Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Characteristics of John Quincy Adams
By William Henry Seward (18011872)
[From an Oration delivered in the Capitol at Albany, 6 April, 1848.]
THE MODEL by which he formed his character was Cicero. Not the living Cicero, sometimes inconsistent, often irresolute, too often seeming to act a studied part, and always covetous of applause. But Cicero as he aimed to be, and as he appears revealed in those immortal emanations of his genius which have been the delight and guide of intellect and virtue in every succeeding age. Like the Roman, Adams was an orator, but he did not fall into the error of the Roman in practically valuing eloquence more than the beneficence to which it should be devoted. Like him he was a statesman and magistrate worthy to be called the second founder of the republic,like him a teacher of didactic philosophy, of morals, and even of his own peculiar art; and like him he made all liberal learning tributary to that noble art, while poetry was the inseparable companion of his genius in its hours of relaxation from the labors of the forum and of the capitol.
Like him he loved only the society of good men, and by his generous praise of such illustrated the Romans beautiful aphorism, that no one can be envious of good deeds who has confidence in his own virtue. Like Cicero he kept himself unstained by social or domestic vices; preserved serenity and cheerfulness; cherished habitual reverence for the deity, and dwelt continually, not on the mystic theology of the schools, but on the hopes of a better life. He lived in what will be regarded as the virtuous age of his country, while Cicero was surrounded by an overwhelming degeneracy. He had the light of Christianity for his guide, and its sublime motives as incitements to virtue, while Cicero had only the confused instructions of the Grecian schools and saw nothing certainly attainable but present applause and future fame. In moral courage, therefore, he excelled his model and rivalled Cato. But Cato was a visionary, who insisted upon his right to act always without reference to the condition of mankind, as he would have acted in Platos imaginary republic. Adams stood in this respect midway between the impracticable stoic and the too flexible academician. He had no occasion to say, as the Grecian orator did, that if he had sometimes acted contrary to himself he had never acted contrary to the republic; but he might justly have said, as the noble Roman did, I have rendered to my country all the great services which she was willing to receive at my hands, and I have never harbored a thought concerning her that was not divine.
More fortunate than Cicero, who fell a victim of civil wars which he could not avert, Adams was permitted to linger on the earth until the generations of that future age, for whom he had lived and to whom he had appealed from the condemnation of cotemporaries, came up before the curtain which had shut out his sight, and pronounced over him, as he was sinking into the grave, their judgment of approval and benediction.
The distinguished characteristics of his life were beneficent labor and personal contentment. He never sought wealth, but devoted himself to the service of mankind. Yet, by the practice of frugality and method, he secured the enjoyment of dealing forth continually no stinted charities, and died in affluence. He never solicited place or preferment, and had no partisan combinations or even connections; yet he received honors which eluded the covetous grasp of those who formed parties, rewarded friends, and proscribed enemies; and he filled a longer period of varied and distinguished service than ever fell to the lot of any other citizen. In every state of this progress he was content. He was content to be president, minister, representative, or citizen.