On this day in 1848, just as he stands up from his desk in the House of Representatives to defend his no vote on a bill, former President John Quincy Adams suddenly collapses from a cerebral hemorrhage. House members carried him to a bed in the Speaker of the House’s private chambers and immediately summoned his wife Louisa. By the time she arrived, he was not able to recognize her. His last words supposedly were, This is the end of earth, but I am content.
Born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree (later renamed Quincy), Massachusetts, Adams was the son of the second U.S. president, John Adams. He inherited his father’s passion for politics, accompanied his father on diplomatic missions from the time he was 14 and, once grown, entered the legal profession. As a young man, he served as minister to a variety of countries including Prussia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia and England. In 1803, he began his first term in the Senate and later helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. From 1817 to 1824, he served President James Monroe as secretary of state.
In 1824, Adams ran against Andrew Jackson for the presidency. A tie put the deciding vote in the House of Representatives, and Adams emerged victorious. He served only one fairly uneventful term–his greatest contributions to American politics occurred before and after his term as president. In fact, in his memoirs, he admitted to preferring legislative duties to being president and that he considered his time in the White House the four most miserable years of his life.
Rather than retire from politics after his term ended in 1829, Adams decided to run for a seat in the House of Representatives and he remained a formidable figure in Congress until his death in 1848. He chaired congressional committees on the economy, Indian affairs and foreign relations, and even found time to argue the controversial Amistad slave ship case in the Supreme Court. His eloquent argument for returning the ship’s illegally transported cargo of slaves to Africa cemented his reputation as a dedicated abolitionist.
Adams had suffered and survived a previous stroke in 1846. Two days after collapsing from the second stroke in 1848, he died in a bed in the Capitol building in which he had performed so many years of public service.