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PLYMOUTH, Mass., Dec. 22, 1802 - "Man lives his highest destiny in the continuity of his interests as a unit within his family, his community and his country," said Senator-elect John Quincy Adams in an oration marking the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims here almost two centuries ago.
It seemed as though Mr. Adams, from his vantage point of political privilege as son of the incumbent President, was voicing alarm at a general tone of self-seeking among our States and ourselves as individuals. He indicated strongly that perhaps we are falling into the pit of older societies, of using our great heritage for individual gain. Instead, he constrained his hearers to make their present activities a mark of devotion to the past and a foundation for the future of the whole of America.
He took as his text the rallying cry of an ancient British chieftain, who when hard pressed by Roman conquerors cried out, "Think of your forefathers and of your posterity ," "Man, therefore, was not made for himself alone - no! He was made for his country by the obligations of the social compact; he was made for his species, by the Christian duties of universal charity; he was made for all ages past by the sentiment of reverence for his forefathers, and he was made for all future times by the impulse of affection for his progeny."
A familiar of the courts of Europe by virtue of his father's earlier missions, the Senator-elect was sent to Europe while in his teens to study. In 178I, when only fourteen years of age, he was taken by Francis Dana to Russia, where he remained for two years as a semi-official member of Dana's mission. Despite these separations from formal schooling, he was graduated from Harvard College in 1788 at the age of 21. Since then he has been Minister to The Netherlands, appointed by President Washington and serving in 1794, and for the four years ending in 180I Minister to Prussia.
Among the sentiments of most principal operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character are those of veneration for our forefathers, and of love of our posterity. They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions. By the fundamental principles of Christianity the happiness of the individual is interwoven by innumerable and imperceptible ties with that of his contemporaries; by the power of filial reverence and parental affection, individual existence is extended beyond the limits of individual life, and the happiness of every age is chained in mutual dependence upon that of every other.
Respect for his ancestors excites in the breast of man interest in their history, attachment to their character, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues. Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example, and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare. Man, therefore, was not made for himself alone - no! He was made for his country by the obligations of the social compact; he was made for his species, by the Christian duties of universal charity; he was made for all ages past by the sentiment of reverence for his forefathers, and he was made for all future times by the impulse, of affection for his progeny.
Under the influence of these principles, "existence sees him spurn her bounded reign." They redeem nature from the subjection of time and space: he is no longer a "puny insect shivering in a breeze"; he is the glory of creation-formed to occupy all time and all extent; bounded, during his residence upon earth, only by the boundaries of the world and destined to life and immortality in brighter regions, when the fabric of nature itself shall dissolve and perish.
The voice of history has not in all its compass a note but answers in unison with these sentiments. The barbarian chieftain (Galgacus) who defended his country against the Roman invasion, driven to the remotest extremity of Britain, and stimulating his followers to battle by all his power of persuasion upon the human heart, concludes his exhortation by an appeal to these irresistible feelings - "Think of your forefathers and of your posterity.".
The revolutions of time furnish no previous examples of a nation, shooting up to maturity and expanding into greatness with the rapidity which has characterized the growth of the American people. In the luxuriance of youth and in the vigor of manhood it is pleasing and instructive to look backward upon the helpless days of infancy, but with continual changes of a growing subject the transactions of that early period would soon be obliterated from the memory, but for some periodical call to aid the silent records of the historian. Such celebrations arouse and gratify the kindliest emotions of the bosom. They are faithful pledges of the respect we have to the memory of our ancestors and the tenderness with which we cherish the rising generation.
These sentiments are wise - they are honorable - they are virtuous - their cultivation is not only innocent pleasure, it is incumbent duty. Obedient to these dictates, you, my fellow-citizens, have instituted and paid frequent observance to their annual solemnity. And what event of weightier intrinsic importance or of more extensive consequences was ever selected for this honorary distinction?
~ Postlogue ~
It was in the realm of thought rather than of political administration that John Quincy Adams made his mark. He shone most brilliantly when carving out ideas, rather than in political hassling.
He did become President in 1825, but only after an indecisive struggle between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay which threw the choice of a President in 1824 into the House of Representatives. As a result of the deal, Adams became President without a party behind him, a disillusioned man who somewhat like his father sat out a single term in the White House and was not offered a repeat performance.
But as a diplomat, John Quincy Adams became a historic figure. As an, author of the Treaty of Ghent he helped to compromise the quarrels with Great Britain that had brought about the War of 1812, and when James Monroe became President he served as Secretary of State - the most distinguished period of his career. When James Monroe rounded out the "foundation policies" of the Republic with promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine-one of the great and en- during acts recognizing the position of the United States in the Western Hemisphere-it was Adams who did the drafting, mustered the arguments, and to a large degree inserted the force of declamation in that paper.