« PreviousContinue »
the United States at the court of Great Britain, an office at that time deemed peculiarly delicate and interesting. Although his reception by the king was favorable and courteous, Mr. Adams found the British ministry cold and unfriendly toward the United States, and he was, therefore, unable to negotiate a commercial treaty with that nation. In other respects, however, he rendered valuable services to his country, and, besides assisting in forming treaties with Prussia and Morocco, he wrote, while in Europe, an elaborate and eloquent defence of the forms of government established in the United States, in reply to strictures advanced by Mr. Turgot, the Abbé de Mably, Dr. Price, and other European writers. Immediately after the publication of this work, Mr. Adams asked permission to resign and return, and in June, 1788, he arrived in his native land, after an absence of between eight and nine years.
The services of Mr. Adams in the cause of his country, at home and abroad, during the period to which we have referred, it is believed, were not excelled by those of any other of the patriots of the revolution. In the language of one of his eulogists (Mr. J. E. Sprague, of Massachusetts): “Not a hundred men in the country could have been acquainted with any part of the labors of Mr. Adams—they appeared anonymously, or under assumed titles; they were concealed in the secret conclaves of Congress, or the more secret cabinets of princes. Such services are never known to the public; or, if known, only in history, when the actors of the day have passed from the stage, and the motives for longer concealment cease to exist. As we ascend the mount of history, and rise above the vapors of party prejudice, we shall all acknowledge that we owe our independence more to John Adams than to any other created being, and that he was the GREAT LEAder of the American Revolution."
When permission was given him to return from Europe, the continental Congress adopted the following resolution : "Resolved, that Congress entertain a high sense of the services which Mr. Adams has rendered to the United States, in the execution of the various important trusts which they have from time to time committed to him; and that the thanks of Congress be presented to him for the patriotism, perseverance, integrity, and diligence, with which he has ably and faithfully served his country.” Such was the testimonial of his country, expressed through the national councils, at the termination of his revolutionary and diplomatic career.
During the absence of Mr. Adams in Europe, the constitution of the United States had been formed and adopted. He highly approved of its provisions, and on his return, when it was about to go into operation, he was selected by the friends of the constitution to be placed on the ticket with Washington as a candidate for one of the two highest offices in the gift of the people. He was consequently elected vice-president, and on the assembling of the senate, he took his seat as president of that body, at New York, in April, 1789. Having been re-elected to that office in 1792, he held it, and presided in the senate, with great dignity, during the entire period of Washington's administration, whose confidence he enjoyed, and by whom he was consulted on important questions. In his valedictory address to the senate, he remarks : “ It is a recollection of which nothing can ever deprive me, and it will be a source of comfort to me through the remainder of my life, that on the one hand, I have for eight years held the second situation under our constitution, in perfect and uninterrupted harmony with the first, without envy in the one, or jealousy in the other, so, on the other hand, I have never had the smallest misunderstanding with any member of the senate.”
In 1790, Mr. Adams wrote his celebrated “Discourses on Davila ;" they were anonymously published, at first, in the Gazette of the United States, of Philadelphia, in a series of numbers; they may be considered as a sequel to his “Defence of the American Constitutions." He was a decided friend and patron of literature and the arts, and while in Europe, having obtained much information on the subject of public institutions, he contributed largely to the advancement of establishments in his native state, for the encouragement of arts, sciences, and letters.
On the retirement of General Washington from the presidency of the United States, Mr. Adams was elected his successor, after a close and spirited contest with two rivals for that high office; Mr. Jefferson being supported by the democratic or republican party, while a portion of the federal party preferred Mr. Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, who was placed on the ticket with Mr. Adams. The result, as we have stated, in our notice of Washington's administration, was the election of Mr. Adams as president, and Mr. Jefferson as vice-president, and in March, 1797, they entered upon their duties in those offices.
On meeting the senate, as their presiding officer, Mr. Jefferson remarked, that the duties of the chief magistracy had been “justly confided to the eminent character who preceded him, whose talents and integrity,” he added, “ have been known and revered by me through a long term of years; have been the foundation of a cordial and uninterrupted friendship between us; and I devoutly pray that he may be long preserved for the government, the happiness, and prosperity of our country.” The senate adopted an address taking leave of Mr. Adams, after he had presided over them for eight years, with the strongest expressions of respect and attachment.
The administration of Mr. Adams we shall have occasion to notice in another place. He came to the presidency in a stormy time. In the language of Colonel Knapp," the French revolution had just reached its highest point of settled delirium, after some of the paroxysms of its fury had passed away. The people of the United States took sides, some approving, others deprecating, the course pursued by France. Mr. Adams wished to preserve a neutrality, but found this quite impossible. A navy
was raised, with surprising promptitude, to prevent insolence, and to chas tise aggression. It had the desired effect, and France was taught that the Americans were friends in peace, but were not fearful of war when it could not be averted. When the historian shall come to this
page history, he will do justice to the sagacity, to the spirit, and to the integrity of Mr. Adams, and will find that he had more reasons, and good ones, for his conduct, than his friends or enemies ever gave him.”
In his course of public policy, when war with France was expected, he was encouraged by addresses from all quarters, and by the approving voice of Washington. He, however, gave dissatisfaction to many of his own political party, in his final attempts to conciliate France, and in his removal of two members of his cabinet, toward the close of his administration. Under these circumstances, notwithstanding Mr. Adams was the candidate of the federal party for re-election as president, and received their faithful support, it is not strange that his opponents, with the advantage in their favor of the superior popularity of Mr. Jefferson, succeeded in defeating him. For this event, the correspondence of Mr. Adams shows that he was prepared, and he left the arduous duties of chief magistrate probably with less of disappointment than his enemies had expected.
Immediately after Mr. Jefferson had succeeded to the presidency, in 1801, Mr. Adams retired to his estate at Quincy, in Massachusetts, and passed the remainder of his days in literary and scientific leisure, though occasionally addressing various communications to the public. He gave his support generally to the administration of Mr. Jefferson, and the friendship between these distinguished men was revived by a correspondence, and continued for several years previous to their death. When the disputes with Great Britain eventuated in war, Mr. Adams avowed his approbation of that measure, and in 1815 he saw the second treaty of peace concluded with that nation, by a commission of which his son was at the head, as he had been himself in that commission which formed the treaty of 1783.
In 1816, the republican party in Massachusetts, which had once vehemently opposed him as president of the United States, paid him the compliment of placing his name at the head of their list of presidential electors. In 1820, he was chosen a member of the state convention to revise the constitution of Massachusetts, which body unanimously solicited him to act as their president. This he declined, on account of his age, but he was complimented by a vote of the convention acknowledging his great services, for a period of more than half a century, in the cause of his country and of mankind.
In 1818, he had lost, by her death, his amiable and faithful consort, who had for so many years shared his anxieties and fortunes. His only daughter, Mrs. Smith, died in 1813. These ladies were distinguished through life as among the most excellent and talented of American females. The heroic spirit of Mrs. Adams is shown in a striking light in a letter from her to a friend in London, dated in 1777; we give the following extract: “Heaven is our witness, that we do not rejoice in the effusion of blood; but having forced us to draw the sword, we are determined never to sheathe it slaves of Britain. Our cause is, I trust, the cause of truth and justice, and will finally prevail, though the combined force of earth and hell shall rise against them. To this cause I have sacrificed much of my own personal happiness, by giving up to the councils of America one of my nearest connexions, and living for more than three years in a state of widowhood.”
The last years of the long life of Mr. Adams were peaceful and tranquil. His mansion was always the abode of elegant hospitality, and he was occasionally enlivened by visits from his distinguished son, who, in 1825, he had the singular felicity of seeing elevated to the office of president of the United States. At length, having lived to a good old age,
he expired, surrounded by his affectionate relatives, on the fourth of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of that independence which he had done so much to achieve. A short time before his death, being asked to suggest a toast for the customary celebration, he replied, “I will give you-Independence for ever." It is known that Mr. Jefferson died on the same day—a most remarkable dispensation of Providence. A similar coincidence occurred five years afterward, in the death of President Monroe, July 4, 1831.
Mr. Adams was of middle stature, and full person, and when elected president, he was bald on the top of his head. His countenance beamed with intelligence, and moral as well as physical courage. His walk was firm and dignified, to a late period of his life. His manner was slow and deliberate, unless he was excited, and when this happened, he expressed himself with great energy. He was ever a man of purest morals, and is said to have been a firm believer in Christianity, not from habit and example, but from diligent investigation of its proofs.
To use the words of a political friend of his (Mr. Sullivan): “He had an uncompromising regard for his own opinion ; and seemed to have supposed that his opinions could not be corrected by those of other men, nor bettered by any comparison. It is not improbable that Mr. Adams was impatient in finding how much the more easily understood services of military men were appreciated, than were the secluded, though no less important ones, of diplomatic agency and cabinet council. So made up, from natural propensities, and from the circumstances of his life, Mr. Adams came to the presidency at the time when more forbearance and discretion were required than he is supposed to have had. He seems to have been deficient in the rare excellence of attempting to see himself as others saw him; and he ventured to act as though everybody Vol. II.—7
saw as he saw himself. He considered only what was right in his own view; and that was to be carried by main force, whatever were the obstacles.”
But whatever may be the judgment of posterity as to his merits as a ruler, there can be no question on the subject of his general characternor of his penetrating mind-his patriotism, and his devotion to what he considered the true interests of his country.