Exit Lines

About to die at the untimely age of forty-four in 1883, Dr. George Miller Beard, a Connecticut physician and pioneer in neurology, remarked: “I should like to record the thoughts of a dying man for the benefit of science, but it is impossible.” And with those words, Dr. Beard passed beyond further speech. Regardless of their inner thoughts, we do at least know what many individuals uttered before giving up the ghost.Read more »

"Consensus Politics,” 1800–1805

The idea goes back to the very beginnings of our national history. Then as now, it was built upon human relationships, and these—as Mr. Jefferson found to his sorrow—make a fragile foundation.

We hear a great deal these days, during an intensely political Presidency, about “consensus politics,” but it is no novelty of modern times. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Thomas Jefferson was its inventor and master practitioner. Time has all but canonized this Founding Father, so that few associate him with either guile, ruthlessness, or skill in political maneuver. Yet he had all three, and he knew how to use them.

Mad Old Man From Massachusetts

How gnarled, upright ex-President John Quincy Adams broke the South’s gag rule in Congress and at last won popular applause

After his defeat for re-election to the Presidency in 1828, John Quincy Adams cloistered himself in his Quincy, Massachusetts, home and wrote in anguish, “I have no plausible motive for wishing to live when everything that I foresee and believe of futurity makes death desirable, and when I have the clearest indications that it is near at hand.” Bitterly, Adams resigned himself to the political graveyard, complaining, “My whole life has been a succession of disappointments.

 
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“Whatever You Write, Preserve”

All that the Adamses saw they were schooled to put down and save. The result is a collection of historical records beyond price and without peer.

In Philadelphia, just five days before the Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress moved a momentous resolution of independence, John Adams sat writing a letter to Mrs. Adams in Braintree, Massachusetts. The day before, he told her, it being the first day of June, he had dined with a friend. “We had Cherries, Strawberries, and green Peas in Plenty. I believe the Fruits are three Weeks earlier here than with you—indeed they are a fortnight earlier on the East, than on the West side of Delaware River.

 

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The Yankee And The Czar

Amid the intrigue of the Russian court, John Quincy Adams took walks with Alexander I, spoke up for America, and scored a diplomatic triumph.

In late October the sun hangs low in the south over the Gulf of Finland and sets early into the Baltic’s leaden waters. The equinox is usually seen only through clouds scudding from the rime-crusted shores, and it signifies not the turning point of autumn but the onset of winter, bringing ice that soon seals the harbors.