“It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.”

Abigail Adams is well known for the letters she exchanged her husband John, the second president of the United States.  These 1100+ letters are available at the Massachusetts Historical Society and come from an era when people cherished letter writing.  Probably one of her best known missives came in 1776 when she wrote to him,

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.  Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.  If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

But the quote that I chose for today comes from a letter that Abigail Adams wrote to her son, John Quincy Adams, on January 19, 1780.

“These are times in which a Genious would wish to live.  It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. . . .  The Habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.  All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure.”

Abigail wrote this letter while John Quincy was traveling with his father and brother to Europe.  His father was sent during the American Revolution to negotiate peace with Britain, and the 12-year-old John Quincy accompanied him.

John Quincy Adams used his early exposure to foreign affairs to prepare for his own later government service, including:

  • Secretary of State for President James Monroe (1817-1825)
  • U.S. President (1825-29)
  • U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts (1831-48)