With the news that Paul Ryan is retiring, James K. Polk, the only president to have previously served as Speaker of the House, has been on my mind.

Researching this one was a lot of fun, and I thank both John Quincy Adams (for his diary upkeep) and the Library of Congress (for keeping accurate House transcripts) for recording this wonderful clash between the former and future presidents. Polk and JQA were frequently yelling at one another, but the particular event featured here is from March 17, 1834 and the issue being discussed was the removal of public deposits from the Bank of the United States. After remarks from JQA, condemning Andrew Jackson for his “failed experiment,” Polk spoke to defend the President which JQA called “an idolizing and mawkish glorification of Doctor Andrew Jackson, with some coarse and equally dull invective against me.”

And that’s when, yes, John Quincy Adams retorted back by simply quoting part of Act 3, Scene 2 of Hamlet. From his diary, it “struck the House like a spark of electricity.”