Your Moral Compass

  • Published
  • By Col. Joseph Morrissey
  • 253rd Communications Engineering & Installations Group
How would you define character?  One of Webster's definitions on character is "the group of qualities that make a person, group, or thing different from others".  I ask the question because the other day during Mass, my parish Priest was taking about character and he mention two Presidents from the Commonwealth - John and John Quincy Adams, during his sermon.  The reference stuck a nerve with me because it highlighted in my mind, the strong moral compass both the father and son had.  

John Adam played a leading role in founding of our beloved Commonwealth and our Nation.  Adams helped frame the Massachusetts Constitution, was part of the Declaration of Independence committee, a diplomat to France, and the second President of the United States.  Quite the accomplishments, but before all that he was a trial lawyer.  One could argue that his most controversial trial was when he defend Captain Preston and eight British soldiers in their involvement in what we call the Boston Massacre.  Captain Preston and his man could not find anyone to defend them.  By defending these British soldiers, Adams was risking at a minimum being tarred and feather and at worst death.  Adams had no love of the British occupation of Boston, in fact he was an outspoken critic but as a lawyer and patriot, he felt deeply that all be afforded the right to adequate defense, especially in a case were the death penalty was in play.  Risking his reputation, livelihood and his life, John Adams took on the case and was able to get Captain Preston and six of his soldier acquitted of all charges.  The other two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter and branded with an "M" on their thumbs.  The "M" denotes that the man had received leniency. 

After the trial, Mr. Adams was viewed as trustworthy and a very brave man.  In a couple of years, he was elected to the Massachusetts' State House, which started his political career.

His son, John Quincy Adams, was a Harvard professor, diplomat, Secretary of State, sixth President of the United States and an eight term Massachusetts Congressman, in that order.  Very few Presidents have become Congressman after their administrations have ended.  John Quincy, like his father had a strong commitment to service to our nation and for fighting for what he saw what was right.  John Quincy strongly believed that owning a slave was a sin and that slavery directly contradicted the principles of liberty and unalienable rights which our Nation was founded on.  In 1841 he represented the defendants in United States versus The Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the US.  The Africans had seized control of the Amistad, a Spanish Slave ship, bound for Cuba.  The Africans demanded the crew take them back to Africa but the crew sailed the ship to America where the US Navy took control of the ship off the coast of Long Island.  After a number of trials the case ended up in the Supreme Court.  Adams successfully argued that the Africans should be set free and returned to their native land. 

Both John and John Quincy Adams took actions that was against the popular views of the day.  The vast majority of lawyers in both cases did not want to have anything to do with these trials.  But these Massachusetts man with character did what was right and the history has judge them very favorability.  The challenge to you is this, next you are confronted with a difficult unpopular situation, try to have courage and the character to do the right thing, in the long run it will pay off.