John Quincy Adams - The panama congress
Some of what historians have called Adams' blunders were blunders only in a manner of speaking; that is, they were proposals or policies that failed and even hurt him politically not because of their lack of merit but because his congressional opponents artfully and effectively made them objects of ridicule. Adams' support of American participation in the Panama Congress of 1826 is a nice case in point.
In a special message on 26 December 1825, Adams told Congress that he had accepted the invitation from Simón Bolívar, the "Liberator" of South America, that the United States send a delegation to the congress of American nations called for the early summer of 1826 in Panama. As Adams carefully explained, although he "deemed [his acceptance of the invitation] to be within the constitutional competency of the Executive," he thought it advisable to ascertain Congress' opinion of the expediency of participating in the proposed congress before naming delegates to it. In an attempt to help the United States Congress better understand the value of attendance, Adams presented a number of reasoned arguments: it would, among other things, be in the national interest; it would strengthen commercial ties with, and opportunities in, South America; it would fortify the Monroe Doctrine's warnings against European intervention in the hemisphere; and it would enhance the popularity of the United States among the nations south of the border. The response of the anti-Adams majority in Congress was predictable.
House and Senate alike denounced the alleged subversion of the powers of Congress and the betrayal of George Washington's warning against foreign entanglements. They claimed to discern, too, a plot to enter, unconstitutionally, into a secret alliance. Southern congressmen warned that the Panama Congress would doubtless express criticism of the slave trade, and they voiced dark forebodings about the presence of black Haitians in Panama and the dangers that would flow from recognition of Haitian independence from France. Adams responded by avowing his veneration of Washington's Farewell Addressington's farewell address, his continuing opposition to foreign entanglements, and his doubts that Haiti "ought to be recognized as an independent sovereign power," in view of its continued economic subservience to France. But what was wrong, he asked, with the United States cementing ties with its southern neighbors, strengthening the Monroe Doctrine, further dissuading European intervention, and enhancing American financial prospects?
Of course, nothing Adams said could mollify his critics. But on 22 April 1826 he won what Samuel E Bemis calls his "first and only victory in Congress," when the House of Representatives approved the appropriation of $40,000 to cover the expenses of sending an American delegation to Panama. The victory was a hollow one, since nothing came of it. One of the delegates Adams selected, Richard Anderson, died en route; the other delegate, John Sergeant, did not arrive until the congress was essentially over. At Henry Clay's request, Adams, on his very last day in office, communicated to the United States Congress the administration's instructions to Anderson and Sergeant in order to include in the enduring record proof of the baselessness of the smears and innuendos leveled against the Adams administration's role in the matter.
Toward the end of his life, Adams, in a reflective mood, dismissed the event and the controversy it engendered as a slight thing at best and a fiasco at worst. Bemis is more appreciative, viewing Adams' support of the Panama Congress and the administration's Latin American policy, of which attendance in Panama was a part, as a "noble experiment that led to nothing in its [own] day." But the underlying idea of United States involvement in Latin America was to bear fruit at a later day.