Freeman

ARTICLE

John Quincy Adams: 1767-1848

JANUARY 01, 1968 by ROBERT M. THORNTON

Mr. Thornton is a businessman in Covington, Kentucky.

In 1831 John Quincy Adams, age 64, was elected to the House of Representative from his district in Massachusetts. His lifelong politi­cal motto—never to seek office and never to refuse one—explains his willingness to serve the public in this relatively minor position for a man who had been a U. S. Sen­ator, Minister in The Netherlands, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Lon­don, Secretary of State in the Ad­ministration of James Monroe, and President of the United States, 1825-1829. But he made it perfectly clear to his constituents that he would be his own man in Wash­ington, not a mere errand boy or mouthpiece for any party or sec­tion. This, evidently, was good enough for the farmers of Plym­outh, because Adams was re­elected every term until his death in office in 1848.

The independent stand of John Quincy Adams contrasts sharply with the promises of many of to­day’s candidates and officeholders to be guided almost exclusively by the majority—or the strong and vocal minority that gives the im­pression of being a majority. The politician of today is concerned not with doing what he believes is right but with doing what the majority of those who elected him want him to do, be it right or wrong. Consequently, he devotes much of his time to nose-counting instead of hard thinking and pray­erful meditation.

The most successful political leaders of the future will not nec­essarily be men of intelligence, wisdom, experience, knowledge, honor, character, and integrity. Rather, they will be the men—or women—with the most sophisti­cated polling and computing sys­tem; the man, that is, who before committing himself on any ques­tion, can quickly and accurately determine the majority opinion among his constituents. There is no room in such a situation for a John Quincy Adams with his broad experience, wide learning, and strong character. In fact, the sit­uation calls for no man at all, least of all a man of integrity; a ma­chine can "count noses."

When comparing the politicians of today with John Quincy Adams, we must recognize the idea im­plicit in each position. The politi­cal leaders in our time believe, or in return for votes pretend to be­lieve, the voice of the people is the voice of God—vox populi, vox dei. Men like John Quincy Adams, on the other hand, do not believe such nonsense. Nor do they believe that any party or nation has a monop­oly on the truth. Truth is not found by the expedient of count­ing noses. Very often the majority can be dead wrong; it is a few wise individuals—the natural aris­tocracy — who lead them on the right path away from disaster. We need men in office like John Quincy Adams who believe their duty is always to seek what is right, whose allegiance is not to a party or section or nation but to the Truth.  

 

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Essential Justice

For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.

CICERO, De Legibus

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January 1968

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