Wednesday, 16 December 2015 10:48

Lessons From the Life of John Quincy Adams

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Lessons From the Life of John Quincy Adams

Editorial - Barry MacDonald

John Quincy Adams, by John T. Morse, Jr., American Statesmen Series, Houghton Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1882.

The Leftist idea of minting a platinum, trillion-dollar coin as a way to get around Republican resistance to raising the debt ceiling was revealing - it shows how the Left thinks. The idea was doomed by the comic image of a $1,000,000,000,000 coin. But here clearly is the mindset: there is no limit to the amount of money government can create out of thin air, so we don't have to worry about overspending.

Paul Krugman, the prominent left-wing economist, in a blog posting, says that the monetary base has tripled over the last four years, meaning the Fed has created three times the currency in circulation and bank reserves (in other words, the liquid form of money), and yet interest rates and inflation have remained low. True, so far interest rates are low, and inflation hasn't soared - not yet.

If we could create wealth by minting a trillion-dollar coin, why stop at one trillion? Why not mint a decillion dollar coin (with 33 zeros)? We could pay off each nation's debt forever.

Of course such a gimmick would not create incentives for entrepreneurs, spur productivity, improve the quality of goods and services, prompt efficiency to lower the costs of healthcare, or elevate prosperity (as shale gas fracking does); it takes the pressure of the scarcity of resources and competition to create the drive to make the most of what we have - this seems such common sense that we at the St. Croix Review assume every American instinctively understands the magical thinking connected with a trillion-dollar coin.

But not after the last election. During the pre-Christmas fiscal cliff negotiations between the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, and President Obama, Boehner told The Wall Street Journal that the President blamed his trillion-dollar deficits and the nation's $16 trillion debt on our flawed healthcare system. Boehner said: "They blame all of the fiscal woes on our healthcare system!" Boehner said to the president:

Clearly we have a healthcare problem, which is about to get worse with Obamacare. But, Mr. President, we have a very serious spending problem.

Boehner repeated this message so often that near the end of their talk President Obama said "I'm getting tired of hearing you say that."

How could any intelligent person believe that the nation's debt was caused by our healthcare system? President Obama's response is just a flimsy, disrespectful, and dismissive excuse, not a serious explanation; President Obama is above explanation. Once again, it shows the mindset of the president and the Left: we don't have to worry about overspending because there is no limit to the amount of money government can create from nothing. We don't have to worry about imposing debt on our children and grandchildren. We don't have to worry about hyperinflation. We don't have a spending problem.

The real problem is that a majority of voters also agree with the president - they believe there is no spending problem. The debt, deficits, and overspending were a prominent part of the Romney campaign and yet the President was reelected. Whether a majority of American voters have lost touch with common sense or have been bought off with government benefits, there is only one conclusion: Too many Americans are unwilling to face up to the unhealthy state of our economy.

Washington, D.C. has become a vortex drawing to itself the nation's wealth. Its politicians assume God-like authority to borrow, tax, spend, and direct every aspect of our complex economy. Not only the politicians but also the media "watch dogs," educators, artists, and entertainers are all blind to how far from modesty and humility our government is. And now too many voters are blind to the house-of-cards our economy has become. What is to be done?

For those of us who see the truth the answer lies in our spirit of opposition. We must hold on to our principles with courage and perseverance. There is no telling how long the battle will be or what events will intervene to change our course. No avoiding hard times ahead. Not everyone can take direct action, but we must support the lawmakers who will effect change. In American history there is no better example of courage and perseverance than John Quincy Adams.

John Quincy Adams was the son of our second President, John Adams. Like his father he had a wealth of experience. He went with his father on his first diplomatic mission when he was ten years old to France. For the next eight years he lived in Paris, the Netherlands, Russia, and England. John Quincy Adams was fluent in French and Dutch and was familiar with German and other European languages. He served as Minister to the Netherlands, Germany, and Russia. He persuaded Czar Alexander to let American ships trade in Russian ports. He led the U.S. peace commissioners in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812.

As President James Monroe's Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote the Monroe Doctrine, warning European nations not to interfere in the affairs of the Americas. He negotiated fishing rights off the Canadian coast with England, established a part of the U.S. Canadian border, and transferred Florida from Spanish to U.S. sovereignty.

As our sixth president he promoted education and modernized the American economy. He paid off much of the national debt. He lacked patronage networks and was stymied by a Congress controlled by his enemies who were able to undercut him. He lost his re-election bid to Andrew Jackson in 1828.

And then he did something singular and extraordinary: He got himself elected as a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts where he served for seventeen years, nine consecutive terms, until his death in 1848.

He felt revulsion for slavery at a time when such sentiment of was not ascendant among the powerful in Congress. He wrote:

Slavery is a the great and foul stain upon the North American Union, and it is a contemplation worthy of the most exalted soul whether its total abolition is or is not practicable.

He spoke of "slave-drivers" and the "flagrant image of human inconsistency" of men who had "the Declaration of Independence on their lips and the merciless scourge of slavery in their hands."

The following sketch was published in 1882 by John T. Morse, from his biography John Quincy Adams. It reflects a time untouched by political correctness:

He was by nature a hard fighter, and by the circumstances of his course in Congress this quality was stimulated to such a degree that parliamentary history does not show his equal as a gladiator. His power of invective was extraordinary, and he was untiring and merciless in his use of it. . . . Men winced and cowered before his milder attacks, became sometimes dumb, sometimes furious with mad rage before his fiercer assaults. Such struggles evidently gave him pleasure, and there was scarce a back in Congress that did not at one time or another feel the score of his cutting lash; though it was the Southerners and the Northern allies of Southerners whom chiefly he singled out for torture. He was irritable and quick to wrath. . . . Of alliances he was careless, and friendships he had almost none. But in the creation of enmities he was terribly successful. . . . From the time when he fairly entered upon the long struggle against slavery, he enjoyed few peaceful days in the House. . . . When the air of the House was thick with crimination and abuse he seemed to suck in fresh vigor and spirit from the hate-laden atmosphere. When invective fell around him in showers, he screamed back his retaliation with untiring rapidity and marvelous dexterity of aim. No odds could appall him. With his back set firm against a solid moral principle, it was his joy to strike out at a multitude of foes. They lost their heads as well as their tempers, but in the extremest moments of excitement and anger Mr. Adams's brain seemed to work with machine-like coolness and accuracy. With flushed face, streaming eyes, animated gesticulation, and cracking voice, he always retained perfect mastery of all his intellectual faculties. He thus became a terrible antagonist, whom all feared, yet fearing could not refrain from attacking, so bitterly and incessantly did he choose to exert his wonderful power of exasperation. Few men could throw an opponent into wild blind fury with such speed and certainty as he could; and he does not conceal the malicious gratification which such feats brought to him. A leader of such fighting capacity, so courageous, with such a magazine of experience and information, and with a character so irreproachable, could have won brilliant victories in public life at the head of even a small band of devoted followers. But Mr. Adams never had and apparently never wanted followers. Other prominent public men were brought not only into collision but into comparison with their contemporaries. But Mr. Adams's individuality was so strong that he can be compared with no one.

He was not fitted to cross the countryside rousing gatherings of people. There were writers and agitators who did raise the consciousness of the American people towards the monstrous institution. (I might say, by the way, that slavery was an evil of pre-ancient origin not exclusive to Western civilization, a fact not recognized by today's American, anti-America critics.) There were wild abolitionists, such as John Brown, who took extreme measures and went to war with slavery.

But Adams had to walk a fine line in a House overwhelmingly controlled by his enemies. He said:

The most insignificant error of conduct in me at this time would be my irredeemable ruin in this world; and both the ruling political parties are watching with intense anxiety for some overt act by me to set the whole pack of their hireling presses upon me.

At any moment his opponents could combine to slander and disgrace, censure and expel him from Congress. He had to be careful not to give them the pretext. Through strength of will and a bold posture he intimidated a throng of antagonists.

Among fellow lawmakers he could count on the support of no one, but he did enjoy the steadfast enthusiasm of the voters from his district, and, as the years went by, he became the champion against slavery in Congress, and he gained many admirers nationwide. No one else had his prestige, experience, knowledge, ability, courage, and passion.

His method of attack was to present petitions from citizens for the abolition of slavery, and very often for the prohibition of the buying and selling of slaves within the District of Columbia. His stream of petitions forced the slavers to adopt a countermeasure which seemingly stymied him for years, yet the measure was unconstitutional and at odds with the conduct of a free government. In February 1836, the slavery interest in the House resolved that:

1. That Congress had no power to interfere with slavery in any State; 2. That Congress ought not to interfere with slavery in the District of Columbia; 3. That whereas the agitation of the subject was disquieting and objectionable, "all petitions, memorials, resolutions or papers, relating in any way or to any extent whatsoever to the subject of slavery or the abolition of slavery, shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid upon the table, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon."

This was the infamous "gag rule" that forbade any discussion of slavery. It was a mistake made by the slave-holding party: they had assumed an untenable position. Adams became the persistent advocate of the right of petition, and thus he gained much more leverage with the public than he could have acquired just on the issue of slavery alone. Year after year when the House established its rules he would stand and say:

I hold the resolution to be a violation of the Constitution, of the right of petition of my constituents, and of the people of the United States, and of my right to freedom of speech as a member of this House.

And each time he was confronted with a chorus of "Order! Order!" and voted down.

Once the public recognized him as an heroic advocate, a torrent of petitions descended on him, all having to be read, sorted, and presented. He presented thousands of petitions, dozens or hundreds at a time, each time encountering shouts of "Order! Order!" Some of the petitions were sent by his enemies, praying that Mr. Adams be brought to the bar of the House, censured, and expelled - he read out these petitions, welcoming such a debate, but his enemies avoided the contest.

A great game of antagonism was played out. Some of the petitions were not what they purported to be. Once he said he hesitated to present a petition because he questioned its authenticity: it claimed to be from slaves. Before he presented it he asked the Speaker for his opinion, whereupon a great clamor arose. Much vituperation was directed at him. There were cries of "Expel him! Expel him!" it was said that the petition should "be taken from the House and burned." He was accused of a "gross and willful violation of the rules of the House and an insult to its members." He was threatened with criminal proceedings before a grand jury so that the people might "see an incendiary brought to condign punishment."

It was proclaimed:

. . . he has committed an outrage on the feelings of the people of a large portion of this Union; a flagrant contempt on the dignity of this House, and, by extending to slaves a privilege only belonging to freemen, directly incites the slave population to insurrection; and that the said member be forthwith called to the bar of the House and be censured by the speaker.

Unperturbed Adams waited for the hubbub to subside. When the occasion arose he pointed out he had not presented the petition, he said beforehand he doubted its authenticity, and he merely asked the Speaker for his opinion of its worthiness. And furthermore the petition of the slaves requested slavery not be abolished! He suspected that the petition had not been written by the slaves themselves but by their owner - thus the air went out of the balloon, the furor dissipated, and his opponents were brought to condign humiliation.

Eventually the tide of public opinion turned against the slavery interest and John Quincy Adam's "invincible perseverance" was rewarded. At the beginning of each session the rules of the House were established, and year after year the majority favoring the gag rule dwindled. In 1842 the majority was four; in 1843, three. In 1844 the struggle lasted weeks. On December 3 a vote abolishing the gag rule won by one hundred eight to eighty. "Blessed, forever blessed, be the name of God!" Adams wrote in his diary. The gag rule stood for eight years.

On February 21, 1848, at 1:30 p.m. the Speaker was conducting business when he was interrupted by cries of "Stop! Stop! - Mr. Adams!" It was thought that John Quincy Adams rose to address the speaker, but he fell over unconscious. He was surrounded by his colleagues, carried to a sofa in the hall of the rotunda, and then to Speaker's room. Late in the afternoon he was heard to say, "Thank the officers of the House." Soon afterwards he said, "This is the last of earth! I am content!" He lingered until the evening of the 23rd when he died - in the capitol building where he had fought his bitterest battles.

I do not wish to draw a strict moral equivalence between slavery and the financial chicanery of today's Democrats, but President Obama's arrogance is the slave driver's arrogance, and both the slavers and the President have shown disrespect for freedom and the Constitution.

Presently the America people are mesmerized by the ideal of maternal government, massive and powerful, able to succor multitudes. The American people have been incrementally lured into ever deepening dependence by promises that cannot be kept. Intellectuals, news people, artists, poets, novelists, actors, and entertainers - most are proponents of the Left. To oppose the zeitgeist is to be maligned as a kook or a crank. The coalition against right-sized government seems solid and permanent, just as the institution of slavery once seemed unshakable. But it is not so.

Taxing, borrowing, deficits, debt, suffocating regulations, the straining economy will bring America to a crisis; the foolish and arrogant delusions of Democrats will not stand.

It has often been remarked that free governments deteriorate once they fall into financial irresponsibility. But America is unique in its founding, in its Constitution, Bill of Rights, and in its history. We need not fall into some ugly kind of dictatorship. We have the heritage of a free people. We have the experience and memories of freedom. A revival of respect for the Constitution is possible.

What we need is the ability, courage, and most of all, the perseverance of John Quincy Adams. He at times doubted whether slavery could be overthrown, and did not live to see its passing. But he fought for its abolition nevertheless. What we need are fearless advocates for a free economy. As the leviathan crumbles we need able spokesmen and elected officials to explain to the American people why Big Government fails.

Our fate does not depend upon the toss of a trillion dollar coin, but upon our character. When it comes to the pivotal test, when the system of income expropriation and redistribution wears out, I believe we will not surrender our American freedom. *

We would like to thank the following people for their generous support of this journal (from 11/15/2012 to 1/9/2013): Mary Ellen Alt, Margaret Barrett, Charles L. Blilie, Carl W. Borklund, Glenn Bressler, Mary & Fred Budworth. David Bundsen, Price B. Burgess, Brooke Cadwallade, William C. Campion, Mark T. Cenac, John B. Charlton, Tommy D. Clark, John D'Aloia, Dianne C. DeBoest, Peter R. DeMarco, Francis P. Destefano, Jeanne L. Dipaola, John H. Downs, Thomas Drake, Don Dyslin, Donald R. Eberle, James D. Emerson, William D. Forare, The Andersen Foundation, Reuben M. Freitas, James R. Gaines, John B. Gardner, Gary D. Gillespie, William B. Glew, Franz R. Gosset, Judith E. Haglund, Alene D. Haines, Violet H. Hall, Paul J. Hauser, John H. Hearding, M. Heatley, Bernhard Heersink Daniel V. Hickey, Jaren E. Hiller, John A. Howard, Thomas E. Humphreys, David Ihle, Joe L. Ireland, Arthur H. Ivey, Burleigh Jacobs, James R. Johnson, Charles W. Johnson, Louise Hinrichsen Jones, Edgar Jordan, Paul W. Kampfe, Ken E. Kampfe, Frank G. Kenski, Robert E. Kersey, Robert M. Kubo, John S. Kundrat, Allyn M. Lay, Alan H. Lee, Mildred S. Linhof, Rema MacDonald, Gregor MacDonald, Paul T. Manrodt, John Mariol, Lloyd W. Martinson, Edwin Meese, Delbert H. Meyer, Robert P. Miller, Robert L. Morris, Richard S. Mulligan, David Norris, King Odell, Mitzi M. Olson, John A. Paller, Nancy J Parise, Eric D. Peterson, Frederick D. Pfau, Gary Phillips, Charles J. Queenan, Jack J. Quinn, Marilyn E. Radke, Richard O. Ranheim, David P. Renkert, Kathryn Hubbard Rominski, Robert E. Russell, John A. Schulte, Harry Richard Schumache, Alvan I. Shane, Joseph M. Simonet, Dave Smith, Elsbeth G. Smith, Philip Stark, Carl G. Stevenson, Norman Stewart, Dennis J. Sullivan, Norman Swender, Terry C. Tarbell, Kenneth R. Thelen, Paul B. Thompson, Elizabeth E. Torrance, Kevin Turner, Vernon & Ruth Warner, Alan Rufus Waters, Donald E. Westling, Nancy D. Williamson, Eric B. Wilson, Walter Wood, Piers Woodriff, Willaim P. Wortman, Ronald S. Zaczek, David W. Ziedrich.

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