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.
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