The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

JQA’s Self-Assessment on His Birthday in 1812

On 11 July 1812, John Quincy Adams (JQA) celebrated his 45th birthday.  JQA was living in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was serving as a diplomat from the United States.  His title was minister plenipotentiary to Russia, a position to which he was appointed in 1809.  Although he was still several years away from his eventual accomplishments as secretary of state under President James Monroe, and his own challenging term as U.S. President, by 1812, JQA had held a number of notable professional positions.  He had worked as a lawyer, held diplomatic positions in the Netherlands and in Prussia, served as a U.S. Senator, and taught rhetoric at Harvard. 

By the summer of 1812, JQA had an active family life too.  He and his wife, Louisa Catherine Adams (LCA), had three sons and a daughter.  JQA and LCA made the long journey to Russia in the summer of 1809 with their third son, Charles Francis Adams leaving their two older sons, George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d, in the care of relatives in New England.  In August 1811, JQA and LCA celebrated the birth of their daughter, who was named after her mother.

Despite these significant professional and personal accomplishments, JQA gave a rather harsh assessment of his situation on his birthday in 1812: 

I am forty-five years old— Two thirds of a long life are past, and I have done Nothing to distinguish it by usefulness to my Country, or to Mankind— I have always lived with I hope a suitable sense of my duties in Society, and with a sincere desire to perform them— But Passions, Indolence, weakness, and infirmity have sometimes made me swerve from my better knowledge of right, and almost constantly paralyzed my efforts of good— I have no heavy charge upon my Conscience—for which I bless my Maker, as well as for all the enjoyments that he has liberally bestowed upon me— I pray for his gracious kindness in future—  From John Quincy Adams diary 28, 5 August 1809 – 31 July 1813, page 394.


Do you think JQA had “done Nothing to distinguish [his life] by usefulness to [his] Country”?

If somehow you were able to send JQA a birthday message in 1812, what would you say?


permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 1:00 AM


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