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John Quincy Adams (President of the United States, 1825-1829)

Adams as Poet

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
Lithographic print.
[ca. 1825]

Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
Library of Congress.

John Quincy Adams once wrote, "Could I have chosen my own genius and condition, I would have made myself a great poet."1 Although literary fame would escape the sixth president of the United States, throughout his life Adams was a serious reader and writer of poetry. Adams's poetic efforts included secular verse, hymns, and versifications of the Psalms. He also translated poems into English, including Christoph Martin Wieland's fairy-tale epic Oberon (the translation went unpublished until 1940). His long poem, Dermot MacMorrogh or the Conquest of Ireland, met with poor reviews; one reviewer, commenting on Adams's cover page byline, avers:

Indeed, it is that short sentence of four words,–By John Quincy Adams,–to which Dermot Mac Morrogh will be solely indebted for all the attention it will receive. Were it not for this magic sentence, we doubt if many readers would get further than the middle of the first Canto; and we are quite certain that none would ever reach the end of the second.

After Adams's death, many of his poems were collected and published in Poems of Religion and Society (1848). The book's editors, Senators Thomas Hart Benton (Mo.) and John Davis (Mass.), looked favorably upon Adams's short verse, going as far to say that "some of his 'Hymns' are among the finest devotional lyrics in our language." One of the hymns appearing in the book is "O God, with Goodness All Thy Own," a reworking of Psalm 67:

O GOD, with goodness all thy own,
In mercy cause thy face to shine;
So shall thy ways on earth be known,
Thy saving health and power divine:
O, let the gladdening nations sing,
And praise thy name with hallowed mirth,
For thou of righteousness art King,
And rulest all the subject earth.

O, let the people praise the Lord;
The people all thy praise express;
And earth her plenty shall afford,
And God, yea, our own God, shall bless;
Our God his blessing shall bestow;
His power, his goodness, shall appear;
And all the ends of earth shall know
And worship him with holy fear.

Although Adams's poetry did not long remain in public consciousness, the first poem in Poems of Religions and Society, "The Wants of Man" (originally published 1841) briefly surfaced again in the literary world upon its inclusion by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Parnassus, a collection of Emerson's favorite poems.


1. Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (New York, Knopf: 1997), 231. [catalog record]


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  September 10, 2008
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