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The Last Days of John Quincy Adams

It was 164 years ago today, on February 23, 1848, that John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States, died in Washington, D.C. from a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Just two days earlier he had collapsed on the floor of the House of Representatives after voting against a motion to honour officers who had served in the Mexican-American War. Adams was a very vocal opponent of that war and let his opposition be known in no uncertain terms. He would spend his last hours on earth in the Speaker's Room in the House of Representatives.

While Adams had an interesting career up to and including the time of his presidency, his post-presidency years are a remarkable story in themselves. After losing the election of 1828 to Andrew Jackson, he was one of only three Presidents who chose not to attend their respective successor's inauguration. (The others were his father and Andrew Johnson.)

But Adams did not retire and ride off into the sunset after leaving office. Instead he went back to Washington for more public service. Adams won election to the United States House of Representatives in the 1830 elections as a National Republican. He was the first president to serve in Congress after his term of office, and one of only two former presidents to do so. (Andrew Johnson later served in the Senate.) Adams was elected to eight terms, serving as a Representative for 17 years, from 1831 until his death. He ran for the Whig Party in 1836 and every election thereafter.

In Congress, the issue that Adams was most passionate about was the issue of slavery. Adams became an important antislavery voice in the Congress. He presented many petitions for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia and elsewhere to Congress. Congress had a "Gag rule" which prevented discussion of slavery from 1836 to 1844, but Adams somehow managed to evade it through his parliamentary skill.

Adams met Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln's sole term as a member of the House of Representatives, from 1847 until Adams' death. He is the only president to have met both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Adams vilified slavery as a terrible evil and was a strong advocate for its abolition. In 1841, Adams represented the defendants in United States v. The Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the United States. He successfully argued that the Africans, who had seized control of a Spanish ship on which they were being transported illegally as slaves, should not be extradited or deported to Cuba (a Spanish colony where slavery was legal) but should be considered free. Under President Martin Van Buren, the government argued the Africans should be deported for having mutinied and killed officers on the ship. Adams won their freedom, with the chance to stay in the United States or return to Africa.

Another of Adams' causes was his opposition to the Mexican War. He vehemently attacked the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War because he saw both as part of a "conspiracy" to extend slavery.

On February 21, 1848, the House of Representatives was discussing the matter of honoring US Army officers who served in the Mexican-American War. Adams firmly opposed this idea, so when the rest of the house erupted into 'ayes', he cried out, 'No!' He immediately collapsed, suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Two days later, on February 23, he died with his wife Louise and son Charles at his side in the Speaker's Room inside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. His last words were reported to have been, "This is the last of Earth. I am content."

Last year on this anniversary, I posted this YouTube video showing assorted clips from the movie Amistad, showing Sir Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of John Quincy Adams. It's worth seeing again.

Oh and if you're looking for something to read about JQA, here's what's in my library:

1. Mr. Adams’ Last Crusade by Joseph Whellan
2. John Quincy Adams: Policy Maker for the United States by James E. Lewis Jr.
3. John Quincy Adams by Robert Remini (American President Series)
4. America Afire by Bernard A. Weisberger
5. The Birth of Modern Politics by Lynn Hudson Parsons


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
How do you rate those books?
Which of them would you recommend to know the man John Qunicy not just his times and politics?
Do we know how he felt about things or was he totally closed and reserved about his private thoughts?
Feb. 24th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
The books deal with different aspects of Adams' life, so it depends on which part of his story that fascinates you the most. Last Crusade is about his fight against slavery. The Remini book is very good, but it's very brief. Policy Maker is the only real substantial biography of Adams on that list, the last two focus on the election of 1824 when the House had to select the President because no candidate had a majority of electoral votes.
Feb. 25th, 2012 12:35 am (UTC)
None of them tell me what I really want to know. What did a man who had known both Washington and Lincoln think about the world. He saw the country go from 13 colonies to westward expansion. He saw monarchs come and go in Europe. What did he think about all of that? The world changed in his life time. He saw in from the front row. I want his comments and reflection.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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