Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI.: Retirement from Public Life—Occupations—Relations with Jefferson—Death. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 1 (Life of the Author)
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CHAPTER XI.: Retirement from Public Life—Occupations—Relations with Jefferson—Death. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 1 (Life of the Author) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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Retirement from Public Life—Occupations—Relations with Jefferson—Death.
On the 4th of March, 1801, the day upon which Mr. Jefferson was inaugurated President of the United States, Mr. Adams retired from public life, after an uninterrupted course of service of six and twenty years, in a greater variety of trusts than fell to the share of any other American of his time. He had gone through all of them with acknowledged credit to himself and honor to the country, excepting the last, and in that he felt that by a concurrence of adverse circumstances he was visited with censure which neither his motives nor his acts had merited. Sensitive and ardent in his temperament, he would not wait to be present at the installation of his successor, or to exchange the customary forms of civility in transferring the office. In this course, as not consistent with true dignity, or with the highest class of Christian virtue, he was perhaps wrong. It certainly would have been more politic to have made professions of confidence in Mr. Jefferson. But that was not his way, when he did not entertain them. He shared strongly in the distrust universal among the federalists, of that gentleman’s intentions, and he believed, not without color of reason, that he had acted somewhat disingenuously towards himself. This was a strong motive for declining to be present at the inauguration, but it was not by any means the only one. Had the party which elected him really made him its head; had it stood unitedly and cordially by him in the policy which he had felt it his duty to prefer, he believed that he should never have been exposed to the necessity of any such trial. But even if, in spite of every exertion, defeat had followed, with a united support, the exultation of the victors might have been easily endured, as an inevitable concomitant of the chances of the popular favor. Such had not been the case. He felt that his most bitter enemies had been of his own household, whom he had offended because he would not submit to be a mere instrument to execute a policy, which he could not approve. Although he did not even then suspect the extent to which he had been circumvented, he knew enough to convince him that he had been a victim of treachery, and that, as such, he must, if he remained, be shown up before both his opponents and his friends. Many of his own side, who had arraigned his policy and attributed to it their overthrow, would draw some consolation to themselves from seeing him pay any penalty, however severe, for having pursued it. Of these a considerable number were in the Senate, friends of the individual who had destroyed him. To them, then, as well as to Mr. Jefferson’s followers he was to be made a spectacle, if he should stay to be a part of the pageant. No. His proud spirit would not endure it. He would not consent to enact the captive chief in the triumphant procession of the victor to the capitol.
But in addition to this, there were other and better reasons for desiring to escape a burdensome ceremonial. The state of his feelings at home was not in harmony with such a scene. He had just passed through the first severe domestic affliction of his life. His second son, Charles, who had grown up to manhood, had been married, and settled in the city of New York with fair prospects of success, had but a few weeks before breathed his last, leaving a wife and two infant children as his only legacy to his father’s care. In a note, addressed to Mr. Jefferson, who had opened a letter relating to the matter, which had come by mistake to him after his accession, but which he transmitted unread, Mr. Adams feelingly alludes to this. “Had you read the papers inclosed,” he said, “they might have given you a moment of melancholy, or, at least, of sympathy with a mourning father. They related wholly to the funeral of a son, who was once the delight of my eyes, and a darling of my heart, cut off in the flower of his days, amidst very flattering prospects, by causes which have been the greatest grief of my heart, and the deepest affliction of my life.” In the state of mind here described, gloomy from the combined pressure of public and private evils, it surely cannot be matter for much wonder that he should resolve to avoid a situation in which his presence would be a severe trial to himself and of no compensating advantage to any one. Yet he was much censured for this act, at the time, by those who knew nothing of the circumstances, and who saw in it only a pettish sally of mortified ambition.
Upon his return to Massachusetts, the legislature, representing a large number of the people of his own State, who for more than twenty years had not swerved for a moment in their confidence in Mr. Adams, and who saw no reason to withdraw it now, adopted the following address, which was carried out and presented to him at his residence in Quincy by the presiding officers of the two Houses, attended by a numerous escort.
“TO JOHN ADAMS.
“At the moment, Sir, that you are descending from the exalted station of the first magistrate of the American nation, to mingle with the mass of your fellow-citizens, the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, your native State, embrace the occasion to pour forth the free-will offering of their sincere thanks for the many important and arduous services you have rendered your country.
In the performance of this act, the legislature have but one heart, and that vibrates with affection, respect, and gratitude for your virtues, talents, and patriotism.
We conceive it unnecessary to detail the character of him, whose life from earliest manhood has been eminently devoted to the public good. This will be the delightful employment of the faithful and able historian.
Our posterity will critically compare the illustrious characters which have elevated the condition of man, and dignified civil society, through the various ages of the world, and will, with grateful effusions and conscious pride, point to that of their beloved countryman.
The period of the administration of our general government, under the auspices of Washington and Adams, will be considered as among the happiest eras of time. The example of their integrity possesses a moral and political value, which no calculation can reach, and will be justly estimated as a standard for future Presidents of the United States.
We receive you, Sir, with open arms, esteem and veneration; confidently hoping that you will possess undisturbed those blessings of domestic retirement, which great minds always appreciate and enjoy with dignity.
We devoutly supplicate the Father of the Universe, that you may realize, while you continue on earth, all the happiness of which human nature is susceptible; and when your course shall be finished here, that your spirit may receive the transcendent rewards of the just.”1
The next year, his fellow-citizens in his own town of Quincy seized the occasion of his birthday to pay their respects to him, and to offer the following affectionate address:—
“Sir,—The return of this anniversary cannot fail to awaken in our breasts the warmest sentiments of gratitude and esteem. It recalls to view the many important events of your public life, events intimately connected with those principles and proceedings which constitute the greatest glory of our country, and which will form some of the most valuable pages in the history of nations.
We hope the liberty we have taken in personally waiting upon you on this occasion will not be deemed an intrusion. And while we offer you our respectful congratulations, we must beg you to be assured that this visit is the result of feeling and not of ceremony.
The early and decided part which you took in support of the liberties of America; the series of patriotic and successful exertions, which distinguished you the firm, unwavering, and able friend of these States; the many stations of high responsibility which you filled so much to the advantage of your fellow-citizens throughout our Revolution, gave you an honorable title to their veneration and love.
But your services to your country did not end with the accomplishment of our Independence. Since that period, it has required, and you have devoted to its cause, the energies of your comprehensive mind. Your civil administration as President of the United States, at a crisis of peculiar difficulty and danger, warded off evils which seemed inevitable, and secured blessings that appeared unattainable. It vindicated the national honor, accommodated serious differences with two of the most powerful nations of Europe, and left the United States, with the means of a speedy extinction of the public debt, a full treasury, and a flourishing commerce, to cultivate the arts of peace.
May these things be ever held in suitable remembrance. May no untoward circumstances wholly take away the fair prospect we have had of national prosperity and greatness. For you, Sir, we offer our supplications to the Sovereign of the Universe, that your invaluable life may be long preserved. In any critical conjuncture of affairs, may your countrymen yet have the benefit of that foresight, wisdom, and experience which have so often availed and supported them. And when you shall finally be called to bid adieu to this world and its concerns, may the cheering words promised to the good and the faithful, hail you to the mansions of blessedness.”
October 30, 1802.
But with the exception of a few manifestations of this kind, the seclusion into which Mr. Adams was at once plunged, at his farm in Quincy, was profound in the extreme. No more striking proof of it remains than his correspondence. The letters addressed to him in the year prior to the 4th of March, 1801, may be counted by thousands. Those of the next year scarcely number a hundred, and he wrote even less than he received. A few old and tried friends sent kind expressions of their warm regard, which he acknowledged in the same spirit, but the crowd who had solicited favors, so long as there were any to grant, moved on according to immemorial usage, towards the newly-created fountain of supply. Such are the vicissitudes of statesmen, as well under the forms of republican America, as in the courts of kings. To Mr. Adams, however, this change was most trying as a transition from a state of the utmost intellectual activity to one of the most sluggish repose. For years before, he had looked forward to the event not without some misgivings as to the possible effect upon his health. But now that at last it was come, he addressed himself with such courage as he might to the resumption of the private occupations within his reach. And, first of all, he naturally looked back to the early fancy of his life, from which he had never been weaned by other avocations, abroad or at home, however numerous or important. All the fortune he had inherited or succeeded in acquiring, had been invested in the lands around him. These he set about cultivating and improving; and they furnished his main support for the remainder of his days. At first, under the stimulus of the attack of Mr. Hamilton, he devoted some time to the preparation of a reply; and the next year he entered upon a project of an extended autobiography; but neither of these schemes retained its attraction sufficiently to reach completion. Although invited, in many forms, by the authorities of the State and of the neighboring town of Boston to attend upon public occasions, he accepted them only when it would have been uncivil to do otherwise. His indisposition to take part in new political questions was so decided, that it is scarcely likely it would have been ever overcome, but for one accidental circumstance. He had a son, who had already entered upon a brilliant public career, and whose position was rapidly becoming a prominent one in the contentions of the times.
A detailed examination of the events of this period, as connected with the career of this son, is not within the scope of this work. They will be touched upon, therefore, only so far as may be necessary to explain their effect upon the situation of Mr. Adams during the remainder of his life. From the day of Mr. Jefferson’s accession, the federalists, disheartened by the division in their own ranks, and discredited by the failure of the attempt to elect Mr. Burr, gave up united exertion. Mr. Marshall, the representative of one form of opinion, had become chief justice of the supreme court. Mr. Jay, at the close of his term of service as Governor of New York, voluntarily retired into private life. Upon Mr. Adams the whole odium of the party defeat had been concentrated by the victors, with the new President at their head. No prominent man remained, excepting Alexander Hamilton, and he was considered rather as the type of one section than of the whole party. Yet under him rallied the only considerable fragment that kept together after the great defeat. It was composed, in the main, of persons in New England and New York, leaning to extremes in opinion, and with difficulty withheld from violent courses even by the dissuasive counsels1 of him in whom they placed most confidence. Yet even he appeared to be only counselling delay in order the more completely “to reserve himself for those crises in the public affairs which seemed likely to happen,” when the vindictive spirit of Aaron Burr, irritated by his haughty yet officious enmity, took advantage of an indiscreet remark made by him at a public meeting, to force him into the field of combat in which he fell. Thus it happened that in 1804 all those persons who could be regarded in any general sense as heads of opposition to the new administration were removed from the scene, at the same time that a treaty with France was negotiated, by which the splendid acquisition of Louisiana was secured to the Union. Neither did the attempt to stir up strife within the ranks of the victorious party avail to impair the authority of the new President. It fared no better in the hands of the disaffected Burr, meditating mysterious projects of a new empire in the west, than in those of John Randolph, discontented by the want of deference to his unreasonable demands. The consequence was a perfect consolidation of the power of the new government, the reëlection of Mr. Jefferson by the votes of all the electors excepting fourteen, and the ability to entail the succession to the Presidency at the end of his second term, upon the person of James Madison, his confidential friend and long-tried coadjutor.
Under this process the federalists crumbled away until few traces remained of the once powerful association, south or west of the Hudson. The moderate men, despairing of its revival, either withdrew from public action altogether or permitted themselves to sink into the ranks of the majority. Neither was this tendency altogether imperceptible in New England, where the federal ascendency had been the most marked, and where it yet maintained itself. But the withdrawal of Mr. Adams, which had thrown the direction of the party into the hands of that portion of it known to be particularly associated with Mr. Hamilton, threatened to deprive it of a considerable share of strength, obtained from the popular confidence reposed in his character and services. Mr. Hamilton, in his exploring journey before the election, had come to the conclusion that although the “strong-minded men” were generally in sympathy with himself, those of the second class and the body of the people were too much disposed to follow Mr. Adams.1 The consciousness of this had been the cause of the great reluctance manifested by Hamilton’s friends to the open hostility which he had thought it proper to declare.2 And after the election was decided, it still prompted an avoidance of any enlargement of the breach then made. The friends of the new government were too numerous to render it advisable to hazard the alienation of a single person who could be in any way induced to continue in opposition. Enmity to Mr. Jefferson was a common bond still to be relied on to keep together those who might entertain few other sentiments in unison. Hence, bitterly as they continued to feel towards the person who had rejected their advice, and whom, for that reason, they had sought in secret to destroy, the “strong-minded men” deemed it expedient to avoid every occasion for pushing further the differences that had already taken place.3
So far as John Adams was concerned, no motive remained to do so. He had determined upon absolute retirement from public life and all its concerns, and had declared this intention in his reply to the address of the Massachusetts legislature.4 But there yet remained a representative of him in the field whose position and influence it was not easy to disregard, or prudent to overlook. Mr. Adams’s eldest son, John Quincy Adams, the companion of his voyages, and of his European life, after eight years of creditable service in diplomatic stations abroad, which had removed him from all the scenes of contentious politics at home, had returned to Massachusetts, with a reputation for abilities, character, and learning exceeded by that of no one of his generation in the commonwealth. The claims of such a man upon the popular confidence, it was dangerous to neglect. Yet it is not possible to imagine that those persons who had been engaged in the clandestine movements to betray the father, even to the limited extent as yet laid open to the public eye, could be likely to entertain much cordiality in advancing the son. For they could scarcely fail to impute to him some share of filial indignation for the manner in which he knew that his father had been treated. Yet in the ardor of their hostility to Mr. Jefferson, they were ready to overlook a great deal. Besides, the alienation of Mr. Adams might be more dangerous to their ascendency than an attempt to conciliate him by a show of confidence. So they acquiesced in a policy of union, which, whilst it conceded a certain share of support to him, might secure in return a union of the more moderate men upon persons holding opinions like their own. It was in this spirit that Mr. Adams was brought forward in the autumn of 1802 as a candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives, in the Boston District, whilst Colonel Pickering, the most vehement of his father’s enemies, was presented in the same way to the county of Essex. Such coalitions are seldom hearty, especially at first. This one did not prove so. The people appeared indifferent, and neither candidate was chosen. Mr. Adams failed by less than sixty, Colonel Pickering by about a hundred votes.
But though defeated here, an opportunity very soon occurred when the same policy of equivalents could be carried out more successfully in another form. Two vacancies occurred at once in the Senate of the United States. The two branches of the Legislature which were to fill them contained a great number of intermediate men. An attempt to push Colonel Pickering through proved unsuccessful, and a perseverance in it threatened to be followed by the election of an opponent. Under these circumstances recourse was had to Mr. Adams,1 then himself a member of the State Senate, and understood not to be manageable, as a party man. By assenting to his election to one of the places, a way was made for the attainment of the other by Colonel Pickering. The consequence was the election of the two to sit as colleagues representing Massachusetts in the federal Senate. A more incongruous mixture could scarcely be conceived. It was plain that the smouldering fires had been covered for the moment, only to kindle into a fiercer conflagration upon occasion of the first conflict of opinion which might spring out of the disturbed condition of public affairs.
Neither was that occasion long wanting. So long as Mr. Jefferson’s domestic policy was in question, and the effort to break down the judiciary, first, by the repeal of the organic law of 1801, and afterwards by the successive impeachments of judges, was continued, there was no risk of a division. But when the country became involved in new difficulties from the warfare waged among the European powers, the course to be pursued was not so clear. The place in which the injury was most felt was upon the high seas, and those who suffered were the eastern commercial States carrying on a profitable neutral trade. The temper of the belligerents had not been softened by the peace of Amiens, and the resumption of arms became the signal for a course of retaliatory warfare unexampled in any former contest. To America this was hurtful, as a neutral power having rights of trade with each side which were too often disregarded by the other. But of the two the action of Great Britain was by far the most irritating, because her maritime supremacy came the most directly into collision with American commerce. Her revival of the rule of ’56, for the express object of cutting off a profitable neutral trade with the colonies of her enemy, occasioned the capture and condemnation of many vessels.
Yet unpleasant as were the relations made by these events they would scarcely have caused a breach, had they not been followed up by the claim of a right to search American national ships for deserters, and to seize any persons who might be designated as British-born subjects. It was the case of the frigate Chesapeake boarded by the officers of The Leopard, who took out of her, in a most arrogant and insulting manner, four of her men, which justly roused the indignation of the people of the United States. At this day, it is difficult to understand how there could have been a moment’s difference of opinion on the necessity of resenting so insolent an assumption. Yet the fact cannot be controverted that the disposition to do it was much less strong in the commercial region, the citizens of which were immediately liable to suffer from it, than in the purely agricultural sections of the interior. There were even found leading men disposed to excuse, if not to defend, the pretensions of Great Britain. The times were not favorable to the decision of any point of public policy solely upon its merits. The violent opponents of Mr. Jefferson were disposed to see in every act of his towards England a disposition to play into the hands of Napoleon, then believed by them to be meditating the subjection of the world; whilst, on the other hand, these suspicions were met with a counter belief that those who were willing to overlook such aggressions secretly meditated a betrayal of their country to the dominion of their ancient step-mother. In times of alarm, party passions thrive on extremes of opinion. The hatred thus engendered is never satisfied with less than the reciprocal imputation of crime. If Mr. Jefferson and his counsellors were on the one side said to be sold to France, on the other, Colonel Pickering and his coadjutors of the Essex junto, were set down as in secret conspiracy with the British ministry.
In the midst of the turmoil John Adams and his son occupied a difficult position. Although by no means satisfied with the general coldness of Mr. Jefferson towards the commercial States, they were not so far carried away by their feelings as to overlook the superciliousness of Great Britain. They had known it by personal experience in its most offensive shapes, and they felt that submission to it in any form was not the most likely way to put an end to it for the future. Hence it happened that upon the occurrence of the outrage on The Chesapeake both of them hesitated not a moment in expressing their indignation, and their earnest wishes for measures of redress. Finding the federalists with whom he was connected unprepared to listen to his suggestions of immediate action, John Quincy Adams determined to signify his own opinion at all events. He therefore attended the public meeting called in Boston to that end. It was not called as a party meeting; but his presence among those generally ranked as opponents who naturally constituted the greater part, was no sooner perceived, than by general acclamation he was summoned to take part in the deliberations. The resolutions were confined to the object for which the meeting was called; yet the act of Mr. Adams was construed among the federalists as ominous of the division which soon afterwards fell out.
It is not necessary to go into this history further than it may show the influence which it had over the action of the subject of this narrative. It is sufficient to this purpose to say that among other measures occasioned by the attack on The Chesapeake, was a proclamation issued by Mr. Jefferson, interdicting British armed vessels from entering the harbors of the United States. The British ministry on their part, conscious of the indignity which had been committed by the rashness of their officer, betrayed anxiety to atone for it rather as an exceptional act of incivility, than by disclaiming the right of search itself. In this spirit, whilst they determined upon sending a special minister to make negotiations and explanations confined to that single outrage, they accompanied the act by issuing the king’s proclamation, recalling all British seamen from service under the flags of foreign nations, which was followed by other measures of hostility to the neutral trade of America by no means calculated to promote reconciliation. Colonel Pickering, however, viewing the policy of the administration as one designed to precipitate a war with Great Britain, drew up a paper expressive of his views upon the questions in dispute between the two governments, in the course of which he was carried so far as to palliate, if not directly to defend, the claim made in the king’s proclamation. This paper roused the indignation of John Adams, and for the first time since his retirement, he broke silence by publishing an examination of the grounds of the pretension. This paper is inserted in the ninth volume of the present work. Thus, in conjunction with a more general reply to Pickering drawn up at the same time by his son, a new issue between the parties was formed, an issue which subsequent events widened into a perfect breach, presenting on the one side all of the federalists who had been dissatisfied with his administration driven to extremes in opposition, and on the other the whole weight of Mr. Adams’s authority thrown on the side of Mr. Jefferson and the most vehement of his ancient enemies.
Had Great Britain been actuated during this period by a tithe of the conciliatory temper which has been manifested in her relations with the United States of late years, it cannot admit of a doubt that the difficulties which led to the war of 1812 might have been removed; but her ministers and people yet smarting under the recollection of the failure to uphold her sovereignty in America, instinctively shrunk from every concession to men whom they still regarded too much in the light of successful rebels. Still impressed with the exclusive commercial notions of the preceding century, they saw with a jealousy little disguised, the plenteous returns flowing into the coffers of their old subjects from a fortunate neutrality in the wars which were bearing them down; and they lost no opportunity so to apply the harshest principles of national law as to seize as much as they could of this abundance for their own benefit. Negotiations carried on whilst such a spirit prevailed, could end in nothing valuable. Napoleon had, early in his career, learned the lesson how uncertain a science is that diplomacy which rests its expectations only upon the supposed interests of peoples or governments. The passions form the great elements of calculation, at the same time that they defy all human sagacity.1 This remark was never more true than during the long series of events, dating from the French revolution, in which he himself played the chief part. The evidences of it are thickly strewed along the course of these times, in the shape either of orders in council, paper blockades, and imperial decrees, or in the more bloody yet quite as profitless butcheries of the Nile, Trafalgar, and Copenhagen, of Austerlitz, Jena, Borodino, and Waterloo. A conciliatory spirit, guided by a benevolent regard for the welfare of millions of the race, would have saved all these horrors in a day; but the delirium of the sovereigns of these times proved the truth of the poet’s verses on a scale in comparison with which the sufferings of the Greeks which he lamented were but as solitary accidents.
And in this wanton strife Great Britain was not slow to take her part. Instead of forbearance and moderation, her tone was domineering and her temper savage; and nowhere was this more sensibly felt than in the bearing of her naval officers on the high seas, from the admiral of the red down to the cabin boy. Furthermore, among all the foreign nations with which they had to deal, none were so much exposed to this harsh treatment as Americans. The temper of the old king had engrafted itself upon the feelings of the aristocracy, and what is their temper will be sure to crop out in the official tone of the army and the navy. Under this trial the administration of Mr. Jefferson was doomed the more severely to suffer from the fact that the impression as to his leanings to France had become general in England. To reproach him at this day for resenting these manifestations of ill-will with too much violence, would be wide of the truth. The error, if any was committed, was of an opposite kind, in carrying forbearance to the point of timidity. If fault there was, it was in half-way contrivances which proved weak and inefficacious at a moment when helplessness injured Americans more than the power did which insulted them; but embargo and non-intercourse were, under the circumstances in which the people had chosen to put themselves, the only alternative. Mr. Adams, as well in his earliest labors in the revolutionary struggle, as in his later appeals to the pride of his countrymen during the difficulties with France, had ever urged the establishment of a naval force at least adequate to defend the seaboard and to protect the national commerce on the ocean; and, during his administration, the foundation of such a power had been so well laid, that, with a moderate and gradual development, it would by this time have been strong enough to do essential service. But this was one portion of his policy which had been the most severely denounced by his opponents. So that when Mr. Jefferson was elevated in his place, it was laid aside as having caused a wasteful expenditure of the public money. The statesmanship of self-protection was dwarfed into an economical array of Lilliputian gun-boats, and the commercial marine was left to shift for itself if pushed out to sea, or to rot at the wharves if kept at home. Confined to this alternative, it was certainly less mortifying to preserve the character of the country by a voluntary secession from the Ocean, than passively to suffer every thing calling itself American to become a prey to the raging passions of the European belligerents; and either was better than the suggestion, which was whispered in some quarters, if not openly favored, of submission to the British pretensions.
To the possibility of such a step as this last, J. Q. Adams, not less than his father, was most resolutely opposed. Their joint experience had produced no clearer lesson than this, that Great Britain seldom respected the rights of any nation on the sea, whose power did not make itself feared. The tone of George Canning had not been such as to inspire much confidence in any immediate change of her old habits. So they declared themselves on the side of the government in maintaining, at all events, the rights of America. From this moment they were no longer ranked among the remnants of the federal party. The consequences were soon important to them. The opposition to the federal government in Massachusetts, greatly fortified by the severe pressure upon the community of its anti-commercial measures, determined to anticipate the customary period of election of a new senator, in order the more significantly to mark the withdrawal of their confidence from the incumbent.
These particulars, which will find space for fuller development in the biography of the son, are here alluded to for the purpose only of tracing the progress of the irritations which ended in reviving the controversies of an earlier time. Some of the more violent federalists, not confining themselves to the topics before them, and provoked by the interposition of Mr. Adams in support of an administration which they abhorred, strove to impair whatever influence might remain to him, by a recurrence to the charges contained in Mr. Hamilton’s pamphlet. Such is party warfare, from the ferocity of which no man who seeks strongly to affect public opinion, in times of agitation in a free country, can ever hope to be exempt. In the day of it, Mr. Adams had collected the materials for a replication to that attack, but partly from his own indifference to perfecting any literary labor, partly in consequence of the fate of his assailant, and perhaps from the fruitless nature of the contest, he suffered them to lie unused, until they had ceased to attract his attention. The stimulus of this assault now roused him to look them up. It so happened that the columns of a newspaper in Boston, then seeking to extend its circulation, were freely offered to him by the proprietors. This informal mode of publication was peculiarly tempting to him, as it released him from the necessity, always burdensome, of methodizing and polishing his composition. At first he proposed to confine himself simply to a defence of the mission to France, which constituted the gravamen of Mr. Hamilton’s attack; but once engaged in the review of his past life, he enlarged his plan, until it extended itself to the publication of a large part of his most valuable papers. These labors were continued from time to time for the space of three years. A portion, embracing perhaps two thirds of the communications, was collected, and published in numbers, which make together an octavo volume, entitled, “Correspondence of the late President Adams, originally published in the Boston Patriot, in a series of Letters.” This book is now very rarely to be met with.
No more unfortunate time for the attainment of the object which the writer had in view could have been selected. He had borne with injustice and misrepresentation so long, without defending himself, that it would have been wise to let them take their course, at least for the remainder of his life, and to reserve himself, by a calm and careful preparation of his papers for a more impartial age, to establish the truth. There can be no question that the most unfavorable moment to gain proselytes, even to the most convincing arguments, is when the person attempting it, himself under great momentary irritation, is addressing persons who are listening under still more. Especially is this the case when the subject discussed has any bearing whatever upon immediate interests, on which the whole community has divided into parties. But Mr. Adams suffered himself to be so much censured, without reply, as to make him begin to doubt of any future reversal of the verdict, unless he should interfere at once and plead his own cause. To this opinion he was the more impelled by a fear that if he should prepare his papers for posthumous publication, some unlooked for accident or domestic vicissitude might, after all, intervene to disperse or to destroy them before they could ever reach the public. A singular mishap of this sort had occurred, under his immediate observation, in the case of Samuel Adams, and still another, of a different kind, in that of Dr. Franklin. He therefore determined, at all hazards, to proceed. The consequence was a perpetuation of his most important documents, it is true, but under circumstances most adverse to any beneficial effect, either to history or to his own reputation. Scattered through the pages of a newspaper of very limited circulation, during three years, without order in the arrangement, and with most unfortunate typography, the papers might, indeed, be described as safe, but it was the safety of a treasure which an individual buries in the ground in his lifetime, and leaves to some straggler of a distant age, perchance to hit the spot where it may with labor be brought to light.
It is owing to the defects enumerated that no attempt has been made to reproduce this publication in its original form in the present work. That part of it which relates to the nomination of Mr. Murray, although marked by too much asperity towards Mr. Hamilton and his other opponents, is yet in itself so complete an exposition of his own view of that measure, that it has been transferred entire. From the remainder, such extracts have been taken as help in any way to elucidate the documents to which they refer, whilst those documents themselves have been arranged on a more methodical and comprehensive plan. In this way it is believed that nearly, if not quite all of material importance in that publication has been incorporated into this. The form itself is of little value. The task of authorship was always irksome to Mr. Adams. He seldom assumed it excepting upon the spur of some immediate impulse, and he never carried his labors further than the preparation of the manuscript. The consequence is that he suffered even more than writers commonly do from the careless typography of the newspapers in that day.
The accession of Mr. Madison to the Presidency, a result which Mr. Jefferson much favored, was the signal of a division among the friends of government, and of a more conciliatory policy towards the moderate federalists. The latter had been already manifested in the appointment of William Pinkney, of Maryland, to a special duty, and afterwards to the permanent mission in Great Britain. The policy might have been carried even to the restoration of good feelings at home and of more friendly relations with England, but for the interference of a portion of the Senate in dictating to the new President the person he should make Secretary of State. It did, however, extend to the appointment of John Quincy Adams to be the first accredited minister of the country at the court of St. Petersburg. His father naturally viewed this act as a relaxation, the first he had experienced since the accession of Mr. Jefferson, of the harshness manifested towards himself by the party in power. The same event embittered the hostility of his federal opponents, who had now, for the first time, gained an exclusive ascendency in Massachusetts. This state of things opened the way to a restoration of friendly feelings with Mr. Jefferson, who was now out of power, like himself, with nothing left to overcome the natural dictates of his heart. The interposition through which it was reached, was that of a common friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philadelphia, whose voluntary services smoothed away all the obstacles formed by the long estrangement. Some explanation of their nature will not be out of place.
The character of Thomas Jefferson presents one of the most difficult studies to be met with by the historian of these times. At once an object of the most exalted eulogy among those who made him their political chief, and of the bitterest execrations of his opponents, it is not very easy, between the two, to trace the lines which truth and justice alike demand. As an original thinker, there can be little doubt of his claim to stand in the first rank among American statesmen. His, too, was the faculty, given to few, of leading the many, by impressing their minds with happily concentrated propositions. More ardent in his imagination than his affections, he did not always speak exactly as he felt towards either friends or enemies. As a consequence, he has left hanging over a part of his public life a vapor of duplicity, or, to say the least, of indirection, the presence of which is generally felt more than it is seen. Sometimes, indeed, when his passions become roused by personal rivalry, it shows itself darkly enough. Cautious, but not discreet, sagacious, though not always wise, impulsive, but not open, his letters, as printed since his death, have scarcely maintained for him the character he enjoyed among his followers whilst living. The most obvious deficiency is the absence of repose in mind, and of consistency in heart. The great lead he early took in the Revolution naturally brought him in frequent relations with Mr. Adams, generally friendly, though, considering the striking discordance of their characteristic traits, they could never have been intimate, but sometimes hostile. The first instance took place during the perilous days of 1775, when both were enlisted with ardor in the work of pushing the country forward to Independence. Here was a common opponent and a common interest. The fields of labor only were diverse. Mr. Adams, the eldest in public life as well as in years, careless of external fame as a writer, preferred the natural channel to his impetuosity supplied by the unrestrained freedom of debate within the walls of congress, whilst Mr. Jefferson, avoiding that arena of conflicting opinions, chose rather the course which gave full play to the happy facility of his written word. Never was there a more fortunate combination to advance a great object. Mr. Adams hewed out the road, vigorously but roughly, may be, for the pioneers, whilst Mr. Jefferson smoothed and widened it for the nation to follow; and each felt the value of the other in the common task. Here they separated, Mr. Jefferson to do other duty in his native State, Mr. Adams presently to cross the water. The next time they met was many years later, in Europe, when Mr. Adams had become the representative of his disenthralled countrymen at the court of their former sovereign, and Mr. Jefferson filled the same position in the presence of the monarch of France. The duty imposed upon the two by congress to open negotiations of commercial treaties with all the powers of Europe once more entailed an intimacy and frequent correspondence, which there was nothing to prevent from growing into friendship. Mr. Jefferson, in a letter to Mr. Madison, recorded the impression he had of Mr. Adams at this time, which gives him much less credit for penetration than he deserved, whilst it does full justice to his nobler qualities.1 Mr. Adams, on his side, measured Mr. Jefferson with even more friendly eyes, and, if he was aware of any qualifications, gave no utterance to them. An interchange of visits and frequent civilities, so long as they remained in Europe, continued to preserve their social relations upon the kindest footing.
During this period no incidents occurred to draw out the lurking contrasts of their characters. But scarcely was the constitution adopted, and the two were called to fill stations only one grade beneath the first, when events took place which had the effect of setting them in opposition to each other. They not only clashed in opinions, but became the types of opposing ones before the world. The great cause of this change was the breaking out of the French Revolution. Mr. Jefferson hailed it as the harbinger of a new day on earth, whilst Mr. Adams saw in it only the image of a ship in a tempest without helm or anchor. But this difference of sentiment would not of itself have sufficed to disturb the private feelings of the parties, had it not been for an instance of the duplicity already referred to, which gave a shock to Mr. Adams’s confidence such as he did not for a long time get over. The facts were these. During the spring of the year 1791, the United States Gazette of Philadelphia had been publishing, in numbers, a summary of Davila’s work on the Civil Wars of France, with commentaries, which were well understood, though not expressly acknowledged, to be from the pen of Mr. Adams. Not unaware of their imputed origin, and much disturbed at what he thought their pernicious tendency, Mr. Jefferson welcomed, with great satisfaction, the arrival, from the other side of the Atlantic, of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet on the Rights of Man, and approved the project of republishing it in America as an antidote to their poison. Wishing to express his thanks for the use of an English copy, which had been lent to him to read, he was impelled to add, in his note, the reasons why he rejoiced that the work was about to be reprinted. Prominent among these was an allusion to the heresies upon Davila. That Mr. Jefferson had not the remotest idea his note would ever be seen by the public, cannot admit of a doubt. Great, then, was his consternation, when he found it paraded at large, with his name attached, as a prefix to recommend the pamphlet publication.
This incident attracted much attention in Philadelphia, where it was regarded as an indecorous attack intentionally made by one high officer of the government against another. Pressed by this exposure, which imputed to him far more than he probably meant, he endeavored to escape from it by volunteering an explanation directly to Mr. Adams. This brought from the latter, then at home in Quincy, a frank reply, which, in its turn, elicited a rejoinder, explicitly disavowing any intention, by the terms of the unlucky note, to allude to Mr. Adams or any of his writings. With this explanation, Mr. Adams professed himself satisfied. Unfortunately, however, for Mr. Jefferson, a private letter of his, addressed to General Washington at the very time, has been published, in which he expressly says that he did mean, in his note, to allude to the Discourses on Davila. From this contradiction there seems no outlet of escape. It is not a pleasant task to allude to it, neither would it be necessary, were it not essential to show that if Mr. Adams did not easily relinquish the suspicions, which Mr. Jefferson describes him as too liable at all times to entertain, the facts prove that he was not without abundant justification.1
Indeed, it can scarcely be denied that the publication of Mr. Jefferson’s letters since his death, has fixed rather than relieved this shade upon his character. It is, however, much confined within the period between 1790 and 1801. Whilst, on the one side, he is professing a profound respect and attachment to General Washington, on the other, he is communicating privately to Philip Mazzei in Europe the most significant insinuations of the political apostasy of that chief. So his broader private charges made against Mr. Adams, implying danger to the republican institutions of the country from his devotion to the British theory of government, are not easily reconciled with his self-gratulation when assuming the Vice-President’s chair, that the reins of government had not fallen into his hands, but rested rather with Mr. Adams. If he conscientiously believed one half of what he has left on record, respecting the doctrines of the latter, then he should have regarded his own failure of an election and Mr. Adams’s success as serious public calamities. Neither was the earnest anxiety shown to suppress all publication of his private correspondence, much relieved by the accidental exposure, from time to time, of the pecuniary assistance he had rendered to the most profligate and unworthy calumniators of his opponents. It is no part of the design of this work unnecessarily to dwell on these unpleasant topics. But they are material to explain the motives of Mr. Adams’s course, and the causes of his withdrawal of confidence from Mr. Jefferson at the close of his administration. He then fully believed him to be a false and dangerous man; and, so believing, he acted up to his conviction. The refusal to give any assurances as to his future course, was what determined Mr. Adams to take the extraordinary step of filling all the vacant places under the revised judicial system before his accession. On the other hand, this proceeding very naturally offended Mr. Jefferson. Indeed, it was a stretch of authority of that sort which can be too easily twisted to the justification of the very abuses it is designed to prevent, ever to be a safe measure in popular governments. And the result of this example is not without use as an illustration.
But no sooner is the conflict over, and Mr. Jefferson fully established in power, without risk of further rivalry with his opponent, than the shades of his character begin to disappear, and his better nature again struggles for the mastery. He has left on record the fact that he desired to confer on Mr. Adams the most lucrative post in New England, a step the inconsistency of which with the professions on which they came into power, his friends in that quarter seem to have felt much more keenly than he. He further states that he was deterred from prosecuting his wish by the suggestion that the advance would not be well received. Perhaps in this he was right; but the public manifestation of any such confidence would have done no disservice to his own character for magnanimity, however coldly it might have been met, whilst it would have greatly served to shield Mr. Adams from the ferocious and unsparing denunciations which his partisans, during his administration, were in the habit of pouring out upon him. And all of them were carried on, so far as the public could see, without the smallest effort on his part at counteraction. So little was Mr. Adams in the way of suspecting the existence of any good-will, that a trifling incident which occurred in Massachusetts was well calculated to impress him with a notion of the prevalence of quite an opposite spirit. The number of commissioners of bankruptcy was diminished by the repeal of the judiciary law in such a manner as to render it necessary to deprive some of the incumbents of their places. John Quincy Adams had received his appointment from the district judge under the law. He was now selected for removal under the authority vested in the president, although others, not a whit more in political sympathy, were retained. In the absence of all explanations, and none were offered, but one construction could be put upon such a proceeding. Yet Mr. Jefferson was not probably intending any such petty hostility as this implied. The prejudices which he had succeeded in rousing among his followers, especially in New England, probably exceeded his power to control. But the act had its natural effect on Mr. Adams. Hence, when Mr. Jefferson endeavored to revive his ancient relations with him through an opening casually furnished by Mrs. Adams, his effort met with a colder reception than it deserved. The estrangement continued complete until after Mr. Jefferson’s retirement had released him from his obligations to his partisans. On the other hand, the same event rescued the motives of Mr. Adams from all liability of misapprehension. It then needed only the intervention of some common friend like Dr. Rush, to bring the two once more into kindly relations. The bitterness of party warfare, which had prompted them to be mutually unjust, gradually softened away, and during the remainder of their lives, though they never again met face to face, they kept up a correspondence by letters upon indifferent topics of literature, theology, and general politics, which will probably retain a permanent interest with posterity.
Thus passed the life of Mr. Adams in peaceful retirement, for many years. His correspondence began to grow upon him, and he divided his time between reading on a more extensive scale than ever, and writing to his numerous friends. He devoted himself to a very elaborate examination of the religion of all ages and nations, the results of which he committed to paper in a desultory manner. The issue of it was the formation of his theological opinions very much in the mould adopted by the Unitarians of New England. Rejecting, with the independent spirit which in early life had driven him from the ministry, the prominent doctrines of Calvinism, the trinity, the atonement, and election, he was content to settle down upon the Sermon on the Mount as a perfect code presented to man by a more than mortal teacher. Further he declined to analyze the mysterious nature of his mission. In this faith he lived with uninterrupted serenity, and in it he died with perfect resignation.
The termination of the war with Great Britain by the signature of the treaty of Ghent, closed the disputes connected with European politics, which had raged with greater or less fury for nearly a quarter of a century. Mr. Adams, as a leading actor, had shared largely in the bitterness of the strife. He had been made the object of the most fierce and unrelenting attacks from opposite quarters, and had in his turn been impelled to say and to write much of his opponents which a calm review would scarcely venture to defend. All this contention ceased with the return of peace. The fragment of the ultra-federal party, which had been revived into importance in New England and New York by the unpopularity of the war, and which with singular rashness had staked every thing upon the most intemperate opposition to the course of Mr. Madison, perished under the reaction that followed. Mr. Monroe was elevated to the Presidency without a struggle; and he immediately organized an administration which went into office upheld by the full confidence of the country. Of this administration, John Quincy Adams was the member to whom the department of foreign affairs was assigned; and the selection was ratified by a general expression of good-will in New England. This revolution was felt by his father in a greatly increased manifestation of the popular regard towards himself. From this time to the end of his life the traces of an ever-growing reaction are visible in the extension of his correspondence, which, in spite of his seclusion from public affairs, became almost as large as it had been when he had numerous offices to bestow. Not a shadow now remained on this score to disturb the natural serenity of his mind. It is highly honorable to Mr. Jefferson, that his active and unsolicited testimony, generously given to the value of the public services of his ancient opponent, and extensively spread among the large class over whose minds his authority was yet unbounded, had a great effect in accelerating this change. It was a cheering consolation to the declining days of the old statesman, whose integrity not even his most bitter enemies had ever really disputed, the prospect of losing which had at an earlier moment filled his mind with anxiety and gloom.
So entirely had party strife disappeared upon the second election of Mr. Monroe, that no division took place in the popular votes in the several States. In Massachusetts, Mr. Adams was placed on the list of electors and was chosen without opposition. He was made President of the College, and gave his vote for James Monroe as President and Daniel D. Tompkins, as Vice-President. With a single exception in New Hampshire, prompted by personal regard for John Quincy Adams, the electors were unanimous; the first instance since Washington went out of office, and not improbably the last that may occur in the American annals.
Shortly after the joyful event of the return of his son from his eight years’ absence in the diplomatic service of the country, Mr. Adams was destined to meet with the severest affliction that had ever yet befallen him. His wife, who had gone through the vicissitudes of more than half a century in his company; who had sympathized with him in all his highest aspirations, and had cheered him in his greatest trials; who had faithfully preserved his worldly interests, when he was unable to be present to guard them himself; who had enlivened his home and had shared his joys and his pains alike, was taken ill with a typhus fever, in the autumn of 1818, and died on the 28th of October. He was at this time eighty-three years of age, and of course had little reason to expect long to survive her; but to him her loss was a perpetually recurring evil; for she had been the stay of his household. Her character had adapted itself to his in such a manner as to improve the good qualities of both, so that her loss threw over his manner ever afterwards, a tinge of sadness not natural to him; and the sprightly humor, which made so agreeable a part of the letters addressed to her in her lifetime, as it did of his daily conversation, ceased in a degree to appear.
He now began to indulge in the latest privilege of old age. He recurred to the various events of his life, and sought to compare his remembrance of them with that of the few contemporaries who yet survived. Many facts of importance seemed to him in danger of being forgotten, and the services of some individuals entirely overlooked. What especially stirred him was the publication of Mr. Wirt’s Life of Patrick Henry, because it seemed to claim the merit of originating resistance to the pretensions of Great Britain too exclusively for the State of Virginia. This brought him forward in the explanation of the action of James Otis, concerning whom he supplied a great part of all the information that has been preserved. The series of letters, relating to this subject, written at a very advanced age to Judge Tudor, abound in details and anecdotes which would not otherwise have come down to us. Many of the facts have been substantially confirmed by the testimony of Governor Hutchinson, the last volume of whose history was not brought to light until after Mr. Adams’s death. The most remarkable feature of these late letters is the vigor of imagination and freshness of feeling with which they are written; they overflow with the desire to do honor to those over whose memory time was rapidly closing, and yet whose services had not been without their claim upon the public gratitude. In this way he did much to perpetuate the recollections of honorable events in the career of Otis, of Hawley, and of Samuel Adams, and the labor was to him a most grateful tribute to their worth.
He was now eighty-five years old, and his physical frame, strong as it had been, was slowly but surely giving way under the sap of the destroyer. But his mind still worked with vigor, when an occasion happened which fully developed the regard in which he was held by the people of his native State. The time had come when the District of Maine, which had been long attached to Massachusetts, though not an integral part of her territory, demanded an independent government, and an admission into the Union on an equal footing with the parent State. Massachusetts assented, and a separation was effected; but this event carried with it a necessity of adapting the forms of the Constitution of the State to the circumstances of her greatly abridged limits. This could be done only by calling a convention to amend it. Arrangements were made accordingly. Mr. Adams was unanimously elected a delegate by the people of his native town, just as he had been forty years before, when the instrument now to be amended had been originally framed. Great pains were everywhere taken to select for this body such citizens as had become most distinguished for abilities, learning, or weight of character. The absence of party divisions just then favored such an object remarkably. The result was, the convocation of a popular assembly such as was never gathered from so limited a territory before, and such as may not soon be seen again. The three learned professions, the commercial, the agricultural, and the mechanic interests, all were represented by an amount of intelligence, of culture, of social and of moral worth, such as any Commonwealth of far greater dimensions might well be proud to show.
The sessions of this Convention were opened on the 15th of November, 1820, and were continued until the 9th of January, 1821. When Mr. Adams, in his eighty-sixth year, with a form yet erect, though tremulous with age, made his appearance on the second day, he was received by the members of this brilliant assembly, all standing, with demonstrations of the utmost respect and regard. The dignified office of presiding over its deliberations had been unanimously tendered to him through a Committee, instructed to present to him the following resolutions adopted on the motion of Isaac Parker, then the respected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth:—
“Whereas, the Honorable John Adams, a member of this Convention, and elected the President thereof, has for more than half a century devoted the great powers of his mind, and his profound wisdom and learning, to the service of his country and mankind:
In fearlessly vindicating the rights of the North American provinces against the usurpation and encroachments of the superintendent government:
In diffusing a knowledge of the principles of civil liberty among his fellow-subjects, and exciting them to a firm and resolute defence of the privileges of freemen:
In early conceiving, asserting, and maintaining the justice and practicability of establishing the independence of the United States of America:
In giving the powerful aid of his political knowledge in the formation of the Constitution of his native State, which constitution became in a great measure the model of those which were subsequently formed:
In conciliating the favor of foreign powers, and obtaining their countenance and support in the arduous struggle for independence:
In negotiating the treaty of peace, which secured forever the sovereignty of the United States, and in defeating all attempts to prevent it; and especially in preserving in that treaty the vital interests of the New England States:
In demonstrating to the world, in his defence of the Constitutions of the several United States, the contested principle, since admitted as an axiom, that checks and balances in legislative power are essential to true liberty:
In devoting his time and talents to the service of the nation, in the high and important trusts of Vice-President and President of the United States:
And lastly, in passing an honorable old age in dignified retirement, in the practice of all the domestic virtues, thus exhibiting to his countrymen and to posterity an example of true greatness of mind and of genuine patriotism:—
Therefore, Resolved, That the members of this Convention, representing the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do joyfully avail themselves of this opportunity to testify their respect and gratitude to this eminent patriot and statesman, for the great services rendered by him to his country, and their high gratification that, at this late period of life, he is permitted by Divine Providence to assist them with his counsel in revising the constitution which, forty years ago, his wisdom and prudence assisted to form.
Resolved, That a committee of twelve be appointed by the chair, to communicate this proceeding to the Honorable John Adams, to inform him of his election to preside in this body, and to introduce him to the chair of this Convention.”
Grateful for this honorable testimonial to the value of his past services, Mr. Adams was sufficiently sensible of his failing strength to reject all idea of assuming the arduous labors of the post thus offered. He therefore returned to the Committee the following answer:—
“Fellow-Citizens,—An election at my age and in my circumstances by the free suffrages of so ample a representation of the fortunes and talents, the experience and wisdom, the authority, the virtues, and the piety of the ancient and renowned State of Massachusetts, I esteem the purest and fairest honor of my life; and my gratitude is proportionally ardent and sincere. I pray you, gentlemen, to present to the Convention my most cordial thanks.
Your enumeration of services performed for this country recalls to my recollection the long services and succession of great and excellent characters with whom I have had the honor to act in the former part of my life, and to whose exertions I have endeavored to add my feeble aid; characters, who have been employed by Divine Providence as instruments in preserving and securing that unexampled liberty which this nation now possesses; that liberty, which is the source of all our happiness and prosperity; a prosperity which cannot be contemplated by any virtuous mind without gratitude, consolation, and delight. May it be perpetual!
Gentlemen,—As my age is generally known, it will readily be believed that my forces are too far exhausted to perform the arduous duties of the high office which the benevolence of the Convention has assigned to me. I am, therefore, under the necessity to request permission of the Convention to decline the appointment, and to pray that some other gentleman may be elected, whose vigorous age and superior talents may conduct their deliberations with more convenience to themselves, and with greater satisfaction to the people of the Commonwealth at large.”
In the proceedings Mr. Adams took great interest, but his bodily frame, now easily susceptible of derangement from any change of the long settled habits of a uniform life at home, refused the test of daily attendance during the severity of the winter season. Only once or twice did he venture upon any remarks. A report of what he said is given in the published volume of the debates. It is characteristic, and in perfect consistency with the views which he had steadily held through life. These views were singularly misrepresented so long as temporary objects were to be served by weakening his influence over the popular mind, but there is now no motive left to consider them as other than they are. They may be in brief described as the system of a whig of the Revolution, born of purely English stock, but transplanted to America; republican in its character, and popular, without being democratic, in its tendencies; conservative in its forms, with but a slight leaning to aristocracy. On this last point, nothing is more remarkable than the extent to which his character was misconceived. In the simplicity of his daily habits he would have stood the test of comparison even with Mr. Jefferson, whom the great body of the people had learned to regard as the embodiment of all republican ideas.
There was one change in the old Constitution which Mr. Adams labored, though ineffectually, to procure. It was a modification of the third article of the Bill of Rights, an article which he did not himself draw when he furnished the rest, in such form as would do away with the recognition of distinct modes of religious faith by the State. This amendment had been suggested by Dr. Price in his comments upon the Constitution, published soon after it was made, though it is not likely that Mr. Adams remembered it. Not able to make his voice clearly heard by the members, he had recourse to the agency of others to effect his object; but it was in vain. The old Puritan feeling which began with laboring to establish a Christian Commonwealth, was yet alive, and refused to recognize Jews or heathens as perfect equals with Christians before the law. The proposition was gently put aside; the spirit of it has, however, since found its way, by the operation of an amendment, into the system of government.
This appearance in the convention made a fitting close to the public career of Mr. Adams. His few remaining years were passed serenely at his residence in Quincy, where he kept up the habit of receiving strangers, who came from abroad, or visitors from other States, attracted by curiosity to see him. Once a year, his time was enlivened by the presence of his son, John Quincy Adams, now Secretary of State, and himself arrived at a position in the popular estimation, which seemed to open a prospect of his elevation to the Presidency, as the successor of Mr. Monroe. It was this circumstance which gave rise to the last attempt to disturb the peace of Mr. Adams’s declining years. Not long after his retirement in 1801, and whilst smarting under the irritation, caused by the sense of injustice done to him by members of both contending parties, the same which produced the papers in the “Boston Patriot,” a maternal relative of his, then bordering upon insanity, which at last ended in suicide, drew from him, by force of earnest expressions of sympathy, and under the seal of the strictest confidence, the most unreserved expression of his sentiments respecting the chief actors and events in the latter portion of his public life. Not until long after the catastrophe that befell the recipient of these letters, and the rise of John Quincy Adams to be a prominent candidate for the Presidency, did an inducement occur to betray confidence by bringing them to light. The heir of Mr. Cunningham then earned by the transfer of them to the political opponents of the son, a claim upon their gratitude in case of their attaining power, which was ultimately recognized by the gift of a subordinate place in the Boston custom-house. By this means the letters were published to the world. It may fairly be doubted whether the injury done by them to the prospects of John Quincy Adams was ever an equivalent even for the inconsiderable reward paid for the breach of trust.
At any rate, they appeared too late to disturb the equanimity of the father. Mr. Jefferson and Colonel Pickering, the two surviving individuals most harshly reflected upon in them, appear to have perused the papers with very opposite emotions. The former justly considered them as the relics of a conflict in which he had already given as well as taken blows enough not to seek to renew it in his last days. The latter felt it his duty to leave behind him a general replication to all the charges ever made against him, which might defend his memory from the revival of them after his death. At this day it would seem as if a less virulent production would have better answered to protect his fame. Bitter as it was, the perusal of it excited in Mr. Adams no disposition to protract the controversy. The day for such passions had gone by with him. The returning good-will of his countrymen was healing all his wounds. He regretted the publication of his own letters, not from any anxiety for himself, for his career was run, and by the substance of the opinions, already expressed in other forms, on public affairs he was ready to abide, but on account of the spirit which the betrayal of his most private feelings in a season of irritation might renew in others, after his own had subsided into peace. Even with Colonel Pickering, the last as he ever had been the most vindictive of his enemies, he had no further hostilities to wage.
With the public these pamphlets made little impression. The original motive for printing seemed so unworthy, that they excited little response and obtained but a limited currency. They have been rather more referred to in later times as authority for facts on one side or the other of public questions; but for obvious reasons they are entitled to but a moderate share of weight; and for the reason that they never were intended by the writer for the public eye, no part of the letters thus betrayed has been admitted to a place in the present work. Neither have they been relied upon to sustain the narrative in this biography.
Tranquil as Mr. Adams had become in his last days, and happy in his correspondence with the remnant of his old compeers, he was not indifferent to the struggle which was going on for the office of President of the United States. His son was now a mark for the same shafts which had been aimed at him thirty years before, and it was not unnatural that he should await with emotion the favorable or adverse issue that might attend it. From youth to age his son had been a faithful one to him, never varying in his efforts to promote his comfort and his happiness, always supplying abundance of material to gratify his highest pride. To have such a son rewarded by the people of the United States by an elevation to the highest station in their gift, was an aspiration which he could hardly be sanguine enough to indulge, though the conviction that he was fully worthy of it had been long cherished in his mind. It was reserved to him to live to see the fulfilment of his hopes.
By reason of the multiplication of candidates consequent upon the disintegration of the parties, no election of President was made at the usual period for the popular choice. As a consequence, the decision fell, for the second time since the formation of the government, upon the House of Representatives. The only formidable competitor of Mr. Adams was General Jackson; and between them the friends of the minor candidates were compelled to choose. The choice of Mr. Adams was effected by the adherents of Mr. Clay, who controlled the votes of four States. But, at that moment, the supporters of the fourth candidate, Mr. Crawford, were understood to be likewise disposed to prefer him, had circumstances made a decision on their part necessary. As a consequence, John Quincy Adams was declared to be elected. The event brought to his father numbers of congratulatory letters, some specimens of which merit insertion here:—
Washington, 12 February, 1825.
Receive the most cordial congratulations from an old friend of the father and the son, who on this occasion feels much for you, and for him; and who will be happy on the Bunker Hill anniversary to express in person the patriotic and individual sentiments which have been known to you for near half a century.
Most truly and affectionately,