Founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society - 1809

The Massachusetts Bible Society began on July 6, 1809 and is an ecumenical, Christian organization dedicated to promoting Biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue. This blog lists brief biographies of our founders who gathered in the Massachusetts State House Senate Chamber on that historic day to sign the Charter founding MBS. Please visit our website:

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Honorable John Quincy Adams

We know him best as the sixth president of the United States, but at our founding in 1809 that prospect seemed unlikely. Born in Braintree, Mass. on July 11, 1767, John Quincy Adams had studied in Paris and the University of Leyden and had served as the secretary to the US minister of Russia all by the age of thirteen.

At age eighteen, he returned to the US to attend Harvard College and then studied law, being admitted to the Suffolk bar in 1791 at the age of 24. Washington (as in George) appointed him minister to Holland and then to Portugal, at which time his father, John Adams, became president and sent him to Berlin. When Jefferson became President, John Q. came back to Massachusetts and was elected to the US Senate in 1802.

By March of 1809, John Quincy Adams had become so reviled in the Senate for his refusal to follow the party line (a trait common to his father as well) that he resigned the Senate. He still retained his Harvard post, begun in 1806, as the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory; and as soon as James Madison ascended to the Presidency in 1809, one of his first acts was to name John Quincy Adams as minister to Russia. In the midst of all that, he came to the Massachusetts State House to sign on as a founder of the Massachusetts Bible Society, of which he remained a life-long member.

The site Virtual American Biographies describes the faith of John Quincy Adams this way: a Puritan of the sternest and most uncompromising sort, who seemed to take a grim enjoyment in the performance of duty, especially when disagreeable. Perhaps that is what allowed him to continue serving his country until President James Monroe appointed him Secretary of State. Although desiring the Presidency, John Quincy Adams, did nothing to campaign for the office that he sought. General Andrew Jackson ended up with the most votes, but the vote was close enough that it went to the House of Representatives to be decided, and the efforts of Henry Clay enabled John Quincy Adams to be declared the victor.

Ironically, it was his Christian faith that made John Quincy Adams decide not to swear on the Bible in taking his oath of office in March of 1825. The Bible, he believed, should be used strictly for religious purposes. He instead took the Oath of Office on a book of laws, the Constitution and American laws.

After losing his bid for re-election, he was elected to the House of Representatives where he served for 17 years, fiercely representing the cause of abolition. John Quincy Adams died Feb. 28, 1848.

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