by no means prepared for any such action, and foolishly left it for the friends of the administration to give the first utterance to a feeling which it is hard to excuse any American for not entertaining beneath such provocation. It was the Jeffersonians, accordingly, who convened "an informal meeting of the citizens of Boston and the neighboring towns," at which Mr. Adams was present, and by which he was put upon a committee to draw and report resolutions. These resolutions pledged a cheerful cooeperation "in any measures, however serious," which the government might deem necessary and a support of the same with "lives and fortunes." The Federalists, learning too late that their backwardness at this crisis was a blunder, caused a town meeting to be called at Faneuil Hall a few days later. This also (p. 052) Mr. Adams attended, and again was put on the committee to draft resolutions, which were only a little less strong than those of the earlier assemblage. But though many of the Federalists thus tardily and reluctantly fell in with the popular sentiment, they were for the most part heartily incensed against Mr. Adams. They threatened him that he should "have his head taken off for apostasy," and gave him to understand that he "should no longer be considered as having any communion with the party." If he had not already quite left them, they now turned him out from their community. But such abusive treatment was ill adapted to influence a man of his temper. Martyrdom, which in time he came to relish, had not now any terrors for him; and he would have lost as many heads as ever grew on Hydra, ere he would have yielded on a point of principle.
[Footnote 1: Mr. John Lowell.]
His spirit was soon to be demonstrated. Congress was convened in extra session on October 26, 1807. The administration brought forward the bill establishing an embargo. The measure may now be pronounced a blunder, and its proposal created a howl of rage and anguish from the commercial states, who saw in it only their utter ruin. Already a strong sectional feeling had been developed between the planters (p. 053) of the South and the merchants of the North and East, and the latter now united in the cry that their quarter was to be ruined by the ignorant policy of this Virginian President. Terrible then was their wrath, when they actually saw a Massachusetts Senator boldly give his vote for what they deemed the most odious and wicked bill which had ever been presented in the halls of Congress. Nay, more, they learned with horror that Mr. Adams had even been a member of the committee which reported the bill, and that he had joined in the report. Henceforth the Federal party was to be like a hive of enraged hornets about the devoted renegade. No abuse which they could heap upon him seemed nearly adequate to the occasion. They despised him; they loathed him; they said and believed that he was false, selfish, designing, a traitor, an apostate, that he had run away from a failing cause, that he had sold himself. The language of contumely was exhausted in vain efforts to describe his baseness. Not even yet has the echo of the hard names which he was called quite died away in the land; and there are still families in New England with whom his dishonest tergiversation remains a traditional belief.
Never was any man more unjustly aspersed. It is impossible to view all the evidence dispassionately without not only acquitting Mr. (p. 054) Adams but greatly admiring his courage, his constancy, his independence. Whether the embargo was a wise and efficient or a futile and useless measure has little to do with the question of his conduct. The emergency called for strong action. The Federalists suggested only a temporizing submission, or that we should avert the terrible wrath of England by crawling beneath her lashes into political and commercial servitude. Mr. Jefferson thought the embargo would do, that it would aid him in his negotiations with England sufficiently to enable him to bring her to terms; he had before thought the same of the Non-importation Act. Mr. Adams felt, properly enough, concerning both these schemes, that they were insufficient and in many respects objectionable; but that to give the administration hearty support in the most vigorous measures which it was willing to undertake, was better than to aid an opposition utterly nerveless and servile and altogether devoid of so much as the desire for efficient action. It was no time to stay with the party of weakness; it was right to strengthen rather than to hamper a man so pacific and spiritless as Mr. Jefferson; to show a readiness to forward even his imperfect expedients; to display a united and indignant, if not quite a hostile front to Great Britain, rather (p. 055) than to exhibit a tame and friendly feeling towards her. It was for these reasons, which had already controlled his action concerning the non-importation bill, that Mr. Adams joined in reporting the embargo bill and voted for it. He never pretended that he himself had any especial fancy for either of these measures, or that he regarded them as the best that could be devised under the circumstances. On the contrary, he hoped that the passage of the embargo would allow of the repeal of its predecessor. That he expected some good from it, and that it did some little good, cannot be denied. It did save a great deal of American property, both shipping and merchandise, from seizure and condemnation; and if it cut off the income it at least saved much of the principal of our merchants. If only the bill had been promptly repealed so soon as this protective purpose had been achieved, without awaiting further and altogether impossible benefits to accrue from it as an offensive measure, it might perhaps have left a better memory behind it. Unfortunately no one can deny that it was continued much too long. Mr. Adams saw this error and dreaded the consequences. After he had left Congress and had gone back to private life, he exerted all the influence which he had with the Republican members of Congress to secure its repeal and the substitution of the Non-intercourse (p. 056) Act, an exchange which was in time accomplished, though much too tardily. Nay, much more than this, Mr. Adams stands forth almost alone as the advocate of threatening if not of actually belligerent measures. He expressed his belief that "our internal resources [were] competent to the establishment and maintenance of a naval force, public and private, if not fully adequate to the protection and defence of our commerce, at least sufficient to induce a retreat from hostilities, and to deter from a renewal of them by either of the warring parties;" and he insisted that "a system to that effect might be formed, ultimately far more economical, and certainly more energetic," than the embargo. But his "resolution met no encouragement." He found that it was the embargo or nothing, and he thought the embargo was a little better than nothing, as probably it was.
All the arguments which Mr. Adams advanced were far from satisfying his constituents in those days of wild political excitement, and they quickly found the means of intimating their unappeasable displeasure in a way certainly not open to misapprehension. Mr. Adams's term of service in the Senate was to expire on March 3, 1809. On June 2 and 3, 1808, anticipating by many months the customary time for filling (p. 057) the coming vacancy, the legislature of Massachusetts proceeded to choose James Lloyd, junior, his successor. The votes were, in the Senate 21 for Mr. Lloyd, 17 for Mr. Adams; in the House 248 for Mr. Lloyd, and 213 for Mr. Adams. A more insulting method of administering a rebuke could not have been devised. At the same time, in further expression of disapprobation, resolutions strongly condemnatory of the embargo were passed. Mr. Adams was not the man to stay where he was not wanted, and on June 8 he sent in his letter of resignation. On the next day Mr. Lloyd was chosen to serve for the balance of his term.
Thus John Quincy Adams changed sides. The son of John Adams lost the senatorship for persistently supporting the administration of Thomas Jefferson. It was indeed a singular spectacle! In 1803 he had been sent to the Senate of the United States by Federalists as a Federalist; in 1808 he had abjured them and they had repudiated him; in 1809, as we are soon to see, he received a foreign appointment from the Republican President Madison, and was confirmed by a Republican Senate. Many of Mr. Adams's acts, many of his traits, have been harshly criticised, but for no act that he ever did or ever was charged with doing has he been so harshly assailed as for this (p. 058) journey from one camp to the other. The gentlemen of wealth, position, and influence in Eastern Massachusetts, almost to a man, turned against him with virulence; many of their descendants still cherish the ancestral prejudice; and it may yet be a long while before the last mutterings of this deep-rooted antipathy die away. But that they will die away in time cannot be doubted. Praise will succeed to blame. Truth must prevail in a case where such abundant evidence is accessible; and the truth is that Mr. Adams's conduct was not ignoble, mean, and traitorous, but honorable, courageous, and disinterested. Those who singled him out for assault, though deaf to his arguments, might even then have reflected that within a few years a large proportion of the whole nation had changed in their opinions as he had now at last changed in his, so that the party which under Washington hardly had an existence and under John Adams was not, until the last moment, seriously feared, now showed an enormous majority throughout the whole country. Even in Massachusetts, the intrenched camp of the Federalists, one half of the population were now Republicans. But that change of political sentiment which in the individual voter is often admired as evidence of independent thought is stigmatized in (p. 059) those more prominent in politics as tergiversation and apostasy.
It may be admitted that there are sound reasons for holding party leaders to a more rigid allegiance to party policy than is expected of the rank and file; yet certainly, at those periods when substantially new measures and new doctrines come to the front, the old party names lose whatever sacredness may at other times be in them, and the political fellowships of the past may properly be reformed. Novel problems cannot always find old comrades still united in opinions. Precisely such was the case with John Quincy Adams and the Federalists. The earlier Federalist creed related to one set of issues, the later Federalist creed to quite another set; the earlier creed was sound and deserving of support; the later creed was not so. It is easy to see, as one looks backward upon history, that every great and successful party has its mission, that it wins its success through the substantial righteousness of that mission, and that it owes its downfall to assuming an erroneous attitude towards some subsequent matter which becomes in turn of predominating importance. Sometimes, though rarely, a party remains on the right side through two or even more successive issues of profound consequence to the nation. The Federalist mission was to establish the Constitution of the United States as a (p. 060) vigorous, efficient, and practical system of government, to prove its soundness, safety, and efficacy, and to defend it from the undermining assaults of those who distrusted it and would have reduced it to imbecility. Supplementary and cognate to this was the further task of giving the young nation and the new system a chance to get fairly started in life before being subjected to the strain of war and European entanglements. To this end it was necessary to hold in check the Jeffersonian or French party, who sought to embroil us in a foreign quarrel. These two functions of the Federalist party were quite in accord; they involved the organizing and domestic instinct against the disorganizing and meddlesome; the strengthening against the enfeebling process; practical thinking against fanciful theories. Fortunately the able men had been generally of the sound persuasion, and by powerful exertions had carried the day and accomplished their allotted tasks so thoroughly that all subsequent generations of Americans have been reaping the benefit of their labors. But by the time that John Adams had concluded his administration the great Federalist work had been sufficiently done. Those who still believe that there is an overruling Providence in the affairs of men and nations may well point to the history of this period in support (p. 061) of their theory. Republicanism was not able to triumph till Federalism had fulfilled all its proper duty and was on the point of going wrong.