Monday, August 22, 2016
On negative virtues..............
Alexander H. Everett, now publisher of the North American Review, described Quincy as "a man very wanting in discretion." Adams retorted that "discretion was a negative virtue, perhaps possessed in higher perfection by knaves than honest men." His plain meaning was that "discretion," in this context was no more that a euphemism for "pusillanimity." Quincy had acted as he himself would have acted.
-James Traub, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit
Some context: The Quincy mentioned above was Josiah Quincy III, President of Harvard from 1829-1845. In 1834, Quincy was faced with a student uprising over issues of discipline. Rather than back down, he suspended almost the entire Sophomore class. The students waved the white flag and order and discipline soon returned. My guess is most college presidents today have never read about Josiah Quincy III.