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OCCUPATIONS AT QUINCY — GATHERING LAURELS — THE
PHILOSOPHER AND POET—DECLINES TO BE A FOSSIL
AND RE-ENTERS PUBLIC LIFE.
NOTWITHSTANDING the unusual way in which Mr. Adams transferred the seat of the Presidents to his successor, his conduct was regarded as so much modified by palliatory circumstances that it was soon dropped as a subject of public comment. Even in the South he was not without eulogists.
Of him the " Georgia Constitutionalist" uttered these sentiments :—
"Mr. Adams is said to be in good health and spirits. The manner in which this gentleman retired from office is so replete with propriety and dignity, that we are sure history will record it as a laudable example to those who shall hereafter be required by the sovereign people to descend from exalted stations. It was a great matter with the ancients to die with decency, and there are some of our own day whose deaths are more admirable than their lives. Mr. Adams's deportment in the Presidency was lofty and proud; but the smile with which he throws aside the trappings of power, and the graceful propriety with which he takes leave of patronage and place, are truly commendable."
There had been already too much in his career to suffer him to pass into oblivion, and however quiet and unassuming his retreat, it was not possible for him to become obscure by a life of inactivity. Mr. Adams had scarcely settled down to pass the rest of his days at Quincy, as he supposed, when he entered upon various literary projects and other pursuits congenial to his tastes. He devoted several hours a day to gardening, and pursued with critical exactness his plans and experiments for raising seedling trees. He amused himself, or squandered his time, in the resumption of his old Latin readings and studies ; and began, with some earnestness, to prepare the material for a complete memoir of his father. But all this quiet work could not dispel his interest in public affairs.
He was now an old man in the common way of speaking, but his ambition had been strong to rise to eminence in political station, and this ambition had not deserted him yet. The false and foolish doctrine that there is nothing beyond the Presidency but a heroshrine, that the life of an ex-President is an anomalous one, that having reached the pinnacle there is nothing in all the world he can or should do but receive the adulations of his countrymen, was established too late for Mr. Adams. With its existence he had no sympathy. He was never so miserable, perhaps, as at this very period, when he thought all work in which his hands so much delighted had been forever taken away. It was still his principle, as much as at any moment of his life, that he should not decline any service put upon him by his countrymen, no matter what it might be. With him the degree of honor never stood above the utility of the service. Inactivity fretted his restless spirit. To him life had no idle, no humorous side. If he suffered from the asperities of political and personal controversies, he also found delight in them. He was naturally a controversialist. He took up his pen in the spirit of a gladiator, and centered his interests and feelings mainly in the conflicts of the present rather than of the past.
Much over sixty years of age now, he was anxious and restless. Little ground had he, however, for the thought that his most active days were yet to come; that the tame Diary of 1830 was destined to bristle with the record of the fiercest, most chivalrous, and statesman-like conflicts of his tumultuous life. The imperishable distinction of " The Old Man Eloquent" was yet to be earned, and the end he craved, to die in the harness at the post assigned him, was destined to be his grateful lot.
In the person of John Quincy Adams there passed from the White House the last statesman who was to inhabit it for a long time. So says Dr. Von Holst, the very pretentious and gossipy foreign writer on American history. If the President's Chair lost a statesman, the cause of human freedom and the best interests of his country gained a champion in the Lower House of Congress. Every page of the old man's career from this time onward was illuminated by some deed of moral heroism; and no hero ever gave up life's struggle with braver or safer words upon his lips.
During the year or two of comparative leisure that followed his Presidency Mr. Adams actually attempted to revive his taste for reading novels, but not meeting with success, strangely asks: "Can philosophy tell me why this is so?" But philosophy did not answer. If it had done so, it would have treated the matter with aversion, and said that the old man had become too ripe and wise for such folly. The handmaids of philosophy, common sense, reason, intelligence, and moral rectitude, have little to do with novel-reading.
Early in the winter of 1829, Mr. Adams returned with his family to Washington, where he remained until the following summer.
On this long visit he received much of his former attention from friends and foes, and became greatly interested in the gossip and turmoil occasioned by the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Eaton in the Cabinet of General Jackson, and the bad character of many of the appointments and acts of the new Administration. During this stay at the Capital, Mr. Adams wrote quite an elaborate paper on the war between Russia and Turkey, which was printed in several chapters in the "American Annual Register," of New York.
In the meantime he had been made a member of the board of trustees for Harvard University; and soon after his return from Washington one of the Boston newspapers announced that John Quincy Adams, once President of the United States, was to be a candidate for the National House of Representatives from the Plymouth District of Massachusetts. This announcement started much curiosity and comment throughout the country. It was a new step in the conduct of the men who had served as Presidents, and while the people had no especial interest in the matter, they were anxious to see if the daring old man would really take such a step. Edward Everett and other friends suggested to Mr. Adams that it might not be deemed proper for one who had filled the President's Chair to become a member of Congress. To this he replied:—
"No person could be degraded by serviug the people as a Representative in Congress. Nor, in my opinion, would an exPresident of the United States be degraded by serving as a selectman of his town, if elected there by the people. But age and infirmity have their privileges and their disqualifications."
At this time there were in Massachusetts Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Jacksonians, Republicans (Democrats), and National Republicans. The war against Freemasonry had broken up party organization, to a great extent, but the Jackson men mainly stood clear of the crusade against the secret order. In fact, the interest in general politics had given way to the small affairs of the various factions. But the Republicans and National Republicans (Federalists) both nominated Mr. Adams for Congress, in separate conventions, and in November, 1830, he was elected by a large majority over a Jackson candidate, and a regular Federalist. Of this event Mr. Adams wrote in his Diary :—
"Spent the evening in writing and reflecting upon this new incident, which has drifted me back again amidst the breakers of the political ocean. It is also a novelty in the history of the country, and as a precedent may have no unimportant bearing upon future events. By the Constitution of the United States, the President is re-eligible as long as he lives. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison voluntarily retired after one re-election, and Jefferson no doubt intended to make the example a practical exposition of Constitutional principle. It was followed by Mr. Monroe, perhaps with not much cordiality, and will be continued as long as a Presidential term of eight years shall wear out the popularity of the person holding the office. . . . All the preceding Presidents have held offices of a public nature after the expiration of their Presidential service; none, however, as a member of either House of Congress; and there are many who think it now a derogatory descent. This is a mere prejudice; and had I alleged my former station as a reason for rejecting the suffrages of the people assigning me a seat in the House of Representatives, I should not merely have been chargeable with arrogance, but should have exposed myself to ridicule. So far as concerns myself, I consider this new call to the public service