@JQAdams_MHS Celebrating 1 Decade of Diary Entries on Twitter!

by Alexandra Bush, Digital Production Assistant

Screenshot of JQA Twitter page
@JQAdams_MHS Twitter Page

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the @JQAdams_MHS Twitter feed, which tweeted its first entry from John Quincy Adams’ line-a-day diary on 5 August 2009! The MHS staff has diligently posted one entry every day since, exactly 200 years after each was recorded by JQA, e.g. posting his 5 August, 1809 entry on 5 August, 2009 and so on. Since then we have accompanied him through all manner of wild weather, meetings, portrait sittings, evening walks, trips abroad, political debates, astronomical observations, and more. While JQA’s line-a-day entries aren’t exactly verbose, they provide an evocative look into his daily life.

The journey began in 2009, or 1809 for JQA, on the eve of his tenure as the United States’ ambassador to Russia, where he dined with Czar Alexander I and negotiated and signed the Treaty of Ghent. Next we followed him to London upon his appointment as envoy and ambassador to Great Britain in 1815/2015, marking the beginning of a years-long string of complaints about the dreary weather. JQA became Secretary of State to President James Monroe in 1817/2017, whereupon he returned to Washington, D.C. These past few years have seen JQA firmly establishing his presence in the capitol; assisting in matters of international relations, helping to formally define the borders of the United States, and baring his soul to the world every summer morning during his nude Potomac swims. What’s in store for the future? Only time—or our meticulously digitized, transcribed, and fully searchable web database of each of his diaries from 1779 to 1848—will tell.

Our followers’ impressions of JQA’s succinct line-a-day entries are one of the best parts of this venture. It is wonderful to see how words written 200 years ago can still be impactful today.

@Loiarchives writes:
@JQAdams_MHS Dear JQA, why do I find your tweets so calming? 

@SpiritbearNY writes:
Huh. He felt about his journal, which consumed his mornings, the way many of us feel about our use of social media. At least he was documenting history, though, not rage tweeting about his political enemies. 🙄

@fararelliott writes:
I love JQA – a bath is essential to celebrating Independence Day.

@k59griffie writes:
Another luscious word from the diary of @JQAdams_MHS : “underwitted.” He has given me two great words:  vagarious and underwitted.  I am happy.

Sometimes, though, the voice of a long-dead historical figure on a modern social media site can be a little confusing.

@AngusDoubleBeef asks:
Is this really John Quincy Adams or like a fan account?

Regardless of your views on the possibility of tweeting from beyond the grave, we encourage anyone with a Twitter account to follow @JQAdams_MHS. Join us as we finish out his Secretary of State years and celebrate his presidency in 2025! None of this would have been possible without the tireless work of the members of the Adams Papers Editorial Project, whose long hours of transcription provide us with a constantly growing source of fascinating JQA writings. You can find images and transcriptions of JQA’s diary including line-a-day entries, long-form entries, drafts, and more, on the MHS website. See full page images here http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries/php/ and transcriptions of long entries here https://www.masshist.org/publications/jqadiaries/index.php.

Abigail Adams’s “favorite Scotch song”

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

Have you ever wondered what Abigail Adams’s favorite song was? Or maybe you wondered if John and Abigail had a song that was their song. A series of letters written between 1778 and 1787 seems to provide the answer.

Abigail Adams had an established affinity for “Scotch” songs. She was moved by the “Native Simplicity” of the lyrics and thought they had “all the power of a well wrought Tradidy.” While John was overseas serving as a commissioner at Paris, Abigail and her two youngest sons, Charles and Thomas, were fending for themselves in one of the severest winters Braintree had ever known. Abigail’s daughter, Nabby, was staying in Plymouth with friends, and her eldest son, John Quincy, was in France with his father.

“How lonely are my days? How solitary are my Nights?” Abigail wrote to her husband on 27 December 1778. “Secluded from all Society but my two Little Boys, and my domesticks, by the Mountains of snow which surround me . . . I am solitary indeed.” Someone Abigail identified only as a young lady found her in the midst of “a Melancholy hour” and decided to sing to her to cheer her up. That was when Abigail first heard the song “There’s Nae Luck about the House”—a song she would fondly cite again and again over the years.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 27 December 1778

The traditional song, attributed to Jean Adam, tells the story of a wife excitedly greeting her seafaring husband, or “gudeman,” after he’s been “awa’.” Abigail, deeply moved by the sentiments of the song, begged for the music. Her son Charles, then eight years old, learned the song so that he could sing it and console Abigail whenever she needed.

Abigail enclosed the music in one of her letters to John, telling him “It has Beauties in it to me, which an indifferent person would not feel.” She drew out several couplets that she found particularly relatable: “His very foot has Musick in’t, As he comes up the stairs” as well as “And shall I see his face again? And shall I hear him speak?”

On 13 February 1779, when John received the music in France, he was similarly affected. “Your scotch song . . . is a charming one. oh my leaping Heart.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 13 February 1779

Abigail’s affection for the song was shared with her dearest friends. On 15 March 1779, Mercy Otis Warren wrote to her, “You May feelingly join with me and the Bonny Scotch Lass, and Warble the Mournful Chorus from Morn to Eve. Theres Little pleasure in the Rooms When my Good Mans awaw.”

In 1785, when Abigail tried to illustrate to her teenaged niece Lucy the importance of expressing genuine sentiments simply, she referenced the song again. “It is that native simplicity too, which gives to the Scotch songs a merit superior to all others. My favorite Scotch song, ‘There’s na luck about the house,’ will naturally occur to your mind.”

A year later, while living in London, Abigail learned that her family back home in Massachusetts “were all turning musicians.” Her niece was becoming adept at the harpsicord, her nephew had taken up violin, and John Quincy and Charles were learning the flute. “Our young Folks improve fast in their musick,” her sister reported in May 1786. “Two German Flutes, a violin and a harpsicord and two voices form a considerable concert.”

Though she was now reunited with her husband and daughter, Abigail’s family was still separated by the Atlantic Ocean. “Here you would have felt a pleasure which you never experienc’d in a drawing Room at St James,” her sister wrote on 14 July 1786. “To vary our Scene musick is often call’d for . . . and then my sister how do I Wish for you. No one ever injoyd the pleasures of young People more than you use’d too.”

Abigail couldn’t join their late night concerts by the fire, but she came up with a way to make her presence felt. In the winter of 1787, she received a letter from home: “The musical society at Braintree return their thanks for those Scotch Peices of Musick whih you so kindly Sent them.”

“Aut Ceasar aut Nullus”: The 1796 Presidential Election and Abigail Adams’ Latin Motto

Rhonda Barlow, The Adams Papers

Unlike the Harvard-educated men in her family, Abigail Adams did not spend years of her life learning Latin. When John Adams wrote to her and used Latin phrases, he often included the English translation. Once, after quoting several lines of the Roman poet Horace, he advised her to have John Quincy translate it for her. Yet in 1796, when it was unclear who would succeed George Washington as president, Abigail declared, “Aut Ceasar aut Nullus, is my Motto tho I am not used to quote lattin or spell it.”

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams
Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 Feb. 1796, Adams Papers

“Either Caesar or nobody.” Abigail’s long correspondence provides clues to how and why she developed this motto. When Abigail read Plutarch’s Lives, the descriptions of the “tyranny, cruelty, devastation and horrour” of the Roman emperors gave her nightmares. She observed that just as Satan “had rather Reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” Julius Caesar would “rather be the first man in a village than the second in Rome.” She remarked that “to be the first in a village, is, preferable to the second in Rome and, is one of the first Maxims in the Catalogue of Ambition.”

When Abigail opened a 20 Jan. 1796 letter from John and read that George Washington would not seek a third term, she wrote back the next day, “My ambition leads me not to be first in Rome,” but “as to holding the office of V P, there I will give my opinion. Resign retire. I would be Second under no Man but Washington.” John also reported on the sectional divisions in Congress, and a possible compromise between “the Southern Gentry” and “the Northern Gentlemen” which would result in Thomas Jefferson becoming president and Adams remaining vice president.

But Abigail was having none of it. Writing to John on 14 Feb. 1796, she declared: “The Southern Gentlemen think I believe that the Northern Gentleman are fools, but the Nothern know that they are so, if they can believe that Such bare faced Dupery will succeed.” As long as Washington was president and Martha Washington first lady, she “had no desire for the first,” but if the Washingtons sought retirement, then, “Aut Ceasar aut Nullus, is my Motto tho I am not used to quote lattin or spell it.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1 March 1796, Adams Papers

John responded with a Latin motto of his own on 1 March 1796: “I am quite at my Ease— I never felt less Aniety when any considerable Change lay before me. aut transit aut finit— I transmigrate or come to an End. The Question is between living at Phila. or at Quincy. between great Cares and Small Cares.” John’s stoical acceptance of his fate belied his own ambition.

Aut Ceasar aut Nullus: Abigail issued her challenge to Congress and the nation. John won the election, and she became the first woman in Rome.

Julius Caesar bust
Bust of Julius Caesar, Vatican Museums

An Adams Tells All About Abigail

by Sara Georgini, The Adams Papers

When did you first hear the letters of John and Abigail Adams? Fashionable Bostonians could pin their first memory to an exact spot. Shortly after lunchtime on a January afternoon in 1838, two hundred curious guests swarmed into the Masonic Grand Lodge downtown. Braving the cold, they came to hear Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), son and grandson of presidents, tell all about his famous family. He felt ready, even eager, to air a few memories. A month earlier, Charles had begun work on his lecture at the special request of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which hosted a series of talks around town. A studious researcher and a curator of the family archive, Charles wanted to share Abigail’s life story with a larger audience. He asked his father, John Quincy, for permission to narrate the private manuscripts in public. “My intention would be to use such of my grandmother’s letters most especially as would illustrate the female character of the age of the Revolution,” Charles wrote. “Of course, the selection must depend upon my discretion and there would be no publication.” When the query reached him, the senior Adams had retrenched in public service. He sent a hasty reply: “Use all the papers at your pleasure.” Charles dove into the project. Here is how her grandson chose to remember Abigail.

Letters of Mrs. Adams
Originally published in 1840, this bestselling work went through multiple editions: Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams

Charles was a systematic reader. Back at the family farm in Quincy, the papers overflowed with love letters and state secrets. He plodded through the stacks, more or less chronologically. In constructing a narrative for his lecture, Charles stuck to the basic timeline of the Revolution. His first pick was an 8 Sept. 1774 letter from John to Abigail. The Massachusetts delegate wrote hurriedly from the Continental Congress: “It would fill Volumes, to give you an Idea of the scenes I behold and the Characters I converse with. We have so much Business, so much Ceremony, so much Company, so many Visits to recive and return, that I have not Time to write. And the Times are such, as render it imprudent to write freely.” In his lecture draft, Charles summarized what happened next in that chain of correspondence: how John Adams compared the Anglo-American politics of the day to those of Julius Caesar; how the Harvard-trained lawyer quoted Shakespeare’s lines on the “shallows” of bravery; how John often addressed Abigail as “Portia.” Charles stressed that John cherished his wife as a confidante and adviser.

Enter Abigail. Two decades after her death, the second First Lady commanded Boston’s biggest stage and reclaimed the nation’s imagination. The first Abigail letter that Charles read was sent to John, dated 24 May 1775, heralding the drumbeat of war. “I wish you was nearer to us. We know not what a day will bring forth, nor what distress one hour may throw us into,” Abigail wrote. “Heitherto I have been able to mantain a calmness and presence of Mind, and hope I shall, let the Exigency of the time be what they will.” Carefully, Charles reconstructed Abigail Adams as an emblem of republic motherhood, a woman who raised her children to guard and grow the nation. In his selection of manuscripts and public remarks, Charles sharply reoriented the Adams family’s political brand around Abigail’s legacy. Appealing to early Victorian views on Christian nurture, he emphasized that women’s domestic influence fueled the American Revolution. Like “light to the diamond,” moral virtue gave to the “political character of a nation all its lustre and its value,” Charles wrote. Women like his grandmother were blessed and burdened to provide it.

Charles Francis Adams carte de visite
Charles Francis Adams, Carte de visite by John & Chas. Watkins, 1862

Abigail Adams’s nature fascinated Charles, and he shared that awe with his audience for at least two hours. He wondered aloud: How did she balance private emotion and public duty? And what  might studying other women’s lives reveal to Americans about the “revolutionary spirit”? He did not include her eloquent plea to “Remember the Ladies,” but he certainly kept her message intact. Thanks to Abigail’s canon, Charles glimpsed a new field for citizens and scholars to explore. “All of the leading actors in the revolutionary drama had mothers or wives or intimate friends with whom they indulged in the expression of their genuine, unadulterated feelings,” Charles said. “And yet when we take a glance over what is now known to exist upon record of them, where do we find anything even tolerably satisfactory to reward our search?” At the first public reading of the Adams Papers, Charles Francis Adams neatly laid out many of the editorial challenges and opportunities that we face today as an editorial project. And his initial encounter with family history encouraged him, as an editor, to learn how to think between the documents. Sometimes his opinions and ideas manifested on the page, when he silently omitted or even “corrected” his grandparents’ words. Yet Charles was the first to impose meaningful order on the archive. He also took on the task of building a presidential library on Peacefield’s leafy grounds.

Did the crowd of 1838 lean forward a little bit more as they listened in on Abigail and John? Charles repeated his lecture to several keen audiences, relieved that his “experiment” was a hit. Heartened by his hard-won popularity as a man of letters, he began compiling a popular edition of Abigail’s correspondence. With a few tweaks, he repurposed his Massachusetts Historical Society talk for use in the introductory memoir. He reminded readers that Abigail’s letters offered a backstage pass to revolutionary drama, and that Americans would benefit from her story. For Charles, remembering Abigail held “double charms…painted by the hand of truth.”

“Light, airy, and genteel”: Abigail Adams on French Women

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

When Abigail Adams arrived in France in August 1784, she must have felt like she had just landed on the moon. In all 39 years of her life, Abigail had never been south of Plymouth, north of Haverhill, west of Worcester, or east of Massachusetts Bay.

Twelve years earlier, Abigail wrote a letter to her cousin Isaac Smith Jr., who was traveling in London. She wanted to ask him “ten thousand Questions” about Europe. “Had nature formed me of the other Sex, I should certainly have been a rover,” she told him. Abigail explained to Isaac that it was too dangerous for a woman to travel alone and that by the time a woman has a husband with whom to travel, she also has a house to maintain and children to raise, creating “obstacles sufficent to prevent their Roving.” Already a mother of a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and an 11-month-old, Abigail believed she had missed her chance to travel. “Instead of visiting other Countries; [women] are obliged to content themselves with seeing but a very small part of their own.” For these reasons, she told Isaac, “to your Sex we are most of us indebted for all the knowledg we acquire of Distant lands.”

One can’t help but wonder if Abigail remembered writing those words as her carriage bounced through the French countryside en route to her new residence in Auteuil, just outside of Paris. Whether or not she remembered that specific letter, she remembered the feeling of being stuck at home while her male relations traveled. She determined to write long, detailed letters to her female acquaintances, especially her nieces Elizabeth and Lucy Cranch, in an attempt to expand their worldview and to provide them with a female’s perspective of Europe.

In her letters to Elizabeth and Lucy, Abigail described the architecture of theatres, the designs of French gardens, and holiday customs. But John or John Quincy could have done that. That’s one of the things that makes Abigail’s letters remarkable—that she bothered to write to her nieces at all—something their uncle and cousin had largely neglected to do.

Left: Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, Madame Helvétius; Right: Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, Marquise de Lafayette

Travel books could describe architecture and provide maps, but there wasn’t one that provided a New England woman’s perception of French women. Though her correspondents entreated Abigail to divulge what French women were actually like, Abigail really only became acquainted with two women during her nine months in France—Dr. Franklin’s friend Madame Helvétius and the Marquise de Lafayette. The former “highly disgusted” her with her untidiness of dress and lewd manners; the latter charmed her immediately. When she arrived at the Lafayettes’ front door, “the Marquise. . .with the freedom of an old acquaintance and the Rapture peculiar to the Ladies of this Nation caught me by the hand and gave me a salute upon each cheek, most heartily rejoiced to see me. You would have supposed I had been some long absent Friend, whom she dearly loved.”

Unless she was with the Marquise, who spoke English well, Abigail felt isolated by her ignorance of the French language and took to observing rather than conversing. “It is from my observations of the French ladies at the theatres and public walks, that my chief knowledge of them is derived,” she explained to family friend Hannah Quincy Lincoln Storer. She accordingly described what French women communicated beyond words: “The dress of the French ladies is, like their manners, light, airy, and genteel. They are easy in their deportment, eloquent in their speech, their voices soft and musical, and their attitude pleasing.”

She observed to her sister Mary that “Fashion is the Deity every one worships in this country and from the highest to the lowest you must submit.” During her stay in Europe, Abigail mailed fashion magazines and patterns home so her friends could see what was a la mode and included silk or ribbons whenever possible so they could try the designs for themselves. She gave strict instructions, such as that “the stomacher must be of the petticoat color” and “gowns and petticoats are worn without any trimming of any kind.” Abigail added that Marie Antoinette had set the trend of “dressing very plain. . .but caps, hats, and handkerchiefs are as various as ladies’ and milliners’ fancies can devise.”

Marie Antoinette en chemise, 1783 portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Abigail never resigned herself to French attitudes towards sex and marriage, but she came to admire the easy elegance of French women and found herself missing them when she, John, and their daughter, Nabby, relocated to London in April 1785. She noticed that the English tried to copy French fashions but ended up “divest[ing] them both of taste and Elegance.” Abigail’s brush with European style convinced her that “our fair Country women would do well to establish fashions of their own; let Modesty be the first, ingredient, neatness the second and Economy the third. Then they cannot fail of being Lovely.”

“On the Borders of Nonsense”: John Quincy Adams, Poet

By Rhonda Barlow, Adams Papers

It was a rainy day in May 1839 and John Quincy Adams, stuck inside, was amusing himself writing poetry. He was trying to imitate the Roman poet Horace, and outdo the English poet Alexander Pope. Horace’s Ode 4.9  encapsulated the idea that without a poet to praise him, the hero was forgotten. Achilles had Homer, Satan had Milton, and Lollius had Horace.

As Pope wrote in his Imitations of Horace,

Sages and chiefs long since had birth
Ere Cæsar was, or Newton named;
Those raised new empires o’er the earth,
And these new heavens and systems framed.

 Vain was the chief’s, the sage’s pride!
They had no poet, and they died!
In vain they schemed, in vain they bled!
They had no poet, and are dead.

With his sarcastic sense of humor, John Quincy admired Horace, and understood that Horace was being ironic: Lollius was not worthy of a poet, yet would be remembered because of Horace. John Quincy caught the irony with these lines of his own:

The pebble on the beach outshines
The Diamond sleeping in the mines
And hidden from the day.

Who were the poets with the power to rescue the heroes from oblivion? Pope had the advantage of England’s rich literary history, and named John Milton and Edmund Spencer. But the young United States had nothing to compare. Undaunted, John Quincy reached back to the classical past:

Hark! on your ears, Tibullus steals
Lucretius Nature’s Law reveals
And Juvenal’s caustic burns.

Anyone familiar with the testy satires of the Roman poet Juvenal can appreciate the jauntiness of the final line. As John Quincy wrote in the margin of his diary, “and here I stick on the borders of nonsense.”

John Quincy spent days working on his poem, captivated by the idea that both the poet and the hero could escape death: “What a magnificent panegyric upon his friend. What consciousness of his own transcendent powers! what a sublime conception of the gifts of poetical inspiration!”

He had not always held Horace’s “consciousness” in such high esteem. Fifty-three years earlier, John Quincy, after reading Horace boast that “I have built a monument more lasting than bronze” and “a great part of me shall escape death,” wrote in his diary:

“I finished this morning the third book of Horace’s Odes. Many of them are very fine, and the last one shows he was himself, sufficiently Sensible of it. When a Poet promises immortality to himself, he is always on the safe side of the Question, for if his works die with him, or soon after him, no body ever can accuse him of vanity or arrogance: but if his predictions are verified, he is considered not only as a Poet, but as a Prophet.”

John Quincy Adams’ diary permits us to see his long engagement with Horace, from his days as a schoolboy to the closing years of his life. As he wrote to his brother, Thomas Boylston, in 1802: “When once a man takes up Horace, it is not easy to lay him down again.”

“I like your Letters much, they are so much like you.”: Abigail and John Adams II

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

He was mischievous and fond of pranks, long walks through the Massachusetts countryside, and nights full of dancing. He was uncommonly handsome, had a mess of brown curls on top of his head, and was exceedingly popular with the young women of Quincy. Abigail often found herself daydreaming of his “rosy cheeks” and “Sparkling Eyes.” His name was John Adams.

No, not the John Adams who signed the Declaration of Independence—his grandson and namesake, John Adams II. If one could handcraft the ideal grandson for Abigail Adams, one could scarcely do better. He shared his grandmother’s passionate enthusiasm for his native land, especially Massachusetts, shared his grandfather’s name, and was even born on the Fourth of July. When he was very young, he thought all the festivities were to celebrate his birthday—to the great amusement of his grandmother. Even by his twelfth birthday, Abigail was not ready to let the joke go. “You notice Your Birth day, and say you are twelve years old. I do assure you Sir, it was celebrated here, not withstanding Your absence as usual; with the ringing of Bells public orations, military parade and Social festivals.”

Abigail and John’s extant correspondence amounts to twenty letters. It is clear from internal references to other letters that they exchanged many more. The richest portion of their correspondence took place between 1815 and 1817, while John was living in Ealing (west London) with his parents, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams. His younger brother, Charles Francis, had spent six of his eight years traveling Europe with their parents, and his older brother, George, appeared to John to be adjusting well. John Adams II, who had only lived with his parents full time for the first two years of his life before they left him in Quincy in the name of public duty, struggled terribly to adjust, as his letters to his grandmother reveal.

If anyone in his family understood what it meant to be stranded in London and longing for Massachusetts, it was his grandmother. There is a striking resemblance between the letters Abigail wrote home during her husband’s tenure as the first American minister to the Court of St. James and the letters she received from her homesick twelve-year-old grandson. Just as Abigail frequently requested local gossip and updates on all her friends and relations when she was abroad, she supplied John with stories and trivialities: “The young Masters and misses had a fine Ball at Hingham, and wanted you, who love dancing so well,” she once reported.

John gloomily replied, “I do not like England near so well as America nor do I think I should like any country so well as my native Country. Oh how I wish I was in America with my Parents at Quincy with you . . . I should have been very glad to have been at the Ball at Hingham with my old acquaintances.”

Abigail obviously missed him just as much, writing, “I love the Chamber where you used to play your pranks, Study Your lessons and take Your repose.” She told him that she had preserved the room exactly as he had left it, as if he could walk back into the room at any moment. “The cain You used to take Your walks with from Hingham, I have placed in my closset . . . your military accourtrements are Still preserved as they were.”

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Poignantly, Abigail often closed her letters to her grandson with concern that, considering her age and health, she would never see him in person again. In 1817, John Quincy Adams was recalled from England to serve as President James Monroe’s secretary of state. Now fourteen, John Adams II, his two brothers, and his parents returned home to Quincy, where they spent the summer living at the Old House with John and Abigail. “Be assured,” John Quincy’s father had written to him before their voyage to America, “it will be the most joyful part of my Life to receive and enjoy you all with open Arms.”In 1818, the final year of Abigail’s life, her beloved grandson was never farther away from her than the eight-mile carriage ride to Boston Latin School. Whether eight miles or 3,300 miles, Abigail reminded John that, “You know not . . . how very near my heart you are.”

New Transcriptions Released for John Quincy Adams’ Diary

By Neal Millikan, Digital Projects Editor

Amid his daily whirl of diplomatic duties, John Quincy Adams paused to reflect on his latest dispatch to President James Monroe. After several rewrites, Adams had drafted a course of action that would shape American foreign policy for more than a century, and he was proud of it. “I considered this as the most important paper that ever went from my hands,” John Quincy wrote of his role in formulating the Monroe Doctrine, in which the United States called for European non-intervention in the western hemisphere and specifically in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American nations. This week, you can explore the Era of Good Feelings anew, thanks to our release of the next set of transcriptions on The John Quincy Adams Diary Digital Project covering March 1821 to February 1825 when he served as secretary of state for Monroe’s second presidential term.

John Quincy also kept a close eye on the American political landscape during these years. Sectional divisions and the personal rivalries between the men seeking to succeed President Monroe made this a particularly contentious period. The campaign for the 1824 election began in 1821, and eventually four viable candidates emerged: Adams, Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, and General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson led the popular as well as the electoral vote; however, no candidate obtained the majority of votes necessary for election. The vote then fell to the House of Representatives where each state, regardless of population, had one vote, and a majority of the states was necessary for election. John Quincy finally won the contest in February 1825.

Throughout this period, John Quincy’s family remained a significant private concern. His three sons—George Washington Adams, John Adams 2d, and Charles Francis Adams—struggled academically at Harvard, and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams suffered from bouts of poor health. He maintained his exercise regimen of swimming in the spring and summer and walking in the fall and winter. He also continued to faithfully keep his diary entries—a difficult task due to his busy work schedule and growing number of daily office visitors: “I never exclude any one. But necessary and important business suffers, by the unavoidable waste of time.” For an overview of John Quincy’s life during these years, read the headnotes for each chronological period or, navigate to the entries to begin reading the diary.

Of Adamses & Ancestry

By Sara Georgini, The Adams Papers

John A. Grace, Memoranda Respecting the Families of Quincy and Adams, 1841

For historian Henry Adams, the morning mail meant a fresh round of research questions. “Here comes your troublesome genealogical cousin again,” Elizabeth Coombs Adams wrote in early 1893. Paging through the Adams archive and sweeping up reminiscences to file, Elizabeth was laboring to compile the family history. She joined a long train of Adamses who devoted time and money to polishing up new accounts of their genealogy. Knee-deep in piles of stray notes and record scraps before the likes of research hubs like Ancestry.com, they turned to wheels, charts, and trees to draft the presidential family’s Anglo-American origins story. Today, let’s take a quick look at the Victorian Adamses’ adventures in genealogy, and who they thought they were.

John Adams and son John Quincy picked through family memories and town records to uncover and curate their version of the early American past. Piecing together shared evidence did not yield the same story. Father and son split over the exact region of their English roots. But both presidents staked claim to a Puritan lineage that played well with constituents. Highlighting their role in the Puritan ordeal of suffering, immigration, and settlement, the Adams statesmen linked themselves to a history of religious toleration and political dissent. When it came to genealogical pursuits, their methods varied, too. The elder Adams’ approach to genealogy was impulsive. He dashed off “minute” memoranda of random finds, listing births and deaths as he encountered them in odd pages of his father’s books. Strategically, he wove Puritan family ties into the revolutionary rationale that powered his Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law (1765).

John A. Grace, Memoranda Respecting the Families of Quincy and Adams, 1841

His son, John Quincy, approached the task with trademark rigor and a passion for verification. Highly scientific and systematic in his effort, the sixth president scoured town records and newspapers, copied out church membership lists, and checked material in his family papers against those of other early Americans. John Quincy’s scholarly bent for fact-checking was aided by a rising set of organizations that steered the antebellum practice of personal history, like the Massachusetts Historical Society (1791), the Boston Athenaeum (1807), and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (1845). More than a hobby to fill the diplomat’s rare downtime, genealogy was a way for John Quincy to exercise his skills as a gentleman scholar. It was a task to pass along across the generations, and so he handed it off to his son, Charles Francis, with the family’s large set of seals and copper bookplates. On 28 Feb. 1831, he laid down what he knew of the Adams ancestry and colorful heraldry in a detailed missive. “File this letter away,” John Quincy instructed, “for the age when the passion of genealogy shall take possession of you.”

Stoked by his highly successful publication of Abigail Adams’ letters in 1840, Charles’ interest in the family past blossomed steadily throughout his life. Like many Americans, he invested in Lemuel Shattuck’s Family Register book. The blank album featured tidy charts and wheels to organize the machinery of family for presentation. Stocked with a template narrative for each ancestor and stern guidelines for nascent family historians, Shattuck’s book commanded that facts–and not opinions–must guide the process. There were, Shattuck lectured, many kinds of facts to collect, and they should be updated on a monthly basis. His categories veered from the mundane to the moral: health, religious tendencies, phrenological oddities, children’s expenses, real estate descriptions, vaccinations, public offices held, and “plans for private intellectual improvement.” Dutifully, Charles began the book, making lists and skipping the intricate wheels. He never finished it, likely thinking that the family’s cache of letterbooks, correspondence, and diaries filled in the rest.

Charles Francis Adams, entries in Family Register, 1841

Or maybe Charles realized he didn’t need to do all the research alone. Genealogy had, after all, evolved into a new American pastime. By 1841, at least one reader of Abigail’s published letters reached out (from Havana!) with new clues to the more distant Adamses. John A. Grace delved into the complex English roots of the Adams, Quincy, and Boylston lines. To Charles, he sent a vivid, hand-colored memorandum of the Adamses’ related heraldic arms with details cobbled together from foreign records. Grace put forth an idea that Charles and his children, including Henry, came to champion: that the family descended from the Welsh baronial clan of ap-Adams. Over time, more Adamses went on to swarm the archives, eagerly hunting for familiar faces in history’s mirror. Henry Adams, holding his cousin’s query, sniffed that he did not “invest in the genealogy.” But, as the Adams Papers reveal, Henry made just as many charts as others did, diligently tracing out his great grandparents’ lines on graph paper (see Reel 603 of P-54, the Adams Family Papers microfilm). Even Henry Adams could not resist family history forever.

A Genealogical Tree of the Adams, Cranch, & DeWindt Families, 1928

John Quincy Adams and the Allens

By Lindsey Woolcock, Adams Papers Intern

In October 1837, John Quincy Adams was reading the newspaper, when he came across an advertisement for a slave sale.

There was in the National Intelligencer this morning an advertisement, signed James H. Birch … headed Sale of Slaves—A sale at public auction at 4 O’Clock this afternoon, of Dorcas Allen, and her two surviving children aged about 7. and 9. years (the other two having been killed by said Dorcas in a fit of insanity as found by the jury who lately acquitted her)… (23 October 1837)

Dorcas Allen was promised her freedom multiple times by her owners, the Davises. Though informally released from slavery, after multiple deaths and remarriages in the Davis family, Allen was left without the papers she needed to legally secure her freedom. Allen and her four children were taken from the District of Columbia to a slave prison in Alexandria, Virginia; there Allen killed her two youngest children and attempted unsuccessfully to commit suicide. She was put on trial for murder but acquitted on grounds of insanity.

This story deeply affected John Quincy. In his later years, he began taking more of an active stance against slavery. He presented dozens of antislavery petitions to an unresponsive House of Representatives, leading to the establishment of the House’s “gag” rule, where all petitions relating to slavery were laid aside without discussion.

His succeeding diary entries talk about visiting the auction house where Dorcas was to be sold in order to discover more information. He met with Nathan Allen, Dorcas’s husband, who was trying to raise enough money to purchase his wife and the two children from Birch. He also met with Dorcas, who came with her husband to ask for the $50 that John Quincy promised to contribute toward her purchase.

After that meeting, Dorcas and Nathan Allen and their children disappear. John Quincy seems to have never met with them again. We don’t know what happened to Dorcas and her children, yet these brief moments in Adams’s voluminous diary offer small glimpses into the parallel worlds of the black and white communities of Washington, D.C.

Over the summer that I’ve transcribed John Quincy’s diary, I’ve watched many seemingly random people show up in his parlor: a Quaker woman who gave a sermon and advised him to maintain a steady course in the House of Representatives; men visiting “out of curiosity”; a Scottish silkworm breeder who spoke so long about his worms that John Quincy didn’t have time to write letters of introduction for an earlier visitor. You never know who’s going to show up, and these meetings always struck me as odd. How do you just show up at the home of the former President of the United States? Do you just knock on the front door?

But a story like the Allens’s in particular struck me: what was that meeting like? How did Dorcas and Nathan feel? And what happened to their family afterward?