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JOHN QUINCY ADAMS IN COLLEGE, AND AS A LAWYER—THE
FOREIGN MINISTER'S PICTURES OF HIMSELF—
IN July, 1785, young Adams arrived at home, and soon afterwards went into the family of one of his relatives, the Rev. Mr. Shaw, where he spent six months in reading for an examination to enter Harvard University. Not until the 15th of March, 1786, was he prepared for admission as a junior, the college directory dispensing with all fees on account of his father's services to the country. His conduct in college was deserving of the high commendation it had received every place else. To speak of his industry would be mere trifling. At the regular "commencement" in 1787, he graduated, being assigned the second place in his class. His oration was published, and at once brought him into public notice from an unfavorable criticism which appeared in one or two newspapers. He now began the study of the law under the learned Theophilus Parsons at Newburyport, and after three years' preparation, was admitted to practice in Essex County, July 15, 1790. A month later he located in Boston, when began the tedious period which he had most dreaded, of waiting to bring himself into notice. , This period of waiting Mr. Adams did not, however, spend in idleness. Nor was it so long as he feared it might be until he had notoriety enough.
On the formation of the Federal Government, a mania for writing broke out, which filled the newspapers with discussions of the great questions of the times, denoting a wonderful diversity of opinion about the character of the new Government; and when Paine's pamphlet, "The Rights of Man," was republished in this country under the supposed sanction of Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Adams stepped into the arena with his pen.
On Mr. Adams's arrival at home in 1785, Mr. Jefferson had said in a letter to Elbridge Gerry, "I congratulate your country on their (its) prospect in this young man," and already his expectations began to receive some illustration. Under the name of "Publicola" he wrote several articles which were published in the "Boston Centinel" in the summer of 1791, criticising and correcting some of the errors of Tom Paine's pamphlet. These papers attracted much attention in this country and Europe, and were reprinted by a London publisher and placed to the credit of Vice-President Adams. They were subsequently republished in Glasgow and Dublin, and in France, and were generally received with great favor, especially in Great Britain. In one of the last numbers he corrected the error as to the authorship, although the writings gained in reputation, no doubt, under the general impression that they were the productions of his father, a politician whose character was established. But this revelation as to their origin did not lessen their value nor detract from the estimation in which they were held.
In a letter to Mrs. Adams, dated February 27, 1793, at Philadelphia, John Adams wrote:—
"The Attorney-General, in opening the information to the jury, at the trial of Mr. Paine, was pleased to quote large passages from 'Publicola,' with some handsome compliments, so that 'Publicola' is become a law authority. Mr. Erskine in his answer, cried, 'Well, let others do like "Publicola," answer the book, not prosecute the author.'"
The younger Adams now took strong grounds in favor of non-intervention by the United States in European affairs, and again took up his pen in advocacy of neutrality, and against the madness of "Citizen" Genet, the French revolutionary representative, and his American defenders and abettors. These papers were published at different times during the first two or three years of his law practice, under the titles, "Marcellus," "Columbus," and "Barnevelt." They were widely and favorably spread over the country, and before he had time to acquire much standing as a lawyer, he was recognized as one of the first of American political writers. In these papers he laid down two great principles from which he never departed, perhaps, in his long career as a politician, independence of all foreign alliances and union at home.
Notwithstanding the set forward Mr. Adams received from these writings he was restless and desirous for something to turn up more to his taste than was likely in the quiet routine of his profession. He wrote in his Diary at this time :—
"Wednesday, May 16, 1792.
"I am not satisfied with the manner in which I employ my
time. It is calculated to keep me forever fixed in that state of
useless and disgraceful insignificancy, which has been my lot for
some years past. At an age bearing close upon twenty-five, when many of the characters who were born for the benefit of their fellow-creatures have rendered themselves conspicuous among their contemporaries, and founded a reputation upon which their memory remains, and will continue to the latest posterity— at that period, I still find myself as obscure, as unknown to the world, as the most indolent, or the most stupid of human beings. In the walks of active life I have done nothing. Fortune, indeed, who claims to herself a large proportion of the merit which exhibits to public view the talents of professional men, at an early period of their lives, has not hitherto been peculiarly indulgent to me. But if to my own mind I inquire whether I should, at this time, be qualified to receive and derive any benefit from an opportunrty which it may be in her power to procure for me, my own mind would shrink from the investigation. My heart is not conscious of an unworthy ambition; nor of a desire to establish either fame, honor, or fortune upon any other foundation than that of desert. But it is conscious, and the consideration is equally painful and humiliating, it is conscious that the ambition is constant and unceasing, while the exertions to acquire the talents which ought alone to secure the reward of ambition, are feeble, indolent, frequently interrupted, and never pursued with an ardor equivalent to its purposes. My future fortunes in life are, therefore, the objects of my present speculation, and it may be proper for me to reflect further upon the same subject, and if possible, to adopt some resolutions which may enable me, as uncle Toby Shandy said of his miniature sieges, to answer the great ends of my existence.
"First, then, I begin with establishing as a fundamental principle upon which all my subsequent pursuits and regulations are to be established, that the acquisition, at least, of a respectable reputation is (subject to the overruling power and wisdom of Providence), within my own power; and that on my part nothing is wanting, but a constant and persevering determination to tread in the steps which naturally lead to honor. And, at the same time, I am equally convinced, that I never shall attain that credit in the world, which my nature directs me to wish, without such a steady, patient, and persevering pursuit of the means adapted to the' end I have in view, as has often been the subject of my speculation, but never of my practice.
'Labor and toil stand stern before the throne,
"The mode of life adopted almost universally by my contemporaries and equals is by no means calculated to secure the object of my ambition. My emulation is seldom stimulated by observing the industry and application of those whom my situation in life gives me for companions. The pernicious aud childish opinion that extraordinary genius can not brook the slavery of plodding over the rubbish of antiquity (a cant so common among the heedless votaries of indolence), dulls the edge of all industry, and is one of the most powerful ingredients in the Circeau potion which transforms many of the most promising young men into the beastly forms which, in slugglish idleness, feed upon the labors of others. The degenerate sentiment, I hope, will never obtain admission in my mind; and, if my mind should be loitered away in stupid laziness, it will be under the full conviction of my conscience that I am basely bartering the greatest benefits with which human beings can be indulged, for the miserable gratifications which are hardly worthy of contributing to the enjoyments of the brute creation.
"And as I have grounded myself upon the principle, that my character is, under the smiles of heaven, to be the work of my own hands, it becomes necessary for me to determine upon what part of active or speculative life I mean to rest my pretensions to eminence. My own situation and that of my country equally prohibit me from seeking to derive any present expectations from a public career. My disposition is not military; and, happily, the warlike talents are not those which open the most pleasing or the most reputable avenue to fame. I have had some transient thoughts of undertaking some useful literary performance, but the pursuit would militate too much at present with that of the profession upon which I am to depend, not only for my reputation, but for my subsistence.
"I have, therefore, concluded that the most proper object of my present attention is that prqfesxion itself. And in acquiring the faculty to discharge the duties of it, in a manner suitable to my own wishes and the expectations of my friends, I find ample room for close and attentive application; for frequent and considerate observation; and for such benefits of practical experience as occasional opportunities may throw in the way."
But he was not long in losing sight of this proper object. What Mr. Adams did in the practice of the