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West India Islands, of a maritime colonizing, slavetainted monarchy, and of extinguished freedom."
So intense and exaggerated were his feelings on this subject. The evils which did follow this event, Mr. Adams did what he could to avert; but while he held out bravely against war with Mexico, and all measures he deemed Southern and founded distinctly on the purpose of advancing the cause of slavery, there is no need here of attempting to lengthen out a story which has already virtually ended. The great conflict between freedom and slavery must, of necessity, pass into younger hands.
"WOE UNTO YOU, SIR HARRY VANE!"—" I WILL PUT THE
QUESTION MYSELF"—THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE—
THE JUBILEE OF THE CONSTITUTION.
NOTWITHSTANDING the paramount interest which has attached to Mr. Adams's struggle in Congress for the right of petition, and against slavery, there were other events connected with his career in that body which, perhaps, equally deserve attention and admiration. Some of these remain to be told.
Without any ambition in that way Mr. Adams had become the most distinguished champion of freedom, and from a high point of view greatly instrumental in inaugurating the "irrepressible conflict" ending in the War of the Rebellion. But his work was mainly done in his place in Congress. To stir the passions of men was not his desire nor delight. This belonged to another class of Abolitionists. To describe the hostility and hatred he met at every point, would be as wholly impossible at this remote period, as the picture would be utterly useless, even were it correctly drawn.
The unfavorable reputation he made with a vast number of his countrymen on this great question was in marked contrast with the general respect, even veneration, otherwise shown him. This fact may be well exhibited in a notable scene in the House described in the following manner by an eye-witness :—
"On the opening of the 26th Congress, in December, 1839, in consequence of a twofold delegation from New Jersey, the House was unable, for some time to complete its organization, and presented to the country and the world the perilous and discreditable aspect of the assembled Representatives of the people unable to form themselves into a Constitutional body. On first assembling, the House has ,no officers, and the clerk of the preceding Congress acts, by usage, as chairman of the body, till a Speaker is chosen. On this occasion, after reaching the State of New Jersey, the acting clerk declined to proceed in calling the roll, and refused to entertain any of the motions which were made for the purpose of extricating the House from its embarrassment. Many of the ablest and most judicious members had addressed the House in vain, and there was nothing but confusion and disorder in prospect.
"The fourth day opened, and still confusion was triumphant. But the hour of disenthrallment was at hand, and a scene was presented which sent the mind back to those days when Cromwell uttered the exclamation, 'Sir Harry Vane! woe unto you, Sir Harry Vane!' and in an instant dispersed the famous Rump Parliament. "Mr. Adams, from the opening of this scene of confusion and anarchy, had maintained a profound silence. He appeared to be engaged most of the time in writing. To a common observer, he seemed to be reckless of everything around him; but nothing, not the slightest incident, escaped him. The fourth day of the struggle had now commenced; Mr. Hugh H. Garland, the clerk, was directed to call the roll again.
"He commenced with Maine, as was usual in those days, and was proceeding toward Massachusetts. I turned, and saw that Mr. Adams was ready to get the floor at the earliest moment possible. His keen eye was riveted on the clerk; his hands clasped the front edge of his desk, where he always placed them to assist him in rising. He looked, in the language of Otway, like the 'fowler, eager for his prey.'
"'New Jersey!' ejaculated Mr. Hugh H. Garland, 'and the clerk has to repeat that—'
"Mr. Adams sprang to the floor!
"' I rise to interrupt the clerk,' was his first ejaculation.
"' Silence, silence,' resounded through the hall; 'hear him, hear him! Hear what he has to say; hear John Quiucy Adams!' was the unanimous ejaculation on all sides.
"In an instant the most profound silence reigned throughout the hall; you might have heard a leaf of paper fall in any part of it, and every eye was riveted on the venerable Nestor of Massachusetts, the purest of statesmen and the noblest of men! He paused for a moment; and, having given Mr. Garland a 'withering look,' he proceeded to address the multitude:—
"'It was not my intention,' said he, 'to take any part in these extraordinary proceedings. I had hoped that this House would succeed in organizing itself; that a Speaker and clerk would be elected, and that the ordinary business of legislation would be progressed in. This is not the time or place to discuss the merits of the conflicting claimants for seats from New Jersey;. that subject belongs to the House of Representatives, which, by the Constitution, is made the ultimate arbiter of the qualifications of its members. But what a spectacle we here present! We degrade and disgrace ourselves; we degrade and disgrace our constituents and the country. We do not, and can not organize; and why? Because the clerk of this House, the mere clerk, whom we create, whom we employ, and whose existence depends upon our will, usurps the throne, and sets us, the Representatives, the viceregents of the whole American people, at defiance, and holds us in contempt! And what is this clerk of yours? Is he to control the destinies of sixteen millions of freemen? Is he to suspend, by his mere negative, the functions ot Government, and put an end to this Congress? He refuses to call the roll! It is in your power to compel him to call it, if he will not do it voluntarily. [Here he was interrupted by a member, who said that he was authorized to say that compulsion could not reach the clerk, who had avowed that he would resign, rather than call the State of New Jersey.] Well, sir, then let him resign,' continued Mr Adams, 'and we may possibly discover some way by which we can get along without the aid of his all-powerful talent, learning, and genius. If we can not organize in any other way, if this clerk of yours will not consent to our discharging the trusts confided to us by our constituents, then let us imitate the example of the Virginia House of Burgesses, which, when the colonial Governor Dinwiddie ordered it to disperse, refused to obey the imperious and insulting mandate, and, like men—'
"The multitude could not contain or repress their enthusiasm any longer, but saluted the eloquent and indignant speaker, and intercepted him with loud and deafening cheers, which seemed to shake the Capitol to its center. The very Genii of applause and enthusiasm seemed to float in the atmosphere of the hall, and every heart expanded with an indescribable feeling of pride and exultation. The turmoil, the darkness, the very 'chaos of anarchy,' which had, for three successive days, pervaded the American Congress, was dispelled by the magic, the talismanic eloquence of a single man; and once more the wheels of Government and of legislation were put in motion.
"Having, by this powerful appeal, brought the yet unorganized assembly to a perception of its hazardous position, he submitted a motion requiring the acting clerk to proceed in calling the roll. This and similar motions had already been made by other members. The difficulty was, that the acting clerk declined to entertain them. Accordingly, Mr. Adams was immediately interrupted by a burst of voices demanding, 'How shall the question be put?' 'Who will put the question?' The voice of Mr. Adams was heard above the tumult, 'I intend to put the question myself!' That word brought order out of chaos. There was the master mind.
"As soon as the multitude had recovered itself, and the excitement of irrepressible enthusiasm had abated, Mr. Richard Barnwell Rhett, of South Carolina, leaped upon one of the desks, waved his hand, and exclaimed :—
"'I move that the Honorable John Quincy Adams take the chair of the Speaker of this House, and officiate as presiding officer till the House be organized by the election of its Constitutional officers! As many as are agreed to this will say aye; those —'
"He had not an opportunity to complete the sentence, 'those who are not agreed, will say no,' for one universal, deafening, thundering aye responded to the nomination.
"Hereupon, it was moved and ordered that Lewis Williams, of North Carolina, and Richard Barnwell Rhett conduct John Quincy Adams to the chair.
"Well did Mr. Wise, of Virginia, say, 'Sir, I regard it as the proudest hour of your life; and if, when you shall be gathered to your fathers, I were asked to select the words which, in my judgment, are best calculated to give at once the character of the man, I would inscribe upon your tomb this sentence, 'I will put the question myself.'"