« PreviousContinue »
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS was a Representative in Congress from 1831-three years after he left the Presidency—to the 23d of February, 1848, when he fell from his seat in the House, and died literally in harness. The lives of the Adamses have been unusually busy and brilliant. John, the second President, was a patriot of the impulsive school, honest and self-willed. John Quincy, his son, was in some respects a larger and a riper mind; Charles Francis, his living grandson, is a more cautious and conservative personage, while his great-grandsons are spoken of as men of learning and culture. This family is one of the few evidences of the transmission of genius in the same blood. There is really no representative left of Washington, Jefferson, Clay, Webster, Calhoun, or Jackson. It seems to have been ordained that each was to be the last of his race, and that none should be left to eclipse his fame. The first time I ever saw John Quincy Adams was also the first time I ever saw Stephen A. Douglas. This was in May of 1846, while Polk was President, and James Buchanan Secretary of State. The annexation of Texas was the reigning issue. Parties were divided upon it, and John Quincy Adams led the opposition. He was in his seventy-ninth year. Douglas was in his thirty-third. The contrast was marked between the feeble and bald-headed statesman and the boyish face and figure of the black-eyed and black-haired partisan. The one was closing out his eventful career-the other was beginning his, not so varied, but crowded with almost as many trials. As I sat in the gallery that sweet May morning, and looked down upon the men who led and dominated the deliberations, I little thought of the terrible future before us, and that I should outlive many who were then in the prime of a vigorous manhood. Young as I was, I was editor enough to know the leaders, either personally or by name.
STATESMEN OF FORTY-SIX.
There were Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, Adams and Winthrop, of Massachusetts, Collamer and Foot, of Vermont (both afterward in the Senate and since dead), Preston King, of New York (afterward a Senator and since dead), Brodhead, Charles J. Ingersoll, Joseph R. Ingersoll, Lewis C. Levin, and David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, the first and last afterward in the Senate, and the whole number now in their graves ; Thomas H. Bayley and George C. Dromgoole, of Virginia, both since dead. There also were McKay, of North Carolina, Linn Boyd, of Kentucky, Cave Johnson, of Tennessee, S. F. Vinton and Joshua Giddings, of Ohio, all gathered to their fathers. And there also were many yet living, like Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, Stevens and Toombs, of Georgia—these two last among the most active of the moderate men of that period; Whigs as earnest as young Delano and Schenck, of Ohio, who were in the same House, one of them now General Grant's Secretary of the Interior, and the other his Minister to England.
In this same Congress, a Representative from Illinois, was E. D. Baker, afterward a Senator from Oregon, whose noble reply to Breckinridge, some fifteen years later, I quoted from in my last number. Born in England, and "brought to this country when a child, and left an orphan in Philadelphia,” this boy of genius, this handsome, whole-hearted man, this statesman in the Senate and hero in the field, had no idea, at that early day, when he fought Douglas in the House, that they two would harmonize in love of country at last, and that they would go to meet their father-God in the same year, and only a few months apart. How bitter these Whigs and Democrats were! How angry they got themselves, and how angry they made their respective friends! And yet at the end of less than a generation we find Douglas and Baker, intense party foes in the year 1846, lying down together almost in the same grave, at nearly the same time, martyrs alike to the same holy cause, in the year 1861. They were strangely alike in many things. They were
familiar to a degree. Their tastes were similar. They loved their friends without hating their foes. Neither believed in the philosophy of revenge. They thought they did sometimes in their impulses, but when the passion passed off they forgave like gods. Mean men only live in the darkness of malice. It is the great soul alone that outlives in history and memory the mean soul, unless the latter is so infamous as to stand as a beacon and a warning. Of this school were Baker and Douglas. But to my story.
I sat in the gallery of the old House, now the glorious receptacle which I hope decent courage in our public men will secure from the profanation of being a sepulchre for every dead-beat in the way of art, where Stephen A. Douglas made his magnificent speech in favor of the annexation of Texas in reply to ex-President Adams. I shall never forget that sweet and odorous 13th of May, 1846. Nowhere, as it seems to me, is there an atmosphere like Washington in May and June. Nature seems to revel in the supreme luxury of her own charms. That spot, without snow in winter, prolonging its equal reign far into the summer, and resuming its neutral sway early in September, seems to have been chosen as the “golden mean
” alike of politics and climate. I had come from my little country-city to hear and to see, and I was gratified.
In view of the fact that Texas is now the fertile outpost of an athletic civilization, and of the other fact that if we had not conquered her from Mexico, she would be to-day a sort of middle ground, compounded of guerillas and knights of the free lance, the friends of annexation may claim a sort of poetical vindication. Mexico is still a most vexatious problem. What would Texas be if left to the mercy of Mexico, or to the manipulations of foreign powers? In this light the annexation of 1846, consummated by the treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo in 1848, was a measure of consummate foresight.
I shall never forget how eagerly John Quincy Adams listened
ADAMS AND DOUGLAS.
to the young member from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas, as he was speaking on the 13th of May, 1846. Mr. Delano, of Ohio, now Secretary of the Interior, had made a decided argument against annexation, which gave great satisfaction to the venerable ex-President.
Mr. Douglas said, with the courtesy which distinguished him, looking at Mr. Adams: “I perceive the venerable gentleman from Massachusetts, before me now, nods approval of the sentiment.” [The sentiment of Mr. Delano.]
MR. ADAMS. "Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman, I approve and indorse every word and syllable of it.”
Thus encouraged, the wily young Illinois orator proceeded in his well-considered speech. It will be recollected that the great point in issue in 1846, so far as Texas was concerned, was the boundary between Texas and Mexico. Mr. Delano, with masterly ability, had denied that the Rio del Norte was the western boundary, and Mr. Adams had accepted the version of Mr. Delano. I can never forget the following colloquy:
MR. DOUGLAS. “Mr. Chairman, I believe I have now said all that I intended for the purpose of showing that the Rio del Norte was the western boundary of the republic of Texas. How far I have succeeded in establishing the position I leave to the House and the country to determine. If that was the boundary of the republic of Texas, it has, of course, become the boundary of the United States by virtue of the act of annexation and admission into the Union. I will not say that I have demonstrated the question as satisfactorily as the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts did in 1819, but I will say that I think I am safe in adopting the sentiment which he then expressed, that our title to the Rio del Norte is as clear as to the island of New Orleans.”
MR. ADAMS. “I never said that our title was good to the Rio del Norte from its mouth to its source.”
MR. Douglas. “I know nothing of the gentleman's mental
reservations. If he means, by his denial, to place the whole emphasis on the qualification that he did not claim that river as the boundary from its mouth to its source,' I shall not dispute with him on that point. But if he wishes to be understood as denying that he ever claimed the Rio del Norte, in general terms, as our boundary under the Louisiana treaty, I can furnish him an official document, over his own signature, which he will find very embarrassing and exceedingly difficult to explain. I allude to his famous dispatch as Secretary of State, in 1819, to Don Onis, the Spanish minister. I am not certain that I can prove his handwriting, for the copy I have in my possession I find printed in the American State Papers, published by the order of Congress. In that paper he not only claimed the Rio del Norte as our boundary, but he demonstrated the validity of the claim by a train of facts and arguments which rivet conviction on every impartial mind, and deny refutation.”
MR. ADAMS. “I wrote that dispatch as Secretary of State, and endeavored to make out the best case I could for my own country, as it was my duty. But I utterly deny that I claimed the Rio del Norte as our boundary in its full extent. I only claimed it a short distance up the river, and then diverged to the northward some distance from the stream.”
MR. DOUGLAS. “Will the gentleman specify the point at which his line left the river?"
MR. ADAMS. “I never designated the point."
The old man had evidently forgotten the dispatch he wrote as Secretary of State in 1819-twenty-seven years before and the young man had had it recalled to his attention. It was a bombshell. It was a new thing to see John Quincy Adams retreating before anybody. He seemed to feel as if he had fallen into a trap. His solicitude to hear Douglas was perhaps a sort of explanation of his course. The House was divided