April 27, 1788: John Quincy Adams Goes to Meeting

On April 27, 1788, John Quincy Adams was a 21-year-old Harvard graduate studying law

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Mass. He’d returned home from the South Shore where he’d visited his family. The ferry crossing from Beverly had been rough.

It was a Sunday, and he spent the day listening to his friend John Andrews preach at The First Congregational Church of Newburyport. Adams’ grandson, Charles Francis Adams, says in the introduction to the diaries that he helped get John Andrews the position at the church, of which Adams was a member.

John Quincy Adams brought to that small seaside city a perspective shaped by an unusual childhood. He was born on July 11, 1767 to John and Abigail Adams. His father had recently ended his service as U.S. minister to the Court of St. James’s. Within a year he’d be vice president of the United States.

John Quincy Adams spent much of his childhood accompanying his father to Europe, first to France, where his father served as an American envoy, and to Netherlands. At 14 he had traveled on a diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg as secretary to Francis Dana, who was in 1788 an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Adams attended the University of Leyden, returned to the United States and graduated from Harvard. Shortly thereafter he apprenticed with Thophilus Parsons, who 19 years later succeeded Francis Dana as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

In this diary entry he offers a blunt criticism of his friend John Andrews:

I attended meeting all day, and heard Mr. Andrews. He speaks very well, and his composition was, I believe, generally pleasing. I sometimes think that he mistakes his genius, and imagines that his fancy is lively and his first thoughts the best; while in truth his conception is naturally slow, and he ought to study greatly his writings. He was this day very brilliant in his expressions and flowery in his periods, but his thoughts were rather too much in the common run, and this fault I have frequently observed in his pieces. In the beginning of the evening, I called at Mr. Tufts’s, to give him a watch which I brought for him. I spent the remainder of the evening, and supp’d at Deacon Thompson’s. Walk’d with Mr. Andrews up to Mrs. Farnham’s, where he lodges; he proposes to return to-morrow to Cambridge.

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