|Quincy, MA||June 10, 2019|
“Politics are in general a very disgusting business. I have the misfortune of being the descendant of two great men and must do something to avoid the charge of utter degeneracy.” When Charles Francis Adams penned that diary entry on October 3, 1835, the 28-year-old was conscious of the legacies of lengthy public service forged by his father, John Quincy Adams, and his late grandfather, John Adams. Charles Francis spent his remaining half century of life contributing in the fields of journalism, politics, diplomacy, education, and history, and secured his own legacy among the “great men” — and women — of the Adams family of Quincy, Massachusetts.
The lengthy, if not verbose, epitaph carved into Charles Francis’s tabletop tomb at Mount Wollaston Cemetery in Quincy remembers the man thusly:
“Trained in his youth in politics and letters
His manhood strengthened by the convictions
Which had inspired his fathers
He was among the first to serve
And among the most steadfast to support
That new revolution
Which restored the principles of liberty
To public law
And secured to his country
The freedom of its soil
During seven troubled and anxious years
Minister of the United States in England
Afterward arbitrator at the tribunal of Geneva
He failed in no task which his government imposed
Yet won the respect and confidence
Of two great nations
“Dying 21 November 1886
He left the example
Of high powers nobly used
And the remembrance
Of a spotless name”
The grave’s inscription concludes with a recollection of Abigail Brooks Adams which portrays her primarily as Charles Francis’s spouse:
“By his side
Sleeps his wife
Daughter of Peter Chardon
And Anne (Gorham) Brooks
Born April 25, 1808
Married September 3, 1829
Died June 6, 1889
His companion and support in
Private life and in public station
Loved and honored
Trusted and true”
The memorial is also decorated with a tribute to Adams’s father. John Quincy’s motto was “alteri seculo,” a Latin phrase which translates in English to “another century.” It is a partial quotation from the Roman poet Caecilius Statius, as mentioned by the writer Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations. The quote in full is, “Serit arbores quae alteri seculo prosint.” It means, “He plants trees that will benefit another century.” This resonated with John Quincy. The former chief executive reflected in an 1830 diary entry that he had his share “in planting Laws and Institutions,” but that, like with the literal trees he planted on his Massachusetts property, most of the benefits from his actions would be felt after he was gone, by future generations. The seal JQA subsequently used when he sent letters — and which now adorns his son’s grave — sports an “alteri seculo” banner and two oak leaves, with acorns in the center.
Born: August 18, 1807 in Boston, Massachusetts
Spouse: Abigail Brown Brooks Adams (m. 1829-1886)
Primary Political Affiliation: Republican Party
Died: November 21, 1886 in Boston, Massachusetts
Interment: Mount Wollaston Cemetery, Quincy, Massachusetts
"On my return to my Office yesterday from receiving the news of poor Henry Brooks’ death, I found on the table a notice of my election as a delegate from Boston to the Anti Masonic Convention which meets here next week for the purpose of nominating a Governor and Lieut. Governor. The contrast between the two subjects which thus presented themselves in connection in my mind was painful. There is nothing additional to be said after the touching words of Burke upon a like occasion at the hustings of Bristol, but if there is a moment when the bustling nothingness of our political electioneering comes most strikingly across the mind, it is when our ideas are drawn to the solemn appeal of a voyager to a silent world. This subject as well as the incident that gave rise to it must be reserved for more serious consideration."
- Charles Francis Adams
September 4, 1833, mourning the death of his 26-year-old brother-in-law in a diary entry
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Barlow, Rhonda. “’He plants trees for the benefit of later generations’: John Quincy Adams’s Motto.” The Beehive (blog). Massachusetts Historical Society. Updated May 8, 2019. https://www.masshist.org/beehiveblog/2017/06/he-plants-trees-for-the-benefit-of-later-generations-john-quincy-adamss-motto/.
Friedlaender, Marc and L.H. Butterfield. Ed. Diary of Charles Francis Adams vol. 5. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974.
Friedlaender, Marc and L.H. Butterfield. Ed. Diary of Charles Francis Adams vol. 6. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974.