This is the state of man;—to day he puts forth

    The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms,

    And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;

    The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,

    And when ‘tis thought —— full surely

    His greatness is a ripening, nips his root.

    Josiah Quincy Junior borrowed those lines from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII to serve as the epigraph for a friend who had just died. That friend, Thomas Leonard, was only twenty-eight. Did Quincy, afflicted with consumption since he was a teen, have some premonitory sense that a similar fate awaited him, that he too would die at a relatively young age—thirty-one—four years later? If so, perhaps he hoped that what he offered in his eulogy might be said of him: that this was a life of much promise, ended tragically early, by “one of the many inexplicable decrees of an unerring Providence.”12 As it turned out, what Quincy said of Leonard would indeed be said of Quincy.

    Joseph Warren, Quincy’s onetime doctor and longtime ally in Boston politics, lamented that his friend “just lived to come on shore and die in his own Country.”13 James Lovell shared Warren’s sorrow. Lovell, like Warren—and unlike others—had honored his promise to keep Quincy abreast of local affairs while he was off in London. “Tis glorious to dye for one’s Country,” Lovell commiserated with Oliver Wendell, who had also known Josiah Junior well. “Our Friend Quincy died by thinking for it, as much as any one has lately died by fighting for it.”14 Lovell meant most especially thoughts that Quincy had shared with others, thoughts shaped as arguments in defense of American rights. Those rights, Quincy understood, could only be defended effectively if his fellow colonists had a clear sense of community and identity. He spent much of his short public life trying to build both, first within Boston, then expanded to neighboring Massachusetts communities, and ultimately beyond the Bay Colony to other provinces, and to Britain itself.

    Quincy’s thoughts about colonial American rights and how to build a sense of American unity, expressed publicly in various newspaper pieces and a pamphlet, as well as privately in numerous letters, are gathered in this volume. They should add to evidence already presented in the previous five volumes that, as my colleague in this enterprise, Dan Coquillette, put it, Josiah Quincy Junior was “a courageous patriot and, by all accounts, a brilliant man.”15 His law commonplace book and reports of cases in the Massachusetts Superior Court, begun while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, are impressive, the former showing his breadth of learning, the latter an attention to detail that would lead, a century later, to their being published and cited as an authoritative source in case law. His journal notes about Charleston society, made in 1773, like his written reactions to London a year later, only add to his reputation for astute observation and incisive commentary. His political commonplace book, compiled between 1770-1774, when he was at the center of the Bay Colony’s public affairs, provided the intellectual foundation for speeches that prompted John Adams to remember him as the “Boston Cicero.”16

    Unfortunately, virtually none of the speeches that Quincy made in the Boston town meeting, where he built his reputation as an orator, survive. He quoted from one speech at length in a later letter; bits and pieces of another were jotted down by a listener.17 The most flattering comments about him came posthumously, when friends who survived him looked back on days that seemed even more glorious over the distance of time. Indeed, a half century would pass before William Eustis, then governor of Massachusetts, told Eliza Susan Quincy that he had never heard a voice equal in clarity and power to that of her grandfather’s.18

    Contemporaneous comments about Quincy the lawyer as opposed to Quincy the politician are even scarcer.19 Such fragmentary records are a reminder that the past is forever gone; only vestiges remain. Realistic historians have always known that. They do not have to be “deconstructed” to know that the stories they tell are more constructions than reconstructions, more creations than re-creations.20 And quite often there is a deeper purpose in studying the past that goes far beyond a simple desire to understand it. “We tell ourselves stories in order to make sense of life,” novelist Norman Mailer once commented, and there are times when “life is so absurd” that “nothing makes sense, but stories bring order to the absurdity.”21

    Mailer, perhaps, could not resist playing the curmudgeon, but he hit home when he joined stories to meaning. Josiah Quincy Junior certainly appreciated the value of storytelling when it came to shaping and reshaping identity or promoting one behavior over another. He had a didactic underlying motive in the tales that he wrote as a political essayist, the stands that he took in the Boston town meeting, and the points that he contended in court. But that did not make him disingenuous, his choices determined by convenience rather than conviction. Whether he stood before jurors in court or townsmen in the Old South, he knew that he was engaged in a battle for hearts and minds. Whether he argued a legal case or a political cause, he needed to argue to win. To that extent, John Phillip Reid was right in emphasizing the use of “forensic history” in patriot rights talk. As Quincy saw it, his task was to defend his position, not that of his opponents. If that meant that he could appear to be one-sided, then so be it. Thus his relentless emphasis on imperial wrongs against colonial rights. “It is astonishing how much the revolutionary controversy was conducted like a common-law litigation,” Professor Reid observed, “even though there was no tribunal to which the parties could appeal except to the court of public opinion.”22

    Quincy’s pamphlet, the newspaper pieces attributed to him, and his letters all focus on the imperial crisis as Quincy experienced it, mostly in Boston, but then also for a few months in London. Quincy’s published writings appeared in Boston before he crossed the Atlantic; he did not write any essays for the London press. Printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill published Quincy’s Observations and, before that, all but one of his newspaper pieces in their Boston Gazette. The lone exception was a piece that appeared in the Boston Evening-Post.

    Quincy’s view of American rights did not change with circumstances. He believed that they came from God as carried through the law of nature, then reinforced by the English constitution and colonial charters, an understanding evident from what he said as a lawyer in court as well as what he wrote as a political essayist.23 His defense of those rights would not be any more emphatic, any more passionate, in 1775 than in 1767. To those who warned against offending Britain by protesting imperial policy “we boldly answer, that in defence of our civil and religious rights, we dare to oppose the world,” he proclaimed in the 1767 essay that Daniel Webster would quote during ceremonies commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill. “For, under GOD,” Quincy proclaimed, “we are determin’d, that whatsoever, whensoever or howsoever we shall be call’d to make our exit, that we shall die free-men.”24 Seven years later Quincy was no less zealous, because no less aggrieved. “They who were the prime movers and instruments” of sending troops to Boston “are stained with a crime, that this people ought not—they cannot—they will not forget or forgive.”25 This might seem harsh language indeed for someone who, as a defense counsel, had helped nine British soldiers escape the hangman’s noose. But then he expected fellow patriots to differentiate—as he did in court—between the excusable actions of soldiers beset by a mob and the inexcusable imperial policies that put them on the streets of Boston in the first place.26

    Quincy was a rhetorical populist, a champion of popular sovereignty, arguing that all legitimate political authority was based on how well political leaders, kings as well as governors, served the people. Whether that sovereignty was something the people themselves could exercise or whether it was something more nebulous he never quite worked out—like so many in the Revolutionary generation. Although he preferred discourse to force of arms, he also argued on the soldiers’ behalf in their “Massacre” trial—and in various of his newspaper pieces—that self-defense was an undeniable, inalienable right. And yet did that right extend as readily to a society perceiving that it was threatened with a loss of liberty as it did to an individual facing an actual loss of life? To someone looking for an excuse to rise in revolt or foment revolution, the answer was an obvious yes; for Quincy, it was not quite that simple.

    Quincy never openly argued that political independence was the only solution to the imperial problem.27 As Quincy reported to Franklin when they talked just before he left London in March 1775, he preferred to hope that American rights could be secured within the British empire—this despite all evidence to the contrary and despite all his polemical invective. True enough, thoughtful men on both sides of the Atlantic agreed that nothing lasts forever; the British empire, like empires that had gone before, would eventually decay and fall. “All colonies have their date of independence,” advised Isaac Barré, the noted Pittite, in the House of Commons in 1766. “The wisdom or folly of our conduct may make it the sooner or later,”28 Barré warned. Even eight years later, Samuel Adams, who believed American independence inevitable, still went to the First Continental Congress seeking some sort of reconciliation.29 He and those who gathered with him at Philadelphia in 1774 wanted to delay, not hasten, the inevitable, which produced a state of mind, and a style of rights talk, that does not put them into neat categories of radical or conservative.30

    They argued primarily as politicians rather than as political philosophers.31 They used language carefully, realizing that carrying a point in debate mattered little if the policies they hoped to change remained in place. Quincy could be florid in his writing style and passionate in his denunciations of those who abused the colonists and trespassed upon their liberties. Thomas Hutchinson in particular would suffer from the sharp strokes of his pen.32 Even so, Quincy wanted to change minds, not simply rouse readers and reinforce existing dispositions. His rhetorical excess was not the result of his having lost personal control and, with it, perspective. He was too experienced a courtroom performer, too practiced a member of the bar, to forget his audience. He knew that successful arguments, spoken as well as written, relied on a mastery of performance arts; all criticism, he understood, runs the risk of offending. But, if done skillfully enough, it might have the desired effect, no doubt offending some but quite possibly changing the minds of others. He had to believe that political debate could affect political decisions. Otherwise he would not have risked his fragile health in a transatlantic voyage to meet with those whose views differed from his. In that sense he was almost naively optimistic.

    As Hannah Arendt once observed, most revolutions begin as a quest for restoration or renovation.33 Rather than thinking of Quincy simply as a revolutionary in the making—which he may well have become, had his life not been cut short—we should place him in an eighteenth-century Whig tradition that emphasized securing rights within the existing political system, not creating new forms of government, much less an entirely new nation state.34 He may have given up on the idea of an Anglo-American empire of liberty, as did so many of his colleagues in the Boston town meeting, but we cannot say for sure. Not all of the colonists who engaged in protest or supported revolt went on to embrace revolution, or, if they embraced it, they did so reluctantly, like Quincy’s friend and correspondent, John Dickinson. Whatever changes would result from colonial agitation, Quincy was determined to be part of the process. In his mind he put public need over private preference, with virtuous service being the measure of his success.

    He fits nicely into a frame of mind that the historian Douglass Adair described for the Revolutionary generation as a whole. Adair did not profess to know what truly drove the men of Quincy‘s generation—motivation being ever elusive, our power to explain it frustratingly limited—but we can examine the ideals they professed to revere and “fame” stood high among them. This was more than a quest for honor or glory. As Adair explained it:

    To be famous or renowned means to be widely spoken of by a man’s contemporaries and also to act in such a way that posterity also remembers his name and actions. His desire for fame is thus a dynamic element in the historical process; it rejects the static complacent urge in the human heart to merely be and invites a strenuous effort to become—to become a person and force in history larger than the ordinary. The love of fame encourages a man to make history, to leave the mark of his deeds and his ideals on the world; it incites a man to refuse to be the victim of events and to become an “event-making” personality—a being never to be forgotten by those later generations that will be born into a world his actions helped to shape.35

    Adair did not mention Quincy. I do not think he would mind my adding Quincy’s name to a list that included Washington and Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. After all, the writers that Adair turned to for the source of that Revolutionary Era thinking—Plutarch and Francis Bacon standing foremost—were among Quincy’s favorites.36 They had shaped his way of thinking, even his view of himself, and he wanted their influence to continue on into future generations. His contingency plan to set aside part of his estate to endow a chair in his name for moral philosophy, law, and oratory at Harvard should be understood with that purpose in mind.37

    According to Eliza Susan Quincy, her father had a copy of this political cartoon hanging on the wall of his room in Massachusetts Hall when he was a student at Harvard. It was quite likely among the items that his father brought back with him from England. It ended up in the mansion built by the future mayor’s grandfather, Josiah “the Colonel,” in Quincy, where Eliza Susan included it in an 1879 description of the house’s furnishings. She misidentified the rider being thrown as Lord North in a scene from 1770. The mezzotint, done by John Dixon of London, actually dated from September 1774. The horse could be taken to be the colonies in general or Massachusetts in particular, and the rider an Englishman or perhaps General Thomas Gage, who had been sent over by George III to restore peace in a province churning with unrest since passage of the so-called “Coercive”Acts. Interestingly enough, in 1776 Lord North would indeed be thrown by his horse while he was riding in Bushy Park, near Hampton Court, and the fall apparently took a toll on his physical health just as the American war was beginning to drain him emotionally. Dixon image, Courtesy of the British Library.

    Quincy wrote his will many months before he set sail for England, mortality never being far from his consciousness. Although he may not have considered himself a disciple of Plato’s Socrates, he nonetheless had the same concern about how a young man should be prepared to lead as an adult that Plato ascribed to Socrates in The Republic. When his son—only two at the time that he made his will—reached sixteen, he wanted him to be given certain books from his personal library, books that very likely he had filled with marginalia: the works of Algernon Sidney, Francis Bacon and John Locke, Thomas Gordon’s translations of Tacitus and Sallust, Cato’s Letters that Gordon had joined with John Trenchard to write, and Catharine Macaulay’s history of England. “May the Spirit of Liberty rest upon him,” Quincy admonished after listing the titles—a charge to those who in the event of his death would care for his son, and a charge to young Josiah himself, which he accepted as he grew to manhood.38 Both his widowed mother and heartbroken grandfather saw to it. The mourning ring that Josiah Junior had had made for his father in London,39 his father in turn passed on to his grandson. Inscribed was this motto: “Oh, save my country, were his last.” His grandfather bequeathed it, “wishing the Motto” his father “caused to be engraved upon it may never be forgot nor Neglected by his Son.” According to Josiah the Mayor’s daughter, Eliza Susan Quincy, he wore the ring throughout his adult life.40

    Josiah Junior had secured his reputation as an orator when speaking at the Old South meeting house on the evening of the Boston Tea Party. His son marked his own rise as a public figure by a July 4th speech at Faneuil Hall a quarter of a century later. The younger Quincy called on the audience to remember their forefathers, those who had settled the colony and those who later founded the nation. In a style reminiscent of his father he lectured listeners that “the ark of liberty is, among the virtuous, union invincible,” while warning them away from democratic enthusiasms leading to the anarchy of Revolutionary France, whose “new temple of liberty,’ he thundered, “has NO GOD.”41 The speech may have helped launch a political career that eventually took him to Washington, D.C. as a Federalist for four terms in the House of Representatives. He would return to Boston, be elected mayor, then serve as Harvard’s president for well over a decade. Dying in 1864 at the age of ninety-two, he lived nearly three times as long as his father.42

    It was while mayor that he put the finishing touches to the biography of his father begun by his daughter, Eliza Susan. They had received mixed signals about the effort, one friend advising that there would be readers for it, another cautioning that something broader would be required—that the story of Josiah Junior alone would not be intriguing enough to sell copies.43 The book did well, at least locally, but it would be another half century before a new edition, with expanded editorial comments by Eliza Susan Quincy, was published. Another followed soon after, though Eliza Susan admitted that she pushed for both, using still powerful family connections to offset the lack of reader demand.44

    She held her post as keeper of the family flame to the end of her life, gathering Josiah Junior’s papers, arranging them, donating them in stages to the Massachusetts Historical Society. It was Eliza Susan who had commissioned Gilbert Stuart to do the portrait of her father and deceased grandfather. She restricted the use of both likenesses, only allowing those whose judgment and motives she trusted to reproduce them.45 She even tried to arrange for the perpetual care of her grandfather’s grave in the Hancock Cemetery. He had been re-interred there after his initial burial in Gloucester. His wife Abigail’s body was placed alongside his when she died in 1798. His father, who died in 1784, was placed, as he requested, in a separate crypt at the foot of their burial mound.46 Eliza Susan offered to give the town of Quincy $100 to invest, the interest from which could be tapped periodically to repaint the wrought iron rail fence around the monument at the top of the mound. “It may reasonably be expected that this duty will be performed for the next ten to twenty years, by some member of our family” but, with fading memory and flagging interest, she feared that the grave site—prominently situated in the cemetery though it was—might thereafter fall into disrepair.47

    Hancock Cemetery, despite being in the heart of downtown Quincy, can be charmingly peaceful, acting as the refuge for meditation and contemplation that Eliza Susan Quincy had hoped it would be. Time may work against its staying that way much longer. Even the best maintained cemeteries give only the illusion of permanence. The mound built over Josiah Junior’s crypt is practically barren, the foundation for the stone shaft at its summit is cracked, the inscriptions on the shaft itself are nearly worn away, and the old iron fence surrounding it could use a fresh coat of paint. And yet there lingers the sense of caring that a family and community put into preserving the memory of one of their own.48 Only later generations can decide if what he did, and what he stood for, are worth honoring still. But it would be a shame indeed if memory of Josiah Quincy Junior were allowed to fade away. He personified what it meant, in his age, to be an American patriot.

    Josiah Quincy Junior’s burial mound, in a watercolor painted by Eliza Susan Quincy, ca. 1822; pen and ink wash; dimensions: full page: 18 cm x 22.1 cm; image only: 15.3 cm x 20.1 cm; Quincy Family Papers; courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    The mound itself now is essentially as it was then, although the general setting—other grave stones and a tree nearby within the cemetery, and buildings just outside it—have altered the overall appearance. Eliza Susan included this painting, one in a series of nine that she did of landmarks in Quincy, in her manuscript “Memoir” honoring her grandfather. Her painting of the Quincy “mansion” is reproduced in volume one of this series, as is a photograph of Josiah Junior’s grave, taken just over a decade ago.