John Quincy Adams

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The great problem of legislation is, so to organize the civil government of a community...that in the operation of human institutions upon social action, self-love and social may be made the same.

John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767February 23, 1848) was an American lawyer, diplomat, politician, the sixth President of the United States (March 4, 1825March 3, 1829), and the son of John Adams and Abigail Adams

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  • Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity!
    • Speech at Plymouth, 1802-12-22
    • Translation from Tacitus' "Et majores et posteros cogitate", Agricola, c. 32. 31.
May our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right.
  • I can never join with my voice in the toast which I see in the papers attributed to one of our gallant naval heroes. I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong. Fiat justitia, pereat coelum. My toast would be, may our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right.
    • Letter to John Adams (1816-08-01)
    • Speaking of the popular phrase "My Country, Right or Wrong!" based upon Stephen Decatur's famous statement "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong." The Latin phrase is an ancient one that can be translated as : "Let justice be done though heaven should fall."
The nation which enjoys the most freedom must necessarily be in proportion to its numbers the most powerful nation.
  • Individual liberty is individual power, and as the power of a community is a mass compounded of individual powers, the nation which enjoys the most freedom must necessarily be in proportion to its numbers the most powerful nation.
  • This house will bear witness to his piety; this town, his birthplace, to his munificence; history to his patriotism; posterity to the depth and compass of his mind.
    • Epitaph for John Adams (1829)
    • Inscribed on one of the portals of the United First Parish Church Unitarian (Church of the Presidents), Quincy
  • In charity to all mankind, bearing no malice or ill will to any human being, and even compassionating those who hold in bondage their fellow men, not knowing what they do.
    • Letter to A. Bronson (1838-07-30); later paraphrased by Abraham Lincoln, "With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right".
  • My wants are many, and, if told,
    Would muster many a score;
    And were each wish a mint of gold,
    I still would want for more.
    • The Wants of Man, stanza 1, published in The Quincy Patriot, (1841-09-25)
  • I want the seals of power and place,
    The ensigns of command,
    Charged by the people's unbought grace,
    To rule my native land.
    Nor crown, nor scepter would I ask
    But from my country's will,
    By day, by night, to ply the task
    Her cup of bliss to fill.
  • The great problem of legislation is, so to organize the civil government of a community...that in the operation of human institutions upon social action, self-love and social may be made the same.
    • "Society and Civilization" in the American Review (July 1845)
  • To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is...the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind. It prolongs life itself and enlarges the sphere of existence.
    • Report on the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution (c. 1846)
  • This hand, to tyrants ever sworn the foe,<br<For Freedom only deals the deadly blow;
    Then sheathes in calm repose the vengeful blade,
    For gentle peace in Freedom’s hallowed shade.
    • Written in an Album, 1842. Compare: "Manus haec inimica tyrannis / Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem", Algernon Sidney, From the Life and Memoirs of Algernon Sidney.
  • Who but shall learn that freedom is the prize
    Man still is bound to rescue or maintain;
    That nature's God commands the slave to rise,
    And on the oppressor's head to break the chain.
    Roll, years of promise, rapidly roll round,
    Till not a slave shall on this earth be found.
    • Poem.
  • I told him that I thought it was law logic — an artificial system of reasoning, exclusively used in Courts of justice, but good for nothing anywhere else.
    • Diary record of a comment made by Adams to John Marshall, Charles Francis Adams, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams: Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848 (1875), p. 372.
  • This is the last of Earth! I am content.

Independence Day address (1821)

Adams' address as Secretary of State to the U.S. House of Representatives. (1821-07-04)

  • And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.
Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind.
  • America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet on her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world; she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. . . . Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

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  • All men profess honesty as long as they can. To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse.
  • Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.
  • Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.
    • Variant: Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.
  • Idleness is sweet, and its consequences are cruel.
  • Posterity: you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.
  • The highest glory of the American Revolution was this, said John Quincy Adams, it connected in one indistinguishable bond the principles of civil government and the principle of Christianity.
    • John Wingate Thornton in The Pulpit of The American Revolution, 1860

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