The Capitol Dome

The Capitol Dome 55.2

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In 1838 the abolitionist Henry B. Stanton traveled to Washington to contribute his aid to the struggle against the Gag Rule, which sought to bar discussion of slavery on the floor of Congress. Upon arriving in the capital, he found most Northern representatives either sympa- thetic to the concerns of their Southern counterparts or browbeaten into submission. But there was one Mem- ber of the House who refused to acquiesce. "He coolly presented his pile of Anti-slavery petitions one by one," Stanton would recall many decades later in his autobi- ography, "and scarified the Southern members who interrupted him. Mr. Polk, the Speaker, was annoyed, but could not help himself. Indeed, he was evidently afraid of Mr. Adams, the old man eloquent." 1 "Old Man Eloquent." e admiring appellation that contemporaries and historians alike have awarded to John Quincy Adams (fig. 1) during his 17- year post-presidential career as a congressman conveys the impression that his reputation rests on superlative oratory. And yet there is no outstanding speech that we associate with Adams, no memorable turn of phrase to match Daniel Webster's "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable," or Abraham Lincoln's "Four score and seven years ago…." He lacked the statesmanlike comportment of John C. Calhoun, or the charismatic speaking style of Henry Clay; in contrast, those who observed Adams in action on the floor of the "So IndISpenSable IS Small management In thIS great aSSembly": CongreSSman John QuInCy adamS and the SpeakerS of the houSe of repreSentatIveS, 1831–1848 by Daniel Peart Fig. 1. John Quincy Adams, from a glass negative copy created between 1855 and 1865, from a Mathew Brady (1823?–1896) daguerreotype THE CAPITOL DOME 16

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