ABOUT THIS BOOK
Volumes 1 and 2 of the Diary of John Quincy Adams begin the publication of the greatest diary, both in mass and substance, in American History. Recording a span of sixty-eight years, it has been known heretofore only in partial form. When, over a hundred years ago, Charles Francis Adams edited his grandfather’s diary, he chose to omit “the details of common life,” reduce “the moral and religious speculations,” and retain criticisms of others only if they applied to public figures “acting in the same sphere with the writer.”
Now the diary is being published complete for the first time. Starting with the entries of a twelve-year-old, the present volumes cover John Quincy Adams’s formative year—his schooling and travel abroad, study at Harvard, and the first months of training for the law. Adams’s six years overseas with his father took him to a half dozen countries, with lengthy stays in Paris, the Netherlands, and St. Petersburg. On his return he stayed for a time in New York, making the acquaintance of influential congressmen. To finish preparing for college, he lived with an aunt and uncle in Haverhill, caught up in a round of social activities. Entering Harvard with junior standing in the spring of 1786, he graduated in fifteen months.
As Adams matured, diary entries became less a dutiful response to a father’s request and more a record of the young man’s perceptive observations and reflections—and thus a rich source for social history. There are accounts of play-going in Paris, evenings with Lafayette and Jefferson, the diversions of rural New England, apprenticeship in a Newburyport law office. And through the eyes of a serious but not unbending student we are given a picture of Harvard in the 1780s.
Candid opinions of preachers, writers, men of affairs, and family members accompany the closest self-scrutiny. Here is a remarkable record of the passage from adolescence to manhood of a precocious and sensitive boy torn by self-doubt and driving himself to fulfill his promise and his parents’ expectations.