John Quincy Adams: A Spirit Unconquerable
Jim Cooke's latest “one man show” illuminates the last ten years of JQA’a extraordinary life. We meet the former president as he sits for his final portrait.
John Quincy Adams was the eldest son of President John Adams; his mother was the indomitable Abigail Adams. He had a brilliant career as diplomat and Senator. In 1809 he was our first Minister to Russia after which he negotiated the Treaty of Ghent ending war with England. Considered our greatest Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams then served four miserable years as our sixth president to be defeated for a second term by his nemesis, General Andrew Jackson. Against the strong objections of family and friends, he returns to Washington to take a seat in the House of Representatives. There, we witness his fierce battle against the “Gag Rule”—the peculiar law devised by Southern slave masters curbing congressional discussion of their “peculiar institution.” Adams denounces the Gag Rule: 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.
His conscience and his constituents drew Adams ever closer to the Abolitionist cause. Like a watchdog he guards the generous bequest of James Smithson against “political jackals” in Congress. Today, we have the Smithsonian Institution. When asked to defend the imprisoned Africans who fought for their freedom on the slave ship Amistad, he fears he is too old and too weak to argue before the Supreme Court. Yet, driven by duty, he takes up their cause and wins! Near the end of this remarkable life, in frail health and foul weather, Adams travels to Cincinnati, Ohio, to dedicate America’s first Astronomical Observatory.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said Adams “takes his tea with sulfuric acid.” Perhaps he did but he also wrote poetry, loved theatre, opera, good wine, and good company. He held strong, informed views on every subject under the sun—whose rising and setting he timed each day. Truly, he was “Old Man Eloquent.”