This second plaque in the Small Senate Rotunda notes that on November 22nd, President John Adams delivered the first Presidential speech ever given in this building – a speech given to the first joint-session of Congress assembled in the original Senate Chamber. His speech was quite short, but in it, President John Adams offered his prayer for this city. According to the Records of Congress, John Adams prayed:
May this territory [Washington, D.C.] be the residence of virtue and happiness! In this city, may that piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government which adorned the great character whose name it bears, be forever held in veneration! Here and throughout our country, may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever! 75 This is quite a prayer for Washington, D. C. – and for the nation – and it was a prayer which occurred in the room immediately behind the plaque – the original Senate Chamber now called the Old Supreme Court Chamber).
Another item of significance connected with this part of the Capitol is one of the first official acts of Congress. This occurred when our Founders moved into and first occupied this room and the adjoining chamber, and this action is recorded in the Annals of Congress.
David Barton explains that the records of Congress are required by the constitutional mandate of Article I, Section 5, ¶ 3, which requires that written records be kept of the proceedings in Congress. The Founders required this because they wanted government open, accessible, and accountable to the people.
With the congressional records, citizens, at any time, may read what our elected officials are doing and saying – or not doing and not saying – and then hold them accountable. Every debate and every vote which has taken place in Congress from 1774 to the present is recorded in these public records. And it is because of these records that we know exactly what happened when Congress moved into this building.
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The sofa was then taken up and borne out of the Hall into the Rotunda, where it was set down, and the members of both Houses, and strangers, who were fast crowding around, were with some difficulty repressed, and an open space cleared in its immediate vicinity; but a medical gentleman, a member of the House, (who was prompt, active, and self-possessed throughout the whole painful scene,) advised that he be removed to the door of the Rotunda opening on the east portico, where a fresh wind was blowing. This was done; but the air being chilly after being taken to the Speaker’s room, Mr. Adams sank into a state of apparent insensibility, gradually growing weaker and weaker, till on Wednesday evening, February 23, at a quarter past 7 o’clock, he expired without a struggle. and loaded with vapor, the sofa was, at the suggestion of Mr. Winthrop, once more taken up and removed to the Speaker’s apartment, the doors of which were forthwith closed to all but professional gentlemen and particular friends. While lying in this apartment, Mr. Adams partially recovered the use of his speech, and observed in faltering accents, “This is the end of earth;” but quickly added, “I am composed.” . . .
“This is the end of earth. I am composed.” These were the last words of John Quincy Adams, and they were uttered in a room adjoining the Old House Chamber, a room now called the Lindy Boggs Reading Room. At the time that Mr. Adams was carried there, however, that room was the chamber of Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop. It was in the Speaker’s chamber that Adams died; that room still contains the actual couch on which he died as well as a bust of him on the wall, recording what occurred in that room.
The circumstances surrounding the death of John Quincy Adams are of particular interest, for death in those days was viewed differently from what it is today. Since the Bible teaches in Hebrews 2:14-15 that one indication of a genuine relationship with Christ was a freedom from the fear of death, observers were interested in how an individual reacted when he faced death. As one political historian in 1854 noted:
[I]t is customary, even among Christian people, to withhold final judgment of a man’s Christian character till it is seen how he makes his death. The manner of a man’s death often works a change – sometimes a revolution – in public opinion respecting the nature of his life.
What, then, did observers see when John Quincy Adams faced death? That occasion occurred in the Old House Chamber on Monday, February 21, 1848. A local newspaper reporter recorded what transpired on that day:
Just after the yeas and nays were taken on a question, and the Speaker had risen to put another question to the House, a sudden cry was heard on the left of the chair, “Mr. Adams is dying!” Turning our eyes to the spot, we beheld the venerable man in the act of falling over the left arm of his chair, while his right arm was extended, grasping his desk for support. He would have dropped upon the floor had he not been caught in the arms of the member sitting next to him. A great sensation was created in the House; members from all quarters rushing from their seats and gathering round the fallen statesman, who was immediately lifted in to the area in front of the Clerk’s table. The Speaker instantly suggested that some gentlemen move an adjournment, which being promptly done, the House adjourned. A sofa was brought, and Mr. Adams, in a state of perfect helplessness, though not of entire insensibility, was gently laid upon it.
Mr. Adams next asked, “Why is it that next to the birthday of the Savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival [occurs] on this day?” That is, why were Christmas and the Fourth of July our two most-celebrated holidays in America? He answered his own question with these words:
Is it not that in the chain of human events the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on Earth? – That it laid the cornerstone of human government on the first precepts of Christianity?
For well over an hour he continued his speech, confirming that Christianity was not only the basis of, but the reason for, our national independence.
John Quincy Adams was an outspoken Christian and an avid student of the Bible. He made it his practice to read through the Bible – in its entirety – once every year. It is not surprising, then, that John Quincy wanted his children to grow up knowing the Bible and how to study it.
The difficulty with his desire was that during the time that his son,
George Washington Adams, was growing up, John Quincy Adams was overseas serving as a diplomat. Therefore, in order to teach his son how to study the Bible, between 1811 and 1813 he wrote nine lengthy letters instructing his son how to get the most from a study of God’s Word.
Thirty years after he had written these letters, others found out about them and believed they would be beneficial for all young people. So, those letters were published in a small book: Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son, on the Bible and its Teachings. Today, we rarely think of a President as the author of a book on how to study the Bible, but John Quincy Adams was.
Benjamin Rush was a leading educator, helping start five colleges and universities, including the first college for women. Additionally, he is called the “Father of American Medicine,” personally trained three thousand students for their medical degrees, published a number of medical textbooks, and made numerous medical discoveries which still benefit us today. He was also a founder of America’s first abolition society and for forty years was a national leader in the abolition movement.
Because of his faith, we still enjoy the fruit of his labors. For example, in 1791, Dr. Rush founded “The First Day Society” which grew into today’s Sunday Schools. Additionally, he also started America’s first Bible society: The Bible Society of Philadelphia. The original constitution for that Bible society was authored by Dr. Rush. In that constitution, Dr. Rush listed two important reasons that America needed Bible societies: first, he pointed out that with a Bible, every individual could discover how to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; second, he argued that if every individual owned a Bible – and would study and obey it – that all of our social problems, including crime, slavery, etc., would diminish.
As Dr. Rush explained, it is in living by the Bible that man becomes both “humanized and civilized.” In looking for ways to print Bibles faster and more economically, Dr. Rush and the Society came across what was called stereotyped printing – an early form of mass production. With the help of President James Madison and an act passed by Congress in the Capitol building, Dr. Rush’s Bible society obtained stereotype plates by which they could mass produce Bibles.
The result was America’s first mass-produced, stereotyped Bible – and it came about through the efforts of Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence.Consider next signer Francis Hopkinson. He was a church music director, a choir leader, and the editor of a music work from 1767 – one of the first hymnals printed in America. His work took the one hundred and fifty Psalms and set them all to music so that the Psalms could be sung much as King David had done over two thousand years before. Interestingly, his work was one of the earliest in America to include musical notation and place notes in a staff so that the melody could be seen. This unique Bible hymnbook was the work of Declaration signer, Francis Hopkinson.
Consider next Charles Thomson. Charles Thomson was the Secretary of Congress, and he and John Hancock were the only two to sign the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Thomson is another Founder responsible for an American edition of the Bible. That Bible – called Thomson’s Bible – was the first translation of the Greek Septuagint into English. It took Charles Thomson twenty-five years to complete his translation, but even today that work is still considered one of the more scholarly American translations of the Bible.
Consider also signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Charles Carroll was the last of the fifty-six signers to pass away, dying in 1832 at the age of 95. A strong and unequivocal declaration of his Christian faith appears in numerous writings, including a letter he wrote on his 89th birthday in which he declared: “On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation, and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.” 13 In other of his writings, Charles Carroll explained that his Christian faith was one of the chief reasons that he had entered into the American Revolution – he was fighting to preserve religious liberty. In fact, he was so committed to Christianity that he built and personally funded a Christian house of worship.
Charles Carroll’s life and words confirm that he was a strong Christian, and he is one of that handful of Americans who have been honored at the Capitol with a statue, located in East Central Hall.
Consider next signer Benjamin Rush. When he died in 1813, the writings of the day, and the other Founders who were still alive, declared that Dr. Rush was one of our three most notable Founders, ranking him in prominence along with George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Yet who today has heard of Benjamin Rush, or who knows of his accomplishments?