ADAMS, John Quincy. Autograph note signed in the third person ("Mr. and Mrs. Adams") as Congressman, TO PRESIDENT MARTIN VAN BUREN, [Washington, D.C.], 17 December 1838. 1 page, 8vo, neatly inlaid, in fine condition.
COURTING THE CHIEF OPPONENT TO THE GAG RULE: ADAMS DECLINES AN INVITATION TO CHRISTMAS DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE
On December 3, 1838, Adams walked onto the floor of the House of Representatives ready to renew his empassioned battle against the gag rule which had denied the right of his constituents to petition against slavery. This remarkable contest had begun in May 1836, when the powerful southern bloc in Congress voted to table all petitions referring to slavery: they would be neither printed, debated nor sent to committee. Adams argued, persistently, eloquently and unflaggingly to protect the right of his constituents, under the First Amendment, to present their petitions to the Federal government.
President Van Buren perceived that the slavery issue presented a critical threat to the stability of the nation, and, as promised in his inaugural address, chose to navigate a studiously non-partisan, neutral course around the thorny issues. Consistently, in spite of his personal convictions that slavery constituted a grave moral injustice, Van Buren sought to minimize all conflicts over the slavery issue, in order that such divisive issues would not impede the course of normal government. Adams unstinting, very vocal opposition to the Gag Rule made his task difficult.
Adams cared little for Van Buren, Jackson's chosen successor, reagarding him as little more than a crafty, crass politician. Adams neither endorsed nor commented upon his candidacy or his victory in the election of 1836, so he was surprised, upon his return to Washington for the December 1838 session, to receive a cordial reception from the President. Members of the Cabinet, too, were quite cordial. Van Buren was invited to dinner at the home of Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, and seated at the host's table, with the President. Van Buren's deliberate courtship of the chief opponent to the Gag Rule continued at Christmas with an invitation for Adams and his wife to dine at the White House.
Here, mindful of the political motives behind the seemingly innocuous invitation, Adams responds: "Mr. and Mrs. Adams regret their inability to avail themselves of the obliging invitation of the President of the United States to dinner on Saturday next."
Van Buren's efforts to mute Adams's relentless Congressional rhetoric proved fruitless. Adams continued his crusade for the right to petition for the remainder of his long congressional career. The cordial relations between the two men were sundered in 1841 when Adams's defense of the Amistad slave defendants placed him in direct opposition to the Van Buren administration, which was quite content to countenance a quiet return of the unfortunate rebels to slavery.