Fake Quotations: Adams and the Indissoluble Bond
Posted by sbh on Friday, 19 June 2009
Did John Quincy Adams say
The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.
on 14 July 1821?
The words were written by John Wingate Thornton, and were part of his introduction to a collection of American revolutionary-era sermons published in 1860. He ends a longish paragraph in the following fashion:
It is an interesting fact, in this connection, that the very able and learned defence of the ecclesiastical polity of New England, written by the Rev. John Wise, of Ipswich, one of the victims of the despotism of the infamous Andros, in 1687, was republished in the year 1772, as a sound political document for the times, teaching that “Democracy is Christ’s government in Church and in State.” Thus the church polity of New England begat like principles in the state. The pew and the pulpit had been educated to self-government. They were accustomed “to Consider.” The highest glory of the American Revolution, said John Quincy Adams, was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.
Please note, this is not presented as a quotation; it is Thornton’s summary of a concept he attributed to John Quincy Adams. It’s easy to see how the mistake came about; somebody reading the passage without paying attention took the paraphrase as a direct quotation, and the story was born. Whether the words represent Adams’ views accurately or not they are Thornton’s, not Adams’.
[Update (13 November 2011): Thornton’s source has turned up, and it is not the Newburyport oration of 1837, but an earlier letter in which Adams wrote,
The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity.