This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
On February 13, 1847, during the discussion of the " Three Million Dollar" bill, John Quincy Adams, who had been dangerously ill, appeared for the first time in Congress during that session. As he passed into this old Hall of Representatives, the entire House arose from their seats out of respect; all business was temporarily suspended; and Andrew Johnson, afterwards President, turning to the chair said that in accordance with his intention when he selected his present seat he now renounced it in favor of the former President of the United States. The bronze tablet to-day upon the floor marks the spot where stood this desk, and where later that veteran of politics was prostrated. When the House moved into its present quarters, the mahogany desks in the old hall were sold, and, it is said, this desk of John Quincy Adams brought more than any of the rest. The commemorative tablet was laid at the instance of ex-Governor Long of Massachusetts when a Member of the Fiftieth Congress.
The death of Adams is graphically told by Charles Jared Ingersoll, his fellow-Member: "On the 21st of February, 1848, he underwent his death-stroke in attempting to give utterance to an emotion. The House of Representatives were voting thanks to several of the generals in the Mexican War, to which he was opposed, not only because of his disapproval of the war and the administration charged with it, but because, as he objected, some of the generals were under charges to be tried for misconduct. Littering his nay to the Clerk's call for votes, with the petulant vehemence he often effected, as if not merely to negative but stigmatize the proposition, and soon afterwards trying, as is believed, to rise and say something, he sunk forward in his seat senseless, in a fit of mortal paralysis. A crowd of members rushed to his help, and keeping my place at some distance, I did not see him till lifted up and borne off by Dr. George Fries, one of the Ohio members, who, attended by many others, carried him through the middle aisle out of the House, by the centre door into the rotunda, where Dr. Fries in his lap supported Mr. Adams, till a sofa was brought, on which he was laid and taken into the Speaker's room. Almost inanimate, he is said to have uttered a few words, 1 This is the last of earth,' as his valedictory to the world, from which he had prepared for conspicuous departure. His family, friends, and several ministers of the Gospel soon came and prayed for him, not, however, without misunderstanding as to which clergyman was best entitled, and further heart burning afterwards concerning their invitations to the funeral, as passionately preached by one of the disappointed from the pulpit the following Sunday.
" Mr. Adams longed to die in the Capitol, and surpassed Chatham's death, which he emulated. If Adams could have expired when, as well as where, he wished, it would have been next day after his attack, the 22d February, Washington's birth-day, instead of living until the evening of the 23d.
" Hated and vilified as he had been in the Capitol, his death was instantly followed there by a gush of unanimous veneration for his memory, and unbounded respect for his mortal remains.
"Adjourning at once on his apparent, the House of Representatives adjourned again the next two days, awaiting his actual demise, and then the rest of the week for his obsequies.
"The Hall and his chair were draped in mourning on the day of his funeral, and many of the houses of Washington in like manner".
They first bore the couch of the dying statesman to the east door of the rotunda, where are now the bronze portals, hoping that the fresh air might revive him. This view across what might be appropriately called the President's portico was the last fading impression of the world outside the Capitol reflected by the shattered mind. The atmosphere, alas, was chilly and heavy with vapor; and at the suggestion of Mr. Winthrop, the couch was taken to the Speaker's room. Mrs. Adams and the nephew and niece of the afflicted arrived post haste but they could do little else than watch the image fade before their tear-stained eyes.
The funeral ceremonies were held in the Hall of Representatives on the 26th. The Capitol was filled to overflowing. The old hall was shrouded in black with "-great taste and judgment by the officers of the House, under the suggestion, and kind supervision of a distinguished lady." The fair figure of History was robed in black, save the arm " holding the recording pen," says the Intelligencer, " whose alabaster whiteness, in strong contrast with the surrounding stole, had a fine effect; heightened as it was by the attitude of the head, which, turning towards one side, happened to have its countenance in the very direction where stood the vacant seat of Mr. Adams, as if in the act of recording the solemn circumstances of his death. That seat by order of the house was draped in mourning, and by the fact of its vacancy recalled every beholder to the blow which had there fallen, like a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky. The portraits of Washington and Lafayette, on either hand of the chair, were covered over with thin crape, casting a melancholy dimness over the features, without entirely concealing them, the frames being covered with a deeper black. The effect of this, too, was very fine, most truly representing what would have been the feeling of both those distinguished men if alive to witness the solemn scene ; for Washington gave the deceased his first Commission, and Lafayette embraced him in his arms when taking his last adieu of America".
Seats before the desk were reserved for judges, the Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and the committee of arrangements, which consisted of one Representative from each State in the Union. In the center stood a table, covered with a black velvet pall, to support the casket. Behind the foreign representatives were the seats for officers of the army and navy. Clergymen also were accorded places upon the floor, some coming from Alexandria, Baltimore and even Massachusetts to attend the ceremony. Seats for the family were reserved upon the extreme left. Some of the diplomats appeared in full court dress, with orders and decorations, while others came in simple suits of black. The Speaker, President of the Senate, officers of both Houses, members of the committee of arrangements and attendant physicians wore white scarfs. The galleries and lobbies were packed to suffocation. Following the reading of the journal, the Senate entered, preceded by its venerable presiding officer, George Mifflin Dallas, with white and flowing hair. He sat upon the Speaker's left. Everyone arose as James K. Polk, the President of the United States, entered the hall. The casket was escorted by the committee of arrangements and followed by the Massachusetts delegation as mourners. Chaplain Gurley read from Scripture and offered prayer. The choir then sang a hymn. The address followed, after which came the closing hymn and apostolic benediction.
As soon as the ceremonies were completed, the procession formed. The casket was borne to the rotunda, out the eastern portal, and down the steps, • where carriages were in waiting. The funeral car was canopied in black velvet and surmounted by an eagle with wings outstretched, covered with crape. It was drawn by six white horses, led by as many grooms—both horses and grooms attired in sable. The casket was covered with black velvet, ornamented with silver lace. Upon its plate was the following inscription:
John Quincy Adams, Born.
An Inhabitant of Massachusetts, July IX, 1767, Died.
A Citizen of the United States, In the Capitol of Washington, February 23, 1848 ; Having served his Country for Half a Century, And Enjoyed its Highest Honors.