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dustry, his powers of keen analysis, fierce invective, sarcasm, knowledge of parliamentary usage, and almost intuitive ability to fathom the motives of his enemy and divine his probable mode of attack, gave him an immense advantage and at last crowned him victor.
Some instances of the display of these qualities may be cited. On January 6, 1837, he presented the petition of one hundred and fifty women on the same subject-the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The opposition at once sprang to
Mr. Glascock of Georgia objected to receiving the petition; Mr Parks moved that the preliminary motion on the reception of the petition be laid on the table, which was carried. Mr. Adams then rose, and gave notice that he proposed to call up that motion every day as long as he should be permitted to do so by the House. He should not consider his duty accomplished so long as the petition was not received, and the House had not decided to receive it. Mr. Pinckney, rising to a question of order, inquired if there was now any question before the House. The Speaker (James K. Polk, later President) remarked that the gentleman from Massachusetts was giving notice of a motion hereafter to be made, and that debate upon it was not in order. Mr. Adams said so long as freedom of speech was allowed him there he would call that question up until it was decided. He was promptly called to order. He then said he had the honor of presenting to the House the petition of two hundred and twentyeight women, wives and daughters of his immediate
constituents, and as part of the speech he intended to make he would read the petition,-it was not long and would not consume much time. Glascock objected to the reception of any petition. Adams calmly proceeded to read, that, “Whereas the petitioners, inhabitants of South Weymouth in the State of Massachusetts, impressed with the sinfulness of slavery, and keenly aggrieved by its existence in a part of our country over which Congress Pinckney here arose to a question of order. Had the gentleman from Massachusetts a right under the rule to read the petition? The Speaker ruled that he had a right to make a statement of the contents of the petition. Pinckney desired the decision of the Chair as to whether a gentleman had a right to read a petition. Adams said he was reading the petition as a part of his speech, and took this to be the privilege of a member of the House. It was a privilege he should exercise until deprived of it by some positive act of the House. The Speaker ruled that the gentleman had a right to make a brief statement of the contents of the petition.
The following colloquy then ensued.
Mr. Adams: “At the time my friend from South Carolina -"
The Speaker : “ The gentleman must proceed to state the contents of the petition.”
Mr. Adams: “I am doing so, sir.”
Mr. Adams: “I was at this point of the petition, 'keenly aggrieved by its existence in a part of our country over which Congress possesses
exclusive jurisdiction, in all cases whatsoever, [cries of " Order, order !”] do most earnestly petition your honorable body, [Mr. Chambers of Kentucky here rose to a point of order] immediately to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, [Mr. Chambers reiterated his call to order, and the Speaker directed Mr. Adams to take his seat, but the latter continued reading with the utmost rapidity and in a loud voice] and to declare every human being free who sets foot upon its soil.'”
The House was now in an uproar. A dozen members were crying “ Order! at once, and as many more were on their feet seeking to catch the Speaker's eye. That gentleman, somewhat confused by the hubbub, decided that a member could not be allowed to read a petition. Mr. Adams, nowise dismayed by the tempest raging around him and the angry glances thrown at him, took the floor and appealed from the decision of the Chair, “ which deprived a member of the privilege of reading what he chose.”
“Such a decision,” said he, “is an unheard of thing in legislative halls. If the usual practice is to be reversed, let the decision stand upon record, and let it appear how entirely freedom of speech is suppressed in this House. If the reading of a paper is to be suppressed in my person, so help me God! I will only consent to it as a matter of record.”
He then finished reading the petition as follows:
“Your petitioners respectfully announce their intention to present the same petition yearly before your honorable body, that it might at least be a memorial in the holy cause of human freedom that they had done what they could.'
He had gained his point; the petition was accepted and laid upon the table.
Soon after Mr. Adams received another petition, purporting to come from certain slaves in Virginia, praying that slavery might not be abolished. He saw at once that it was written in irony, or perhaps to prove whether he would present any petition offered him, and determined to turn it to the discomfiture of the opposition. On the 7th of February, 1837, therefore, after reading nearly two hundred “abolition "petitions, he packed up his papers, and was about resuming his seat, when his eye fell upon a paper, which he hastily took up, glanced over, and then exclaimed in his shrill, high-pitched voice :
“Mr. Speaker, I have in my possession a petition of a somewhat extraordinary character, and I wish to inquire of the Chair if it be in order to present it.”
“If the gentleman will inform the Chair what the character of the petition is it will probably be able to decide the matter," replied the Speaker.
Sir,” said Mr. Adams, “the petition is signed by eleven slaves of the town of Fredericksburg, County of Culpeper, State of Virginia. It is one of those petitions which, it has occurred to me, are not what they purport to be. It is signed partly by persons who cannot write, by making their mark, and partly by persons whose handwriting shows that they have received the education of slaves. The petition declares itself to be from slaves, and I am requested to present it. I will send it to the Chair."
The Speaker was taken by surprise; he hesitated, hitched his chair forward as his custom was when disconcerted, and said that the matter was so novel and unprecedented that he would have to take time to consider it ; meanwhile he would refer it to the House. At this the members, who had been paying no attention to the colloquy, became interested, and Representative Lewis of Alabama inquired excitedly what the petition was. The Speaker informed him. The simple words threw the House into a paroxysm of rage. “ Treason, treason!” resounded through the hall, mingled with opprobrious epithets, and cries of “Put him out," "put him out! Do not let him disgrace the House longer !”
A resolution that the offender“ be taken to the bar of the House and censured by the Speaker thereof," was offered and lost. The idea of dragging the venerable ex-President as a culprit to the bar of the House to be censured by its youthful Speaker, was repugnant to the most bitter of his opponents. At last, after many resolutions had been offered, Mr. Adams gained a hearing, and told the excited statesmen that the petitioners prayed that slavery should not be abolished, then looking into their crest-fallen faces, he proceeded to define and defend his position in regard to presenting petitions.
“Sir," said he, “it is well known that from the time I entered this House down to the present day I have felt it a sacred duty to present any petition couched in respectful language from any citizen of the United States, be its object what it may, be the prayer of it that in which I could concur, or that to which I was utterly op