A little learning is a dangerous thing

I’ve been seeing a lot of a quote from John Quincy Adams on Islam lately. Here’s the quote:

“In the seventh century of the Christian era, a wandering Arab of the lineage of Hagar [i.e., Muhammad], the Egyptian, combining the powers of transcendent genius, with the preternatural energy of a fanatic, and the fraudulent spirit of an impostor, proclaimed himself as a messenger from Heaven, and spread desolation and delusion over an extensive portion of the earth. Adopting from the sublime conception of the Mosaic law, the doctrine of one omnipotent God; he connected indissolubly with it, the audacious falsehood, that he was himself his prophet and apostle. Adopting from the new Revelation of Jesus, the faith and hope of immortal life, and of future retribution, he humbled it to the dust by adapting all the rewards and sanctions of his religion to the gratification of the sexual passion. He poisoned the sources of human felicity at the fountain, by degrading the condition of the female sex, and the allowance of polygamy; and he declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind. THE ESSENCE OF HIS DOCTRINE WAS VIOLENCE AND LUST: TO EXALT THE BRUTAL OVER THE SPIRITUAL PART OF HUMAN NATURE (Adam’s capital letters)….Between these two religions, thus contrasted in their characters, a war of twelve hundred years has already raged. The war is yet flagrant…While the merciless and dissolute dogmas of the false prophet shall furnish motives to human action, there can never be peace upon earth, and good will towards men.” [p. 269]

Adams had quite a few opinions and he wasn’t shy about sharing them. Here are a few more.


The first sermon given by a Catholic before the House of Representatives was by Bishop John England. It was a rebuttal of anti-Catholic comments made by John Quincy Adams in a Fourth of July speech in 1821. That wasn’t an isolated instance.

Adams’s last public speech was at the dedication of the Cincinnati Observatory. In the course of the speech he said “this observatory is to be a beacon of true science, that should never be obscured by the dark shadows of superstition and intolerance symbolized by the Popish Cross”.


From Adams’s diary

Dusseldorp a small town strongly fortified on the land side, but open on the river Rhine which we were obliged to cross, (on one of the same machines that I have mention’d yesterday) before we got there, it is in the Dutchy of Burgin [Berg] and is subject to the King of Prussia. There is a famous cabinet of Paintings here, but as we only stopp’d here to dine, and the cabinet not being then open, we did not see it. We set off from Dusseldorp directly after dinner and arriv’d at Cologne at about 8 o’clock; on the way we pass’d by a palace in which the Emperor, or the Archduke lodge, whenever they come this way. The roads this day were pretty good, but the produce of the ground is the same as what we have seen all along, that is, wheat, Buck wheat, and Spelts. We cross’d the Rhine again, when we got opposite Cologne, where there is a village, inhabited by Jews; A Nasty, dirty, Place indeed, and fit only for Jews to live in.

[emphasis mine]

He was quite young when he wrote that so it’s arguable that he matured. It, too, was not an isolated instance.

Jackson Lears quotes Adams as complaining about the “stock-jobbing Jew-brokering tricks” on the Royal Exchange.

Jewish author and economist Nathaniel Weil said that Adams “often spoke of Jews in such a way as to suggest a strong anti-Semitic prejudice”.

This is all the product of a little quick Googling. I’m sure that serious study could produce a lot more. I’ll rely on my historically inclined blog-friends Callimachus and ZenPundit for more info if they care to.

Is that really the banner we want to march under?

I’m not saying that John Quincy Adams wasn’t a great man or even a good man. I’m saying that Adams was a man of his times, ignorant and full of prejudices. When Adams writes on the American experience, the blessings of liberty, the harm that slavery did to the American system, or the early 19th century political scene, I’ll take his comments as an expert very seriously. But not on Islam.

4 comments… add one
  • That’s nothing. You should read the marginalia John Adams wrote in his private collection, JQA is the essence of diplomacy in comparison with his father.

  • But his remarks on Islam stand up pretty well. You have to wonder where we’d be now had not medieval Islam – the most fundamentalist streak – mated with European totalitarianism & produced the present hydra. And let’s not forget that every Arab thugocracy has a stake in fomenting the cartoon wars, to point the finger of rage away from home. I’m sure some of these rent-a-mobs arrived on state subsidized buses

    Seems to me the largest bloc of – apparently – moderate Muslims in the Third World is in India, restrained by Anglo Saxon jurisprudence & the example next door of Pakistan. Did u note that when imams in India fatwa’d (vb? if not, should be – “I fatwa you!”) that Muslim tennis player who plays in skirts & tanks, she ignored them. The Pakistani women can’t compete globally, because they’re required to wear full shalwaar kameez.

  • And let’s not forget that every Arab thugocracy has a stake in fomenting the cartoon wars, to point the finger of rage away from home. I’m sure some of these rent-a-mobs arrived on state subsidized buses

    That’s exactly right on the money, Jeff. Despite Bush’s statements in the aftermath of 9/11 the U. S. government is continuing to give a pass to the state sponsors of terrorism and oppression.

    This may be for tactical reasons. But I suspect that it’s just going back to business as usual and it casts all of the talk about spreading freedom into disrepute.

  • sefton Link

    Just because your mean, intemperate, outspoken and racist, doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

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