From the New York Journal of Commerce.
Washington Jan. 13, 1832
There are many who think Mr. Adams has impaired his dignity by accepting a seat in the House of Representatives. Admit the supposition. Has he not gained quite as much in point of independence? But I deny it. Personal dignity, characteristic dignity, does not depend on station. Did the imperial throne confer any dignity on Nero, the fiddler, who put to death other fiddlers, because they fiddled better than himself. Or on the other Emperor, who amused himself in catching flies? On the other hand, did Cincinnatus lose any dignity by putting his hand to the plough? Dignity is worthiness elevated merit; and this is a matter, not of place, or office, but is inherent in a man's character, and is the offspring of great attainments. To say that an Ex-President ought not to return and mingle in the councils of his country, is an attempt to disfranchise him; to deny to the country the benefit of wise counsels and ripe experience; to sacrifice great merit and noble acquisitions to a false theory of dignity. Would a dignity of the great man, who presides over the affairs of the nation, be lessened by his appearance as a Major General at the head of an army to fight again the battles of his country in the field, after he had disengaged the civil functions, in the cabinet? It is pleasant, therefore, to see Mr Adams quietly sitting in his Congressional chair, and from the abundant acquisitions of his mind contributing to the weal of his constituents and his country. Mr. Adams has occasionally spoken in his place since the opening of Congress. What he says seems directed to express objects of utility. You are probably aware that the graces of manner and action form but a slender item in the catalogue of his excellencies as a public speaker. His voice is formed on rather a high key,and does not posses the masculine energy of intonation which distinguishes that of Webster, nor yet does it approach the shrill treble of Randolph, or the sharp notes of P. Barnour. His gestures are not such as you would expect from a gentleman who had delivered excellent lectures on rhetoric. They are quite sudden at times, so as to resemble quick rather than the graceful action of a practiced orator. The arm by a quick motion is thrown back, so as to form at least a right angle. But the sterling qualities of intellect-the readiness of knowledge-the powers of reasoning--the large patriotic views of things-the unimpeachable love of country which belong to Mr. Adams place him high in the gesticulation of the elevated men by whom he is surrounded and whom he instructs. I would rather, if he must returned to the halls of Congress have seen him in the Senate among the Senieres in the grave and weighty rather than in the popular branch; but Adams, Clay and Webster would have been too much for our political body, and in the estimation of some, I suppose the country would have been ruined. Situated as he is, he will serve as a cool check to some of the fiery spirits, that may be expected to flash out
I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time in my life, on Wednesday last, HENRY CLAY. The position which he now occupies before the nation to say nothing of his personal abilities and past achievements sharpened the appetite of expectation for the occasion. Henry Clay, moreover, is a very popular man in this district, as was evident on New Year's day, when such multitudes flocked to see him. He happened to give notice on Tuesday that he would the next day present his views in a branch of the much agitated Tariff question, evidently not designing, at such a notice and so early a period, to come out in full on the great question in a great way. The notice, however, operated like an electric shock through the city. The hour of the opening of the Senate found the galleries crowded, and the floor of the Senate Chamber filled,--the number constantly increasing up to one o'clock, the time when the Orator was expected to be heard.--On such occasions you must know the ladies take great liberties with the august American Senate. They invade their limits--they absolutely sit in among the Senators--they occupy stations between the Vice-President and the honorable members over whom he presides. It is but just however to say, that they are encouraged in these freedoms by some of the venerable and gallant Seniors themselves, none others daring to object; grace and gallantry being qualities as requisite for a name and fame here as talent in peace or heroism in war. Well, beauty sat smiling in pleasing expectancy--age was there with his grey locks--youth also was there--there were political friends ' political enemies. Very near the Champion sat the Lion of the North, in deep and sublime repose--across the way sat his old acquaintance Hayne, the Knight of the South,--while citizens and strangers formed solid columns in flank and rear of their Honors. The Senate were transacting uninteresting but necessary business--embracing bills of a private character, 'c., when Mr. King of Alabama, rose,and having remarked that the Senate had the evidence before them of the propriety of preceding to the special order of the day without waiting for the expiration of the hour allotted to private bills, he moved that the Senate should so do. To this Col. B. objected, ' the objection of one member being sufficient to destroy the motion, it was not put. Fifteen or twenty minutes longer were then spent in the miscellaneous business, when Colonel Benton himself, moved (about ten minutes before me) the same thing: Mr. CLAY then rose to speak on the resolution submitted by him to abolish the duties on certain imported articles and to reduce the duties on others. Every eye was turned--every ear was awake, when Mr. C. in his exordium adverted to the unexpected circumstances in which he was then placed, and to which he could not, if he would be insensible; and that it was not his design to enter at very great length into the subject, 'c. He spoke, I believe, about an hour and a half; whether with his usual power or not, I do not know,-as I told you it was the first time I ever heard him. This I can say, I do not wish to hear better speaking. I have not heard better speaking. There were some fine touches of orator even on the Jejune subject which employed his argument. For although, if his biographers speak true, he was trained in no school of rhetoric, as we commonly understand the term, he is a remarkably fine orator. Yes, he has 'snatched a grace beyond the reach of art.' But he has trained himself in the best of schools-the Chamber of American Representatives. His intercourse has been with men of elevated minds and large views--he has had frequent occasion to address such men--he has grown in fame and moral power with the growth of our wonderful institution, he has been much engaged in contemplating and expounding the fundamental principles of our Character-his has been the great task and pleasure of endeavoring to render Liberty as diffusive as the light of Heaven-his has been the ambition of presiding over the councils of thirteen millions of republican freeman. I might say more, but I have said enough to account for the fact of his being a great orator. Such influence operating on such a genius must necessarily have produced HENRY CLAY. He might, in fact, be considered, without impropriety or exaggeration, as the Personification of America,(always meaning the United States.) Humble in his origin, overlapping the difficulties of his early life, contending successfully against every kind of opposition from within and from without, he has marched on to independence and greatness, such as office can never impart. Bold, free, and enthusiastic in his temperament, he has pushed his fortunes so to speak as far as his country's has gone; simple, affable, and condescending in his manners, none who seek are denied the benefit of his company; no airs of intellectual pride disfigure him. He paid a tender and beautiful compliment to LOWNDES so much lamented in civil and political circles, the author of the system by which the national debt is paying off, which came from his heart, softened by many 'pleasant, yet mournful' reminiscences. After he had been speaking a while, I observed the Sergeant at Arms of the House trotting about among the Representatives, who had crowded into the Senate Chamber, to summon them back to their seats, for there was 'no quorum'. A very few seemed to obey, probably from conscientious motives. But the most part were so chained by the words of the Senator, who was now in the full of flow of his speech, that they could not leave the spot. And so Henry Clay had the assurance to break up the session of the House. As they could not get a quorum, they concluded (about half past one) to adjourn, two hours more before the usual time. There has not been such a concentration of numbers and talent in the Chamber since the 'great debate' or perhaps Mr. Wirt's argument in peck's case. I do not suppose this was Mr. Clay's most powerful display, for there was too little room for feeling as well as some other things. He was shorter than we expected, and we looked for something further of a racy character when Mr. Hayne arose, but after muttering a hint or two in spirited style, like the premonitory voice of incipient thunder, and making some remarks about the subject, he moved a postponement to Monday next of the whole subject, when the Champion of the South will give battle probably in his best style. It is well to think deliberately over the matter before hand. Mr. Clay's tone of argument and manner has been so conciliatory, a man must love a quarrel very much, who would now seek it. But we cannot tell what warming up there may be of Congress blood. We hope none will flow.
*I was told that after the adjournment of the Senate, Mr. Clay shaking Mr. Calhoun by the hand, remarked he regretted he could not leave the chair, and stand side by side with him for the same good old principle; for which they had stood together years ago in the other House. Mr. C. pleasantly replied, 'You have gone so far beyond me, we should hardly be together here.'