Saturday, July 11, 2009

John Quincy Adams

The favorite hymns of US presidents have often been identified over the years, sometimes because they were sung at the funeral services, and sometimes recounted in biographies or other accounts. I did not know until recently that our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, born today in 1767, was a hymnwriter himself.

John Quincy, son of second president
John Adams and wife Abigail, served in the government from the time of George Washington's administration, first as ambassador to several countries, and later as secretary of state, before serving one term as president (1825 - 1829). He took the oath of office with his hand on a book of laws because he wished to observe the separation of church and state.

When editor William Parsons Lunt (a friend of Adams who later delivered an address at his funeral), was preparing a hymnal, The Christian Psalter (1841). Adams gave him some verses he had written for consideration -- a complete version of the Psalms in meter as well as several other hymn texts! Of those more than 150 texts, Lunt chose twenty-two for his hymnal.

This is Adams's paraphrase of Psalm 139. Since The Christian Psalter didn't include tunes, we don't really know to what tune it might have been sung, but this was the kind of tune they were singing then, which may sound a bit unusual to us today.

O God, thy all-discerning eyes
My inmost purpose see;
My deeds, my words, my thoughts arise
Alike disclosed to thee;
My sitting down, my rising up,
Broad noon and deepest night,
My path, my pillow, and my cup
Are open to thy sight.

Before, behind, I meet thine eye,
And feel thy guiding hand;
Such knowledge is for me too high
To reach or understand:
What of thy wonders can I know?
What of thy purpose see?
Where from thy spirit shall I go?
Where from thy presence flee?

If I ascend to heav'n on high.
Or make my bed in hell;
Or take the morning's wings, and fly
O'er ocean's bounds to dwell;
Or seek, from thee, a hiding place
Amid the gloom of night,
Alike to thee are time and space,
The darkness and the light.

John Quincy Adams, 1841
A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, 1847

I haven't yet determined if the entire Adams psalter was ever published in one collection, but it would be interesting to see.

Denied a second presidential term in the election of 1828, John Quincy Adams returned home to Massachusetts, assuming that he was entering retirement. However, he was elected in 1830 to serve in the US House of Representatives, where he spent the next seventeen years, something no president has done since. He suffered a stroke on the floor of the House in 1848 and died two days later, never getting to enjoy that retirement.

P.S. The bust of John Quincy Adams was sculpted by John Henri Isaac Browere, an artist who captured the likenesses of many of the statesmen of the Revolutionary period.


Dorothy said...

Thanks for the very interesting glimpse into who John Quincy Adams was. An entire collection of the Psalms in meter! Plus more hymn texts! Wow!

And yes, I do find that hymn tune "a bit unusual."

Leland Bryant Ross said...

That's a wonderful hymn, and a thoroughly appropriate tune! I might actually sing it the next time I do Special Music (tentatively, Aug 23). (Also considering "By the Rivers of Babylon" and "How Can I Keep from Singing", the 4-stanza, no-refrain version in the Quaker hymnal, both of which we practiced today along with "Heir of all the waiting ages" (PICARDY) and "Hail the blest morn! See the great Mediator", again the Quaker version...) Today we had bagpipes.

I envy you the convention. Maybe we can meet at Samford next year. I am very eager to attend.

John M. Switlik said...

William Parsons Lunt was a descendant of Henry Lunt (1634, Newbury, MA).

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for the information, Mr. Weitlik, and for the link from your blog.