Abstract: This article examines the way in which the classical rhetorical tradition inspired John Quincy Adams's public life. While rhetorical scholars have probed Adams's role as Harvard's first Boylston Professor of Rhetoric, they have not appreciated how the classical tradition in general, and Ciceronian rhetoric in particular, influenced his political career. Social scientists, on the other hand, have studied Adams's impact on Antebellum America but have not appreciated how his life-long devotion to classical rhetoric shaped his response to public issues. John Quincy Adams remained inspired by classical rhetorical ideals long after the neo-classicalism and deferential politics of the founding generation had been eclipsed by the commercial ethos and mass democracy of the Jacksonian Era. Many of the idiosyncratic positions that Adams adopted over the course of his long career are explicated by considering his abiding devotion to the Ciceronian ideal of the citizen-orator “speaking well” to promote the welfare of the polis.
- Copyright 2000, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric