America’s sixth President, John Quincy Adams served for just one eventful term beginning in 1825. Four years later, Andrew Jackson went to Washington following the contentious election of 1828.
However disappointed they may have been about the loss, Adams and his wife Louisa looked forward to returning to a quieter life back home in Massachusetts where they could focus on their family, their farm, and the company of good books.
Then duty called again. The district of Plymouth elected Adams to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning in 1831. He is the only President to have served after the White House as a United States Congressman.
If the election of 1828 had been feisty, Adams’s tenure in the House was rancorous. A man of deep principles, he made enemies on both sides of the aisle when he vigorously and persistently opposed the 1836 gag rule that prevented House members from considering petitions against slavery. Adams hated slavery and refused to back down despite being shunned and reviled by nearly everyone in public life, even many of his own constituents back home.
Old Man Eloquent as he was known, doggedly clung to his values, and after several lonely years, he began to win back the admiration of his colleagues who could now understand, and appreciate, his courageous moral stands.
By 1848, John Quincy Adams was beloved. At the age of 80, he was the oldest member serving in the House, and he was clearly slowing down. On the morning of February 21st, he had just risen from his seat to speak when he suddenly clutched his chest and then slumped over the arm of his chair. Seeing this, a colleague cried out for everyone to stop proceedings and take care of Mr. Adams.
Initially, the elder statesman was carried to a sofa while proceedings came to a halt. Five Congressmen, who were also doctors, initially ordered the sofa to be carried outside so Adams could get some fresh air, but the temperatures were sub-freezing, so he was just as abruptly taken back inside and moved into the Speaker’s Room. Just before the former President succumbed to a coma he was heard to say, “This is the last of earth—I am content.”
Louisa Adams and his close friend, Joshua Giddings of Ohio kept a vigil throughout that day and into the night. The following day, February 22nd, was George Washington’s Birthday, and a planned celebration was canceled out of respect for the sixth President. Members of the House quietly came and went past the room where he lay throughout that subdued day.
Historians Peter Marshall and David Manual said, “Here lay the last great link to the generation that had founded the Republic, and for many, the curtain of that noble era was now descending.”
John Quincy Adams died the next day, February 23, 1848, and the tolling of bells, cannon salutes, and eulogies could be heard throughout the land. He had become so respected for his integrity and courage that even in the deep South, a newspaper that had previously savaged him now draped its columns in black to honor him.