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Robert McNamara

The Death of John Quincy Adams

By February 21, 2013

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On the afternoon of February 21, 1848, 165 years ago, a national tragedy struck in the U.S. Capitol. John Quincy Adams, a venerable former president who had been serving for years as a congressman from Massachusetts, had just cast a fairly routine vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Adams, 80 years old and widely referred to as "Old Man Eloquent," was suddenly "struck with paralysis," as the next day's New York Tribune expressed it.

Early news reports said Adams had been taken to his home after collapsing. But he had actually been carried from the old House chamber (now known as Statuary Hall) to an adjacent office in the Capitol.

Placed on a cot, attended by doctors and friends, Adams lingered for two days as word of his condition was transmitted by telegraph. News reports noted that traditional celebrations for Washington's birthday were muted out of a sense of sorrow.

John Quincy Adams died on February 23, 1848, in the Capitol. A large funeral was held in the building a few days later. And his body was transported back to his home in Massachusetts, accompanied by a Congressional delegation which included a member from each state.

On the day Adams had cast his final vote, an unknown Whig from Illinois serving his only term in Congress, Abraham Lincoln, was seated in one of the back rows of the chamber. And it's conceivable that Lincoln, who had just turned 39, may have been among the younger congressmen who carried the stricken Adams from the floor of the House.

More: John Quincy Adams

Illustration: Detail from a lithograph depicting John Quincy Adams on his deathbed in the Capitol/Library of Congress


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