Josiah Quincy was a lawyer, politician and abolitionist. As a lawyer, he rarely practiced. As a politician, he was largely disregarded, except for his time as “The Great Mayor” of Boston. As an abolitionist, he was supportive of his son Edmund Quincy and outspoken, writing papers on the subject. He is most famous in his hometown of Boston, where his policies changed the face of the burgeoning city. Even today, nearly 200 years after his death, his contributions are still a part of Boston.
Josiah Quincy (not to be confused with the many other Josiah Quincys in his family) was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 4, 1772. He was the son of Josiah Quincy Jr. and Abigail Quincy nee Phillips. Both of his parents came from wealthy and influential families. Young Josiah was born into a family of influential politicians, teachers and military (militia) men. His father was a well-known patriot who aided John Adams in the defense of the British soldiers involved in the “Boston Massacre.”
When he was in his early thirties, Josiah Quincy Jr. died of tuberculosis. His son was just a toddler at the time, but he was left in the capable hands of Abigail and his grandfather–Josiah Quincy. He began attending the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts when he was six-years-old. Even there he was under the influence of his family. His uncle, Reverend Samuel Phillips, was his teacher. From there, he went on to study at Harvard University, like most great men in Boston at the time. He graduated from Harvard in 1793, but that was not the last he would see of the revered school.
After graduation, Josiah Quincy began his apprenticeship in law. He became a lawyer, but decided to spend his life in politics. Two years after his graduation from Harvard, Josiah Quincy was elected to the Boston Town Committee. (He was a Federalist.) He remained in that position for five years before deciding to run for Congress. He was not successful this time around. However, he was elected in 1804 and he left for Washington, D.C.
While Josiah Quincy was a member of the Boston Town Committee, he married Eliza Susan Morton. The couple would go on to have seven children together, notably Edmund Quincy and Josiah Quincy Jr. (Yes, another one.) Edmund would go on to become a famous abolitionist periodical editor. Josiah Quincy Jr. would assume his father’s role and become Mayor of Boston.
Things did not turn out well for Josiah Quincy in Washington. His ideas were becoming passé and his time in Congress was not noteworthy, except for his departure. In 1813, Josiah Quincy disagreed with the United States’ latest war with England, so he returned home to Boston, where he was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. He spent 12 years in that position. He was also a delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1820 and a Massachusetts House of Representatives Judge in 1821. In 1823, Josiah Quincy was elected Mayor of Boston.
Josiah Quincy made Boston a cleaner, safer place to live. He focused on juvenile delinquent reform. He brought municipal water and sewage to the city. He organized the fire department and more. Most notably, he cleaned up the area where Quincy Market is today and established the market, which still stands facing Faneuil Hall. In a modern city, it is a rather awkward position for the building, but it makes for great historical atmosphere and street performer fun. Mr. Quincy probably never imagined Quincy Market as it is today, but he would surely be pleased to see how beloved it is by the city’s residents.
Josiah Quincy served as Mayor of Boston for five years. On June 15, 1829, he became the President of Harvard University. Despite his best efforts, his time there was marked with unrest in the student body. There were violent protests and the students openly disliked Josiah. Quincy did his best to punish the students responsible and put his efforts toward making the school better. He did make some great changes to the school, but he never did win over the students. He retired from his post on August 27, 1848.
In Josiah Quincy’s twilight years, he wrote a great deal about the history of some famous Boston institutions. He also wrote about his son Edmund’s passion, abolitionism. He died on July 1, 1864 and was interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Josiah Quincy, retrieved 10/27/10, harvardaquarelibrary.org/HVDpresidents/quincy.php
Josiah Quincy, retrieved 10/27/10, uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/josiahquincy.html