January 27, 2010

kind of a big deal

jqa also knew stephen douglass (of the famed lincoln-douglass debates) when he was in congress. and he knew charles dickens, because on dickens' famed tour of america, the aging ex-president was one of the people he insisted on meeting.

after jqa's uninspiring and unpleasant term as president, he returned to congress as a representative from massachusetts and served under the next 5 presidents, until he literally died on the job almost 20 years later. (he collapsed during a session of congress and was taken to the speaker's chambers, where he died the next day.)

in this time, jqa became an american folk hero. he was far more popular as a congressman than he had ever been as president. because of his experience, he garnered obvious respect in the house, and because he was post-presidential, he had nothing to lose. he had always been a reserved, cantankerous guy forced to play nice in order to survive in politics. no more! this dude let loose.

at the time, regional tensions were ramping up in a major way, full steam ahead to the civil war, so congress was a place where everyone was trying to compromise to keep a tenuous peace. jqa was the guy who didn't give a hoot what would make everyone happy, he fought for what he thought was the best outcome for the nation.

when the gag rule was enacted (in which no petition to congress concerning slavery could be read aloud or debated), jqa introduced a motion to have it revoked at the beginning of every session for over a decade, and found sneaky ways to read those petitions anyway.

when the amistad sailors were imprisoned in america (africans who were being brought to america on a slave ship who overpowered the ship's crew and sailed the boat into new york harbor by themselves), jqa defended them before the supreme court, a case nobody else would touch (much like his father defended the british soldiers of the boston massacre decades earlier). his closing oration before the court is said to be one of the crowning achievements of his life.

he was an outspoken abolitionist and made enemies freely. in so doing, he became wildly popular. he was celebrated wherever he went and fought over as a public speaker. he had become something like america's grouchy old uncle, not always pleasant, but indisputably the most respected member of the family. the papers nicknamed him "old man eloquent."

he was never happier. he was finally getting the adulation he deserved for his lifetime of service, and he could finally do just about whatever he wanted. it makes you think all ex-presidents should serve in congress.

it's just an incredible chapter of american history, and one i had no idea existed. lucky for you, there's a new book - Mr. Adams' Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress by Joseph Wheelan - in case you had no idea either. you should really learn about this guy, you're going to like him.


  1. Completely badass.

    I'm going to tell all my friends.

  2. I'm going to tell my dad. Heck, I'm going to buy him that book for his birthday. He is going to love it.