‘Be Steadfast and Immoveable’: 175-Year-Old Letter from John Quincy Adams Found in NJ Library…and They Have No Idea How They Got It

PLAINFIELD, N.J. (TheBlaze/AP) — A New Jersey archivist has found a 175-year-old letter from John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, that champions the cause of slavery abolition. But library officials tell a local outlet they’re not clear on how it ended up in New Jersey.

Plainfield Public Library’s Jeff Wassen recently found the letter from in the institution’s historical collection. In it, Adams “politely and eloquently declined an invitation to attend a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society event in the late 1830s, citing his flagging health during a sweltering heat wave,” noted the Home News Tribune.

(Credit: White House web site)

The letter appears to be dated from July 1838, when a 71-year-old Adams was in the middle of a 17-year term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives; Adams, who died at age 80, served as U.S. president from 1825 to 1829.

The event to which Adams was invited marked the anniversary of the day slavery was abolished across the British empire four years earlier: Aug. 1, 1834:

(Credit: Home News Tribune)

While he said no to attending the event, Adams wrote that he was glad to see the abolition movement spreading: “I rejoice that the defense of the cause of human freedom is falling into younger and more vigorous hands…You have a glorious though arduous career before you, and it is among the consolations of my last days, that I am able to cheer you in the pursuit and exhort you to be steadfast and immoveable in it.”

Wassen told the Home News Tribune that he knew the letter was part of the library’s historic archives, but had forgotten about it to some degree before recently rediscovering it.

“It’s in very good condition,” the library’s head archivist, Sarah Hull, told the Home News Tribune, handling the letter with a pair of blue rubber gloves. “It looks brand new.”

More from the paper:

…more questions than answers remain about the letter’s origins and lifespan. It was addressed to an Edmund Quincy, a Boston-based attorney who ostensibly invited the former president to the anti-slavery event nearly a decade after his only term as president ended, but precisely how the two were related isn’t clear, Hull explained.

It seems likely that Quincy was the lecturer and author referenced in a synopsis of what are known as the Quincy Family Papers, an index of which appears on the Massachusetts Historical Society website. He would have been about 30 at the time of the invitation’s writing, and the index refers to him as a “leader” of a local abolitionist movement who exchanged correspondence with John Quincy Adams no fewer than four times from 1838 through 1842.

The letter probably reached Central Jersey sometime during the latter half of the 19th century, as Hull said that former Plainfield Public Library head librarian Emma L. Adams was the “Miss Adams” referenced on the front of the envelope containing it. Dated 1899, the envelope is stamped with the title of The Philanthropist, a defunct, New York City-based quarterly magazine at which Emma Adams was known to volunteer.

“We don’t know, and I don’t want to say for sure,” Hull said regarding how the library came to possess the letter. “It’s so frustrating.”