Harvard Theses, 1787: Detail from John Quincy Adams' Mathematical Theses 257
The broadside, measuring approximately 25 by 16 1/2 inches, was a compilation of questions based on subjects studied by members of the class of 1787. All Harvard graduating seniors were assumed to be able to answer these propositions in Latin if an inquiring alumnus posed them. The propositions were compiled by four theses collectors chosen by members of the class at the beginning of the senior year. The four areas assigned were technology, grammar, and rhetoric; logic, metaphysics, ethics, theology, and politics; mathematics; and physics. To his surprise, John Quincy Adams was selected as mathematics collector. He proudly wrote to his father: “Little did I think, when you gave me those Lessons at Auteuil, which you call our suppers, that they would have been productive of this effect. It is a laborious task, and will confine my studies for the ensuing year, much more to the mathematics, than, I should have done if I had been left at my own disposal.” John Adams approvingly told his son that “the Same part fell to my Share in the Year 1755” (JQA, Diary, 26 Aug. 1786
, below; JQA to JA, 30 Aug. 1786
; JA to JQA, 10 Jan. 1787
, Adams Papers
Adams worked on the theses off and on throughout the winter and early spring, occasionally mentioning in his Diary his troubles with “fluxions” (differential calculus). Eventually he passed them on for approval and was later in charge of the publication of the sheet. In later years, Charles Francis Adams or Charles Francis Adams 2d donated a number of these 1787 theses sheets to Harvard. The one reproduced here shows insertions in Adams' more mature hand denoting the names or initials of the theses collectors. Two of the theses (in metaphysics and ethics), printed in bold type, were used as topics for “syllogistic disputations” in the commencement program.
Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2007.