John Quincy Adams: His Theory and Ideas

By George A. Lipsky | Go to book overview

We like to think of Adams's independence in supporting some of Jefferson's principal measures at a time when his New England friends and the Federalist Party which his father had led were exhausting the vocabulary of abuse against the President. We applaud his courage in helping report the Embargo Bill when the trading States, headed by Massachusetts, were sure it would result in their ruin. We admire the dogged tenacity with which, when made Secretary of State, he forced the Spanish envoy to sign a treaty which carried momentous benefits to the United States, and the pertinacious vigor with which he carried it through a Senate which Clay had tried to align against it. We may find his purity at times a little chilling, and his scorn of political arts more than a little unworldly. Nevertheless, we cannot but laud his firmness, as President, in rejecting all demagogic maneuvers, his Roman integrity in refusing to use appointments for political ends, and his tenacity in sticking to his own view of the tariff and internal improvements without regard to popular prejudices.

The most heroic chapters of his life remain to be written -- almost as heroic as any in our annals. At the age of sixty-three he accepted election to the House of Representatives. Never did a man of his years more assiduously court toils and battles. He grew palsied, infirm of sight and hearing, subject to sudden bodily spasms; his irritability, sharpness of tongue, and combativeness increased. But though he made few friends and cohorts of enemies, his honesty, his unflinching candor, his grasp and force in handling public questions gave him a greater influence than ever before. His eloquence, struggling up through choked throat and cracked voice, hushed and awed his audience. His intervention in 1839 to bring about the organization of the chaotic House and the orderly election of a Speaker was a signal manifestation of moral power. His struggle to maintain the right of petition, and destroy the infamous gag-rule which slavery men North and South temporarily fastened upon Congress, was one of our great historic battles for principle. It was a singlehanded contest, for the overwhelming weight of the House, the press, and popular feeling seemed against him; but in the end he won, and won because his cause was right. His unwearied industry, meanwhile, gave us not only admirable state papers, but a

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