"Think Of Your Forefathers And Of Your Posterity!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The founders of Plymouth Colony sailed from the Netherlands in search of religious freedom. In December, 1620, aboard the Mayflower, they entered Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts, and founded their settlement. After a cruel winter, in which a large proportion of them died, the survivors established friendship with the Indians and built houses. Besides setting up a commemorative monument, their descendants in later years observed the anniversary with meetings and speeches. It was no wonder, then, that the Plymouth Town Committee should invite their neighbor, John Quincy Adams, the thirty-five-year-old son of the recent President of the United States, to make a speech on one such occasion. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in law, John Quincy Adams had been sent by President Washington as Minister to the Netherlands from where the Pilgrims sailed. He had returned to Massachusetts the previous summer after representing his country in Prussia, and was now talking of running for the Senate from Massachusetts. He was an excellent choice for the Plymouth orator. His words made so deep an impression that the Council decided to pay the printing firm of Russell and Cutler in Boston for publishing them as a thirty-one-page pamphlet with the long title: "Oration Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1802, at the Anniversary Commemorative of the First Landing of our Ancestors at that Place." Adams struck the "commemoration" key in his first sentence. "Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our ancestors, and of love for our posterity." Then he went on expanding and adding patriotic and religious notes. "Man was not made for himself alone. No, he was made for his country, for his species, for all ages past and for all future times. He is not a puny insect shivering at a breeze, but the glory of creation." Adams had studied the classics in Harvard. He had read widely in Latin literature, and so, to underscore the relation of man to other generations, he referred, without quoting it, to a saying attributed to a Caledonian defender of his country against the Roman legions under Agricola. At the Battle of Mt. Graupius, in A.D. 84, Galgacus was reported to have exclaimed: "Proinde ituri in aciem, et majores vestros et preteros cogitate," which the orator translated in his speech.

The voice of history has not in all its compass a note but answers in unison with these sentiments. The barbarian chieftain who defended his country against Roman invasion, driven to the remotest extremity of Britain, and stimulating his followers to battle by all that has power of persuasion upon the human heart, concluded his persuasion by an appeal to those irresistible feelings: "Think of your forefathers and of your posterity!" . . .