L I F E AND PUBLIC SERVICES of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, SIXTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
WITH THE EULOGY DELIVERED BEFORE THE LEGISLATURE OF NEW YORK.
BY WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
[Transcriber's Notes:] This text is an accurate reproduction of the original book with the following exceptions. Obvious misspellings and typos have been corrected but contemporary usage is unchanged, e.g. "centre". Sentences spanning pages have been joined to facilitate searches and analysis.
I encourage you to forgive the verbose style that suggests authors were paid by the word. The gems of character description and contemporary viewpoints are worth the effort.
The book supports the observation "The news never changes, just the names." I am encouraged that the tone of politics is not much different today than it was at Adams' time. Things are no worse. In spite of continual bickering, a few persons with good will, careful planning, hard work and a thick skin can achieve wonderful results.
The following glossary contains unfamiliar (to me) terms.
abjuration Renounce under oath; forswear. Recant solemnly; repudiate. Give up. Abstain from.
abstemious Eating and drinking in moderation. Sparingly used. Restricted to bare necessities.
Aceldama A place with dreadful associations.
animadversion Strong criticism.
approbate Sanction officially; authorize.
arbitrament Arbitrating; arbitration. Judgment of an arbitrator or arbiter.
assiduity Persistent application or diligence; unflagging effort. Constant personal attention.
(a)thymy (Not) abounding with thyme; fragrant.
barouche Four-wheeled carriage with a collapsible top, two double seats inside opposite each other, and a box seat outside in front for the driver.
barque Sailing ship with three to five square-rigged masts, except the after mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged. Small vessel propelled by oars or sails.
benison Blessing; a benediction.
cesural Pause in a line of verse dictated by sense or natural speech rhythm rather than by metrics. Pause in conversation.
chaplet Wreath or garland for the head.
Circean (Circe) A Greek goddess who turned Odysseus's men temporarily into swine but later gave him directions for their journey home.
coeval Originating or existing during the same period; lasting through the same era. One of the same era or period; a contemporary.
condign Deserved; adequate.
contemned Viewed with contempt; despised.
contumelies Rudeness or contempt arising from arrogance. Insolent or arrogant remarks or acts.
cortege Train of attendants of a distinguished person; a retinue. Ceremonial procession. Funeral procession.
demurrage Detention of a cargo conveyance during loading or unloading beyond the scheduled time of departure. Compensation paid for such detention.
deputed Appoint or authorize as a representative. Assign (authority or duties) to another; delegate.
descant Ornamental melody or counterpoint sung or played above a theme. Highest part sung in part music. Discussion or discourse on a theme.
descried Catch sight of (something difficult to discern). Discover by careful observation or scrutiny; detect:
didactic Intended to instruct. Morally instructive.
dilatory Intended to delay. Tending to postpone or delay.
discomfited Make uneasy or perplexed; disconcert. Thwart plans; frustrate.
disquisitions Formal discourse, often in writing.
doit Dutch coin, worth about half a farthing. A thing of small value.
effulgence Brilliant radiance.
elegiac Mourning for that which is irrecoverably past.
emoluments Payment for an office or employment; compensation.
encomiums Warm, glowing praise. Formal expression of praise; a tribute.
enervate Weaken or destroy strength or vitality.
ephemeral Lasting for a brief time. Living or lasting only for a day, as some plants or insects.
Episcopal Church governed by a bishop.
epithet Term to characterize a person or thing or as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person. Abusive or contemptuous word or phrase.
erudition Deep, extensive learning.
escutcheon Shield-shaped emblem bearing a coat of arms. Plate inscribed with a ship's name.
eternize Make eternal. Protract for an indefinite period. Make perpetually famous; immortalize.
eulogium Formal eulogy.
evanescent Vanishing or likely to vanish like vapor.
execration The act of cursing. A curse. Something cursed or loathed.
exigency Requiring much effort or immediate action. Pressing or urgent situation.
extirpate Pull up by the roots. Destroy totally; exterminate. Remove by surgery.
fain Happily; gladly.
garniture Garnish; embellishment.
gratulation To congratulate.
green withes Cords or bowstrings used to bind Samson; Judges 16:8.
habiliments Special dress or garb associated with an occasion or office.
hecatomb Large-scale sacrifice; sacrifice to the ancient Greek and Roman gods of 100 oxen.
importunity Importunate request; an insistent or pressing demand.
indefeasible Cannot be annulled or made void.
ineffably Incapable of being expressed; indescribable, unutterable, unspeakable, taboo.
ingenuously Lacking in cunning, guile, or worldliness; artless. Openly straightforward or frank; candid.
importunate Troublesomely urgent or persistent in requesting.
intendant Administrative official serving a French, Spanish, or Portuguese monarch.
Jacobin Radical or extreme leftist. Radical republican during the French Revolution.
meed Fitting recompense. Merited gift or wage.
mensuration Process of measuring. Measurement of geometric quantities.
mole Massive stone wall constructed in the sea as a breakwater to protect an anchorage or a harbor. Anchorage or harbor enclosed by a mole.
munificence Liberal in giving; generous. Showing great generosity.
Nestor Hero celebrated as an elderly and wise counselor to the Greeks at Troy
obsequies Funeral rites or ceremonies.
octavo Page size, from 5 by 8 inches to 6 by 9-1/2 inches, of a book composed of printer's sheets folded into eight leaves. A book composed of octavo pages.
odium Strong dislike, contempt, or aversion. State of disgrace resulting from hateful or detestable conduct.
panegyric Formal public compliment. Elaborate praise.
parsimony Unusual or excessive frugality; extreme economy or stinginess.
patronymic Derived from the name of one's father or a paternal ancestor.
pertinacity Persistent determination.
Plenipotentiary Diplomatic agent, such as an ambassador, fully authorized to represent his government.
Presbyterian Church governed by elected elders.
probity Complete and confirmed integrity; uprightness.
proconsular Provincial governor of consular rank in the Roman Empire.
recusant One of the Roman Catholics in England who incurred legal and social penalties in the 16th century and afterward for refusing to attend services of the Church of England. Dissenter; a nonconformist.
Sabine (River) River flowing into the Gulf of Mexico just East of Houston, Texas.
sagacity Discerning, sound in judgment, farsighted; wisdom.
Silesia Region of central Europe in southwest Poland and northern Czech Republic.
sinecure Position or office that requires little work but provides a salary.
spoliations Despoiling or plundering. Seizure of neutral vessels at sea by a belligerent power in time of war.
stivers Nickel coin used in the Netherlands and worth 1/20 of a guilder (about 0.4 Euros in 2006). Something of small value.
TETE D'ARMEE Head of the Army.
thrall (thraldom) Held in bondage; servitude; intellectually or morally enslaved.
tittle Small diacritic mark, such as an accent, vowel mark, or dot over an i. Tiniest bit; an iota.
umbrage Offense; resentment. Something that affords shade or shade itself. Vague indication; hint.
unction Anointing as part of a religious, ceremonial, or healing ritual. Ointment or oil. Something that serves to soothe; a balm. Affected or exaggerated earnestness, especially in choice and use of language.
Unitarian Believes in the oneness of God as opposed to the Trinity. Historic Unitarians believed in the moral authority, but not the deity, of Jesus. Free thinkers and dissenters, evolving their beliefs by rationalism and humanism.
usurpation Usurping, especially the wrongful seizure of royal sovereignty. Wrongful seizure or exercise of authority. Encroachment.
vicissitudes Change or variation.
vituperation Abusive censure. Sustained, harshly abusive language.
votaries Persons bound by vows to live a life of religious worship or service. Devout adherents of a cult or religion. Persons fervently devoted to a leader or ideal; faithful followers. Persons filled with enthusiasm, as for a pursuit or hobby; enthusiasts.
[End of Transcriber's notes]
Engraved from a Painting by A.B. Durand.
John Quincy Adams
L I F E AND PUBLIC SERVICES of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, SIXTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
WITH THE EULOGY DELIVERED BEFORE THE LEGISLATURE OF NEW YORK.
BY WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
"THIS IS THE END OF EARTH—I AM CONTENT."
AUBURN: DERBY, MILLER AND COMPANY. 1849.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1849, by DERBY, MILLER & COMPANY, In the Clerk's Office for the Northern District of New York.
STEREOTYPED BY THOMAS B. SMITH, 216 WILLIAM: STREET, N.Y.
FRIENDS OF EQUAL LIBERTY
AND HUMAN RIGHTS
THROUGHOUT THE WORLD,
IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED.
The Publishers apologize for the delay in issuing this volume, which was announced by them as in press, more than one year since, shortly after the decease of its illustrious subject. Gov. Seward, in undertaking its preparation, was well aware of the engrossing attention which his professional duties required, but looked constantly for relaxation from his multiplied business engagements, in the hope that he might be able to complete the work commenced by him. It however became necessary for its timely completion, to obtain the literary assistance of an able writer, who has, under his auspices, completed the work. The Publishers confidently believe, that it will in all respects, be received as a faithful and impartial history of the Life of the "Old Man Eloquent," and worthy a place in the library of every friend of liberty and humanity. AUBURN, April, 1849.
The claims of this volume are humble. For more than half a century JOHN QUINCY ADAMS had occupied a prominent position before the American people, and filled a large space in his country's history. His career was protracted to extreme old age. He outlived political enmity and party rancor. His purity of life—his elevated and patriotic principles of action—his love of country, and devotion to its interests—his advocacy of human freedom, and the rights of man—brought all to honor and love him. Admiring legislators hung with rapture on the lips of "the Old Man Eloquent," and millions eagerly perused the sentiments he uttered, as they were scattered by the press in every town and hamlet of the Western Continent. At his decease, there was a general desire expressed for a history of his life and times. A work of this description was understood to be in preparation by his family. It was not probable, however, that this could appear under several years, and when published, would undoubtedly be placed, by its size and cost, beyond the reach of the great mass of readers. In view of these circumstances, there was an evident want of a volume of more limited compass—a book which would come within the means of the people generally,—and adapted not only for libraries, and the higher classes of society, but would find its way into the midst of those moving in the humbler walks of life. To supply this want, the present work has been prepared. The endeavor has been made to compress within a brief compass, the principal events of the life of Mr. Adams, and the scenes in which he participated; and to portray the leading traits of character which distinguished him from his contemporaries. It has been the aim to present such an aspect of the history and principles of this wonderful man, as shall do justice to his memory, and afford an example which the youth of America may profitably imitate in seeking for a model by which to shape their course through life. How far this end has been attained, an intelligent and candid public must determine.
The Ancestry, Birth, and Childhood of John Quincy Adams.
John Quincy Adams studies Law—His Practice—Engages in Public Life —Appointed Minister to the Hague.
Mr. Adams transferred to Berlin—His Marriage—Literary Pursuits— Travels in Silesia—Negotiates Treaties with Sweden and Prussia— Recalled to the United States.
Mr. Adams' Return to the United States—Elected to the Massachusetts Senate—Appointed U. S. Senator—Supports Mr. Jefferson—Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres—Appointed Minister to Russia.
Mr. Adams' arrival at St. Petersburg—His Letters to his Son on the Bible— His Religious Opinions—Russia offers Mediation between Great Britain and the United States—Proceeds to Ghent to negotiate for Peace— Visits Paris—Appointed Minister at St. James-Arrives in London.
Mr. Adams appointed Secretary of State—Arrives in the United States— Public Dinners in New York and Boston—Takes up his Residence in Washington—Defends Gen. Jackson in the Florida Invasion—Recognition of South American Independence—Greek Revolution.
Mr. Adams' nomination to the Presidency—Spirited Presidential Campaign—No choice by the People—Election goes to the House of Representatives—Mr. Adams elected President—His Inauguration—Forms his Cabinet.
Charges of Corruption against Mr. Clay and Mr. Adams—Mr. Adams enters upon his duties as President—Visit of La Fayette—Tour through the United Slates—Mr. Adams delivers him a Farewell Address—Departs from the United States.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—Their Correspondence—Their Death—Mr. Webster's Eulogy—John Q. Adams visits Quincy—His Speech at the Public School Dinner in Faneuil Hall.
Mr. Adams' Administration—Refuses to remove political opposers from office—Urges the importance of Internal Improvements—Appoints Commissioners to the Congress of Panama—His policy toward the Indian Tribes—His Speech on breaking ground for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal—Bitter opposition to his Administration—Fails of re-election to the Presidency—Retires from office.
Mr. Adams' multiplied attainments—Visited by Southern Gentlemen—His Report on Weights and Measures—His Poetry—Erects a Monument to the memory of his Parents—Elected Member of Congress—Letter to the Bible Society—Delivers Eulogy on Death of ex-President Monroe.
Mr. Adams takes his seat in Congress—His Position and Habits as a Member— His Independence of Party—His Eulogy on the Death of ex-President James Madison—His advocacy of the Right of Petition, and Opposition to Slavery— Insurrection in Texas—Mr. Adams makes known its ulterior object.
Mr. Adams presents Petitions for the Abolishment of Slavery—Opposition of Southern Members—Exciting Scenes in the House of Representatives—Marks of confidence in Mr. Adams.
Mr. Adams' firmness in discharge of duty—His exertions in behalf of the Amistad Slaves—His connection with the Smithsonian Bequest—Tour through Canada and New York—His reception at Buffalo—Visits Niagara Falls—Attends worship with the Tuscarora Indians—His reception at Rochester—at Auburn—at Albany—at Pittsfield—Visits Cincinnati— Assists in laying the Corner Stone of an Observatory.
Mr. Adams' Last Appearance in Public at Boston—His Health—Lectures on his Journey to Washington—Remote Cause of his Decease—Struck with Paralysis—Leaves Quincy for Washington for the last time—His final Sickness in the House of Representatives—His Death—The Funeral at Washington—Removal of the Body to Quincy—Its Interment.
THE LIFE OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
THE ANCESTRY, BIRTH, AND CHILDHOOD, OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
The Puritan Pilgrims of the May-Flower landed on Plymouth Rock, and founded the Colony of Massachusetts, on the 21st day of December, 1620.
HENRY ADAMS, the founder of the Adams family in America, fled from ecclesiastical oppression in England, and joined the Colony at a very early period, but at what precise time is not recorded. He erected his humble dwelling at a place within the present town of QUINCY, then known as MOUNT WOLLASTON, and is believed to have been an inhabitant when the first Christian Church was gathered there in 1630. On the organization of the town of Braintree, which comprised the place of his residence, he was elected Clerk of the Town. He died on the eighth day of October, 1646. His memory is preserved by a plain granite monument, erected in the burial-ground at Quincy, by JOHN ADAMS, President of the United States, and bearing this inscription:—
In Memory of HENRY ADAMS, Who took his flight from the Dragon Persecution in Devonshire, in England, and alighted with eight sons, near Mount Wollaston. One of the sons returned to England, and after taking time to explore the country, four removed to Medfield and the neighboring towns; two to Chelmsford. One only, Joseph, who lies here at his left hand, remained here, who was an original pro- prietor in the Township of Braintree, incorporated in the year 1639.
This stone, and several others, have been placed in this yard, by a great-great-grandson, from a veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, patience, temperance; frugality, industry, and perseverance of his ancestors, in hopes of recommending an imitation of their virtues to their posterity.
Joseph Adams, the son of Henry Adams mentioned in the above inscription, died on the sixth of December, 1694, aged sixty-eight years. Joseph, the next in succession, died February 12th, 1736, at the age of eighty-four years. His son John Adams, was a Deacon of the Church at Quincy, and died May 25th, 1761, aged seventy years. This John Adams was the father of him who was destined to give not only undying fame to his ancient family, but a new and powerful impulse to the cause of Human Freedom throughout the world.
JOHN ADAMS, son of John Adams and Susannah Boylston Adams, was born at Quincy on the nineteenth day of October (old style), 1735. He received the honors of Harvard University in 1755, and then, in pursuance of a good old New England custom, which made those who had enjoyed the benefits of a public education, in turn impart those benefits to the public, he was occupied for a time in teaching.
It ought to encourage all young men in straitened circumstances, desirous of obtaining a profession and of rising to eminence, to know that John Adams, who became so illustrious by talents and achievement as to lend renown to the office of President of the United States, pursued the study of the law under the inconveniences resulting from his occupation as an instructor in a Grammar School.
John Adams was an eminent and successful lawyer, but it was not the design of his existence that his talents should be wasted in the contentions of the courts.
The British Parliament, as soon as the Colonies had attracted their notice, commenced a system of legislation known as the Colonial System, the object of which was to secure to the mother country a monopoly of their trade, and to prevent their rising to a condition of strength and independence. The effect of this system was to prevent all manufactures in the Colonies, and all trade with foreign countries, and even with the adjacent plantations.
The Colonies remonstrated in vain against this policy, but owing to popular dissatisfaction, the regulations were not rigidly enforced. At length an Order in Council was passed, which directed the officers of the customs in Massachusetts Bay, to execute the acts of trade. A question arose in the Supreme Court of that province in 1761, upon the constitutional right of the British Parliament to bind the Colonies. The trial produced great excitement. The cause was argued for the Crown by the King's Attorney-General, and against the laws by James Otis.
It will be seen that the question thus involved was the very one that was finally submitted to the arbitrament of arms in the American Revolution. The speech of Otis on the occasion, was an effort of surpassing ability. John Adams was a witness, and he recorded his opinion of it, and his opinion of the magnitude of the question, thus:
"Otis was a flame of fire! With a promptitude of classical allusion, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE was then and there born. Every man of an unusually crowded audience, appeared to me to go away ready to take up arms against Writs of Assistance."
Speaking on the same subject, on another occasion, John Adams said that "James Otis there and there breathed into this nation the breath of life."
From that day John Adams was an enthusiast for the independence of his country.
In 1764 he married Abigail, daughter of the Reverend William Smith, of Weymouth. The mother of John Quincy Adams was a woman of great beauty and high intellectual endowments, and she combined, with the proper accomplishments of her sex, a sweetness of disposition, and a generous sympathy with the patriotic devotion of her illustrious husband.
In 1765, the British Parliament, in contempt of the discontent of the Colonies, presumptuously passed the Stamp Act; a law which directed taxed stamped paper to be used in all legal instruments in the Colonies. The validity of the law was denied; and while Patrick Henry was denouncing it in Virginia, James Otis and John Adams argued against it before the Governor and Council of Massachusetts.
The occasion called forth from John Adams a "Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Laws,"—a work, which although it was of a general character in regard to government, yet manifested democratic sentiments unusual in those times, and indicated that republican institutions were the proper institutions for the American People.
The resistance to the stamp act throughout the Colonies procured its repeal in 1766. But the British Government accompanied the repeal with an ungracious declaratory act, by which they asserted "that the Parliament had, and of right ought to have, power to bind the Colonies, in all cases whatsoever." In the next year a law was passed, which imposed duties in the Colonies, on glass, paper, paints, and tea. The spirit of insubordination manifested itself throughout the Colonies, and, inasmuch as it radiated from Boston, British ships of war were stationed in its harbor, and two regiments of British troops were thrown in the town, to compel obedience. John Adams had now become known as the most intrepid, zealous, and indefatigable opposer of British usurpation. The Crown tried upon him in vain the royal arts so successful on the other side of the Atlantic. The Governor and Council offered him the place of Advocate General in the Court of Admiralty, an office of great value; he declined it, "decidedly, peremptorily, but respectfully."
At this interesting crisis, JOHN QUINCY ADAMS was born, at Quincy, on the 11th of July, 1767. A lesson, full of instruction concerning the mingled influences of piety and patriotism in New England, at that time, is furnished to us by the education of the younger Adams. Nor can we fail to notice that each of those virtues retained its relative power over him, throughout his long and eventful life. He was brought into the church and baptized on the day after that on which he was born.
John Quincy Adams, in one of his letters, thus mentions the circumstances of his baptism:
"The house at Mount Wollaston has a peculiar interest to me, as the dwelling of my great-grandfather, whose name I bear. 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 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."
It cannot be doubted that the character of the person from whom, in such affecting circumstances, he derived an honorable patronymic, was an object of emulation. John Quincy was a gentleman of wealth, education, and influence. He was for a long time Speaker of the House of Representatives in Massachusetts, and during many years one of His Majesty's Provincial Council. He was a faithful representative, and throughout his public services, a vigorous defender of the rights and liberties of the Colony. Exemplary in private life, and earnest in piety, he enjoyed the public confidence, through a civil career of forty years' duration.
The American Revolution was rapidly hurrying on during the infancy of John Quincy Adams. In 1769, the citizens of Boston held a meeting in which they instructed their representatives in the Provincial Legislature to resist the usurpations of the British Government. John Adams was chairman of the committee that prepared these instructions, and his associates were Richard Dana and Joseph Warren, the same distinguished patriot who gave up his life as one of the earliest sacrifices to freedom, in the battle of Bunker Hill.
Those instructions were expressed in the bold and decided tone of John Adams, and they increased the public excitement in the province, by the earnestness with which they insisted on the removal of the British troops from Boston.
The popular irritation increased, until on the 5th of March, 1770, a collision occurred between the troops and some of the inhabitants of Boston, in which five citizens were killed, and many wounded. This was called the Bloody Massacre. The exasperated inhabitants were with difficulty restrained from retaliating this severity by an extermination of all the British troops. A public meeting was held, and a committee, of which SAMUEL ADAMS was chairman, was appointed to address the Governor (Gage), and demand that the troops should be withdrawn. John Adams described the excitement, on a later occasion, in these words:
"Not only the immense assemblies of the people from day to day, but military arrangements from night to night, were necessary to keep the people and the soldiers from getting together by the ears. The life of a red-coat would not have been safe in any street or corner of the town. Nor would the lives of the inhabitants have been much more secure. The whole militia of the city was in requisition, and military watches and guards were everywhere placed. We were all upon a level. No man was exempted: our military officers were our only superiors. I had the honor to be summoned in my turn, and attended at the State House with my musket and bayonet, my broadsword and cartridge-box, under the command of the famous Paddock."
The Governor withdrew the troops and sent them to the castle: the commanding officer and some of the soldiers were arrested, and brought to trial for murder.
John Adams, the advocate and leader of the exasperated people, was solicited by the Government to act as counsel for the accused. The people, in the heat of passion, would naturally identify the lawyer with his clients, and both with the odious cause in which they served. John Adams did not hesitate. His principle was fidelity to duty in all the relations of life. Adams, together with Josiah Quincy, defended the accused with ability and firmness, and the result crowned not only the advocates, but the jury and the people of Boston with honor. Distinguishing between the Government, upon whom the responsibility rested, and the troops who were its agents, the jury acquitted the accused. The people sustained the verdict; affording to Great Britain and to the world a noble proof, that they had been well prepared by education for the trust of self-government.
The controversy between the Province of Massachusetts and the British Government continued, and the exasperation of the Colonies became more intense, until the destruction of the imported tea in the harbor, in December, 1773, incensed the Ministry so highly, that they procured an act closing the port of Boston. This act was followed by the convention of the first American Congress at Philadelphia, on the 5th of September, 1774. As John Adams had been the master spirit in the agitation in Massachusetts, he was appointed one of the Delegates to the General Congress. After his election, his friend Sewall, the King's Attorney General, labored earnestly to dissuade him from accepting the appointment.
The Attorney General told the delegate that Great Britain was determined on her system, that her power was irresistible, and that he, and those with him who should persist in their designs of resistance, would be involved in ruin.
John Adams replied, "I know Great Britain has determined on her system, and that very determination determines me on mine. You know I have been constant and uniform in opposition to her measures. The die is now cast. I have passed the Rubicon. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish with my country is my unalterable determination."
It was these energetic and resolute expressions which Daniel Webster wrought into so magnificent an imaginary speech, in his glowing Eulogy on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams continued in Congress throughout the sessions of 1775 and 1776, and on all occasions was an intrepid and earnest advocate for Independence. On his motion, George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Army.
John Adams was the mover of Independence in the Congress. On the 6th of May, 1776, he brought the subject before that body, by a resolution expressed as follows:—
"Whereas it appears perfectly irreconcilable to reason and good conscience, for the people of these Colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain, and it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the Colonies for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as for the defence of their lives, liberties, and properties, against the hostile invasion, and cruel depredations of their enemies:—Therefore, it is recommended to the Colonies to adopt such a government as will, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents, and of America."
This resolution was adopted, and was followed by the appointment of a committee, on the motion of Richard Henry Lee, seconded by John Adams, to prepare a Declaration. This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson and Adams were a sub-committee, and the former prepared the Declaration, at the urgent request of the latter.
Jefferson bore this testimony to the ability and power of John Adams.—"The great pillar of support to the Declaration of Independence, and its ablest advocate and champion on the floor of the House, was John Adams."
On the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, he wrote the memorable letter in which he said with prophetic unction,—"Yesterday the greatest question was decided that ever was debated in America; and greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony, 'That the United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.' The day is passed. The fourth day of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as a great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomps, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward, forever. You may think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States: yet through all the gloom, I can see that the end is worth all the means; and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not."
From this time, until November 1777, John Adams was incessantly employed in public duties in Congress, during the session of that body; and during its recess, as a member of the State Council in Massachusetts. During this period, John Quincy was instructed at home, by her who, in long after years, he was accustomed to call his almost adored mother, who was aided by a law-student in the office of his father. EDWARD EVERETT, in his Eulogy upon John Quincy Adams, made the very striking and just remark, that there seemed to be in his life no such stage as that of boyhood. While yet but nine years old, he wrote to his father the following letter:
Braintree, June 2nd, 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 bird's eggs, play and trifles, till I get vexed with myself. Mamma has a troublesome task to keep me a studying. I own I am ashamed of myself. I have but just entered the third volume of Rollin's History, but designed to have got half through it by this time. I am determined this week to be more diligent. Mr. Thaxter is absent at Court. I have set myself a stint this week, to read the third volume half out. If I can but keep my resolution, I may again at the end of the week give a better account of myself. I wish, sir, you would give me in writing, some instructions with regard to the use of my time, and advise me how to proportion my studies and play, and I will keep them by me, and endeavor to follow them.
With the present determination of growing better, I am, dear sir, your son, JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
P. S. Sir—If you will be so good as to favor me with a blank book, I will transcribe the most remarkable passages I meet with in my reading, which will serve to fix them upon my mind.
After making all just allowance for precocity of genius, we cannot but see that the early maturity of the younger Adams proves the great advantage of pure and intellectual associations in childhood.
The time soon arrived when John Quincy Adams was to enjoy advantages of education such as were never afforded to any other American youth. Among the earliest acts of the American Congress, was the appointment of Benjamin Franklin, Silas Dean, and Arthur Lee, as Commissioners to France; they were charged to solicit aid from France, and to negotiate a treaty, by which the Independence of the United States should be acknowledged by Louis Sixteenth, then at the height of his popularity. Silas Dean was recalled in 1776, and John Adams was appointed to fill his place. He embarked on this mission the 13th of February, 1778, in the frigate Boston, commanded by Captain Tucker. John Adams had gone down to Quincy, and the frigate called there to receive him on board. On the eve of embarkation he wrote the following simple and touching letter to Mrs. Adams:
"Uncle Quincy's,—half after 11 o'clock, 13 February, 1778. "DEAREST OF FRIENDS, "I had not been twenty minutes in this house, before I had the happiness to see Captain Tucker and a midshipman coming for me. We will be soon on board, and may God prosper our voyage in every stage of it as much as at the beginning, and send to you, my dear children, and all my friends, the choicest blessings!
"So wishes and prays yours, with an ardor that neither absence, nor any other event can abate, "JOHN ADAMS. "P. S. Johnny sends his duty to his mamma, and his love to his sisters and brothers. He behaves like a man."
"He behaves like a man!"—Words which gave presage of the future character of John Quincy Adams. His education had now commenced: an education in the principles of heroic action, by John Adams, the colossus of the American Revolution. How devoted he was to this important charge, and with what true philosophy he conducted it, may be seen by the following letter written about that time by him, to Mrs. Adams:
"Human nature, with all its infirmities and depravation, is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and of goodness which we have reason to believe appear respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing.
"Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study. Nay, your common mechanics and artisans are proofs of the wonderful dexterity acquired by use; a watchmaker, finishing his wheels and springs, a pin or needle-maker, &c. I think there is a particular occupation in Europe, which is called paper staining, or linen staining, A man who has long been habituated to it, shall sit for a whole day, and draw upon paper various figures, to be imprinted upon the paper for rooms, as fast as his eye can roll and his fingers move, and no two of his draughts shall be alike. The Saracens, the Knights of Malta, the army and navy in the service of the English Republic, among many others, are instances to show to what an exalted height, valor or bravery or courage may be raised, by artificial means.
"It should be your care therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children, and exalt their courage, to accelerate and animate their industry and activity, to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel and creep all their lives.
"But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted. Without strength, and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured. "JOHN ADAMS."
No one can read this extraordinary letter, and compare it with the actual character of John Quincy Adams as ultimately developed, without regarding that character as a fulfilment, in all respects, of the prayers and purposes of his illustrious parent.
The voyage of the American Minister was made in a time of great peril. The naval supremacy of Great Britain was already established. Her armed ships traversed the ocean in all directions. Captain Tucker saw a large English ship showing a row of guns, and with the consent of the Minister, engaged her. When hailed, she answered with a broadside. John Adams had been requested to retire to the cockpit, but when the engagement had begun, he was found among the marines, with a musket in his hands.
The desired treaty with France had been consummated by Dr. Franklin, before the arrival of John Adams. After that event, Congress decided to have but one minister in that country, and Dr. Franklin having deservedly received the appointment, John Adams asked and obtained leave to return home, after an absence of a year and a half. During that period the younger Adams attended a public school in Paris, while his leisure hours were filled with the instructions casually derived from the conversation of John Adams, and Dr. Franklin, and other eminent intellectual persons, by whom his father was surrounded. The improvement of the son during his sojourn abroad is thus mentioned by John Adams, just before his embarkation on his return to America.
"My son has had a great opportunity to see this country, but this has unavoidably retarded his education in some other things. He has enjoyed perfect health from first to last, and is respected wherever he goes, for his vigor and vivacity both of mind and body; for his constant good humor, and for his rapid progress in French, as well as in general knowledge, which, for his age, is uncommon."
John Adams now regarded his public life as closed. He wrote to Mrs. Adams:
"The Congress, I presume, expect that I should come home, and I shall come accordingly. As they have no business for me in Europe, I must contrive to get some for myself at home. Prepare yourself for removing to Boston, into the old house, for there you shall go, and I will draw writs and deeds, and harangue juries, and be happy."
This calculation was signally erroneous, as all calculations upon personal ease and peace by great and good men always are. He remained at home only three months, and during that time he had other and higher occupations than drawing writs and deeds. He was elected Delegate to the Convention charged with the responsible and novel duty of forming a written constitution for Massachusetts. In that body he labored with untiring assiduity, as in Congress; the constitution thus produced was in a great measure prepared by himself, and it is due to his memory to record the fact, that it was among the most democratic of all the constitutions which were adopted by the new States. The younger Adams having returned to America with his father, had thus the advantage of seeing republican theories brought into successful, practical application.
About this time Congress resolved on sending a Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, to negotiate, if possible, a treaty of peace. John Adams and John Jay received each an equal number of votes. The result was the appointment of M. Jay as Minster to Spain, and of John Adams as Minister to the Court of St. James. He was instructed to insist on the independence of the United States.
The younger Adams again attended the Diplomatist. They embarked in the French frigate La Sensible, on the 17th of November, 1779.
The frigate sprang a leak, and was obliged to put into the port nearest at hand, which proved to be Ferrol in Spain. They disembarked on the 11th of December, and traversed the intervening distance to Paris over land, a journey of a thousand miles. This journey was performed through the mountains on mules. Spain, as well as France, was then in alliance with America, and the minister was everywhere received with respect and kindness. The French officers at Ferrol wore cockades in honor of the Triple Alliance, combining a white ribbon for the French, a red one for the Spanish, and a black one for the Americans.
The United Powers proposed demands which were ominous of disappointment to the Minister.—On the 12th of December he wrote:—"It is said that England is as reluctant to acknowledge the independence of America, as to cede Gibraltar, the last of which is insisted upon, as well as the first."
The travellers reached Paris about the middle of February, 1780. John Adams mentioned a singular coincidence in his letter announcing their arrival. "I have the honor to be lodged here with no less a personage than the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, who is here upon a visit. We occupy different apartments in the same house, and have no intercourse with each other, to be sure; but some wags are of opinion, that if I were authorised to open a negotiation with him, I might obtain from him as many troops to fight on our side of the question, as he has already hired to the English against us!"
The American Revolution has wrought wonderful changes since that day. No German Prince could now send a man, or a musket, to war against its principles.
John Adams soon discovered that there was no prospect of success for his mission to England. He remained at Paris until August, 1780, and during the interval his son was kept at an academy in that city.
At the expiration of that period the Minister repaired to Holland, and there received instructions to negotiate a loan, and then a treaty of amity and commerce with the states of that country. The younger Adams while in Holland was placed at school, first at Amsterdam, and afterwards in the University of Leyden.
A letter of the father, dated at Amsterdam, 18th December, 1780, gives us a glimpse of the system of instruction approved by him, and a pleasant view of the principles which he deemed it important to be inculcated.
"I have this morning sent Mr. Thaxter with my two sons to Leyden, there to take up their residence for some time, and there to pursue their studies of Latin and Greek under the excellent masters, and there to attend lectures of the celebrated professors in that University. It is much cheaper there than here. The air is infinitely purer, and the company and conversation are better. It is perhaps as learned a University as any in Europe.
"I should not wish to have children educated in the common schools of this country, where a littleness of soul is notorious. The masters are mean spirited wretches, pinching, kicking, and boxing the children upon every turn. There is, besides, a general littleness, arising from the incessant contemplation of stivers and doits, which pervades the whole people.
"Frugality and industry are virtues everywhere, but avarice and stinginess are not frugality. The Dutch say, that without a habit of thinking of every doit before you spend it, no man can be a good merchant, or conduct trade with success.
"This, I believe, is a just maxim in general; but I would never wish to see a son of mine govern himself by it. It is the sure and certain way for an industrious man to be rich. It is the only possible way for a merchant to become the first merchant, or the richest man in the place. But this is an object that I hope none of my children will ever aim at. It is indeed true everywhere, that those who attend to small expenses are always rich.
"I would have my children attend to doits and farthings as devoutly as the merest Dutchman upon earth, if such attention was necessary to support their independence. A man who discovers a disposition and a design to be independent, seldom succeeds. A jealousy arises against him. The tyrants are alarmed on the one side, lest he should oppose them: the slaves are alarmed on the other, lest he should expose their servility. The cry from all quarters is, 'He is the proudest man in the world: He cannot bear to be under obligation.'
"I never in my life observed anyone endeavoring to lay me under particular obligation to him, but I suspected he had a design to make me his dependent, and to have claims upon my gratitude. This I should have no objection to, because gratitude is always in one's power. But the danger is, that men will expect and require more of us than honor, and innocence, and rectitude will permit us to perform.
"In our country, however, any man, with common industry and prudence, may be independent."
One cannot turn over a page of the domestic history of John Adams, without finding a precept or example, the influence of which is manifested in the character of his illustrious son. Thus he writes to Mrs. Adams, touching certain calumnies which had been propagated against him:—
LIFE OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. 39
"Do n't distress yourself about any malicious attempts to injure me in the estimation of my countrymen. Let them take their course, and go the length of their tether. They will never hurt your husband, whose character is fortified with a shield of innocence and honor, ten thousand-fold stronger than brass or iron. The contemptible essays, made by you know whom, will only tend to their own confusion. My letters have shown them their own ignorance, a sight they could not bear. Say as little about it as I do. I laugh, and will laugh before all posterity, at their impotent rage and envy."
In July, 1781, Francis Dana, who had attended John Adams as Secretary of Legation, was appointed Minister to Russia. John Quincy Adams, then fourteen years old, was appointed Private Secretary of this mission. He remained at that post fourteen months, performing its duties with entire satisfaction to the minister. The singular ripeness of the youthful secretary was shown in his travelling alone, on his return from St. Petersburgh, by a journey leisurely made, and filled with observations of Sweden, Denmark, Hamburgh, and Bremen. On arriving in Holland, he resumed his studies at the Hague.
John Adams, having completed his mission in Holland, was soon charged, together with Dr. Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, with the duty of negotiating a definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain. The treaty was executed at Paris on the 30th of November, 1783, and was ratified January 14th, 1784. The younger Adams enjoyed the satisfaction of being present at the conclusion of the treaty; and while it was under process of negotiation, he was constantly favored with opportunities of listening to the instructive conversation of Franklin and Jefferson.
The negotiation of the treaty was dilatory in the extreme. It was embarrassed with French intrigues, great carelessness at home, and greater reluctance on the part of England. The wearied Minister wrote to Mrs. Adams on the 30th of May, 1783: "Our son is at the Hague, pursuing his studies with great ardor. They give him a good character wherever he has been, and I hope he will make a good man." On the 9th of June he wrote in these homely, but manly words: "I am weary, worn, and disgusted to death. I had rather chop wood, dig ditches, and make fence upon my poor little farm. Alas, poor farm! and poorer family! what have you lost that your country might be free! and that others might catch fish and hunt deer and bears at their ease!
"There will be as few of the tears of gratitude, or the smiles of admiration, or the sighs of pity for us, as for the army. But all this should not hinder me from going over the same scenes again, upon the same occasions—scenes which I would not encounter for all the wealth, pomp, and power of the world. Boys! if you ever say one word, or utter one complaint, I will disinherit you. Work! you rogues, and be free. You will never have so hard work to do as papa has had. Daughter! get you an honest man for a husband, and keep him honest. No matter whether he is rich, provided he be independent. Regard the honor and the moral character of the man, more than all circumstances. Think of no other greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart."
After concluding the treaty of peace, John Adams, together with Franklin and Jay, was charged with the duty of negotiating a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, and John Adams, taking his son John Quincy with him, proceeded to London, and took up his residence at the British Court. Mrs. Adams embarked in June, 1781, to join her husband.
John Adams was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to the same Court in 1785, and thus he, who ten years before, when a subject, in the province of Massachusetts, had said, "I know that Great Britain has determined upon her system, and that very determination determines me on mine,"—was the first Representative of his independent country admitted to an audience by the discomfited majesty of the Imperial States. The occasion was adapted to excite profound emotions, though of different kinds, in each party. John Adams addressed the King thus:—
"The United States of America have appointed me their Minister Plenipotentiary to your Majesty, and have directed me to deliver to your Majesty this letter, which contains the evidence of it. It is in obedience to their express commands, that I have the honor to assure your Majesty of their unanimous disposition and desire to cultivate the most liberal and friendly intercourse between your Majesty's subjects and their citizens; and of their best wishes for your Majesty's health and happiness, and for that of your royal family.
"The appointment of a Minister from the United States to your Majesty's Court, will form an epoch in the history of England and of America. I think myself more fortunate than all my fellow citizens, in having the distinguished honor to be the first to stand in your Majesty's royal presence, in a diplomatic character; and I shall esteem myself the happiest of men, if I can be instrumental in recommending my Country more and more, to your Majesty's royal benevolence, and of restoring an entire esteem, confidence and affection, or in better words, 'the old good nature, and the old good harmony,' between people, who, though separated by an ocean, and under different governments, have the same language, a similar religion, and kindred blood. I beg your Majesty's permission to add, that although I have sometimes before been intrusted by my country, it was never, in my whole life, in a manner so agreeable to myself."
George III. replied with dignity, but not without some manifestations of excitement:—
"The circumstances of this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper, and the feelings you have discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurances of the friendly disposition of the People of the United States, but I am very glad the choice has fallen upon you to be their Minister. I wish you, sir, to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest, but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do, by the duty which I owed my people. I will be frank with you—I was the last to conform to the separation, but the separation having been made, and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States, as an independent power.
"The moment I see such sentiments and language as yours prevail, and a disposition to give this country the preference, that moment I shall say, let the circumstances of language, religion and blood have their natural and full effect."
The kindly feelings expressed by the King, were, however, comparatively, only the language of ceremony, for the British Ministry, and the British people, did not regard the new republic with favor. But they could not withhold the exhibition of reluctant respect.
It was at such a time as this, and in such circumstances, that John Quincy Adams surveyed, from a new position, the colossal structure of British power, and the workings of its combined systems of conservative aristocracy, and progressive democracy. It was here that he imbibed new veneration for Russell, Sidney, Hampden, and Milton, its republican patriots; for Shakspeare, Dryden, and Pope, its immortal poets; and for Addison and Johnson, its moralists; here he learned from Wilberforce the principles of political philanthropy, as well as the patience and perseverance to defend them, and studied eloquence by the living models of Pitt, Fox, Erskine, Burke, and Sheridan.
This, indeed, was a fitting conclusion to a precocious education by the patriots and philosophers of his own country, with practical observations in the courts of Spain and the Netherlands, of the weak but amiable Louis XVI., and the accomplished, but depraved, Catharine II.
John Quincy Adams now became fearful that the duties of manhood would devolve upon him without his having completed the necessary academic studies. He therefore obtained leave to return home in 1785, at the age of eighteen years, and entered Cambridge University, at an advanced standing, in 1786. He graduated in 1788 with deserved honors.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS STUDIES LAW—HIS PRACTICE—ENGAGES IN PUBLIC LIFE—APPOINTED MINISTER TO THE HAGUE.
After leaving the University, young Adams entered the office of Theophilus Parsons, who was then in the practice of law at Newburyport, and who afterwards for so many years filled with dignity and ability the office of Chief Justice of Massachusetts.
Adams completed the usual term of professional study, and then commenced the practice of the law in Boston. It may encourage some who are oppressed by the difficulties attending initiation in the profession, to know, that during the first and only four years of John Quincy Adams' practice, he had occasion for despondency.
"I had long and lingering anxieties, (he afterwards said,) in looking forward, doubtful even of my prospects of comfortable subsistence, but acquiring more and more the means of it, till in the last of the four years, the business of my profession yielded me an income more than equal to my expenditures."
But the country and the age had claims on John Quincy Adams, as well as on his father, for higher duties than "making writs," and "haranguing juries," and "being happy."
The American Revolution, which had been brought to a successful close, had inspired, throughout Europe, a desire to renovate the institutions of government. The officers and citizens of France who had mingled in the contest, had carried home the seeds of freedom, and had scattered them abroad upon soil quick to receive them. The flame of Liberty, kindled on the shores of the Western Continent, was reflected back upon the Old World. France beheld its beams, and hailed them as a beacon-light, which should lead the nations out from the bondage of ages. Inspirited by the success attending the struggle in the British colonies, the French people, long crushed beneath a grinding despotism, resolved to burst their shackles and strike for Freedom. It was a noble resolution, but consummated, alas amid devastation and the wildest anarchy. The French Revolution filled the world with horror. It was the work of a blind giant, urged to fury by the remembrance of wrongs endured for generations. The Altar of Liberty was reared amid seas of blood, and stained with the gore of innocent victims.
The measurable failure of this struggle in France, teaches the necessity of due preparation before a people can advance to the permanent possession and enjoyment of their rights. The American colonists had been trained to rational conceptions of freedom, by lessons of wisdom and sagacity read them by their Puritan fathers, and by the experience in self-government, afforded during a century and a half of enjoyment of a large share of political privileges, granted by the mother country. They were thus prepared to lay deep and strong the foundations of an enlightened government, which, equally removed from the extremes of despotism on the one hand, and anarchy on the other, and granting its subjects the exercise of their right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," shall endure through ages to come. But the people of France, shut up in darkness during centuries of misrule, passed at a step from abject servitude to unlimited freedom. They were unprepared for this violent transition. Their conceptions of liberty were of the most extravagant description. What wonder that they became dizzy at their sudden elevation! What wonder that blood flowed in rivers!—that dissension and faction rent them asunder— that a fearful anarchy soon reigned triumphant—or that the confused and troubled drama closed in the iron rule of a military conqueror—the Man of Destiny! Let not this lesson be lost upon the world. Let a people who would enjoy freedom, learn to merit the boon by the study of its principles and a preparation to exercise its privileges, under those salutary restraints which man can never throw off and be happy!
The odium excited throughout Europe by the excesses of the French Revolution, was heaped without measure upon the American people. They were charged with the origin of the misrule which convulsed France, and filled the eastern hemisphere with alarm: and were tauntingly pointed to the crude theories promulgated by French democracy, and the failure of their phrenzied efforts to establish an enlightened and permanent Republic, as conclusive evidence that self-government, among any people, was a mere Utopian dream, which could never be realized.
The establishment of a republican government in America, had not been relished by the monarchies of Europe. They looked upon it with distrust, as a precedent dangerous to them in the highest degree. The succor which Louis XVI. had rendered the revolting colonists, was not from a love of democratic institutions: it was his hope to cripple Great Britain, his ancient enemy, and to find some opportunity, perhaps, to win back his Canadian provinces, which had so recently been rent from his possession. When the pent-up flames of revolution burst forth at the very doors of the governments of the old world—when the French throne had been robbed of its king, and that king of his life—when a Republic had been proclaimed in their midst, and signal-notes of freedom were ringing in their borders—they became seriously alarmed. The growing evil must be checked immediately. Led on by England, the continental powers combined to exterminate at a blow, if possible, every vestige of Republicanism in France. Then commenced the long series of bloody wars, which, with little intermission, convulsed Europe for nearly a quarter of a century, and ceased only when the rock of St. Helena received its lonely exile.
In the meantime affairs at home had attained to a critical juncture. The Constitution had been adopted. The new government had been set in operation under the supervision of Washington, as the first President of the Republic. The people, influenced by certain "elective affinities," had become sundered into two great political parties—Conservative and Progressive, or Federal and Democratic. Both were distrustful of the Constitution. The former believed it too weak to consolidate a government capable of protecting its subjects in the peaceful enjoyment of their rights, from discord within, and attacks from without. The latter apprehended that it might easily be transformed, by some ambitious Napoleon, into an instrument of oppression, more fearful even than the limited monarchy from which they had but recently escaped, at an expense of so much blood and treasure. Each of these parties are entitled to the credit of equal sincerity and honesty of purpose.
Washington, with a loftiness of purpose truly characteristic of a great and good mind, refused to identify himself with either party. In forming his first cabinet, moved with a desire to heal the dissensions which distracted the country, he selected its members equally from the adverse factions. Hamilton and Knox represented the Federal party, and Jefferson and Randolph the opposite. During his entire administration, "the Father of his country" steadily aimed to keep himself clear from all party entanglements. He was emphatically the President of the whole people, and not of a faction. His magnanimous spirit would not stoop to party favoritism, nor allow him to exercise the power entrusted him, to promote the interests of any political clique. In all his measures his great object was to advance the welfare of the nation, without regard to their influence on conflicting parties. In these things he left behind him a pure and noble example, richly worthy the imitation of his successors in that high station.
The Revolution in France, and the measures adopted by the Allied Sovereigns to arrest its progress, excited the liveliest interest among the people of the United States. But their sympathies ran in different channels, and very naturally took the hue of their party predilections. The Democrats, believing the French Revolution to be the up-springing of the same principles which had triumphed here—a lawful attempt of an oppressed people to secure the exercise of inalienable rights—although shuddering at the excesses which had been perpetrated, still felt it to be our own cause, and insisted that we were in honor and duty bound to render all the assistance in our power, even to a resort to arms, if need be. The Federalists, on the other hand, were alarmed at the anarchical tendencies in France. They were fearful that law, order, government, and society itself, would be utterly and speedily swept away, unless the revolutionary movement was arrested. Cherishing these apprehensions, they were disposed to favor the views of Great Britain and other European powers, and were anxious that the government of the United States should adopt some active measures to assist in checking what they could not but view as rapid strides to political and social anarchy. However the two parties differed as to the measures proper to be adopted in this crisis, they were united in the conviction that our government should take some part as a belligerant, in these European struggles; and exerted each its influence to bring about such an interference as would be in accordance with their conflicting views of duty and expediency.
There was residing, at this period, in Boston, a young and nearly briefless lawyer, whose views on these important matters differed materially from those entertained by both parties. It was John Quincy Adams. While he could not countenance the attempts of the Allied Powers to destroy the French Republic, and re-establish a monarchy, he was equally far from favoring the turn which affairs were clearly taking in that unhappy country. He evidently foresaw the French Revolution would prove a failure; and that it was engendering an influence which, unchecked, would be deeply injurious to American liberty and order. To counteract this tendency, he published in the Boston Centinel, in 1791, a series of articles, signed "Publicola," in which he discussed with great ability, the wild vagaries engendered among political writers in France, and which had been caught up by many in our own country. These articles attracted much attention, both at home and abroad. They were re-published in England, as an answer to several points in Paine's "Rights of Man." So profound was the political sagacity they displayed, and so great the familiarity with public affairs, that they were, by general consent, attributed to the elder Adams. On this subject, John Adams writes his wife as follows, from Philadelphia, on the 5th December, 1793:—
"The Viscount Noailles called on me. * * * * He seemed very critical in his inquiries concerning the letters printed as mine in England. I told him candidly that I did not write them, and as frankly, in confidence, who did. He says they made a great impression upon the people of England; that he heard Mr. Windham and Mr. Fox speak of them as the best thing that had been written, and as one of the best pieces of reasoning and style they had ever read."
The younger Adams, in surveying the condition of the country at this critical period, became convinced it would be a fatal step for the new government to take sides with either of the great parties in Europe, who were engaged in the settlement of their difficulties by the arbitrement of arms. However strongly our sympathies were elicited in behalf of the French Republic—however we may have been bound in gratitude for the assistance rendered us during our Revolutionary struggle, to co-operate with France in her defence of popular institutions—still, self-preservation is the first law of nature. Mr. Adams saw, that to throw ourselves into the melee of European conflicts, would prostrate the interests of the country, and peril the very existence of the government.
These views he embodied in a series of articles, which he published in the Boston Centinel, in 1793, under the signature of "Marcellus." He insisted it was alike the dictate of duty and policy, that the United States should remain strictly neutral between France and her enemies. These papers attracted general attention throughout the Union, and made a marked impression on the public mind. They were read by Washington, with expressions of the highest satisfaction; and he made particular inquiries respecting the author.
The position of Mr. Adams on neutrality was new, and in opposition to the opinions of the great mass of the country. To him, it is believed, belongs the honor of first publicly advocating this line of policy, which afterwards became a settled principle of the American government. Non-interference with foreign affairs is a principle to which the Union has rigidly adhered to the present hour. In these articles too, Mr. Adams developed the political creed which governed him through life in regard to two great principles—union at home and independence of all foreign alliances or entanglements—independence not only politically, but in manufactures and in commerce.
On the 25th of April, 1793, Washington issued a proclamation, announcing the neutrality of the United States between the belligerent nations of Europe. This proclamation was not issued until after Mr. Adams's articles urging this course had been before the public for some time. It is an honorable testimony to the sagacity of his views, that Washington, and the eminent men composing his cabinet, adopted a policy which coincided so perfectly with opinions he had formed purely from the strength of his own convictions. The proclamation pleased neither of the belligerent nations in Europe. It aroused the enmity of both; and laid open our commerce to the depredations of all parties, on the plea that the American government was inimical to their interests.
While in the practice of law in Boston, Mr. Adams was not well satisfied with his condition or prospects. That he was laudably ambitious to arise to distinction in some honorable line is quite certain. But, singular as it may appear at this day, in view of his early life, and his acknowledged talents, he was not looking for, nor expecting, political preferment. These facts appear in the following passages from his diary, written at that time; and which, moreover, will be found to contain certain rules of action for life, which the young men of our country should studiously seek to imitate.
"Wednesday, May 16th, 1792. I am not satisfied with the manner in which I employ my time. It is calculated to keep me forever fixed in that state of useless and disgraceful insignificancy, which has been my lot for some years past. At an age bearing close upon twenty-five, when many of the characters who were born for the benefit of their fellow-creatures have rendered themselves conspicuous among their cotemporaries, and founded a reputation upon which their memory remains, and will continue to the latest posterity—at that period, I still find myself as obscure, as unknown to the world, as the most indolent, or the most stupid of human beings. In the walks of active life I have done nothing. Fortune, indeed, who claims to herself a large proportion of the merit which exhibits to public view the talents of professional men, at an early period of their lives, has not hitherto been peculiarly indulgent to me. But if to my own mind I inquire whether I should, at this time, be qualified to receive and derive any benefit from an opportunity which it may be in her power to procure for me, my own mind would shrink from the investigation. My heart is not conscious of an unworthy ambition; nor of a desire to establish either fame, honor, or fortune upon any other foundation than that of desert. But it is conscious, and the consideration is equally painful and humiliating, it is conscious that the ambition is constant and unceasing, while the exertions to acquire the talents which ought alone to secure the reward of ambition, are feeble, indolent, frequently interrupted, and never pursued with an ardor equivalent to its purposes. My future fortunes in life are, therefore, the objects of my present speculation, and it may be proper for me to reflect further upon the same subject, and if possible, to adopt some resolutions which may enable me, as uncle Toby Shandy said of his miniature sieges, to answer the great ends of my existence.
"First, then, I begin with establishing as a fundamental principle upon which all my subsequent pursuits and regulations are to be established, that the acquisition, at least, of a respectable reputation is (subject to the overruling power and wisdom of Providence,) within my own power; and that on my part nothing is wanting, but a constant and persevering determination to tread in the steps which naturally lead to honor. And, at the same time, I am equally convinced, that I never shall attain that credit in the world, which my nature directs me to wish, without such a steady, patient, and persevering pursuit of the means adapted to the end I have in view, as has often been the subject of my speculation, but never of my practice.
'Labor and toil stand stern before the throne, And guard—so Jove commands—the sacred place.'
"The mode of life adopted almost universally by my cotemporaries and equals is by no means calculated to secure the object of my ambition. My emulation is seldom stimulated by observing the industry and application of those whom my situation in life gives me for companions. The pernicious and childish opinion that extraordinary genius cannot brook the slavery of plodding over the rubbish of antiquity (a cant so common among the heedless votaries of indolence), dulls the edge of all industry, and is one of the most powerful ingredients in the Circean potion which transforms many of the most promising young men into the beastly forms which, in sluggish idleness, feed upon the labors of others. The degenerate sentiment, I hope, will never obtain admission in my mind; and, if my mind should be loitered away in stupid laziness, it will be under the full conviction of my conscience that I am basely bartering the greatest benefits with which human beings can be indulged, for the miserable gratifications which are hardly worthy of contributing to the enjoyments of the brute creation.
"And as I have grounded myself upon the principle, that my character is, under the smiles of heaven, to be the work of my own hands, it becomes necessary for me to determine upon what part of active or of speculative life I mean to rest my pretensions to eminence. My own situation and that of my country equally prohibit me from seeking to derive any present expectations from a public career. My disposition is not military; and, happily, the warlike talents are not those which open the most pleasing or the most reputable avenue to fame. I have had some transient thoughts of undertaking some useful literary performance, but the pursuit would militate too much at present with that of the profession upon which I am to depend, not only for my reputation, but for my subsistence.
"I have, therefore, concluded that the most proper object of my present attention is that profession itself. And in acquiring the faculty to discharge the duties of it, in a manner suitable to my own wishes and the expectations of my friends, I find ample room for close and attentive application; for frequent and considerate observation; and for such benefits of practical experience as occasional opportunities may throw in the way."
The following letter from John Adams, at this time Vice President of the United States, written to his wife at Quincy, will be interesting, as showing, among other things, his anxiety that his sons should make some start in life, which would give promise of future usefulness. He was far from believing that sons should repose in idleness on the reputation or wealth of parents.
"Philadelphia, 2 March, 1793. "My Dear, "Your letter from your sick chamber, if not from your sick bed, has made me so uneasy, that I must get away as soon as possible. Monday morning, at six, I am to set off in the stage; but how many days it will take to get home, will depend on the roads or the winds. I don't believe Abby [his daughter,] will go with me. Her husband [Col. William S. Smith,] is so proud of his wealth, that he would not let her go, I suppose, without a coach-and-four; and such monarchical trumpery I will in future have nothing to do with. I will never travel but by stage, nor live at the seat of government but at lodgings, while they give me so despicable an allowance. Shiver my jib and start my planks if I do!
"I will stay but one night in New York. Smith says that my books are upon the table of every member of the Committee for framing a constitution of government for France, except Tom Paine, and he is so conceited as to disdain to have anything to do with books. Although I abused Smith a little above, he is very clever and agreeable; but I have been obliged to caution him against his disposition to boasting. Tell not of your prosperity, because it will make two men mad to one glad; nor of your adversity, for it will make two men glad to one sad. He boasts too much of having made his fortune, and placed himself at ease, above all favors of government. This is a weakness, and betrays too little knowledge of the world; too little penetration; too little discretion. I wish, however, that my boys had a little more of his activity. I must soon treat them as the pigeons treat their squabs—push them off the limb, and make them put out their wings or fall. Young pigeons will never fly till this is done. Smith has acquired the confidence of the French ministry, and the better sort of the members of the National Convention. But the Executive is too changeable in that country to be depended on, without the utmost caution. "Adieu, adieu, tendrement, J. A."
One of the sons of the noble patriot, soon "put out his wings," and soared, ultimately, to a pinnacle of honor and renown attained by few among men. In the winter of 1793 and 1794, the public mind had become highly excited from the inflammatory appeals in behalf of France, by Citizen Genet, the French Minister to the United States. A large portion of the anti-Federal party took sides with Mr. Genet, against the neutral position of our Government, and seemed determined to plunge the Union into the European contest, in aid of the French Republic. Some idea may be obtained of the excitement which prevailed at this time, and of the perilous condition of the country, by an extract or two from letters of Vice-President John Adams. In a letter dated Philadelphia, Dec. 5, 1793, he writes as follows:—
"It will require all the address, all the temper, and all the firmness of Congress and the States, to keep this people out of the war; or rather, to avoid a declaration of war against us, from some mischievous power or other. It is but little that I can do, either by the functions which the Constitution has entrusted to me, or by my personal influence; but that little shall be industriously employed, until it is put beyond a doubt that it will be fruitless; and then, I shall be as ready to meet unavoidable calamities, as any other citizen."
Under date of Jan. 9, 1794, he says:—
"The prospects of this country are gloomy, but the situation of all Europe is calamitous beyond all former examples. At what time, and in what manner, and by what means, the disasters which are come, and seem to be coming on mankind, may be averted, I know not. Our own people have been imprudent, as I think, and are now smarting under the effects of their indiscretion; but this, instead of a consolation, is an aggravation of our misfortune. Mr. Genet has been abusive on the President [Washington] and all his ministers, beyond all measure of decency or obligations of truth, and in other respects, not yet publicly investigated, his conduct has been such as to make it difficult to know what to do with him. * * * * * The news of this evening is, that the Queen of France is no more. [Footnote: Marie Antoinette was beheaded in Paris, on the 16th of October, 1773.] When will savages be satiated with blood? No prospect of peace in Europe, and therefore none of internal harmony in America. We cannot well be in a more disagreeable situation than we are with all Europe, with all Indians, and with all Barbary rovers. Nearly one half of the Continent is in constant opposition to the other, and the President's situation, which is highly responsible, is very distressing."
It taxed the wisdom and skill of Mr. Jefferson, then Secretary of State, to counteract the influence of the French Minister, and prevent citizens of the United States from committing overt acts against the Allied Sovereigns, and embroiling the Union in a foreign war. In this endeavor he was greatly assisted by the pen of Mr. J. Q. Adams. This gentleman wrote a series of essays for the public prints, under the signature of "Columbus," reviewing the course of Mr. Genet. In these articles, he pointed out, with great clearness, the principles of the law of nations applicable to the situation of the country in the neutral line of policy which had been wisely adopted.
In reference to this topic, John Adams writes his wife, as follows, under date of Dec. 19, 1793:—
"The President has considered the conduct of Genet very nearly in the same light with 'Columbus,' and has given him a bolt of thunder. We shall see how this is supported by the two Houses. There are who gnash their teeth with rage which they dare not own as yet. We shall soon see whether we have any government or not in this country."
The political writings of the younger Adams had now brought him prominently before the public. They attracted the especial attention of Mr. Jefferson, who saw in them a vastness of comprehension, a maturity of judgment and critical discrimination, which gave large promise of future usefulness and eminence. Before his retirement from the State Department, he commended the youthful statesman to the favorable regard of President Washington, as one pre-eminently fitted for public service.
General Washington, although a soldier by profession, was a lover of peace. His policy during his administration of the government, was pre-eminently pacific. Convinced that, in the infant state of the Union, war with a foreign nation could result only in evil and ruin, he was anxious to cultivate the most friendly relations with foreign governments, and to carry out, both in letter and spirit, the strict neutrality he had proclaimed. To declare and maintain these principles abroad, and to form political and commercial relations with European powers, Washington looked anxiously around for one fitted for a mission so important. His attention soon became fixed on John Quincy Adams. He saw in him qualities not only of deep political sagacity, and views of policy at unity with his own, but a familiarity with the languages and customs of foreign courts, which marked him as one every way calculated to represent our government with credit in the old world. He accordingly, in May, 1794, appointed Mr. Adams Minister of the United States at the Hague.