Fake History

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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.

For the moment, see Rational Rant. Full text of the letter here.]


One Response to “Fake Quotations: Adams and the Indissoluble Bond”

  1. S.Holt said

    this is the citation:
    34. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their Request, on the Sixty-first Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), p. 5.
    this is barton’s words:
    Thornton, an attorney and historian, grew up during the lifetime of John Quincy Adams and held many interests in common with him. His above statement in connection with Adams is Thornton’s summation of part of a lengthy speech delivered by John Quincy Adams during an 1837 Fourth of July celebration at Newburyport, Massachusetts (a speech which Thornton may well have heard in person, but which he certainly later read). In that address, Adams observed that Christmas and the Fourth of July were the two most-celebrated holidays in America, and that both were interrelated. As Adams began his speech, he queried:
    this is a passage supposedly quoted from John Adams:

    is this quote true?
    does this support barton’s contention?

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