« ПредишнаНапред »
TWO WEIGHTY CONCESSIONS. 217
characteristic of low and sordid principles; or, as if it were not the very one that, by a necessary law of thought, as it were an inexorable instinct, recurs first or second to the mind, when the death of any individual is announced to us—especially if he were esteemed by us, or were a personage of distinction and eminence. It is comparatively the only important question that can be asked of one who has made the transition from time to eternity Alas! how soon—soon— soon—shall the writer and the reader be there. In less than the circle of one year, this October, 1852, how many great men, a cluster of them, have gone to their account— as the King of Hanover and the Duke of Wellington, in Europe; as Calhoun, Woodbury, Clay, Webster, in our own country; to mention not thousands of others. It is my present design to relate the substance of a prolonged interview, or series of interviews, with President Adams, in which the topic was religion, and mainly religion alone. It lasted for many consecutive hours, with several occasional interruptions, and with a singular frankness and honesty, perhaps, on both sides. As to his errors, which seemed, indeed, great and even cardinal, I would remind th: reader of two concessions, of which my own thoughts sincerely are, and this narrative may be, rightly availed. First. How much of what he said was for the sake of argument, or merely to educe reply, or for the end of experiment or amusement only, I am unwilling to assume, or to decide, especially in the aggregate. How it struck me at the time, the reader may infer as we proceed. I indeed have, even when it may not be necessary to show, mine opinion. Second. As the conversation occurred almost a quarter of a century before his death, it is possible that his views may have changed; as some say or think that they altered for the better previous to his exit from the world. On the seventh question, it is very certain that he never deliberately intended to be an infidel. His eloquent and K
218 MR. ADAMS EVER K1ND TO ME.
learned lecture oN FAITH, which, with many others I heard him deliver, in this city, November 19, 1840, was prepared expressly, as he personally assured me at the time, to countervail some of the more recent tendencies and demonstrations of transcendental and rationalistic impiety, which then were fatiguing the patience of Heaven, and figuring impiously before the country: by which, however, I mean not to express approbation of its doctrines, or its competency on such a theme. On the contrary, it must be viewed by all correct judges, by all enlightened Christians, as exceedingly imperfect, superficial, and vulnerable. After the conversations of the interview, which I am now to describe, Mr. Adams, whether gratified or not, whether benefited or not, was, I am very sure, not personally offended. He saw me often in his subsequent life; he frequently, or rather occasionally, attended on my public ministrations, both in Washington and New York, and always seemed courteous and affectionate. On one occasion, when my theme was the miracles of the gospel—their credibility, and when I attempted a direct answer to the argument of Hume, and in a way, perhaps, quite novel and extraordinary, Mr. Adams was pleased to express his approbation, as it were not proper for me to relate; yet, as an implication that he believed those miracles, it was a specially grateful and memorable response. February 27, 1844, he presided in the House of Representa. tives at Washington, where, as a delegate of the American Bible Society at the time, I addressed him in the chair, supported by the Hon. John M'Lean, of the national judiciary, at a meeting of the Bible Society of Washington; on which occasion, his address, as he opened the meeting, I will in its place subjoin. It speaks for itself; and the autograph copy which he gave me I still retain in honor among my vaLUABLE PAPERS. Our meeting was entirely accidental. Designated to a professional service in the city of Boston, I found myself on the
OUR MEETING AND JOURNEY. 219
deck of the steamer FULTON, Captain R. S. Bunker, with him, on Tuesday, September 27, 1825, at four o'clock P.M. leaving New York. We reached Providence, Rhode Island, next day in the afternoon, and Boston at nine o'clock in the evening. It was then viewed as swift traveling—only twenty-nine hours. We now go, steaming it on land, in about eight. If we continue improving at this rate for a few more years, we shall be in danger, before long, of arriving there several hours before we set out ! At least, a great demonstrator, who has faith in figures, that “will not lie,” and faith, he says, in nothing else, is reported to have come to this result, and to have propounded it with large confidence to others—proved by figures | How we traveled the land route will be shown in its place. The object of his tour was honorable to his filial piety—to pay a visit to his aged father, who died so remarkably, the next year, simultaneously with JEFFERSON; both on the FourtTH OF JULY. He had not then occupied the presidential eminence much more than half a year, and was only in the fifty-ninth year of his age—I had just completed the thirty-second of my own. He had seen much of the world, on both sides of the ocean. He had acted with mighty men, and been occupied in scenes of national honor and distinction, in courts, and camps, and cabinets, at home and abroad. I was certainly not intentionally deficient in respect for him in all these relations; though I knew of others, and those the highest, where it was my edified conviction that, like an ancient oriental emperor, he was probably weighed in the balance and found wanting. La Fayette, as “the guest of the nation,” had just accomplished his grateful and jubilant visit to the land he had so magnanimously aided in its Revolutionary crisis, and so joyously gratulated in its culminating prosperity. Having been received in every part of the country with the warmest expressions of delight and enthusiasm, his presence was every
220 RETURN OF LA FAYETTE.
where the signal for festivals and rejoicings. He passed through the twenty-four” states of the UNION in a sort of triumphal procession, in which all parties joined to forget their dissensions—in which the veterans of the war renewed their youth, and the young were carried back to the doings and the sufferings of their fathers. Having celebrated, at Bunker Hill, the anniversary of the first conflict of the Revolution, and, at Yorktown, that of its closing scene, in which he himself had borne so conspicuous a part; having taken leave of the four ex-presidents of the United States, he received the farewell of the president in the name of the nation, and sailed from the capital in a frigate, named, in compliment to him, the BRANDywine, September 7, 1825. His embarkation and return were then a topic of freshness and life among all classes, with many valedictions, and more benedictions, from millions of grateful citizens; and its occurrence, in our conversation, was one of the incidental causes that induced its religious character, as will appear in the sequel. We proceed. 1. It is a pleasant incident to me, Mr. Adams, that I may be somewhat filled with your company on this occasion. I was as totally unaware of it, before I saw you here, as subsequently gratified to realize the fact. You are on a filial visit, I hear, to your honored predecessor and father. 2. Yes. My occupations are so numerous that I have been already detained too long from this duty. But now, having given the valedictory to La Fayette, and adjusted other matters, I hasten to see the old gentleman in his advanced age and infirmities. 1. He will be happy, I am sure, to receive you; and your visit will, I trust, be a source of mutual pleasure and of grateful memory, especially as his continuance with us can not, probably, be much further protracted. He will be glad to hear from yourself a description of the departure of La Fayette. * Now thirty-one, and vast territories soon to evolve more states.
THE DESERTER CHAPLAIN. 221
2. Some things, on that theme, I ought rather to tell you than him, probably; especially one that concerns the clergy, though not as honorably as we all could desire.
1. Let me hear it, if you please.
2. It respects the chaplain of the Brandywine. We tried to have every thing comme il faut for the comfort of the venerable marquis; and hence we provided him, we thought, with a first-rate chaplain ; one whose paper character, at least, was fair and promising. We thought he would prove a pleasant companion for him. But you heard, perhaps, of the trick he served us.
1. He changed his mind, I think.
2. He was a deserter and a coward. He accepted the appointment, after trying to get it; got his outfit, went on board; all seemed right, when, all at once, as the pilot was leaving, his luggage was reproduced, and nothing would do but return he must, and did ; though the ship was under weigh, and all hands urged him to remain. This was not the thing at all. This was all the reason why our national vessel, with such honored freight, went and returned with no chaplain, no prayers—and what think you and yours of it !
1. It strikes me very strangely. I knew that eccentric person some years ago. He was a Baptist preacher; though, after several flaming publications in favor of immersion and close communion, which he soon renounced, he left them, joined some Western presbytery, and has belonged, I think, to several denominations in the course of his life. His reasons, or his impulses, in that matter, I know not; only I greatly regret that a minister of religion should seem to be the theme of so just and so high a censure. La Fayette had a great esteem, and with good reason, for Witherspoon, Rogers, MoWhorter, Duffield, Miller, Wilson, and many others of our Presbyterian clergy; and I am quite sorry he should not have had one of their sort to benefit and to bless him when homeward bound. It was a service and an opportunity which