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Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page

John Quincy Adams

Introduction
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
Abigail Adams
John Quincy Adams
Horace Mann
Millard Fillmore
Dorothea Lynde Dix
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Phineas Taylor Barnum
Horace Greeley
Lucy Stone
Susan B. Anthony
Clara Barton
Louisa May Alcott
Charles William Eliot
William Howard Taft
Adlai Ewing Stevenson, II
Whitney Moore Young, Jr.

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (1767-1848)

His life

Sixth President of the United States, eldest son of John and Abigail Adams. His Quincy ('Quin-zy') name came from his mother's side, "Quincy" being the family name of his mother's mother, Elizabeth Quincy. Their home was in Braintree (later Quincy), Massachusetts.

As a youth he traveled with his father to Europe, at fourteen years his father asked him to go with Francis Dana to Russia to be his secretary because he was more fluent in French, the language used in Russian government circles.

When his father became minister to Great Britain, he returned to the United States to enter Harvard. His previous studies in Paris and the Netherlands enabled him to join the junior class at Harvard, he graduated in 1787, the second out of a class of fifty-one.

He then studied law, but didn't like it and then was unsuccessful as a lawyer. He was appointed minister to the Netherlands by President Washington, but after arriving there, France invaded the country, forcing John Quincy to flee to England. On a special assignment in England, he met Louisa Catherine Johnson, daughter of the American Council General, who became his wife in 1797.

President Washington had appointed John Quincy to be the ambassador to Portugal, but when his father became the second president, Presidents Washington and Adams had to reassign him.

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Washington's comments were that John Quincy was "the most valuable public character now abroad" so President Adams named his son, minister to Prussia.

In 1803 he was elected to the United States senate with the Federalist Party behind him, later he changed to the Democratic Republican party (Jefferson's). John Quincy wanted to represent the whole nation, not just Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Federalist party's leader described him as "too unmanageable" and chose another man to be their next senator. John Quincy then planned to continue being a professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard, which he had been doing while being a senator. At this point he intended to stay out of public life, but President Madison appointed him as minister to Prussia. His father had worked out the Treaty of Paris, bringing the American Revolution to an end. Now John Quincy worked out the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.

When James Monroe became president, he appointed him Secretary of State. When there appeared to be countries who wanted to conquer parts of Central and South America, England suggested that the United States join them in opposition. J.Q. thought this over carefully and came to the conclusion that the United States should act alone in opposing foreign invasion. He advised President Monroe as well as other groups in our government of his ideas. President Monroe announced it in his annual address, so it became the "Monroe Doctrine".

Madison and Monroe had been Secretaries of State before becoming president, so it was thought that J.Q. Adams would do the same. But this time there were five candidates, none received the majority, so the House of Representatives had to vote for the president, they voted for John Quincy. As president he recommended an ambitious program of national improvements. This program included construction of highways, canals, weather stations and a national university. He believed that Congress should use its power for the benefit of all people, otherwise it would be treachery to the most sacred of trusts. But the majority in Congress disagreed. Adams' hopes for a partnership of government and science were not to be realized until after his lifetime.

Adams threw all his energies into the presidency from the day he took office. Each day, he conferred with a steady procession of congressmen and department heads in his upstairs study in the White House. He wrote in his diary: "I can scarcely conceive a more harassing, wearying, teasing condition of existence." He felt a lack of exercise, in spite of daily walks. In warm weather he liked to swim in the Potomac River. One time he came near drowning.

John Quincy did not run for a second term and seriously considered retiring. but the people of Quincy asked him to run for Congress in 1830. He defeated two other candidates by large majorities and wrote in his diary: "My election as President of the United States was not half so gratifying." He took his seat in the House of Representatives in 1831 and served for 17 years.

Adams' greatest public role may have occurred during debates about slavery. Gag rules were passed in the house to prevent Abolitionists from sending petitions to Congress asking that slavery be abolished in the District of Columbia and in new territories.

During this period the matter of the slaves on the ship Amistad came up. This matter involved other countries and was very difficult to resolve. John Quincy was asked to help with the problem. He knew that this would be very difficult and if he defended the slaves and lost, it would make life difficult for him, but his New England conscience won out, he decided to agree to try to defend them. Through his skillful arguments, the slaves were eventually freed and sent back to Africa, as they wished. He finally succeeded in having the gag rules abolished in 1844.

John Quincy became the first congressman to assert the right of the government to free slaves during a time of war. President Abraham Lincoln based the Emancipation Proclamation on John Quincy's arguments. The Emancipation Proclamation was to become effective on January 1, 1863. John Quincy suffered a fatal stroke while in the House chamber on February 21, 1848 He died in the speaker's private chamber.

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION a century after its founding

100 Year Anniversary

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James Smithson was an Englishman who had left his entire estate, amounting to somewhat more than $500,000 to enable the United States of America to increase knowledge among its citizens. John Quincy fought, wrote and lectured for ten years to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion. In 1846 it was finally decided to be spent on an educational institution and museum named The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

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JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (1767-1848)

His religion
John Quincy Adams

John Quincy's parents, John and Abigail, belonged to the First Parish Church in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. Abigail's father had been a Congregational minister in nearby Wollaston. He had softened original puritanism by emphasizing the positive contributions to daily living while down-playing the harsher doctrines of Calvin.

As a young diplomat in London, John Quincy was once at a party when a handsome young Army officer suddenly fell dead. This caused John Quincy to consider "the frailty and vanity of earthly enjoyments. Looking for guidance, he turned to the sermons of John Tillotson , Archbishop of Canterbury from 1691 to 1694. His was a highly practical theology, emphasizing the need for mankind to live kindly together. His sermons were beautifully presented in a brief, understated fashion that stirred John Quincy. He preferred preachers to speak of the fruits of religion rather than to linger over dogma. Tillotson's homilies (ten volumes) were read by John Quincy for the rest of his life.

He rarely moved beyond a rational approach to questions involving religious faith, although he always claimed to be a Christian and to acknowledge an afterlife. Once after an illness, he had lost his sight, and when it returned, he turned to works of religion and theology. In his letters to his parents he wrote: "Thanks to their pious instruction, he had never been pulled away from belief when he had faced temptation of infidelity in life."

When he returned to the United States and lived in Washington D.C., he found All Souls Church (later Unitarian) there, organized in 1821.

When he was Secretary of State, he accepted the presidency of the American Bible Society because he became alarmed at the nation's religious attitude: the contrasting appeals of Unitarianism and Evangelicalism. Now his diary was filled with rebuttals to liberal Unitarianism and intolerant Fundamentalism.

There were two Unitarians he didn't like: Joseph Priestly because Priestly ranked Socrates with Jesus, which John Quincy called absurd; the other was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson's graduation address given at the Harvard Divinity School in 1838 was seminal in the development of Transcendentalism. In his diary he wrote: The speaker was ambitious of becoming the founder of a new sect.

As his severe criticism suggested, he was by nature conservative. While those who heard him call for public support of the arts and sciences might think him a path-breaker, in matters of custom and religion he was highly conventional.

Toward the end of his life and as he grew more feeble, he tried to console himself through spiritual and religious meditation. He reread the Seventy-first Psalm's eighteenth verse:

"Now also when I am old and grayheaded
O God, forsake me not;
until I have shewed my strength
unto this generation,
and power in everyone that is to come."

Then he made this pious confession: "For I believe there is a god who heareth prayer, and that honest prayers to him will not be in vain."

At his death in the Speaker of the House's private chamber, those who gathered heard him murmur: "This is the end of earth, but I am content." Others thought he murmured: "This is the last of earth --- I am composed." His body was taken to Quincy, Massachusetts, and later put in the crypt of the United First Parish Church (Unitarian). After his wife, Louisa's death, both were placed next to his parents'.

At one time John Quincy Adams said: "Our religion is the religion of a book --- man must be educated upon this earth for heaven."

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