Volume 12 of Adams Family Correspondence, with 276 documents spanning from March 1797 through April 1798, opens with the inauguration of John Adams as president and closes just after details of the XYZ affair are made public in America. Through private networks of correspondence, the Adamses reveal both their individual concerns for the well-being of the nation and the depth of their public and political engagement with the republic. Abigail’s letters to friend and foe demonstrate the important role she played as an unofficial member of the administration. John Quincy and Thomas Boylston’s letters from The Hague, Paris, London, and finally Berlin offer keen observations about the political turmoil in France and its consequences, the shifting European landscape as a result of the war, and court life in Berlin following the coronation of Frederick William III.
In the midst of crisis, the family’s domestic life and personal connections challenged and sustained them. The marriage of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Johnson in London in July 1797 gave the family cause for celebration, while John’s appointment of John Quincy as U.S. minister to Prussia created a minor rift as the scrupulous younger Adams struggled with concerns about nepotism. Visits between the elder Adamses and their children Nabby and Charles in New York provided welcome distractions, even as John and Abigail worried about Nabby’s domestic situation. With the characteristic candor and perception expected from the Adamses, this volume again features forthright commentary from one family at the center of it all.
The Adams Family Correspondence, L. H. Butterfield writes, “is an unbroken record of the changing modes of domestic life, religious views and habits, travel, dress, servants, food, schooling, reading, health and medical care, diversions, and every other conceivable aspect of manners and taste among the members of a substantial New England family who lived on both sides of the Atlantic and wrote industriously to each other over a period of more than a century.” These volumes are the first in the estimated twenty or more in Series 2 of The Adams Papers.
Including about six hundred letters to and from various members of the family, the Adams Family Correspondence begins with a series of hitherto unpublished courtship letters between John Adams and Abigail Smith. The weekly and sometimes daily reports by Adams of what was going on in the Continental Congress during the years 1774–1777 are a far fuller and franker record than has been available before. His wife’s letters in reply recount her difficulties in raising a family of young children and operating a farm while war went on not far from her doorstep, refugees inundated Braintree, local epidemics raged, prices soared, and goods and labor became ever scarcer. We learn for the first time that amid these distractions Abigail lost a baby daughter, that getting herself and four children inoculated against smallpox was an agonizing ordeal of months in 1776, that after Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga she wrote a long, lecturing letter to her single relative who had chosen the Loyalist side, and that her comments on blundering politicos, lax generals, and unpatriotic neighbors were more frequent and incisive than has been supposed.
Thinking her letters too careless and too intimate for preservation, Abigail Adams pleaded at the end of one of them, written a couple of months before the Declaration of Independence was voted and while British warships hovered within range of her house, “I wish you would burn all my Letters.” To which John Adams replied, “The conclusion of your Letter made my Heart throb, more than a Cannonade would. You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.”
So he faithfully kept hers, she kept his, and they both kept their children’s. Their grandson Charles Francis Adams chose some of these for publication in a succession of small editions in the nineteenth century, but he was highly selective, and he discreetly pruned away from the letters that he printed much that is both revealing and engaging. Here, as is the practice with all the Adams documents in this edition, every letter used is given in full. The second of these first volumes ends in March 1778 with John Adams on a Continental frigate bound for his first diplomatic mission in Europe, accompanied by his ten-year-old son, John Quincy.
This volume continues the incredible family saga of the Adamses of Massachusetts as told through their myriad letters to one another, to their extended family, and to such other notable correspondents as Thomas Jefferson and Mercy Otis Warren. The book opens in January 1786, when John and Abigail resided at Grosvenor Square in London, partaking of the English social scene, while John made slow progress on negotiations for an Anglo-American commercial treaty. Daughter Abigail ("Nabby"), also in London, had begun a courtship with William Stephens Smith that would culminate in their marriage in June 1786. Back in Massachusetts, John Quincy had rejoined his brothers Charles and Thomas, entered Harvard College, and begun to make preparations to study law.
Writing back and forth across the Atlantic, the Adamses interspersed observations about their own family life--births and deaths, illnesses and marriages, new homes and new jobs, education and finances--with commentary on the most important social and political events of their day, from the scandals in the British royal family to the deteriorating political situation in Massachusetts that eventually culminated in Shays' Rebellion. As in the previous volumes in this series of the Adams Papers, the correspondence presented here offers a unique perspective on the eighteenth century from a preeminent American family.
“I cannot O! I cannot be reconcil’d to living as I have done for 3 years past… Will you let me try to soften, if I cannot wholy releave you, from your Burden of Cares and perplexities?” So begins Abigail Adams’s correspondence to her husband in these volumes: a plea to end their long separation, as John Adams represented the United States in Europe while Abigail tended to family and farm in Massachusetts, and passed on to John crucial political information from Congress.
In October 1782, the Adams family was as widely scattered as it would ever be, with young John Quincy Adams in St. Petersburg, John at The Hague, and Abigail in Braintree with her daughter and younger sons. With the summer of 1784, however, Abigail would have her fondest wish, as most of the family reunited to spend nearly a year together in Europe. As the Adams family traveled, and as the children came of age, so their correspondence expanded to include an ever larger and more fascinating range of Cultural topics and international figures. The record of this remarkable expansion, these volumes document John Adams’s diplomatic triumphs, his wife and daughter’s participation in the cosmopolitan scenes of Paris and London, and his son John Quincy’s travels in Europe and America. These pages also welcome Thomas Jefferson, who soon became one of Abigail’s closest friends, into the family correspondence. From the intimacies of the children’s education, sentimental and worldly, to the details of the firm friendship between Abigail and Madame Lafayette, to the grand drama of Edmund Burke and William Pitt the Younger debating in Parliament, the contents of these letters draw an incredibly rich picture of international life in the 1780s and an incomparable portrait of America’s first family of politics and letters.
The letters in this volume of Adams Family Correspondence span the period from July 1795 to the eve of John Adams’s inauguration, with the growing partisan divide leading up to the election playing a central role. The fiery debate over funding the Jay Treaty sets the political stage, and the caustic exchanges between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans only grow as rumors surface of George Washington’s impending retirement. From Philadelphia, John’s equanimity in reporting to Abigail and his children on the speculation about the presidential successor gives way to expectation and surprise at the voracity of electioneering among political allies and opponents alike. Although remaining in Quincy throughout this period, Abigail offers keen, even acerbic, commentary on these national events.
From Europe, John Quincy and Thomas Boylston shed light on the rise of the French Directory, the shifts in the continental war, and the struggles within the Batavian government. Their letters also testify to the broader scale of the U.S. presidential election by chronicling French and British attempts to influence American politics. On a more personal note, John Quincy’s engagement to Louisa Catherine Johnson in London opens the next great collection of correspondence documenting the Adams family saga.
John and Abigail Adams’ reflections on an emerging nation as they move into the new President’s House in Washington, D.C., are a highlight of the nearly 280 letters written over seventeen months printed in volume 14 of Adams Family Correspondence. The volume opens with the Adamses’ public and private expressions on the death of George Washington and concludes with John’s defeat in the contentious presidential election of 1800. Electoral College maneuvering, charges of sedition, and state-by-state strategizing are debated by the Adamses and their correspondents as the election advances toward deadlock and finally victory for Thomas Jefferson in the House of Representatives. John’s retirement from public life had some sweet mixed with the bitter. The U.S. mission to France resulted in the Convention of 1800 that ended the Quasi-War and the so-called midnight appointments at the close of his presidency ushered in the transformative U.S. Supreme Court era of John Marshall, a coda anticipated in Abigail’s request to John in the final days of his administration—“I want to see the list of judges.”
The domestic life of the Adamses was equally dynamic. Abigail and John endured the crushing loss of their son Charles, whose struggle with alcohol ended in repudiation and death in New York. Son Thomas Boylston and daughter Nabby spent the period in relative stability, while John Quincy chronicled a tour of Silesia in letters home from Europe. At the volume’s close, the correspondence between John and Abigail comes to an end. As they retired to Quincy, their rich observations on the formation of the American republic would continue in letters to others if not to each other.
The almost 300 letters in volume 13 of Adams Family Correspondence were written during seventeen tumultuous months of John Adams’s presidency. Consumed with executive duties, he depended on surrogates for much of his correspondence with family members. From Quincy, an ailing Abigail Adams wrote frequent letters to Philadelphia and received lively responses from son Thomas Boylston and the president’s secretary, nephew William Smith Shaw. These letters attest to John’s popularity in the wake of the XYZ Affair. However, they also chronicle passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which laid the groundwork for future debates on the relative roles of state and federal governments. Following the break in diplomacy with France, John sensed a change in the footing of the French, acted unilaterally in ordering a second mission to seek a negotiated settlement of the Quasi-War, and faced widespread skepticism about his foreign policy as his envoys departed for Europe.
John and Abigail lamented yet another absence from each other. After completing service in Berlin as secretary to diplomat John Quincy, Thomas Boylston established himself as a Philadelphia lawyer, offering thoughtful commentary on political life in the capital. From his post in Prussia, John Quincy struggled with his brother Charles’s mismanagement of his financial affairs, but his letters also provide detailed updates on developments in Europe, including Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. The candid letters of John and Abigail Adams and their children offer a rich perspective on life in America during its infancy.
Adams Family Correspondence
Adams FamilyEdited by Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Sara Martin, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, and Gregg L. Lint Harvard University Press, 1963 Library of Congress E322.1.A27 | Dewey Decimal 929.2
This volume offers over 300 letters from the irrepressible Adamses, including many between John and Abigail never before printed. As always, Adams family members serve as important observers of and commentators on national and international events, from America’s growing tensions with Britain and France to its internal struggles with increasingly virulent political factionalism and the Whiskey Rebellion. John, languishing as vice president in Philadelphia, reported extensively on congressional debates and growing divisions within the Washington administration but also found time to improve his sons’ legal education. Abigail’s letters juxtapose her own political insights with lively accounts of her farm management and the day-to-day happenings in Quincy.
The most significant event of the period for the Adams clan was John Quincy’s appointment as U.S. minister resident at The Hague, the beginning of a long and storied diplomatic career. Accompanying him overseas was his brother Thomas Boylston, the only Adams child who had not yet seen Europe. Arriving just as the French Army began its final march into the Netherlands, John Quincy and Thomas Boylston became first-hand observers of the European war and the impact of the French Revolution on the broader society. Back in the United States, Charles continued to build his legal career, expanding his law office and acquiring two clerks, while Nabby’s family grew with the birth of the Adamses’ first granddaughter, Caroline Amelia Smith.
Adams Family Correspondence
Adams FamilyEdited by Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Karen N. Barzilay, Hobson Woodward, Mary T. Claffey, Robert F. Karachuk, Sara B. Sikes, and Gregg L. Lint Harvard University Press, 1963 Library of Congress E322.1.A27 | Dewey Decimal 929.2
The years 1790 to 1793 marked the beginning of the American republic, a contentious period as the nation struggled to create a functioning government amid increasingly bitter factionalism. On the international stage, the turmoil of the French Revolution raised important questions about the nature of government. As usual, the Adams family found itself in the midst of it all. Vice President John Adams chaired Senate sessions even as he was prevented from participating in any meaningful fashion. Abigail joined him when her health permitted, but even from afar she provided important advice and keen observations on politics and society.
All four Adams children are well represented here, especially Charles and Thomas Boylston, who, for the first time, appear as correspondents in their own right. Both embarked on legal careers, Charles in New York and Thomas in Philadelphia, while John Quincy did the same in Boston. Daughter Nabby cared for her growing family as her ambitious husband, William Stephens Smith, pursued financial schemes. This volume offers both insight into the family and the frank commentary on life that readers have come to expect from the Adamses.
By early 1787, as this latest volume of the award-winning series Adams Family Correspondence opens, John and Abigail Adams were eagerly planning their return home to Massachusetts from Great Britain, frustrated by John's lack of progress in his diplomatic mission and anxious for a reunion with family and friends. Arriving in Massachusetts in mid-1788, they anticipated a quiet retirement from government service as they returned to running their farm. But they barely had time to settle in before they were pulled back into the public sphere by John's election as the first vice president under the new Constitution. Moving to New York City in 1789 with their daughter Nabby, and her family, John and Abigail found themselves once again center stage in American political life.
The Adamses serve as prescient and thoughtful observers of the world around them, from the manners and mores of English court life to the political intrigues of the new federal government in New York. Beyond that wider world, however, these letters observe the more intimate domestic concerns of a New England family. With more of the forthright candor that marks the Adamses' correspondence, this volume offers a unique perspective on a crucial period in American history.
The letters in these volumes, written from both sides of the Atlantic, addressed by and to members of the Adams family, chronicle nearly five years of its history, They were years in which John Adams in successive missions to Europe, accompanied first by one son, then by two, initiated what would be a continuing role for Adamses in three generadons: representing their country and advancing its interests in the capitals of Europe.
John Adams, a troubled but stouthearted Yankee lawyer on the vast new scene of Europe, though always circumspect in familial correspondence in referring to public matters, provides, in his revealing letters about his own health and state of mind, sufficient insight into the difficult relations among the American commissioners, the designs of America's allies, and the diplomatic failures and triumphs he experienced in Paris and the Netherlands to permit some reevaluations of purposes and tactics. With these high matters are mingled the rigors and rewards of travel, concern with his sons' education, books for their reading, Dutch cloth and ribbons for his wife.
Whether Mrs. Adams' letters relate to the upbringing of children, the problems of wartime taxes and inflation, the inferior roles assigned to American women, or her wide historical reading, they bear the marks of distinction of mind and mastery of language that make them timeless.
If the letters of these two are central, those written by others are hardly less interesting, relating as they do to the concerns of young John Quincy at school in Levden and his observations on his way to and during his stay in St. Petersburg at age fourteen: to the adventure-filled return voyage of Charles, aged eleven, to America; to the interests of the younger Abigail maturing in Braintree; to the reactions of sturdy patriots to the tides and rumors of war.
John and Abigail Adams remained fully engaged in American political life after they left Washington, DC, for retirement in Quincy. A highlight of Volume 15 of Adams Family Correspondence is a series of letters between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson that debated fundamental questions of the nation’s tumultuous early years. A new generation rose in prominence in the period covered in the volume, with John Quincy Adams returning from abroad to take a seat in the United States Senate just in time to break with the Federalists and support the Louisiana Purchase. The family commented on other events of the era—Jefferson’s dismantling of John Adams’s judicial reforms, the mobilization of the US Navy for the Barbary wars, the growing bane of British impressment, and the duel that killed Alexander Hamilton.
Equally compelling family stories emerge in the volume’s 251 letters. The failure of a British banking firm proved calamitous to the family’s finances, compelling John Quincy to quietly finance his parents’ retirement. Thomas Boylston Adams, acting as an occasional editor of the Port Folio, carved out his public persona as a man of letters. Louisa Catherine Adams wrote of motherhood and adjusting to a new country of residence while providing a spirited perspective on Washington society. As always, the heart of Adams Family Correspondence is Abigail Adams, who survived a near-fatal fall to continue providing letters of insight and wit that once again show why the correspondence of the Adams family is a national treasure.