Wednesday, March 24, 2010

John Quincy Adams' Congressional Career

This will probably be my last JQA for awhile - it just seems that after I finish a biography I always have so many post ideas that I'm excited about.

As I find John Quincy Adam's Congressional career to be very interesting and since he is the only ex-President to then go back to serve in the US House (one other ex-President served in the Confederate Congress and one in the US Senate), I thought it was worth some space.

JQA joined Congress soon after his defeat, while Jackson was still President:
On November 7, 1830, John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary of his landslide election to the U.S. House of Representatives six days earlier: "My election as President of the United States was not half so gratifying to my inmost soul. No election or appointment conferred upon me ever gave me so much pleasure." Less than two years after losing to Andrew Jackson in his bid for reelection as President, John Quincy Adams relished this new opportunity to serve his country in yet another capacity, to sound his voice again in the nation's capital on the vital issues of his day. This he would do for the remaining sixteen years of his life, demonstrating marvelous courage and conviction, eloquence and wit, even in the fiery face of intense adversity.

He also worked to continue his dreams from his presidency, now from the House:
Adams also used his influence to advocate his ideal of a federal "internal improvement" system. In this system, tariffs would be set to protect American goods in the domestic marketplace, and revenue from frontier land sales would serve to create a federal-funded, national network of transportation and communication. Adams believed this system would tie the various agricultural, industrial, and commercial economies of the nation's different geographical regions together, uniting them in prosperity and halting the pattern of sectionalism and slippage toward civil war. He faced formidable opposition, though, from fellow House members who opted instead for the proposals and policies of other persuasive leaders like President Jackson, Senator John C. Calhoun, or Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Each of these was a warrior in his own right, advancing his own ideas on the turbulent issues of national finances, protective tariffs, and Westward expansion.

He was in the House when James Smithson made his bequest and put in his own idea for what it should be used for - a national observatory. He also helped to make sure that the money was properly used, not squandered.

He worked tirelessly to stop the expansion of slavery and preserve the Union (as we can see from yesterday's gag rule cane):
It was, however, on that most delicate, that most controversial issue of the time, slavery, that John Quincy Adams sounded his voice most frequently and most passionately. Adams first became involved in the slavery debate in 1835, when the New York-based Anti-Slavery Society began a sweeping campaign to flood the nation with abolitionist literature. When anti-slavery newspapers and pamphlets reached the South late that year, worried and offended southern activists responded by illegally intercepting and destroying the tracts. Tempers and passions raged on both sides, cyclically fueling one another. However, due to the illicit actions employed in blocking the spread of abolitionist literature, the nature of the slavery debate had changed. It was no longer just a moral battle waged by militant abolitionists against defensive slaveholders. Coupled with the curtailment of free speech, it became a legal issue as well. For this reason, the debate on slavery was enlarged to accommodate a new host of voices, concerns and ideas.

Over the next several years, the Representative from Massachusetts fought to preserve the delicate balance between the Union's so-called free and slave states. To that end, he opposed the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico, and later advocated the annexation of Oregon to offset the South's acquisition of Texas.

Adams actually collapsed while sitting in the House and died two days later:
His last vote in the House, which he used to deny honors to generals who fought in the war with Mexico, came on February 21, 1848. Moments later, he suddenly clasped his desk as a lethal stroke set in. As the old man sunk in his chair, a voice rang through the House of Representatives: "Mr. Adams is dying!" He was lifted onto a sofa and carried first to the Rotunda, and then to the Speaker's room. To his huddling colleagues, Adams whispered, "Thank the officers of the House," and later, "This is the end of earth, but I am composed." Then he passed into a coma, in which he stayed until his death two days later.

"Know ye not that a great man is fallen?" proclaimed Joshua Bates in a stirring funeral sermon. "No man ever served his country longer, more faithfully, with higher motives and a purer patriotism. History, I say, will do him justice."


Unknown said...

Can you post more information on what you mean by "deny honors to generals who fought in the war with Mexico."??

I am very interested in this. It speaks a lot to his character. I'm assuming that it was some attempt to politicize the war and give awards to people who deserved none.

Any help here would be appreciated...a link to a bill, or to some website perhaps...or just an exposition on the issue. Thanks.

Jennie W said...

I can double check in that biography I just read, but based on what the article I was quoting on was saying (linked in post) as well as his own opinions, the issue was that he was always against the acquisition of Texas and the war to keep - the Mexican War, hence the vote to deny the honors. He was very vehemently opposed to the war and Texas from the start. The irony is that he wasn't always opposed to expansion, but the added issue with Texas, of course, was that it would come in as a slave state.

For information on JQA and Texas, here are some suggested readings.

The Debate over Annexing Texas and the Emergence of Manifest Destiny
by Lyon Rathbun (Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4.3 (2001) 459-493) - Project Muse has full access (article linked here)

Hope that answers your question.

coriolan said...

Not to be "picky," but....

JQA was not the onlt ex-President to serve in Congress. Andrew Johnson was elected to the US Senate in 1874. He only served a few months before he passed away on July 31 1875.

Also, John Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in 186` but he died before he took his seat.