Back in Quincy, Massachusetts when Congress was in recess, JQA gave a speech on 4 July attacking the principle of Nullification, calling state sovereignty a "hallucination." JQA received news later that day that former President James Monroe had died (he joined J. Adams and Jefferson as former Presidents that died on 4 July). JQA's eulogy of Monroe was published in most newspapers, and was very well received - his reputation was being restored. That fact wasn't lost on the Democratic House leaders, who thought that JQA was making another run at the Presidency. Instead of placing JQA on the Foreign Affairs Committee, he was named the Chairman on the Committee of Manufactures - it was an attempt to isolate JQA, similar to what the Massachusetts state legislature tried to do when the kicked JQA "upstairs" to the U.S. Senate in 1802.
JQA became an expert on the procedures and rules of the House (more so than his colleagues), and he flaunted House tradition and used his right as a committee chairman to read citizen petitions that had nothing to do with industry or manufactures. On the first day the 22nd Congress was in session, JQA read fifteen petitions that attacked slavery - in the early-1830s, Abolitionists had a voice in Congress.
JQA became a student of industry and manufactures, and discovered that the Northern textile industry was addicted to Southern cotton and African slavery. So, as chairman, he broadened his committee's sphere of influence via tariffs; the Tariff of 1832, a compromise of the Tariff of 1828 (the "Tariff of Abominations") was largely JQA's doing. Even though that tariff lessened the burden on Southern states, South Carolina used the tariff as an excuse to threaten to secede from the Union at the height of the Nullification Crisis. In typical JQA fashion, focusing on the issues, he voted yes for President Jackson's Force Bill against South Carolina in 1833, and then opposed Jackson's efforts at eliminating tariffs.
The 1830s was the decade in which the "Gag Rule" originated, banning the debate of slavery in the House - it started when the Speaker of the House, future President James Knox Polk, refused to recognize JQA during a debate on a resolution restricting free speech against slavery. "Am I gagged, or am I not" was JQA's response after the 95-82 vote in favor of
limiting free speech on the topic of slavery. JQA was an expert on parliamentary procedure, and he kept finding ways around the "Gag Rule"; for example, JQA would read a PRAYER against slavery, reminding his irate colleagues that a prayer was not a petition. JQA made sure he kept his arguments on the right of petition instead of the abolition of slavery, which also skirted much of the "Gag Rule." JQA also pointed out, on the record, that there sure were a lot of mixed-race kids in the South - he was the only one at that point in Congress that spoke out against the hypocrisy of African slavery. JQA kept winning rhetorical battles in debate, and somehow avoided censure - he had earned the nickname "Old Man Eloquent", even by those that despised his politics.
In 1836, Jackson's 2nd Vice-President, Martin Van Buren, became the 8th President, and John Quincy Adams renounced party affiliation, officially becoming an Independent. When Congress resumed in 1837, JQA was determined to save his nation from destroying itself from within by opposing the practice of slavery. Desire was one thing, but the political realities were another - the "Three-Fifths Compromise" was still in effect, and by increasing the number of African slaves, Southern states were able to increase their number of representatives in the House by 35%. The increase in Southern representatives meant that JQA faced the real possibility of being expelled from the House of Representatives.
In 1839, the first attempt to expel JQA from the House began; however, stalemate gripped the House in terms of organizing leadership positions and populating committees. So, ironically, JQA was named Speaker Pro-Tem (temporary Speaker) in order to get the House organized - even those that hated his politics viewed him as fair, honest, and impartial, a true patriot. Once the House was organized and the committees established, the "Gag Rule" was put back in place, and efforts continued to censure and expel JQA from the House.
Once again, JQA argued a case in front of the Supreme Court (among his previous cases were Fletcher v. Peck in 1810) on 24 February, 1841. JQA's arguments on behalf of the Africans from the Amistad lasted four hours, and the Supreme Court justices were transfixed. An associate justice suddenly died after the events of the day, and arguments were postponed for a week. On 1 March, 1841, JQA continued his arguments by using humanistic and spiritual principles. In essence, JQA triple-dog-dared the Court to be the equals of their predecessors (he even named their predecessors). The Supreme Court voted unanimously to free the 30+ Africans, allowing them to return to West Africa. In his mid-70s, JQA decided to continue serving in the House; the Amistad Incident had re-energized him; he also knew that if he quit, he would wither instead of prosper.
(JQA had always been fascinated with technology, and in 1843, he became the first President to be photographed; the first photograph was in 1842, but it was lost, and JQA's 1843 daguerreotype became the famous image)
While opposing forces tried to remove JQA, he kept up his fight against slavery. He read a petition that supported dissolving the Union, and then to show the political inconsistency and hypocrisy involved, had the Declaration of Independence read into the record. JQA had now become even more famous and admired across the nation (except in the South, of course). The Prentiss-Adams Act outlawed dueling in the District of Columbia; JQA likened dueling to slavery, in that a better pistol shot could control / blackmail / intimidate an inferior shot.
Letters came pouring in to the House supporting JQA from citizens across the nation, which led to the motion censuring JQA to be tabled. Immediately, JQA introduced 200 petitions against slavery, and then spoke, summarizing the petitions . . . those words became the Constitutional basis for President Lincoln when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. By the early-1840s, JQA had become even more popular than President John Tyler, and had rejoined a prestigious circle of celebrated (and despised) politicians that included Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.
Finally, in 1844, Congress abolished the "Gag Rule", 105-80; it was the first victory of the North over the South in the battle over slavery. As JQA traveled the nation promoting the sciences (e.g. the study of astronomy at universities), he discovered, ironically enough, that he actually enjoyed campaigning, something he had steadfastly refused to do all his political life.
As Congress voted to go to war with Mexico in 1846, JQA was one of 11 members of the House that voted against the declaration of war. In 1847, JQA suffered a stroke, but he mostly recovered; however, he was markedly weaker than he was before the stroke. When Congress reconvened, JQA received a warm round applause from the House; among those that applauded was a freshmen representative from a district in Illinois - Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln became one of JQA's greatest supporters against the expansion of slavery, and for federal funding for transportation (e.g. railroads). On 11 July, 1847, John Quincy Adams celebrated his 80th birthday.
As a Representative, JQA connected with the American people, something he was unable to do when he was President. JQA had lived in the shadow of his father, John Adams, one of the most important and accomplished Founding Fathers, the only one that was involved in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Treaty of Paris, 1783. As President, John Adams had some notable achievements, especially avoiding war with France. But John Quincy Adams was able to achieve something that his legendary father never could - as a result of his time in the House of Representatives battling against slavery, he was truly mourned by the American people when he died (except in the South, of course . . .).
(Below: segments from Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" featuring John Quincy Adams,
portrayed by Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins)