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to this eminent patriot and statesman, for the great services rendered »y 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.”
This station he declined on account of his advanced age, being then eighty-five years old, but he was able to attend upon the Convention and fulfil his duties as a member.
The world has hardly ever seen a spectacle of more moral beauty and grandeur, than was presented by the old age of Mr. Adams. The violence of party feeling had died away, and he had begun to receive that just appreciation which, to most men, is not accorded till after death. He had been always happy in his domestic relations, and he had a large circle of friends and acquaintances, who looked up to him with affectionate admiration. He was also an object of great interest to intelligent strangers from all parts of the world, all of whom were desirous of seeing a man who done so much for the glory and happiness of his country. No one could look upon his venerable form, and think of what he had done and suffered, and how he had given up all the prime and strength of his life to the public good, without the deepest emotions of gratitude and respect. It was his peculiar good fortune, to witness the complete success of the institutions which he had been so active in creating and supporting He saw, every day, the influences of the revolution widening and extending, and the genial light of freedom continually adding increase to the wealth, intelligence, and happiness of his countrymen. He could look around upon the thriving towns, the smiling villages, the busy factories, the crowded warehouses of his country, and exclaim, “Behold the work of my hands, the fruits of my labors, the result of my toils, dangers, and sacrifices." It was his privilege also to preserve his mind unclouded to the last. He always retained his enjoyment of books, conversation, and reflection. In 1824, his cup of happiness was filled to the brim, by seeing his son elevated to the highest station in the gift of the people.
The fourth of July, 1826, which completed the half century since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, arrived, and there were but three of the signers of that immortal instrument left upon earth, to hail its morning light. And, as it is well known, on that day two of these finished their earthly pilgrimage, a coincidence so remarkable, as to seem miraculous. For a few days before, Mr. Adams had been rapidly failing, and on the morning of the fourth, he found himself too weak to rise from his bed. On being requested to name a toast for the customary celebration of the day, he exclaimed, “INDEPENDENCE FOREVER. When the day was ushered in, by the ringing of bells, and the firing of cannon, he was asked by one of his attendants, if he knew what day it was? He replied, “yes; it is the glorious fourth of July—God bless it --God bless you all.” In the course of the day he said, “ It is a great and glorious day.” The last words he uttered were, “ Jefferson survives.” But he had, at one o'clock, resigned his spirit into the hands of his God.
When the news was spread throughout the country that these two men, who had been associated together in so many important labors, and whose names were identified with the glory and prosperity of their country, had both died on the same day, and on that which completed the half century since they signed the Declaration of Independence, of which one was the author, and the other the most powerful advocate and defender; the effect was solemn and thrilling in the highest degree. It seemed a direct and special manifestation of God's power. The general feeling was, (to borrow the beautiful words of one of their eulogists,) "that had the prophet lent his chariot of fire,' and his ' horses of fire,' their ascent could hardly have been more glorious." In all parts of the country a day was set apart, by the large towns, for the solemn commemoration of their death, and men of the most distinguished talents were invited to pronounce their eulogies. All political prejudices were forgotten in the general burst of feeling; nothing was recollected but their long lives of devoted patriotism, and the sublime circumstances which attended their close.
The character of Mr. Adams has been displayed in his life so fully, that only a few remarks need now be made upon it. He was a man of bold and ardent temperament, and strong passions, and was occasionally led by them into imprudences and indiscretions. But his motives were always high and honorable. No man was less selfish, or less swayed by personal considerations. He was ready to sacrifice every thing to the public good. He thought for himself, and expressed his sentiments and opinions with great, sometimes with too great, boldness. He did not always treat with proper respect the views of those who differed from him, nor show a sufficient toleration to their honest prejudices. But his frank, manly, intrepid character and bearing, which kept nothing in reserve, and permitted his weakness and his strength to be equally seen, secured him the warm attachment of his friends, and the respect of his political enemies. His intellectual powers were of a high order. He had much of that vividness of conception, and glow of feeling, which belong to the temperament of genius. But there was nothing that was visionary and Utopian in his mind; on the contrary, it was distinguished by a large share of the practical and useful, by good sense, judgment, shrewdness, and knowledge of the world. He had read and studied, both books and men, with great attention ; his writings bear witness to the former, and his life to the latter. He took large and comprehensive views, and saw a great way ahead; we have already remarked in his life
, that, from the first beginning of the disturbances, he clearly foresaw that it must end in a rupture between the two countries, and an appeal to arms; and in this opinion he was almost alone for some time. Time has also shown, how correct his views were, with regard to the French Revolution, though they were those, at the moment, of a very small majority. He was a nervous, eloquent, and impressive speaker; and, in this respect, had a decided advantage over his great rival, Mr. Jefferson. In their written compositions there was a marked difference; each being characteristic of the temperament, education, and habits of thought of the two. The style of Mr. Adams was vigorous, condensed, and abrupt, sacrificing elegance to strength, going straight to the point proposed, and not stopping to gather ornaments by the way; that of Mr. Jefferson was more marked by ease, gracefulness, finish, and a happy selection of words, and by a vein of philosophical reflection, which we do not see in the writings of Mr. Adams.
The eloquence of Mr. Adams has been delineated in a passage of great power and splendor by Mr. Webster. Though often quoted, it is of such uncommon merit, both in thought and style, that we have no hesitation in transcribing it.
“ The eloquence of Mr. Adams resembled his general character, and formed indeed a part of it. It was bold, manly, and energetic; and such the crisis required. When public bodies are to be addressed on momentous occasions, when great interests are at stake, and strong passivns excited, nothing is valuable in speech, farther than it is connected with high intellectual and moral endowments. Clearness, force, and earnestness are the qualities which produce conviction. True eloquence, indeed, does not consist in speech. It cannot be brought from far. Labor and learning may toil for it, but they will toil in vain. Words and phrases may be marshaled in every way, but they cannot compass it. It must exist in the man, in the subject, and in the occasion. Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire after it,—they cannot reach it.
It comes, if it comes at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires, with spontaneous, original, native force. The graces taught in the schools
, the costly ornaments and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust men, when their own lives, and the fate of their wives, their children, and their country, hang on the decision of the hour. Then words have lost their power, rhetoric is vain, and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even genius itself then feels rebuked and subdued, as in the presence of higher qualities. Then patriotism is eloquent: then self devotion is eloquent. The clear conception, outrunning the deductions of logic, the high purpose, the firm resolve, the dauntless spirit, speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature, and urging the whole man onward, right onward to his object,—this, this is eloquence; or rather, it is something greater and higher than eloquence,it is action, noble, sublime, godlike action."
The personal appearance and manners of Mr. Adams were not particularly prepossessing. His face, as his portraits manifest, was intellectual and expressive, but his figure was low and ungraceful, and his manners were frequently abrupt and uncourteous. He had neither the lofty dignity of Washington, nor the engaging elegance and gracefulness, which marked the manners and address of Jefferson.
Mr. Adams was the father of four children, of whom none but the Hon. John Quincy Adams are now living. Mr. Adams left to this son his mansion house, and many valuable papers. He gave to the town of Quincy a lot of land, to erect a church for the society, of which he was for sixty years a member. This edifice is now completed, and is one of the most beautiful churches in New-England. He also bequeathed another lot of land to the town for an Academy, and his library, of more than two thousand volumes, for the use of that Academy.