Friday, February 23, 2018

Election of a president

‘May the blessing of God rest upon the event of this day! - the second Wednesday in February, when the election of a President of the United States for the term of four years, from the 4th of March next, was consummated. . . the House of Representatives immediately proceeded to the vote by ballot from the three highest candidates, when John Quincy Adams received the votes of thirteen, Andrew Jackson of seven, and William H. Crawford of four States. The election was thus completed, very unexpectedly, by a single ballot.’ This is John Quincy Adams - who died 170 years ago today - writing in his diary on the day he won the ballot to become the sixth president of the United States. His father, of course, another John Adams, had been the first ever US vice-president and then the second president - see A spirit to our honour.

Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1767, and while still young served as secretary to his father, then a diplomat, in Europe. He studied at Leiden University and Harvard, and trained as a lawyer. In 1789, his father became the US’s first vice-president (under George Washington), and 12 years later the country’s second president. At only 26 years of age, young Adams was appointed minister to the Netherlands, and then promoted to the Berlin legation. In 1797, he married Louisa Johnson and they had four children, though one died in infancy, and two died as young adults. In 1802, he was elected to the Senate. Six years later, President Madison appointed him Minister to Russia, a position he held until 1814, after which he served as an envoy to the UK for two years. Under President Monroe, Adams served as secretary of state, arranging with England for the joint occupation of Oregon, obtaining from Spain the cession of the Floridas, and helping formulate the Monroe Doctrine.

Adams was elected president in 1825. He sought to modernise the country, launching a programme to build highways and canals, to establish a national university, and to finance scientific expeditions. But he lost his 1928 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson. Adams returned to Massachusetts planning to retire from politics, but in 1830 he ran for, and won, a seat in the House of Representatives (becoming the first of very few presidents who have sat in Congress). He was re-elected regularly (even though he changed from being a Republican to a Whig) and served on various committees. Indeed, he died - 
23 February 1848 - from a stroke suffered in the House. For further information see Wikipedia, The White House, The Miller Centre, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or

Adams kept a diary from the age of 12 throughout his life, amassing some 15,000 closely-written manuscript pages. The text of those pages was first edited by his son, Charles Francis Adams, and published in 12 volumes between 1874 and 1877 by J. B. Lippincott, as Memoirs of John Quincy. All volumes are freely available at Internet Archive. Charles Adams explains, in his preface, what ‘fair and honest’ rules he followed in selecting entries to be published: ‘1st. To eliminate the details of common life and events of no interest to the public. 2d. To reduce the moral and religious speculations, in which the work abounds, so far as to escape repetition of sentiments once declared. 3d. Not to suppress strictures upon contemporaries, but to give them only when they are upon public men acting in the same sphere with the writer. In point of fact, there are very few others. 4th. To suppress nothing of his own habits of self-examination, even when they might be thought most to tell against himself. 5th. To abstain altogether from modification of the sentiments or the very words, and substitution of what might seem better ones, in every case but that of obvious error in writing.’

Three-quarters of a century later, in 1951, Charles Scribner’s Sons issued an abridged one-volume version, edited by Allan Nevins, with the title The Diary of John Quincy Adams 1794-1845. This, too, is freely available at Internet Archive. Much more recently (2107), Library of America (LoA) has issued a fresh two-volume selected edition of the diaries (1779-1821, 1821-1848) as edited by David Waldstreicher. LoA calls Adams’ diary ‘one of the most extraordinary works in American literature’, and says ‘it is both an unrivaled record of historical events and personalities from the nation’s founding to the antebellum era and a masterpiece of American self-portraiture, tracing the spiritual, literary, and scientific interests of an exceptionally lively mind.’ It also presents selections for the first time that are based on ‘the original manuscript diaries, restoring personal and revealing passages suppressed in earlier editions’.

The following extracts are all taken from Nevin’s 1951 edition.

3 June 1794
‘Boston. When I returned to my lodgings at the close of the evening, upon opening a letter from my father, which I had just before taken from the postoffice I found that it contained information that Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State of the United States, had, on the morning of the day when the letter was dated, called on the writer, and told him that the President of the United States had determined to nominate me to go to the Hague as Resident Minister from the United States. This intelligence was very unexpected, and indeed surprising. I had laid down as a principle, that I never would solicit for any public office whatever, and from this determination no necessity has hitherto compelled me to swerve.’

9 December 1795
‘After the Levee was over I was introduced into the private closet of the King by Lord Grenville, and, presenting my credential Letter, said, “Sir, to testify to your Majesty the sincerity of the United States of America in their negotiations, their President has directed me to take the necessary measures connected with the ratifications of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation concluded between your Majesty and the United States. He has authorized me to deliver to your Majesty this letter, and I ask your Majesty’s permission to add, on their part, the assurance of the sincerity of their intentions.” He then said, “To give you my answer, Sir, I am very happy to have the assurances of their sincerity, for without that, you know, there would be no such thing as dealings among men.” He afterwards asked to which of the States I belonged, and on my answering, Massachusetts, he turned to Lord Grenville and said, “All the Adamses belong to Massachusetts?” To which Lord Grenville answered, they did. He enquired whether my father was now Governor of Massachuetts. I answered, “No, Sir; he is Vice President of the United States.” “Ay,” said he, “and he cannot hold both offices at the same time?” “No, Sir.” He asked where my father is now. “At Philadelphia, Sir, I presume, the Congress being now in session.” “When do they meet?” “The first week in December, Sir.” “ And where did you come from last?” “From Holland, Sir.” “You have been employed there?” “Yes, Sir, about a year.” “Have you been employed before, and anywhere else?” “ No, Sir.”

I then withdrew. Mr. Cottrell invited me to go and witness the ceremony of an address presented by the Bishop and Clergy of London, which was received upon the throne.’

8 March 1814
‘Dr. Galloway was here this morning, and prescribed for me a vial of Sacred Elixir. I am very unwell, and have strong symptoms of the jaundice; a lassitude which has almost, but not yet quite, suspended all my industry; a listlessness which, without extinguishing the love of life, affects the mind with the sentiment that life is nothing worth; an oppression at the heart, which, without being positive pain, is more distressing than pain itself. I still adhere, however, to my usual occupations. I feel nothing like the tediousness of time, suffer nothing like ennui. Time is too short for me, rather than too long. If the day were of forty-eight hours instead of twenty-four, I could employ them all, so I had but eyes and hands to read and write.’

4 February 1815
‘Paris. At a quarter-past four in the morning I took my departure from Gournay-sur-Aronde, and reached Pont Sainte Mayence, the second stage, just after daylight. On the starting from this stage, I found a bridge over the river Oise, which had been blown up last winter, and which they are now rebuilding. This was the first and only trace of injury to the country from the late war that I perceived on the road. The bridge is already sufficiently restored for foot-passengers, but not for carriages. I crossed it myself, and waited on the south side of it for my carriage, which went over in a ferry-boat, about two hundred yards below. I met on the Paris side of the bridge a miller, who told me that the bridge had been blown up to stop the Cossacks.’

10 July 1818
‘Had an interview at the office with Hyde de Neuville, the French Minister - all upon our affairs with Spain. He says that Spain will cede the Floridas to the United States, and let the lands go for the indemnities due to our citizens, and he urged that we should take the Sabine for the western boundary, which I told him was impossible. He urged this subject very strenuously for more than an hour. As to Onis’s note of invective against General Jackson, which I told him as a good friend to Onis he should advise him to take back, he said I need not answer it for a month or two, perhaps not at all, if in the meantime we could come to an arrangement of the other differences.’

17 July 1818
‘Cabinet meeting at the President’s - the discussion continued upon the answer to be given to Onis, and the restoration of Florida to Spain. The weakness and palsy of my right hand make it impossible for me to report this discussion, in which I continue to oppose the unanimous opinions of the President, the Secretary of the Treasury Crawford, the Secretary of War Calhoun, and the Attorney-General Wirt. I have thought that the whole conduct of General Jackson was justifiable under his orders, although he certainly had none to take any Spanish fort. My principle is that everything he did was defensive; that as such it was neither war against Spain nor violation of the Constitution.’

9 February 1821
‘May the blessing of God rest upon the event of this day! - the second Wednesday in February, when the election of a President of the United States for the term of four years, from the 4th of March next, was consummated. Of the votes in the electoral colleges, there were ninety-nine for Andrew Jackson, of Tennessee; eighty-four for John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts; forty-one for William Harris Crawford, of Georgia; and thirty-seven for Henry Clay, of Kentucky: in all, two hundred and sixty-one. This result having been announced, on opening and counting the votes in joint meeting of the two Houses, the House of Representatives immediately proceeded to the vote by ballot from the three highest candidates, when John Quincy Adams received the votes of thirteen, Andrew Jackson of seven, and William H. Crawford of four States. The election was thus completed, very unexpectedly, by a single ballot. Alexander H. Everett gave me the first notice, both of the issue of the votes of the electoral colleges as announced in the joint meeting, and of the final vote as declared. Wyer followed him a few minutes afterwards. Mr. Bolton and Mr. Thomas, the Naval Architect, succeeded; and B. W. Crowninshield, calling, on his return from the House to his lodgings, at my house, confirmed the report.

Congratulations from several of the officers of the Department of State ensued - from D. Brent, G. Ironside, W. Slade, and Joseas W. King. Those of my wife, children, and family were cordial and affecting, and I received an affectionate note from Mr. Rufus King, of New York, written in the Senate-chamber after the event. . .

After dinner, the Russian Minister, Baron Tuyll called to congratulate me upon the issue of the election. I attended, with Mrs. Adams, the drawing-room at the President’s. It was crowded to overflowing. General Jackson was there, and we shook hands. He was altogether placid and courteous. I received numerous friendly salutations. D. Webster asked me when I could receive the committee of the House to announce to me my election. I appointed to-morrow noon, at my own house.’

5 December 1837
‘The House at noon was called to order. . . Van Buren’s message gave me a fit of melancholy for the future fortunes of the republic. Cunning and duplicity pervade every line of it. The sacrifice of the rights or Northern freedom to slavery and the South, and the purchase of the West by the plunder of the public lands, is the combined system which it discloses. It is the system of Jackson’s message of December, 1832, covered with a new coat of varnish.’

17 April 1840
‘A dark-colored mulatto man, named Joseph Cartwright, a preacher of a colored Methodist church, came this morning with a subscription book to raise $450 to purchase the freedom of his three grandchildren - two girls and one boy, all under three or four years of age. He told me that he had been upwards of twenty years in purchasing his own freedom and that of his three sons; that after this, Henry Johnson, late a member of the House of Representatives from Louisiana, had bought his son’s wife and her three children, with many other slaves, to carry them away to Louisiana; that after the purchase he had been prevailed upon to consent to leave them here for a short time in the charge of a man to whom he had ostensibly sold them, but with the consent that this Joseph Cartwright should purchase them for $1,025. He had actually purchased and paid for the mother, and was now endeavoring to raise $450 for the three children. There were in the subscription book certificates of two white Methodist ministers, Hamilton and Cookman, to the respectability of this man - a preacher of the gospel I What a horrible exemplification of slavery!’

5 April 1841
‘The corpse of the late President Harrison was laid out, in a plain coffin covered with black velvet, on a table in the middle of the entrance hall at the President’s house. At two p.m., I went, with my wife and Mrs. Smith, and took a last look at the face of the patriot warrior, taken away thus providentially from the evil to come.’

6 April 1841
‘The Vice-President, John Tyler of Virginia, arrived here at five o’clock this morning, and took lodgings at Brown’s Hotel. At noon, the heads of departments waited upon him. He requested them all to continue in their offices, and took the official oath of President of the United States, which was administered to him by William Cranch, Chief Justice of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia. The Judge certifies that although Mr. Tyler deems himself qualified to perform the duties and exercise the powers and office of President, on the death of President Harrison, without any other oath than that which he had taken as Vice-President, yet as doubts might arise, and for greater caution, he had taken and subscribed the present oath.’

The Diary Junction

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