Why I Have a Bust of John Quincy Adams

JQA_BustI have a bust of John Quincy Adams on my desk.

Why?

Because few Americans are greater symbols of resolution, loyalty to country and the courage to overcome defeat.

Moreover, John Quincy Adams is a reminder of how one lawyer can make a difference in the United States.

JQA suffered a massive stroke on the Floor of the House of Representatives on February 21, 1848.

He served in the House from 1830 to his death on February 23, 1848. He is the only American President to be elected and serve in Congress after his Presidency. [While President Andrew John was elected to the Senate by the Redeemer Government in Tennessee, he died before taking the oath of office.] During this time, President John Quincy Adams earned the nickname Old Man Eloquent.

Never before in our country’s history had there been a larger funeral for a former President of the United States. Statesmen and a grieving procession several miles long accompanied Adams’ body back to Quincy, Massachusetts. In true government fashion, Adams’ coffin was several inches too wide for the crypt.

Only one other state funeral would have a larger outpouring of national grief in the 19th Century. It was for an attorney from Illinois who served one term in Congress. His name was Lincoln.

JQA grew up at the founding of the United States, thanks in large part to his father’s determination to see an independent United States of America. A boy who became an ambassador (and the only family where the grandfather, father and grandson each served as Ambassador to England); the US Senator who lost his office because of his support for the Embargo Act of 1807; the statesman who helped negotiate the end of the War of 1812; the Secretary of State who defined 19th Century foreign policy with the Monroe Doctrine; and a man elected President of the United States by the House after a disputed election with four candidates.

President John Quincy Adams was the first “modern” President who did not wear a wig, worn clothes modern for the time and had what would be considered a progressive administration. He wanted roads, a Naval Academy and what would be called the Smithsonian. He also wrote in his diary daily, even go so far to teach himself to write left-handed when his right hand became tired. He also swam nude in the Potomac to exercise…which would not go over well today.

Unfortunately, his Presidency was a total failure. Congress dug in and opposed him on every issue, biding their time for Andrew Jackson.

Adams lost the election of 1828. Many historians joke it was probably more honorable to have lost than won that race. During the campaign, Jackson’s people accused Adams as having supplied the Russian Tsar with American virgins while Adams was Commissioner to Russia (which was not true); the Adams camp produced the Coffin Hand Bill, which accused Jackson of being a bigamist, having killed men in duels and being illiterate. All of which were true about Jackson.

Jackson could also spit blood at will on people he argued with, thanks to a dueling injury.

To be fair, Jackson’s wife did not have a proper divorce from her first husband. The stress of the election also killed her.

Adams was one of two Presidents not to attend his successor’s Inauguration. The other was John Adams.

How does a man totally defeated from the Presidency have the courage to run for the House of Representatives? How does he serve with honor and dedication until his dying day? Where does that courage come from?

Congressman John Quincy Adams fought tooth and nail against the Gag Rule, the practice of tabling without reading petitions on slavery. Adams called the Gag Rule exactly what it was: an outright violation of the First Amendment, denying citizens the right to petition their government for grievances. Adams was once greeted in Ohio for his defense of the First Amendment with a banner declaring he was the “Defender of the Rights of Man.”

In time, John Quincy Adams’ allies grew. One was Joshua R Giddings. Congressman Giddings also took up many of Adams’ causes. Like most Congressmen of the time, many lived in boarding houses and ate together. Adams and Giddings lived at the same boarding. Giddings roommate was Abraham Lincoln.

So, why a bust of John Quincy Adams? Because I admire a lawyer who lived, fought and died in order to make America better.

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