I am still angry with John Quincy Adams (above). Yes, he has been dead for 164 years, perhaps the only man to have died in the offices of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. But whenever I think about what he did not do, I want to go back to 1828, and just slap him. Its not that he was without honor. He remains the only President who left the White House and then served 18 years in Congress. And the current craze for large expensive Presidential libraries began with the modest one built in his honor, by his son Francis. But then, I guess Francis felt the need to honor his father, since he was partly responsible for John Q. being a one term President. Not that Charles was to blame, but he was responsible. John Quincy Adams was the Adams to blame for his abbreviated Presidency.
See, in 1809, John Quincy was the first American Ambassador to Russia. But as a diplomat John Quincy had only two qualifications. First, he was very, very smart. And second, he was his father's son. Having accompanied John Adams to Paris to represent the Continental Congress during the revolution, and after the war, to England, John Q was the best trained diplomat in America. On the negative side, neither his father nor John Quincy had the personality for the job. He would later describe himself in his own diary as a “man of reserved, cold, austere, and forbidding manners.” If it hadn't been for his wife, the vivacious and politically astute English-born Louisa, (above) John Q. would have been a complete failure as a diplomat. But even she found the Adams men “cold and insensitive”. Louisa's regrets, and her migraine headaches, may have had something to do with John Quincy's parenting skills. He had none. Both of his older sons became alcoholics.
Anyway, when in 1809 President James Madison appointed John Quincy as ambassador to Russia, Louisa had to leave the older boys at home, and drag two year old Charles on the 80 day sea voyage to St. Petersburg. Louisa brought along her chambermaid, Martha Godfry, who would also serve as Charles' nurse. John Q described Martha as “a very beautiful girl”, and it seems she must have been pleasant as well. In any case, Martha also played her part in the future political troubles of President John Q.
Martha was from a servant class family, and sent a letter back to her mother in Boston, saying she had arrived safely, and how magnificent the Romanov court was, and how handsome the Czar (above) was, and how the women at court practically fainted if he looked at them. Well, the Russian secret police were just as efficient in the 19th century as they would be under the Communists, and they opened Martha's letters. And since the writing was complementary of the Czar, they copied Martha's letters, and showed the copies to Czar Alexander I. The Czar was flattered, and hearing the girl was pretty, he concocted a way to meet her. He contrived to have the daughter of one of his visiting in-laws, the young princess Amelia of Baden, invite Charles to a play date. And when Martha arrived with the boy, the Czar just happened to stop by for a quick visit. He brought along his German wife, Elizabeth (below), as cover.
Alexander spent a few minutes talking to the boy, and tried to strike up a conversation with the beautiful Martha. But either she was too nervous or too naive, or he did not find her as attractive as John Q did, or maybe the Czarina smelled the testosterone in the room, but in any case after this brief encounter, Charles and Martha were never invited back. Alexander went back to his mistress, Maria Antonovna Naryshkina, and Czarina Elizabeth went back to her lover, Adam Czartoryski. As for Martha, after she was debriefed by John Q. - who managed to miss the entire subtext of the encounter – she was allowed to retreat to her bedroom, where she composed a detailed letter to her Mother of the exciting day she actually spoke to the Russian Czar. The secret police must have been sorely disappointed with that month's American diplomatic pouch.
All of that, remember, was twenty years in the past, when President John Q arrived in Baltimore on the afternoon of Sunday, October 14, 1827 – 5 months after Roger Tawny and friends met to plot the President's defeat. The President had sailed down the Chesapeake Bay to dedicate a memorial to the 1814 Battle of Baltimore, but took the opportunity to do a little politicking. Noting the town was also constructing the nation's first memorial to George Washington, he called Baltimore the “city of monuments”, knowing the phrase would stick. He even stayed over an extra day, to attend the funeral of Revolutionary War hero, General John Edgar Howard. And that night John Q spent three hours shaking hands and speaking with some 2,000 locals.
In 1824 Baltimore had gone heavily for Jackson, but logic seemed to dictate the town should support Adams in 1828. The city was the starting point for the Cumberland Highway, now called the National Road. This had been the dream of George Washington, and already snaked west through the mountains toward Pittsburgh. Paid for with high tariffs on imported goods, John Q wanted to push it across the Ohio border to the Mississippi River, binding the nation together ideologically and economically. And Baltimore would be the Atlantic port for everything that came down that road.
And then there was the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; also partly paid for with tariff revenues, and well begun in 1827, snaking west to the headwaters of the Ohio River. It also began in Baltimore, and with the Wabash and Erie Canal in far off Indiana, would draw corn and pork grown on the frontier down its stone lined walls to be shipped through Baltimore, and then to the world.
And now, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, raising funds and laying plans, intended, someday, to connect by steel the farms and mines of the Mississippi Valley directly to Baltimore. The Baltimore American urged the city to “imitate the spider and spread her lines towards every point of the compass...The present generation are able to pay interest; let the next generation pay the principle.”
That last sentence was a perfect encapsulation for John Q's “American System”, and a century later, President Eisenhower's interstate highway system - investing in infrastructure today, so future generations could enjoy the harvest. The next evening, after another full day, John Q was the guest of honor at a dinner of the Society of the Cincinnati, named after the Roman Senator who left his plow to lead soldiers of the Republic, and then returned to his farm. This night John Q gave the final toast, to “Baltimore, the Monumental City (above) - may the days of her safety be as prosperous and happy as the days of her danger have been trying and triumphant!” It was an optimistic view of the nation's future. But there were men, like Roger Tawny, who preferred to look backward and saw nothing but threats in the future. And they would do whatever needed to be done to ensure the future did not come.
In far off Concord, New Hampshire, resided a man often accused of being demented, insane and mad – the lunatic's name was Isaac Hill (above). He had been owner and editor of the weekly newspaper, The Patriot, since 1809, and while serving in the New Hampshire legislature had developed a reputation as a gadfly and political arsonist. He also saw nothing promising in the future. Readers were entertained by his vitriol, vendettas and conspiracies - he was a sort of Michelle Bachmann in knee britches. He called Secretary-of-State Henry Clay, “a shyster, pettifogging in a bastard suit before a country squire" - meaning the President, John Q. Adams.” Hill saw the National Road as a violation of the Constitution, because it spent tariffs collected in New England, to build a road in Pennsylvania. He saw Adam's American System of internal improvements as a power grab. You get the feeling he hated Adams more because Adams was popular in New England, while Isaac Hill was not.
And it was as the election of 1828 approached, that The Patriot ran a biographical sketch of Andrew Jackson, in which the 38 year old Isaac Hill told the world John Quincy Adams was a pimp. It seems, said Hill, that while serving as America's ambassador to Russia, John Q had presented an innocent American servant girl, to be ravaged by the Czar. The accusation exploded across anti-Adams newspapers like a wild fire. The story had everything for Adams haters – sex, as only a puritan New Englander could enjoy it, with disapproval- degenerate European royalty – who prayed to a bizarre God at that - Adams as a stuck up prude willing to compromise his scruples for success, and a innocent American maiden, giving up her naked body only to force.
It took John Q a little time to figure out Hill was writing about Martha Godfry, and her innocent brief encounter from twenty years earlier. But when he did, the truth was rushed into print. The only problem was, the truth had no sex, no degenerate royalty, no tension or dramatic structure. And thus the truth made for really bad politics. And Adams did not speak out about it, did not address the smear in public, nor did he demand that Jackson denounce Hill as a fraud and madman. And, in much the same way as in 2004, when candidate Senator John Kerry did not denounce the so called Swift Boat Veterans and POW's for Truth, the case against him sat as an unanswered accusation. In the latter case a decorated military veteran had his courage questioned. And in 1828, a long standing patriot, John Quincy Adams, had his honor questioned.
Somebody should have punched John Q right in the nose. Because he thought it was beneath him, to defend himself against such an accusation.