1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Quincy, Josiah

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QUINCY, JOSIAH (1744-1775), American patriot, son of Josiah Quincy (1709-1784), was born in Boston on the 23rd of February 1744. He was a descendant of Edmund Quincy, who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1633, and received in 1636 a grant of land at Mount Wollaston, or Merry Mount, afterwards a part of Braintree and now Quincy. He graduated at Harvard in 1763, and studied law in the office of Oxenbridge Thacher (d. 1765), to whose large practice he succeeded. In 1767 Quincy contributed to the Boston Gazette two bold papers, signed “Hyperion,” declaiming against British oppression; they were followed by a third in September 1768; and on the 12th of February 1770 he published in the Gazette a call to his countrymen to break off all social intercourse “with those whose commerce contaminates, whose luxuries poison, whose avarice is insatiable, and whose unnatural oppressions are not to be borne.” After the “Boston massacre” (5th of March 1770) he and John Adams defended Captain Preston and the accused soldiers and secured their acquittal.[1] He used the signatures “Mentor,” “Callisthenes,” “Marchmont Needham,” “Edward Sexby,” &c., in later letters to the Boston Gazette. He travelled for his health in the South in 1773, and left in his journal an interesting account of his travels and of society in South Carolina; this journey was important in that it brought Southern patriots into closer relations with the popular leaders in Massachusetts. In May 1774 he published Observations on the Act of Parliament, commonly called “The Boston Port Bill,” with Thoughts on Civil Society and Standing Armies, in which he urged “patriots and heroes” to “form a compact for opposition — a band for vengeance.” In September 1774 he left for England, where he consulted with leading Whigs as to the political situation in America; on the 16th of March 1775 he started back, but he died on the 26th of April in sight of land.

See the Memoir of the Life of Josiah Quincy, Jun., of Massachusetts (Boston, 1825; 2nd ed., 1874), by his son, which contains his more important papers.

His son, Josiah Quincy (1772-1864), American lawyer and author, was born in Boston on the 4th of February 1772. He studied at Phillips Academy, Andover, graduated at Harvard in 1790, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1793, but was never a prominent advocate. He became a leader of the Federalist party in Massachusetts; was an unsuccessful candidate for the national House of Representatives in 1800; served in the Massachusetts Senate in 1804-5; and was a member in 1805-13 of the national House of Representatives, where he was one of the small Federalist minority. He attempted to secure the exemption of fishing vessels from the Embargo Act, urged the strengthening of the American navy, and vigorously opposed the erection of Orleans Territory (Louisiana) into a state in 1811, and stated as his “deliberate opinion, that if this bill passes, the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved; that the States that compose it are free from their moral obligations to maintain it; and that, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some to prepare definitely for a separation, — amicably if they can, violently if they must.” This is probably “the first assertion of the right of secession on the floor of Congress.” Quincy left Congress because he saw that the Federalist opposition was useless, and thereafter was a member of the Massachusetts Senate until 1820; in 1821-22 he was a member and speaker of the state House of Representatives, from which he resigned to become judge of the municipal court of Boston. In 1823-28 he was mayor, of Boston, and in his term Faneuil Hall Market House was built, the fire and police departments were reorganized, and the city's care of the poor was systematized. In 1829-1845 he was president of Harvard College, of which he had been an overseer since 1810, when the board was reorganized; he has been called “the great organizer of the university”: he gave an elective (or “voluntary”) system an elaborate trial; introduced a system of marking (on the scale of 8) on which college rank and honours, formerly rather carelessly assigned, were based; first used courts of law to punish students who destroyed or injured college property; and helped to reform the finances of the university. During his term Dane Hall (for law) was dedicated, Gore Hall was built, and the Astronomical Observatory was equipped. His last years were spent principally on his farm in Quincy, where he died on the 1st of July 1864.

He wrote a Memoir of his father (1825); a History of Harvard University (2 vols., 1840), marred by a tendency to belittle the clerical régime; The Journals of Major Samuel Shaw (1847); The History of the Boston Athenaeum (1851); The Municipal History of the Town and City of Boston (1852); a Memoir of the Life of J. Q. Adams (1858); and Essays on the Soiling of Cattle (1859), only one of his many practical contributions to agriculture. See Edmund Quincy, Life of Josiah Quincy (Boston, 1867).

Josiah Quincy (1802-1882), son of the last-named, was mayor of Boston in 1845-1849, and author of Figures of the Past (1882); his brother Edmund (1808-1877) was a prominent Abolitionist, and author of the biography of his father and of a romance, Wensley (1854); and his sister Eliza Susan (1798-1884) was her father's secretary and the biographer of her mother. Josiah Quincy (1802-1882) had two sons — Josiah Phillips (1829-1910), a lawyer, who wrote, besides some verse, The Protection of Majorities (1876) and Double Taxation in Massachusetts (1889); and Samuel Miller (1833-1887), who practised law, wrote on legal subjects, served in the Union army during the Civil War, and was breveted brigadier-general of volunteers in 1865. Josiah Quincy (b. 1859), a son of Josiah Phillips Quincy, was prominent in the Democratic party in Massachusetts, and was mayor of Boston in 1895-1899.


  1. His eldest brother, Samuel Quincy (1735-1789), was at this time solicitor-general of Massachusetts, and opened this trial. He remained loyal to the Crown, left Boston in 1776, and was attorney for the Crown in Antigua until his death.