The Permanent Things

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As I have said before, I’ve been working on writing a mystery. One of my characters in the book (which I hope might become a series) is a historian who is working on “the definitive biography of John Quincy Adams, JQA, who may have been the most brilliant man ever to serve as President of the Republic.” I chose JQA as an ongoing topic in the book/series more or less as a joke, but as I’ve begun doing research on the man, I’m coming to a greater respect and almost awe of our sixth president.

For example, JQA wrote this letter to his son, Charles Francis Adams, a few months before his death. (The letter is, of course, hand written and the old man’s hand became more unsteady and he got to the end of this brief letter and, therefore, a bit harder to read.):


Jan 1 1848

My Dear Son;

On this commencement of a new year, my thoughts intensely turn to you, to the partner of your life, to your children, and to the Giver of all good, in thanksgiving for all the blessings which you have been, and still are to me, and in fervent supplication for the favors of divine Providence upon you – one and all –Especially that you may be sustained in your incorruptible integrity through all the tasks which may be reserved for you upon earth, and that whatever may be their outcome here, of which I abate not a jot of heart and hope, you will at least be [illegible] of the approbation of your maker.

A stout heart, and clear conscience, and never despair,

Your affectionate father,

John Quincy Adams

It’s hard to imagine one of our political leaders today writing such a letter. One point that comes out of this, though, and one I think I had anticipated, is that the fathers of our country had a very different view of the meaning of the idea of the state and of political life than we do today.

I think it is clear from the recent hearings to confirm Justice Alito, that politics today is mostly viewed as a contest for personal and party advantage. A couple of days after Judge Alito’s wife walked out of the Senate Chamber in tears, one of the Democratic senators commented to the press that “We would have won Wednesday if it hadn’t been for that . . .” It’s clear that to this man the hearings to determine the fitness of a man to serve of the supreme court were not about the constitutional duty of the Senate to “advise and consent,” but rather about how the hearings played out in the press. At least for this senator, service to the country is viewed in terms of personal gain or loss and not much more.

This clearly is not how JQA viewed his own life of public service. Russell Kirk explains how JQA might look upon public service in his book The Conservative Mind when he offers this definition of conservatism:

As a working premise, nevertheless, one can observe here, that the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity. Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors . . . they are dubious of wholesale alteration. They think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an eternal life but a delicate constitution; it cannot be scrapped and recast as if it were a machine.

He goes on to list some of the key traits of a conservative, the first of which reads in part:

Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems are, at bottom, religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality, what Coleridge called the Understanding, cannot of itself satisfy human needs.”

“Political problems are, at bottom, religious and moral problems.” I think JQA would have agreed with that statement. Were he alive today, John Quincy would understand the root causes of the mess we find ourselves in right now, both in the US and in Europe. He would say our problems arise precisely because we are trying to exclude any belief in a transcendent order from our political conduct. He would say that the two realms cannot be separated so easily.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to change the current public understanding of such issues as “the separation of Church and State,” abortion “rights” and personal responsibility. One thing that I have changed my mind about is becoming active in the issues affecting my own city and state. I have thought for some time that the last thing I wanted to be involved in was politics; but I believe that idea is wrong. I am beginning to think it important to know who is running for office, Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, and to support those who are committed to the same issues I am. Even local elections can have a huge impact on national issues.

I am posting this entry on another blog I have started called “The Permanent Things” and, as I do more research into the early history of the Republic, I may make further posts there rather than on “The 7 Habitus.” It seems, and perhaps I’m contradicting myself, that the topic of history and politics may not be quite suitable for a “Catholic” blog. For the time being, I’ll post on these topics in both places, but will try to keep them separate as time goes on.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on February 5, 2006 10:29 AM.

George Washington's God was the previous entry in this blog.

Blessed is he . . . is the next entry in this blog.

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