The Family Becomes International
These volumes record a remarkable expansion of the corresponding Adams family in several dimensions—geographical, cultural, and generational—in just three years. In October 1782, the family's letter-writing is dominated entirely by Abigail and John Adams, as it had been since the 1760s. Their two older children and Abigail's sisters and uncles are seldom heard from; their two younger children are silent. And while both John and John Quincy Adams had become seasoned diplomats and traveled all over northern Europe in the preceding four years, Abigail and her daughter, Abigail Adams 2d (often called Nabby or Amelia by her parents and friends), were still living a largely rural life in Braintree, with brief excursions to adjacent communities and to Boston.
By the close of these volumes, in December 1785, the family's life had changed dramatically. In 1784 Abigail and Abigail 2d, who had never ventured more than fifty miles from Braintree, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to England to join John and John Quincy, and all four crossed the Channel to France. In 1785 the women returned with John to London, while John Quincy returned to America. In eighteen months both Abigail and her daughter became acute observers and accomplished, if somewhat reluctant, participants in the cosmopolitan diplomatic communities of Paris and London.
The Adams men kept moving, and busy. Young John Quincy, returning in the winter of 1782–1783 from fourteen months in Russia, extended his already considerable travels to include Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and northern Germany. John Adams augmented his diplomatic triumphs, begun in Holland in 1780–1782, with the successful negotiation of peace with Great Britain in 1782–1783 in Paris and his reception by George III in 1785 as America's first minister to Britain. Finally, John Quincy Adams' return to Massachusetts in 1785 to complete his education occasioned a great enrichment of the Adams' transatlantic correspondence, begun by his parents in 1778. This
exchange of observations and ideas across the ocean would remain a prominent feature of the Adams family through four generations.
As the family grew and its travels increased, so did its important correspondences. In the war years the rich conjugal exchange between Abigail and John Adams, begun in the 1760s, grew larger, and Abigail developed important new correspondents, notably her cousin John Thaxter and congressman James Lovell. With the coming of peace and the reuniting of the family in Europe, the range of correspondents expanded again.
Following their reunion in August 1784, the correspondence between Abigail and John ceased, not to resume until 1789. In the year before joining Abigail and Abigail 2d, however, John and John Quincy, who had exchanged occasional letters for years, began to develop a correspondence that takes on the character of an exchange between two adults, if not quite between two equals. Abigail Adams 2d, a shy and reserved writer in her early teens, began to assert her personality, first through a more frequent correspondence with her cousin Elizabeth Cranch, then in letters from France to several relatives in Massachusetts, and finally from London, in an exchange of long, informative journal-style letters with her brother John Quincy. Abigail Adams, far from relinquishing her central role in the Adams family correspondence, greatly enlarged it by maintaining her lively exchange with John Thaxter, increasing that with her younger sister Elizabeth Shaw, and establishing new and highly interesting exchanges with her elder sister Mary Cranch and Mary's daughters Elizabeth and Lucy, with her uncle Cotton Tufts, and with Thomas Jefferson.
In the fall of 1782, however, neither the mood of Congress nor the hopes of any Adams pointed toward so expansive a future for the family. Congress was beginning to appreciate John Adams' recent financial and diplomatic achievements in the Netherlands, and several of its members were becoming critical of Adams' rival Benjamin Franklin as they became concerned about French influence over America's negotiations with Great Britain. But Congress' primary objective in 1782–1783 was to conclude peace as quickly as possible and reduce its presence abroad. Whatever reservations he had about this restrictive plan for American foreign policy in principle, John Adams eagerly anticipated his own release from service in Europe.
Both Abigail and John accepted the necessity of spending another winter apart to secure a good peace with Great Britain, though Abigail occasionally rebelled. In October, repeating an offer made the
month before, she considered crossing the dreaded Atlantic Ocean: “I cannot O! I cannot be reconcild 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?”1
John for the moment stood firm, willing to endure an even longer separation: “If We make Peace, you will see me next summer. But I have very little faith as yet. I am most inclind to think there will be another Campaign.” Abigail's proposal to join him, he explained, was impractical. He was going to have to leave his comfortable residence in the American legation at The Hague, where he had just concluded America's first treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands, and live in rented quarters in Paris while negotiating the peace; he might even have to travel to Vienna.2
Soon he became unsure whether Congress would retain his services even for another year in the face of pro-French, pro-Franklin forces; at the same time he began thinking that it might be better for his wife and daughter to join him in Europe.3
This was but the first of several changes in John Adams' thoughts about how best to reunite his family. In December 1782 he wrote Abigail that, “upon the whole, I think it will be most for the Happiness of my Family, and most for the Honour of our Country that I should come home
” with John Quincy.4
Now, after negotiating a satisfactory preliminary peace, he asked Congress to relieve him from his duties immediately. He stuck to this resolve through the following September, remaining in Paris to sign the definitive treaty only because the British Parliament, caught up in a change in ministries and bitter recriminations over its failure to retain its North American colonies, could not resolve to conclude it earlier, while Congress, riven by factions, could not decide whether to retire John Adams or to assign him to further diplomatic labors. Moreover, John promised Abigail that his retirement from public life would be permanent: “you may depend upon a good domestic husband, for the remainder of my Life, if it is the Will of Heaven that I should once more meet you.”5
In these months of political and diplomatic stalemate, trying for both John and Abigail Adams, the thoughts of both parents turned
to their children. John, from December 1782 to March 1783, was deeply concerned over the safety and whereabouts of John Quincy, who was making his way slowly, though quite happily, through a cold winter in Sweden, Denmark, and northern Germany.6
Abigail was equally distracted by the opening of one of the more obscure chapters in the family's history: the courtship of young Abigail by a lawyer recently moved to Braintree, Royall Tyler.
The Adamses involvement with Royall Tyler—for it was very much a family affair—threatened to create the first serious conflict between the first and second generations, and even more between the parents themselves. But this courtship, informal engagement, and dissolution, potentially most revealing of the family's inner dynamics, is partly obscured by the loss or destruction of the letters exchanged between Abigail Adams 2d and Royall Tyler, and by young Abigail's apparent decision not to make the slightest mention of Tyler in her correspondence with any other person. Everything that is known about the affair appears in the correspondence in these volumes, and in a few letters of early 1786, which are projected for inclusion in the next volume in this series.
The courtship's most visible and dramatic effect on the family came at its outset, as Abigail felt compelled to write to John about Tyler's suit and their daughter's gradually awakening response. Because she was even more charmed by Tyler than was her daughter, whom she described as being quite discreet, and “happy in not possessing all her Mothers sensibility,” Abigail sang the young man's praises to John. Because she was honest, and knew her husband's honesty, she felt obligated to admit that Tyler had been “rather negligent in persueing his buisness in the way of his profession; and dissipated two or 3 years of his Life and too much of his fortune for to reflect upon with pleasure.” He had since reformed, she assured John, and was on his way to success: “he cannot fail making a distinguished figure in his profession if he steadily persues it.”7
John Adams' response, by chance an unusually prompt one in a period of slow transatlantic mail, was explosive. In the middle of a January 1783 letter to Abigail, begun on other matters, he received her December letter, read it, and penned the angriest lines that he had ever written to Abigail:
I confess I dont like the Subject at all. . . . My Child is a Model, as you represent her and as I know her, and is not to be the Prize, I hope of any, even reformed Rake. . . .
In the Name of all that is tender dont criticise Your Daughter for those qualities which are her greatest Glory her Reserve, and her Prudence which I am amazed to hear you call Want of Sensibility. The more Silent She is in Company, the better for me in exact Proportion and I would have this observed as a Rule by the Mother as well as the Daughter.8
After this inauspicious beginning Abigail Adams retreated, while retaining her affection and admiration for Royall Tyler. The young lovers agreed to cool their relationship, although it is not known what Abigail told them about John's reaction to Tyler. John Adams gradually calmed down, and by the fall of 1783 he began signaling a willingness to consider Tyler's suit. And Royall Tyler was persistent. By the spring of 1784 he had fully engaged young Abigail's affections, retained her mother's approval, and won over her father. This happened too late for a formal engagement before mother and daughter sailed for England, but Abigail Adams 2d and Royall Tyler had an understanding, and the family expected that they would marry.
Abigail, meanwhile, had other family concerns. Her younger sons, Charles and Thomas Boylston, needed a more formal education than she could arrange for them in Braintree. During the winter she attempted to enroll the boys with a schoolmaster in Hingham, and she inquired about the new Phillips Academy in Andover, but she found both places full. In April 1783 she sent them to Haverhill to live with her younger sister, Elizabeth Smith Shaw, and prepare for college with her brother-in-law, the Reverend John Shaw. Abigail's elder sister, Mary Smith Cranch, sent her son William to study with Shaw at the same time.9
In 1785–1786, John Quincy Adams would also prepare for college with Shaw. This arrangement helped bond the larger Adams-Smith family closer together at a time when its Adams members were physically separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
The great work of the winter, spring, and summer of 1783, for both John and Abigail Adams, was waiting: waiting for Britain to conclude a definitive peace; waiting for Congress to decide John Adams' fate; and Abigail's waiting for John to decide whether to return to America or to ask her to join him in Europe. In these long months Abigail Adams found solace in her children and in her circle of local friends and relatives. As she had in the war years, she managed the family
farm with skill and paid Massachusetts' increasing war-debt taxes. On her own initiative (with John Adams' approval), she acquired small pieces of adjacent land to build up the family estate and made other small investments. She found her greatest pleasure in her correspondence with John Adams, and with his two young secretaries. Abigail's letters to John Thaxter and Charles Storer, mixing flirtatious teasing with a maternal affection, afforded her more of the light humor she had earlier shared with James Lovell.10
John Adams, feeling more isolated, received some relief from his tedium with John Quincy's return to Holland in late April. Father and son exchanged over a dozen letters in the next three months, and in July, John traveled there on business, and brought John Quincy back to Paris to be his personal secretary, replacing Storer, who had just moved to England, and Thaxter, who was soon to depart for America. For the next year John Quincy Adams would be his father's closest companion.
In September 1783, John Adams' long wait ended. On 3 September, the United States and Great Britain signed the definitive peace treaty in Paris. On 7 September, John received word that Congress had resolved to appoint him to head a three-man delegation, with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, to negotiate a commercial treaty with Britain. The news somewhat surprised and highly gratified Adams. He had felt throughout 1782–1783 that the only condition under which he would stay on in Europe was the full restoration of his honor, lost in the ascendancy of Franklin and the pro-French policy of 1781, through the renewal of his old commission to negotiate a commercial treaty with Britain. This condition now appeared to have been met.11
Although the news that Congress intended to reappoint him, received in September 1783, preceded by nearly a year his receiving word that Congress actually had reappointed him, John Adams promptly accepted the challenge and wrote to Abigail, asking her to come to Europe as soon as possible in the spring of 1784.12
determination that Abigail and Abigail 2d join him was now unwavering. He repeated his request in every letter written in October and November, and only in January 1784 did he even concede the wisdom of Abigail's waiting to see exactly what Congress would do for him before she sailed from Boston.13
Abigail saw things differently. Throughout 1783 she hoped for John's return, and at no time before late November did she consider crossing the ocean herself. One strong bond holding her to Massachusetts had recently dissolved. Writing to John on 20 September, she poured out her grief:
My dearest Friend
Dearer if possible than ever; for all the parental props which once sustaind and supported me are fallen! My Father, my Father, where is he? With Humble confidence I can say; he is with the spirits of just Men made perfect, become an inhabitant of that Country, from whose Bourn no traveller returns.14
But even after the death of the Reverend William Smith, on 17 September, Abigail's attitude toward joining John in Europe was unchanged: John must reject any new appointment if Congress offered one; his children needed him in America; and although she had, the previous winter, steeled her will to make the hazardous ocean crossing if necessary, “the train of my Ideas for six months past has run wholy upon your return; . . . nothing short of an assurence from you, that your happiness depended upon it, would induce me to alter my oppinion.”15
The arrival in late November of John's 10 September letter forced Abigail to confront the journey directly, but still she resisted. A winter's crossing, she declared, “I cannot possibly think of encountering.” Moreover, despite the assurances that John Adams would be given a new commission, Congress “have not yet made any appointment to the Court of Britain,” and many Americans were seeking the post, with “many more thousands to claim it with.” Finally, Abigail Adams did not wish to see John Adams appointed to another diplomatic post, especially to Britain:
. . . to think of going to England in a publick Character, and resideing there; engageing at my time of life in Scenes quite New, attended with dissipation parade and Nonsence; I am sure I should make an awkward figure. The
retired Domestick circle “the feast of reason and the flow of soul” are my Ideas of happiness, and my most ardent wish is, to have you return and become Master of the Feast.16
In December, Abigail thought no better of going to England or Europe. The return in the middle of that month of John Adams' secretary John Thaxter, from Paris, and of Adams' friend and diplomatic colleague Francis Dana, from Russia, only intensified her longing that John, too, should return. But in January 1784 the receipt of John's fall letters so alarmed Abigail with news of his recent illness and raised such fears for his health at The Hague, to which he now proposed to post himself, that she began making plans to sail to Europe in the spring.17
She made it clear to John, however, that her departure was contingent upon hearing that Congress had finally decided to appoint him to a secure and honorable position.18
In May, Elbridge Gerry informed Abigail that Congress had appointed John Adams to head a three-man commission, with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to negotiate commercial treaties, not only with Great Britain, but with virtually every European power that might be interested.19
The last external obstacle to Abigail's joining her husband had been cleared.
John Adams' life, so tedious and frustrating from January through August 1783, now became by turns perilous and exciting. In mid-September, less than two weeks after signing the treaty with Great Britain, he fell ill and suffered an intense fever for nearly a month, recovering only by moving from Paris to the quiet suburb of Auteuil. Upon his recovery, a combination of unaccustomed leisure, natural curiosity, and a desire to strengthen his exhausted body with the salubrious waters at Bath prompted him, with John Quincy, to make his first visit to England, from late October to early January.20
Father and son finally had time to be simple tourists and enjoy the sights of London. And although John knew that he might soon return to London in an official capacity, his contacts with British political leaders were few, perfunctory, and private.21
This pleasant interlude ended suddenly when John received word that he must proceed to Holland immediately to attempt to save
America's failing credit by negotiating a second Dutch loan. Crossing the North Sea in winter, both by boat and on foot across the ice along the Dutch coast, John and John Quincy Adams reached The Hague in mid-January, and resided there, with short trips to Amsterdam, until the summer. John pursued the Dutch loan, waited for Congress to grant him the commission he considered his due, and waited for his wife and daughter to arrive in England. John Quincy resumed his studies, particularly of the Latin classics. Both were rewarded with success, in an unusually relaxed and productive winter and spring.22
Abigail Adams' spring was more anxious. From early January until her departure in June she heard nothing from John, who so firmly believed that she would soon depart from Boston that he wrote no letters to her from late January until July. Still hoping for a letter and reluctant to face the early spring storms, Abigail delayed her departure from April to May, and then to June. She had two better reasons for her delay: a prospect of traveling with friends; and her desire to hear that Congress had in fact reappointed John Adams to a substantial term of diplomatic work. By May her friends had decided not to go to England; by early June she learned that John had been appointed to head the commission to negotiate new commercial treaties, and that the commission's work would take at least two years.23
While Abigail was waiting for news and making preparations to depart, John Adams, for reasons that are obscure, became so convinced that she had sailed with Captain Callahan in April that he sent his son to London in mid-May to welcome her. John Quincy Adams turned his five weeks in the metropolis to advantage by attending debates in the House of Commons and pleadings at the Court of Chancery, and his journey resulted in an exchange of over a dozen fine letters between father and son, their first really adult correspondence.24
But in early June, Callahan arrived without Abigail, and toward the end of the month John Quincy returned to The Hague, with no word of when she would arrive.
On 20 June, Abigail Adams, with her daughter and two young servants freshly recruited from Braintree, sailed from Boston for London on the merchant ship Active
. This was a courageous voyage for Abigail. At age thirty-nine she had never been south of Plymouth,
north of Haverhill, west of Worcester, or east of Massachusetts Bay. She was uneasy about traveling without a male relation or close friend; she remembered with dread John saying that a lady at sea, suffering from seasickness, was a most odious creature; and she was terrified of the sea. But, as she observed in her last letter to John before her departure, “let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves untill circumstances call us to act.”25
Abigail Adams in Europe
From the time of her departure for Europe in June 1784 until the Adamses moved to London in May 1785, Abigail Adams' correspondence exhibited a different style from that which had characterized it during the preceding six years. Abigail's earlier letters were dominated by the concerns of John Adams, who relied upon her, above all his other correspondents, to supply him with news from Congress as well as periodic bulletins on Massachusetts politics. Her faithful performance of this duty, one for which she had a strong natural interest and great ability, gave her letters a more public tone, with less personal and domestic information, than one would expect from an eighteenth-century wife and mother.
Following his commission to negotiate commercial treaties in May 1784, however, John Adams' diplomatic position had little of the uncertainty that had characterized the previous three years. His additional appointment, in February 1785, as minister to Great Britain, was a deeply satisfying capstone to his diplomatic career. Moreover, whereas in Massachusetts, Abigail had felt free to write of American politics to John in Europe, as a diplomat's wife she did not feel quite so free to write about European politics back to America. Besides, several of her American correspondents were less interested in politics than John Adams had been. Finally, since the American commissioners in Paris made relatively modest progress in negotiating important commercial treaties in 1784–1785, Abigail had less crucial political information to convey. In eight months in France, until late April when the Adamses learned of John's appointment to the Court of St. James's, Abigail only rarely speculated about the
family's possible move to England, and she made relatively few observations about current political issues.26
In her own domestic world before her departure, the minutiae of Abigail's daily life in Braintree were well known to her friends and relations; and with the exception of reporting on the impact of the wartime economy on her village and farm, she had largely ignored such details in her letters to John. From July 1784, however, Abigail was writing to her sisters and close friends from places where neither she nor they had ever been. Her move to Europe caused Abigail to shift her primary focus from the formal public world to her own daily life and that of her family, and to the social and cultural world of the largely public figures among whom she was living.
The change is immediately apparent in the first letter Abigail wrote after her departure from America. Begun at sea and completed in London, her thirty-page journal-style letter is the longest in these two volumes, and one of the richest in content.27
Expressions of virtually every facet of Abigail's personality and vivid portraits of a dozen persons around her mingle with colorful accounts of an ocean crossing, travel through the English countryside, and daily life in London, with its plays and shows, its formal manners and its custom of rising, taking meals, entertaining guests, and retiring for the night so much later than any Massachusetts Yankee was accustomed to doing. A prominent feature of the narrative is the eagerness with which Bostonians in London, including several loyalist refugees, sought out Abigail Adams, and the pleasure she took in receiving and returning their visits. Along with half a dozen shorter but still substantial letters by both Abigail and Abigail 2d, written in July and August, this journal-letter gives the fullest view of London life in the Adams correspondence before John Adams began his duties as United States minister to Great Britain the following June.
The Adams women's first stay in England was brief. John and John Quincy, at The Hague, received word of their impending arrival just one day before Abigail and her daughter landed at Deal, England, on 20 July. From a letter carried by Abigail, John Adams learned that Thomas Jefferson had been appointed to the three-man diplomatic commission in place of John Jay, who was returning to America, and that Jefferson was going to Paris. This made Adams' plan to live with
his family at The Hague, apart from the second commissioner, Benjamin Franklin, impractical, and he immediately resolved to go to France. Following Abigail's reunion in London with John Quincy on 30 July, and with John on 7 August, the family traveled to Paris. On 17 August they took up residence in Auteuil, in the same house where John Adams had recovered from his fever the previous fall.28
There, Abigail and her daughter continued to write as they had done at sea and in London, composing long, minutely informative letters to their Cranch, Shaw, and Tufts relations, and to Mercy Warren and other friends.
If Abigail Adams' first response to polite London society was one of amazement, her first reaction to polite Paris society was one of shock. She and Abigail 2d spent their nine months in France trying to understand a culture that they at first thought they could never accept. Yet before their departure for England in May 1785, their keen powers of observation, their enjoyment in comparing different societies, and their belief in the value of toleration had effected a remarkable transformation. Their last letters from Auteuil show genuine regret at leaving France and, on Abigail's part, uncertainty that England would be pleasanter. After a few months in London, both women felt more affection and admiration for the French than they would have imagined possible a year earlier.
Abigail Adams vividly expressed her dismay at French manners in one of her first letters written at Auteuil. Visiting Benjamin Franklin at Passy with her family, Abigail met Anne-Catherine, Comtesse de Ligniville d'Autricourt, Madame Helvétius, the widow of the eminent philosophe, hostess of one of Paris' best-known literary salons, and Doctor Franklin's most intimate friend. Madame Helvétius, the first woman of high social standing Abigail met in France, was not what she had expected:
a dressing chimise made of tiffanny which She had on over a blew Lutestring, and which looked as much upon the decay as her Beauty, for she was once a handsome woman. Her Hair was fangled, over it she had a small straw hat with a dirty half gauze hankerchief round it, and a bit of dirtyer gauze than ever my maids wore was sewed on behind. . . . When we went into the room to dine she was placed between the Dr. and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Drs. and sometimes spreading her Arms
upon the Backs of both the Gentlemans Chairs, then throwing her Arm carelessly upon the Drs. Neck. . . . I own I was highly disgusted and never wish for an acquaintance with any Ladies of this cast.29
But in the fall Abigail and Abigail 2d, who had been just as appalled by Madame Helvétius,30
met a Frenchwoman whom they liked wholeheartedly: Adrienne Noailles, the Marquise de Lafayette. Abigail's first impression of the Marquise was highly favorable, and by the end of her stay in France she regarded the young noblewoman as a paragon among the women of her nation: “I should always take pleasure in [Madame Lafayette's]
company. She is a good and amiable Lady, exceedingly fond of her Children and attentive to their education, passionatly attached to her Husband!!! A French Lady and fond of her Husband!!!”31
The Adams' circle of Parisian friends does not seem to have widened much beyond Madame Helvétius and the Lafayettes. In part because neither Abigail nor her daughter acquired a fluent command of French, the family's other friends and dinner guests at Auteuil were Americans in Paris, diplomats from northern Europe, an occasional foreign nobleman, and a few cosmopolitan French clerics. But by May 1785 both Abigail and her daughter had developed an affection for their few French acquaintances, even for Madame Helvétius.32
An acceptance of French city life, of social and cultural institutions, was another matter. Like John Adams before her, Abigail Adams admired the grand gardens and open squares of Paris, with their impressive plantings and statuary, and she was deeply impressed with certain of the city's larger and newer public buildings, particularly its theaters. To her surprise, she soon came to love the dance and drama of the theater as well.33
But most of Paris seemed a mere tangle of narrow, dirty streets, eternally shaded by tall residential buildings and gloomy stone churches. Most dismaying was a large foundling home that she visited in January 1785. She admired its cleanliness and
efficiency, and the love shown the abandoned children by the charity sisters, but its cause deeply distressed her: “Whilst we approve the Charatible disposition, [can we]
refrain from comparing a Country grown old in Debauchery and lewdeness with the wise Laws and institutions of one wherein Mariage is considered as holy and honourable, wherein industry and sobriety; enables parents to rear a numerous ofspring[?]”34
Abigail Adams gratefully spent most of her time in France far from the cold streets of Paris, with her family in her large house and fine garden at Auteuil. Her letters written that fall and winter give one of the fullest portraits of the family setting found in the Adams Papers
. Reports back to Braintree ranged from detailed descriptions of the large Hôtel de Rouault and its grounds, with particular attention to her private chamber and a few other rooms occupied by the family, to a full narration of an average day, supplying each person's routine of work, social obligations, and study—Plato for John Adams; Lord Bolingbroke's letters or French plays for Abigail; Horace, Tacitus, and mathematics for John Quincy; and French plays and didactic stories for Abigail Adams 2d—often ending with a game of whist for the whole family before retiring.35
Although she missed her sisters, relatives, and friends in Massachusetts, Abigail found the time at Auteuil increasingly pleasurable. Residing outside of Paris, in the shadow of the cosmopolitan diplomatic world, she could enjoy her family's company as she had not been able to do in a decade. These were not months of leisure for Abigail, but of an active engagement with every aspect of her family's life. She now had not one or two servants, but nine to superintend, two grown children whose continuing education still vitally concerned her, and another responsibility that grew larger with her move to Europe.
Abigail Adams' role as manager of the family's business, developed of necessity in the long years of John Adams' absence from Braintree, continued in Europe. John, now habituated to the extensive correspondence and negotiation attendant on his public role, and in his free time engaged in a major study of political thought, left the
direction of the family's financial affairs largely to his wife.36
Witness to Abigail Adams' role in major investment decisions is the parallel correspondence of John and Abigail with their business agent in Massachusetts, Abigail's uncle Cotton Tufts. In September 1784, Abigail overruled one land purchase that John had desired: “To the two first [plots of land]
I do not object, but Veseys place is poverty, and I think we have enough of that already.” In the winter of 1785, she argued for a much larger purchase, which John finally decided he could not afford.37
Abigail's nine months in Auteuil were a time of new responsibilities, pleasing to her in their importance to her family, and enjoyable in the private setting in which she could meet them.
From December 1784, a move to a more public venue appeared imminent, and in late April it became unavoidable when John Adams learned that he had been appointed the first minister from the United States to the Court of St. James's.38
The principal objective of Adams' mission—to negotiate a commercial treaty with Great Britain—appeared most difficult to achieve, and so it proved. In other respects, however, Adams' diplomatic position was never stronger than in 1785. His appointment was striking testimony of his countrymen's respect. Congress, now guided in diplomacy by its new secretary for foreign affairs, John Adams' old friend John Jay, was more favorable to Adams than at any time since 1780. His old rival Benjamin Franklin, grown mellow and congenial toward the Adamses in 1784–1785, had finally secured permission to retire and return to America. This left just Thomas Jefferson, who succeeded Franklin as America's minister to France, in commission with Adams in negotiating commercial treaties, and Adams and Jefferson had been close friends and allies since their first acquaintance in 1775. All this pleased Abigail Adams, and she also looked forward to living again in an English-speaking nation.39
In other respects the spring move saddened Abigail. She had come to love her new home, her garden, now approaching full bloom, and France itself. She dreaded being the wife of a resident minister to a
royal court, where she would be obliged to make regular appearances under the critical gaze of thousands of eyes.40
Worst of all, she had to say farewell to John Quincy Adams, whom she had just come to know again in their first year together since he was ten. Now he was eighteen, high time, his parents felt, for him to complete his education and begin a career among his countrymen. Feeling keen regret himself, John Quincy Adams left Auteuil on 12 May, bound for New York, Boston, and Harvard. Eight days later his parents and Abigail 2d left the Hôtel de Rouault for London.41
London proved to be everything Abigail Adams hoped for: more familiar, accessible, and convenient than Paris. And it proved to be everything she feared: rude and xenophobic, and particularly hostile to the first diplomatic minister from the former rebels. On balance the move was advantageous to Abigail because it gave her what she always welcomed: more important duties and a larger role in supporting her husband's public career. She also undertook a major share in an important task in which she had apparently not been involved in France: choosing the family residence. In this case, moreover, the Adams' residence would also be America's first legation in Britain.
In England, Abigail Adams soon resumed the more active political role, as John Adams' most trusted adviser, that she had played in America. John's new mission closely engaged Abigail's attention, and her new residence gave her the means to comprehend it. Living again in a country whose language and culture she could understand, Abigail immediately began, discreetly and succinctly, to convey that view of Britain's interests and America's objectives which she shared with her husband to relatives and close friends in America and France. Two new correspondents, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, received the largest share of her political reporting, but she did not forget Cotton Tufts. So effective was her summary of vital political news that Jefferson urged her to include it in every letter, especially because she was sometimes more forthcoming than John Adams.42
Arriving in London on 26 May 1785, the Adamses took lodgings at the Bath Hotel in Piccadilly for just over a month. On 2 July, the family moved into a three-story brick structure at the northeast corner of Grosvenor Square in affluent Mayfair, just a mile northwest of the Court at St. James's Palace. John Adams was presented to the King on 1 June, receiving an unexpectedly gracious reception and a private conference with the sovereign. He was next presented to the Queen, on 9 June. This prepared the way for Abigail and her daughter, who joined some two hundred others on 23 June for a formal presentation to George III, Queen Charlotte, and the two eldest royal princesses.43
Forced to stand through four hours of Court etiquette, and to endure her own long-dreaded sense of awkwardness in such a new scene, Abigail still found the royal family reasonably personable, particularly the two princesses. She was less impressed with the appearance of the King and Queen and even more critical of the appearance of their subjects:
the Ladies of the Court, Rank and title may compensate for want of personal Charms, but they are in general very plain ill shaped and ugly, but dont you tell any body that I say so. . . . I saw many who were vastly richer drest than your Friends, but I will venture to say that I saw none neater or more elegant.44
With rare exceptions, such as attending Court or giving formal dinners, Abigail Adams did not describe her activities in London to her American relatives and friends in nearly the detail that she had done in Auteuil. Perhaps she assumed that they were less curious about English life than they were about the France's exotic culture. Moreover, she apparently found less time to write. Living in the heart of London and speaking the language, she could go out freely, with Abigail 2d or alone, for walks, rides, and social visits to Americans living in England, a few friendly Boston loyalist refugee families, and English families that welcomed Americans. Evenings she and Abigail 2d went often to the theater or other shows, accompanied by Col. William Stephens Smith, secretary of the American legation, by old friends like Charles Storer, or occasionally by John Adams.
Duties at Grosvenor Square consumed Abigail's day. Her new home, although smaller than the grand residence at Auteuil, had several servants that needed her attention, and a steady stream of visitors, mostly Americans, came to see John Adams and his family, or just Abigail. She and her daughter described this home in nearly as exact detail as they had the Hôtel de Rouault in Auteuil, itemizing the duties of each servant, and the uses of each room.45
Although Abigail's correspondence from London became relatively light, her activities were amply chronicled by Abigail 2d, a minor correspondent in extant letters from France, who began to write unusually full letters recording the family's daily life.
The congruent nature of Abigail's and Abigail 2d's correspondence in London is hardly accidental. Abigail 2d, who in adolescence seemed a bit distant from her mother,46
now became her closest companion. In mid-summer Abigail, with John's assistance, helped her daughter reach an important decision: to sever her relationship with Royall Tyler. Young Abigail's awareness of her mother's early enthusiasm for Tyler, and her determination to appear to her parents as faithful to commitments that she herself had made, kept her for some months from even mentioning her “fear, suspicion, doubt, dread and apprehension” as ship after ship arrived, without letters from Tyler. In August she could bear the strain no longer. Her mother supplies this rare view of an intimate domestic conference in the Adams household:
A few days since, something arose which led her in conversation to ask me, if I did not think a Gentleman of her acquaintance a Man of Honour? I replied yes a Man of strict honour, and I wisht I could say that of all her acquaintance. As she could not mistake my meaning, instead of being affected as I apprehended she said, a breach of honour in one party would not justify a want of it in the other. I thought this the very time to speak. I said if she was conscious of any want of honour on the part of the Gentleman, I and every Friend she had in the world, would rejoice if she could liberate herself.47
Abigail then enlisted John, who told his daughter that to end her relationship with Tyler “was a serious matter,” but, “if she had reason
to question the strictest honour of the Gentleman, or supposed him capable of telling her that he had written Letters when he had not, he had rather follow her to her Grave, than see her united with him.” Young Abigail promptly decided to end the affair. She told her mother that she wished that “neither the Name or subject may ever be mentiond to her.” Abigail conveyed her daughter's request to Mary Cranch, adding, “I hope none of her Friends will be so unwise as to solicit for him.”48
As Abigail saw her daughter through this crisis, her role was complicated by another suitor waiting in the wings. The Adamses had met Col. William Stephens Smith, who was appointed secretary to the American legation by Congress without John Adams' advice or knowledge, for the first time when they arrived in London. Within two months Col. Smith was taken with young Abigail and confided his feelings to her mother. Abigail replied that her daughter had an understanding with Royall Tyler; she may also have conveyed the impression that the understanding was not unshakable. Smith responded by asking John Adams for a leave of several weeks to attend Frederick II's last major military review in Prussia. In the week that Smith departed for Berlin, Abigail 2d made her decision and sent Tyler his dismissal.49
The months that followed were busy and anxious ones for both mother and daughter. They were concerned about John Adams' persistent eyestrain, which had been brought on by extended writing. This was alleviated only by the volunteer efforts of Charles Storer as secretary, until his departure for America in mid-September, and Abigail Adams 2d's own efforts, both as secretary and as decoder of Thomas Jefferson's official letters. They were also anxious for Col. Smith, who unaccountably spent nearly four months on the Continent, thereby extending young Abigail's clerical duties.50
Finally, there was the constant irritation of journalists who delighted in attacking John Adams in the London press.
Yet the summer and fall of 1785 were deeply enjoyable to mother and daughter, who partook fully of London's rich cultural offerings
and gathered around them a circle of friends. For Abigail Adams there was another pleasure, a new correspondent with whom she could discuss anything without restraint, especially politics, and for whom she felt the deepest admiration and friendship: Thomas Jefferson.
Abigail wrote her first letter to Jefferson on 6 June 1785. During the next seven months they would exchange seventeen letters, and by the time she departed from England, in 1788, they had written over twenty more.51
From the beginning of their acquaintance Abigail's feelings for Jefferson were exceptionally strong; as she prepared to depart from Auteuil for England, she told her sister: “I shall realy regreet to leave Mr. Jefferson, he is one of the choice ones of the Earth.”52
Jefferson reciprocated completely, and in September 1785, he paid both Abigail Adams and her daughter one of his more clever tributes. Commenting upon the figurines of ancient deities that he was sending Abigail at her request, he wrote:
I could only find three of those you named. . . Minerva, Diana, and Apollo. I was obliged to add a fourth, unguided by your choice. They offered me a fine Venus; but I thought it out of taste to have two at table at the same time. [In Venus' place, Jefferson chose Mars.]
The groupe then was closed, and your party formed. Envy and malice will never be quiet. I hear it already whispered to you that in admitting Minerva to your table I have departed from the principle which made me reject Venus: in plain English that I have paid a just respect to the daughter but failed to the mother. No Madam, my respect to both is sincere. Wisdom, I know, is social. She seeks her fellows. But Beauty is jealous, and illy bears the presence of a rival.53
As 1785 came to a close, Abigail Adams looked with satisfaction upon her comfortable, well-run home, the respect John Adams enjoyed among other diplomats, her good friends in London, and her two eldest children, who were now promising young adults. By October, John Quincy Adams was settled with his uncle, the Reverend John Shaw, in his final preparation for college. In December, Col. Smith returned from the Continent and began courting young Abigail in earnest.54
As John Quincy Adams and Abigail Adams 2d approached adulthood, they began to find their own voices in the typically Adams way, as correspondents.
The Second Generation
The Adams children were introduced to good letter-writing at an early age, as first John and then Abigail wrote frequently to each absent child. John was so devoted a paternal correspondent that he first wrote from Congress to Abigail 2d when she was nine, to John Quincy when he was eight, to Charles when he was six, and to Thomas Boylston when he was only three! Neither Charles nor Thomas Boylston appear to have responded with any regularity to either parent, or to their brother John Quincy or any other correspondent, before entering college. Abigail 2d did write several letters to her father when he was in Congress, and during his service in France and the Netherlands, and she corresponded frequently with her favorite cousin, who lived right in Braintree. John Quincy Adams became an eager correspondent in his earliest years. Beginning when he was only six or seven, he had written over sixty extant family letters, and received another forty, before his fifteenth birthday. Two exchanges involving the young Adamses became extensive before the opening of the present volumes: that between John and John Quincy Adams, and between Abigail Adams 2d and Elizabeth Cranch.55
The years 1783 to 1785 would see a rapid expansion in the family correspondence of both John Quincy and Abigail 2d, culminating in the letters they wrote to each other in the latter year.
John Quincy Adams began addressing letters to close relatives almost as soon as he could write. What appears to be his first extant letter, probably dating from his seventh year, is to his ten-year-old cousin Elizabeth Cranch.56
But his letters to cousins Elizabeth, William, and Lucy Cranch, and to Abigail 2d, Charles, and Thomas Boylston Adams, were not numerous; some have been lost, and few replies have been found. This leaves three real exchanges in John Quincy's early years, with his cousin John Thaxter and with his father and his mother. Thaxter had taught John Quincy Adams in the mid-1770s, and in the years of their correspondence, 1780–1782, John Quincy was still a student, but also, from mid-1781, an unofficial member of America's diplomatic corps, assisting Francis Dana in St. Petersburg as John Thaxter was aiding John Adams at The Hague and in Paris. This experience shaped John Quincy's brief correspondence
with his cousin, which was remarkably formal and serious for a youth in his early teens.
John Quincy Adams' early correspondence with his parents is a study in contrasts. He first wrote his father, then in Congress, in 1774, when he was seven; he received his first extant reply in early 1776; and the two exchanged several letters in 1777. From 1778 to mid-1780 father and son were nearly always together, and they exchanged just a few letters, concerning John Quincy's and his brother Charles' studies in Paris, in March 1780. After they moved to Holland in August 1780, thirteen-year-old John Quincy, studying at Leyden with Charles, conducted his first extensive correspondence with his father, who was in Amsterdam. Again the subject was John Quincy's and Charles' course of study.
Once John Quincy Adams agreed to his father's request that he accompany Francis Dana to St. Petersburg to assist in seeking some form of recognition or support for America from the court of Catherine II, his correspondence took on a new tone. In a half-dozen letters written to his father from Russia, John Quincy moved beyond reports of his studies to recount his travels and describe the new country in which he lived. John Adams gradually responded by addressing him more as an adult, although he still included regular paternal exhortations to hard work and moral behavior. By 1782, the exchange between father and son was approaching its mature state, a communication of steadily increasing frequency and complexity between two men with similar attitudes and interests, about those matters that most concerned them: ancient and modern learning, current geography and culture, economic conditions and politics.
John Quincy Adams' early correspondence with his mother was less impressive or satisfying for either writer. John Quincy began writing to Abigail in 1778, his first year abroad; his initial letters were short but frequent, and one was in French.57
Abigail replied infrequently, but at much greater length. During his second journey to Europe, in 1779–1780, John Quincy wrote Abigail a few letters, but when he reached Paris he virtually ceased writing, perhaps because he now felt at home in France, or because he had the company of his brother Charles and his cousin John Thaxter. Abigail at first wrote to John Quincy fairly regularly, but not often, and later less often. John Quincy wrote less, the longer and farther he was away, sending Abigail only one letter during his ten months in Holland, and one
more near the beginning of his fourteen-month stay in Russia. Then he was silent for nearly twenty-one months, until well after his return to Holland in April 1783.
When John Quincy Adams did write to his mother in the years 1781–1783, it was clearly out of a sense of obligation. His April 1781 letter from Holland began with the disclaimer: “I have been wanting to write to you this sometime but there has been nothing worth writing, and even now I know not what to write.”58
The text that followed was at first personal, but soon moved to an extended summary of a guidebook description of Leyden. His next letter, written from Russia in October 1781, opened with an excuse for not writing in the summer, summarized his long journey from Holland in just a few lines, and then quoted at length Voltaire's description of St. Petersburg.59
Upon his return to Holland in April 1783, after a journey during which he had written his father three interesting letters from Sweden, Denmark, and Germany,60
John Quincy wrote nothing to his mother until the day after John Adams' arrival at The Hague from Paris—the first meeting of father and son in over two years.
If John Adams encouraged his son to write to Abigail, as seems likely, the letter of 23 July 1783 is one of young John Quincy Adams' better efforts: a personal account of his journey from Russia to Holland, with only brief passages that might have been derived from published sources. His next letter to Abigail is briefer, consisting entirely of a response to her most recent letter to him—perhaps brought from Paris to The Hague by John Adams—in which she asked whether “the cold Nothen Regions [had]
frozen up that Quick and Lively immagination which used to give pleasure to your Friends,” and lamented that it was hard “to be forgotton by my Son.”61
John Quincy replied that it had been difficult to write from Russia, that everything he would write would be opened by government agents before it left the country. And he asked her pardon for striking out her words, “to be forgotten by my Son,” which he could not bear to look at.
John Quincy Adams wrote only two more letters to his mother before their reunion in the next year. The first was a brief report of the diplomatic news of early September, with a mention that John Thaxter and Francis Dana were returning to America. His second
September letter was explicitly obligatory, an essay written “as you have ordered me” (in Abigail's letter of 13 November 1782), containing his observations on Russia. Here John Quincy reverted to his earlier practice, constructing his text largely from published materials.62
In reply to her son's July letters, Abigail Adams began by expressing her happiness in hearing from him, then devoted the rest of her letter to a didactic essay on the necessity of guarding his moral character.63
Her last letters to John Quincy before her departure for England were friendlier and more relaxed, but when mother and son were reunited in July 1784, they had to rediscover each other after a separation of six almost unbroken years, a separation that neither had effectively bridged by correspondence.
The success of their nine-month reunion in Europe is apparent in their correspondence after John Quincy Adams departed for America in May 1785. In the half-dozen letters that Abigail wrote John Quincy from London between June and October, she ceased treating her son as a child in need of moral instruction and addressed him as an adult, confident that he would lead a moral and productive life, fulfilling her highest expectations. And John Quincy, although he wrote less often than Abigail, replied with warm personal letters in October and December, full of that mix of public events and family news that Abigail so prized.64
What had begun as a most unsatisfactory exchange of letters between an anxious mother and an adolescent son seeking independence became, in 1785, a deeply satisfying correspondence between close and equal family members.
With his father, to whom he had never hesitated to write, John Quincy Adams established an extensive correspondence immediately upon his return to Holland; between April and July 1783 they exchanged fourteen letters. Most were brief, and John Quincy's course of study was again the dominant subject, but the younger Adams' letters have a consistently confident, independent tone, and John Adams, while offering advice in every letter, assumed that his son would think for himself. From July 1783 to May 1784, the two were always together, but when John Quincy went to London, hoping to receive his mother and sister, he exchanged thirteen letters with his father in just five weeks.
Soon after his arrival in London, John Quincy Adams confessed discouragement in attaining one of his major objectives: securing admission to the gallery of the House of Commons. John Adams replied that “a young Gentleman of 17, must not talk of low Spirits for Small disappointments. He must reconcile his Mind to them. He will meet with many.”65
Before John had even penned this wise counsel, however, John Quincy had been admitted to the gallery. He then wrote three letters that show a thoroughly mature youth taking delight in hearing some of the most brilliant orators and statesmen of his day: Edmund Burke, Lord North, Charles James Fox, and—most impressive of all to young Adams—William Pitt the younger. In each letter he succinctly evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of each speaker, as his father had recommended, and he closed one account with the assertion that if his opinion was in error, “my judgment is in fault, for I have followed in this matter the Ideas of no one.”66
From this time forth, John Quincy Adams expressed his opinions confidently, both within and outside the family circle.
Abigail Adams 2d developed more slowly as a letter-writer, and in the years before she went to Europe, too few of her exchanges with family members have survived to allow a full picture of her personality. She had almost no correspondence with her mother, from whom she was seldom separated for more than a week during occasional visits to relatives and friends in neighboring towns or in Boston. She wrote her father fairly often, both when he served in Congress and in his early years in Europe. But only his replies to her before 1783 have survived. Starting in 1781, Abigail 2d wrote a few letters to her brother John Quincy and to her cousin John Thaxter. Her first efforts were stiff and reserved, and her letters to her brother have the preachy tone of several of her mother's early letters to him, but in 1783 she wrote all three men warmer, more personal and lively letters within one month.67
Her only important early correspondent was her first cousin Elizabeth Cranch, two years her senior, who lived less than a mile away. Nearly forty of young Abigail's letters to Elizabeth survive, most written when one or the other cousin was visiting friends a few miles from Braintree, but occasionally when both were in town. Several more of Abigail 2d's letters to Elizabeth have evidently been lost, and not one of Elizabeth's replies has been found.68
The character that emerges from Abigail Adams 2d's early letters to her father and brother is rather shy and unsure of her intellectual abilities. When writing to her cousin Elizabeth, she showed more confidence, and a total lack of interest in most intellectual matters and public affairs. In every letter, young Abigail was most interested in the personal lives of all her relatives and friends. Yet even with Elizabeth Cranch, she was discreet about her own life to the point of secretiveness. Fond of teasing her cousin about possible beaus, Abigail wrote nothing about her own affairs of the heart. Some twenty letters written to Elizabeth during the nearly three years of Abigail's relationship with Royall Tyler contain not even the most oblique reference to him.
Abigail 2d was more open with Elizabeth about other feelings, at times even confessional. At the very time when Tyler was ardently pursuing her, seventeen-year-old Abigail recommended to Elizabeth cool discretion over the dangerous “romantick sentiments of Love.” She declared herself: “the same cold indifferent Girl she ever was, she knows not the person on earth that she could talk or write <about> so romantickly upon. . . . I have sometimes been at a loss to know whether I have a heart or not, but at last have made this conclusion, that in the days of my very youth I was deprived of it.”69
For the next twenty months Abigail Adams 2d's correspondence with Elizabeth Cranch shows little development, yet it is of considerable historical interest. In letters written from 1782 through early 1784, especially those penned in Boston and Cambridge, she is the only chronicler of the social circle in which the Adams family moved in Massachusetts.70
Her entire body of letters to Elizabeth Cranch from 1779 through 1784 offers something quite rare, a view of late-eighteenth-century American life through the eyes of a teenager.
Upon her departure for Europe, young Abigail's letters soon acquired a new style. While continuing to respond more deeply to close friends than to books and ideas or to public issues and public figures, she began to resemble her mother as a correspondent in two respects.
She started to describe both the physical scenes and the social world around her, and she began to portray the men whom she met with the same care that she had given, and continued to give, to the women she knew. Abigail Adams 2d developed these talents in several long letters to Elizabeth, Lucy, and Mary Cranch, and to Mercy Warren.71
Yet for solid information, these letters add only modestly to her mother's longer and finer letters to the same persons.
After the family returned to London in 1785, Abigail Adams 2d took on a new role. Between July and December 1785, she wrote six long journal-letters to John Quincy Adams, detailing almost every aspect of life in the British metropolis. John Quincy wrote eleven somewhat shorter letters, also in journal style, to Abigail 2d, beginning on the road to the French packet, continuing at sea, from New York City, and on the road in Connecticut, and concluding from the homes of relatives in Braintree, Boston, and Haverhill. So extensive does this correspondence become that in its sheer bulk and unique factual information it even overshadows Abigail Adams' correspondence with her sister Mary Cranch and with Thomas Jefferson.
This remarkable exchange grew out of a pact between sister and brother, “never to let a day pass without adding something to the Letter which we were to be continually writing.”72
After nine months of daily conversations and family entertainments at home, and several outings spent together around Paris or at the theater, often without their parents, Abigail Adams 2d and John Quincy Adams parted with great reluctance. Their letters were an attempt to convey something of every day that they were apart, and for several months they succeeded remarkably well. Between July and December 1785, Abigail Adams 2d recorded events or thoughts that occurred on at least 57 out of 184 days. John Quincy Adams wrote near the outset of this exchange that the weeks of his ocean crossing should be deducted from his obligation because there was so little to write about at sea;73
yet in the first several months of their separation he wrote even more regularly than his sister. From his departure from Auteuil on 12 May until the end of October, he wrote on 107 out of 173 days. He then suspended his correspondence for several months, saying that arduous preparation for college would make letter-writing nearly impossi•
ble. He promised to resume writing once he had been admitted to Harvard in March.74
John Quincy Adams' side of the exchange is the more polished in every respect; his text is clearly organized, consistently grammatical, and in a fine hand. His letters often go beyond corroborating his full Diary for these months, providing further information about his return voyage to America, reunion with his brothers and other relatives, and activities with his friends in Haverhill. But Abigail Adams 2d's letters to John Quincy, most surviving only in rough drafts that are grammatically uneven, rambling and disorganized, and full of irregular spelling, are at least as valuable to any study of the Adams family. With the apparent loss of her own diary for this period,75
and the lack of many long letters from her mother to Massachusetts friends, young Abigail is often the sole source for what the Adamses were thinking and doing in London in the summer and fall of 1785. The loss of her first four letters to John Quincy, which evidently narrated the Adams' last days in Auteuil, their journey to England, and their first weeks in London, form one of the three largest identifiable gaps in the epistolary record of the family in the early 1780s.76
In her more casual way, Abigail Adams 2d recorded the Adams' first months in London nearly as thoroughly as her mother had done for earlier episodes in the family's history. She devoted considerable space to politics and diplomacy, especially the news from France conveyed by Thomas Jefferson and the American ministers' plans to negotiate with the Barbary States. She often preserved her mother's, and occasionally her father's, reactions to individuals and the social scene as well as her own. Only her letters give a detailed view of what the Adamses thought of the theater and the spectacles of London and of their many new acquaintances.
Young Abigail liked much of what she saw, and many of those whom she met, but her life in London, perhaps even more than her time in France, strongly reinforced her American patriotism. She longed for her brother and her friends in Braintree, and she was distressed by the contempt which several Londoners showed for her country. When a visitor to Grosvenor Square asserted that young
Abigail must surely prefer England to America, she replied: “Indeed Miss . . . I do not.” Her guest persisted: “You must think this the finest Country, the Cultivation is greater and every thing superior.” Abigail responded: “That may be, but I have friends and Connections in America that will ever make it dear to me. Tis not merely the place which I regard, tis what friends and acquaintancees I find.”77
Abigail Adams 2d, like her parents and her brother, found foreign lands fascinating; she wrote to John Quincy that she would like to travel with him and a small party of friends quite “round the World.” Yet at heart she was, like her mother and father, a proud, skeptical New Englander. Travel satisfied one's curiosity and offered real wisdom, but it did not supply values. The most exotic voyages, she assured her brother, would not harm those “possessed of proper Principles, . . . but make them Wiser and better and happier.” Moreover, she remarked playfully, it made an American more respectable at home,
. . . for the People of our Country have a Wonderfull liking to those who can say, “I have been in St. Paul's Church. I have seen the Lions, Tigers, &c. in the Tower. I have seen the King, and what is more have had the extreme honour of being saluted by him. What the King? Yes by George the Third King of Great Britain France and Ireland, defender of the Faith &c. And I have seen the Dancing Dogs, Singing Duck, and little Hare which beats the Drum, . . . but not yet the Learned Pig.”78
By 1785 the two elder Adams children had matured as correspondents and were fully engaged in bonding the affections of their scattered family closer together, as its members moved through new physical separations. Adams family letters of the 1770s had linked writers and generations in Braintree, Philadelphia, and Paris. Those of the 1780s connected correspondents in several eastern Massachusetts towns with others in Paris, The Hague, St. Petersburg, and London. Those of the 1790s would tie the family homestead in Braintree (Quincy after 1792) with New York, Philadelphia, The Hague, London, and Berlin. The first decade of the nineteenth century would find Adamses writing from a new city, Washington, and again from St. Petersburg.
So large and long a correspondence, carried on by several men and women of different temperaments and experiences, cannot be reduced
to one principal theme, or even to a few. Yet one aspect of so many of the letters in the present volumes, and of many others from the preceding years, is striking: the tension between the Adams' cultural attitudes and beliefs, born of their New England upbringing, and the increasingly cosmopolitan reality of their existence, from their first arrival in Europe in the late 1770s.
Each of Abigail and John Adams' remarkable family, men and women alike, aspired to that celebrated vision of expanding knowledge and experience, of education and travel, which John Adams had expressed in the spring of 1780 in Paris: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, . . . Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”79
Yet every Adams, even the cosmopolitan John Quincy, believed that the Yankee world they had left behind was morally superior to the grand metropolitan centers of western Europe. Abigail was sure that none of the grand ladies at the Court of St. James's were more elegant than her daughter or herself.80
Abigail 2d loved travel and enjoyed the theater in Paris and London, yet could not forget that much of London's celebrity consisted of stifling Court etiquette, lions in the Tower, and an indiscriminate feast of high and low culture. John Quincy Adams, returning to Massachusetts after seven years in Europe, saw his countrymen aping the pompous class consciousness of the Old World. At once astonished and amused by local pronouncements on the social unsuitability of plausible suitors, he wrote to his mother: “we have our ladder from the mud, to the skies, as well as all the European Nations.”81
This tension between a deep attachment to the social and cultural world of eastern Massachusetts, a steady devotion to the larger American nation, and a thirst to acquire the high culture of all nations and of all ages would become a marked characteristic of the Adamses through four generations. Nowhere in their writings is this clearer than in their family correspondence, where each family member expressed so much of his or her sense of public duties and aspirations, and of private desires and misgivings, in the same concise documents. This remarkable fusion of expression of the public and
private worlds has been a large part of the attraction of the Adams family correspondence for American readers in the century and a half since the first publication of a sizable sample of these letters.
In 1963, in the Introduction to Volume 1 of the Adams Family Correspondence
, the editors traced prior publications of the family letters, from 1840 to 1947, to which the reader is referred.82
Several letters in the present volumes, however, first appeared in two works that were not included in that summary. Sixteen are included in volumes 8 and 9 of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
, published in 1953 and 1954. Another twenty-three appear in The Book of Abigail and John
(1975), a highly selective, unannotated edition of letters prepared for a popular market by the editors of the Adams Papers
In all, some 117 of the 416 letters included in the present volumes have been previously published, either whole or, in over three dozen cases, abridged.84
Charles Francis Adams' edition of the Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams
(Boston, 1840), was the first substantial publication of Adams letters. For the period covered here, Adams published 27 letters in 1840, added just one to the 1841 edition, but 8 more to his 1848 edition, and published another 11 in Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife
Early in the same decade, Caroline Smith de Windt published 12 letters from this period, mostly by her mother, Abigail Adams 2d, in the Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams
, in two volumes (1841, 1842); in 1849 she brought out a third volume that contained 11 more letters, written by John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d in 1785.86
No further significant publication of Adams family letters for these years appeared until Worthington C. Ford brought out the first volume of The Writings of John Quincy Adams
in 1913, which included another 5
letters, 2 of which were abridged.87
This was the last important appearance of Adams family correspondence for this period before the 1950s.
Until the appearance of the first volumes of Adams Family Correspondence
in 1963, Charles Francis Adams' editions of his grandparents' letters effectively defined the family of Abigail and John Adams in the public mind.88
In the context of nineteenth-century editing, this was most fortunate. Young Adams was a dedicated editor with an exceptionally high regard for the integrity of original texts. He gave his readers a fuller view of his ancestors than they could obtain of any other early American family; and he published his forbears' observations at sufficient length to show them as mortals with human flaws, and with certain opinions, especially regarding various nationalities and religions, that could have offended some readers.89
Moreover, Charles Francis Adams' careful arranging and preservation of all the Adams papers
, and his editing of over twenty-five volumes of the writings of Abigail, John, and John Quincy Adams between 1840 and 1877, forged the link between his family's engagement with America and the ongoing presentation of that relationship, down to the present day.
Because of their frequent abridgment and certain small but important editorial alterations, however, the letters printed in C. F. Adams' editions afford a somewhat incomplete view of the social and cultural world of Abigail Adams and her family. The first editors of the Adams Family Correspondence
highlighted several distinctive features of Charles Francis' texts, which require only a brief summary. The Adamses in these letters appear to have had few concerns about money, to have been largely immune to disease and the fear of illness, and to have enjoyed no passionate conjugal emotions. They thought and spoke in a refined, grammatically perfect tone, they seldom expressed strong anger against individuals, and they seemed remote from the daily concerns of the largely rural, agricultural world of Braintree, in which they passed so much of their lives.90
The full texts of the letters in the Adams Family Correspondence
present different Adamses. The entire family shows a more practical, more passionate, and more anxious cast of mind, and each of its members is intimately engaged in the daily concerns of the several social environments, from the most rural and obscure to the most cosmopolitan, in which they lived. Abigail Adams, in particular, appears in a different light, willing if not eager to discuss farm management, the local economy, town gossip, disease, pregnancy, and stillbirth. Among the characteristic features of the nineteenth-century editions are small editorial alterations in Abigail's daily speech that obscure where she lived in cultural time and social space. Two examples demonstrate this. In C. F. Adams' texts, Abigail Adams writes “Ay” to indicate assent or agreement; in her manuscripts she wrote the Yankee “aya.” Abigail Adams 2d, who always appears as “Abby” in C. F. Adams' editions, is usually called “Nabby” by both her parents in the original texts (and never called “Abby”).91
The first editors of the Adams Family Correspondence
prized Abigail Adams' colloquialisms, her “phonetic spelling and informal grammar,” for preserving “many local pronunciations and constructions that were the very essence of 18th-century Yankee speech.” Charles Francis Adams critically altered this speech when, “like virtually all 19thcentury editors, [he]
corrected the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of the texts he printed according to the standards of his own time.”92
His changes in Abigail's language also obscured an important change in the family's history. Several words and phrases that C. F. Adams altered—from “Canady” to “Canada,” “Frankling” to “Franklin,” and “a Monday” to “on Monday”—were becoming archaic by the early nineteenth century, but they did not suddenly disappear everywhere. The Yankee assent “aya” has survived in various forms into the late twentieth century in several of New England's more rural communities. Such language did not survive in the Adams family's written communication after the second and third generation left the rural world of Braintree behind them.
This transformation began when John Adams entered college in 1751 at age sixteen; it occurred at a younger age and more completely in John Quincy Adams, who left Massachusetts for France with his father at age ten. It happened later, and worked a less thorough change, in the lives of both Abigail Adams and her daughter. The Nabby Adams of the early 1780s was still a country girl, and the Adams family of the 1840s had culturally left the country, even though they continued to spend each summer in Quincy. For them Abby, not Nabby, was the proper diminutive for a nineteenth-century Abigail of social standing.93
Charles Francis Adams, again like nearly all nineteenth-century editors, also shaped the image of his principal subject by deleting portions of her letters. With rare exceptions, he felt too deep a respect for his grandmother to substitute his own words for hers.94
His cuts in Abigail Adams' texts, however, were substantial: of the twenty-seven letters, running from late 1782 through 1785, that appear in his first edition of her letters (1840), he abridged twenty to some degree. His deletions ranged from one line to over one hundred; from 1 percent to nearly 70 percent of the text. Most letters lost between 10 and 40 percent of their length. Of the eleven items for this period that appear in his 1841 edition of his grandfather's letters, however, he abridged only one, cutting out one-eighth of its text.95
Yet C. F. Adams was not eager to abridge any text, and in his 1841 edition of Abigail's letters he restored passages that he had removed from five letters in his first edition. In his 1848 edition, he added eight more letters, cutting just four lines from one, suppressing a name in another, and leaving the rest unaltered.96
He does not appear to have shortened any letter, no matter how long, simply in the interest of brevity; he had a reason for removing each passage.
The first editors of the Adams Family Correspondence
noted that Charles Francis Adams' abridgments of Abigail Adams' letters of the 1770s involved passages on business and farm management, illness and pregnancy, or indelicate language and the critical assessments of certain individuals.97
As the character and location of the family's activities changed with the coming of peace, C. F. Adams' deletions show a somewhat different pattern. In the 1780s Abigail was less concerned about farm management or illness, and evidently not at all about pregnancy. When she did write about her conduct of business, Charles Francis usually printed it. Two routine subjects were shortened. Statements about the difficulty of correspondence and the frustrating delays of transatlantic communication were cut out. Second, and somewhat more puzzling, Charles Francis removed several passages in which Abigail was arranging for either Mary Cranch or Elizabeth Shaw to watch over or do something for her sons in Braintree or Haverhill, or at Harvard College.98
These passages, and others concerning Braintree or Vermont land transactions,99
are longer and more numerous than the instances in which Charles Francis occasionally edited out his grandmother's descriptions of what she regarded as the uncouth customs or the moral decay of French society.100
Charles Francis Adams was most sensitive to any subject that might adversely affect his family's reputation. Here he cut extensively and thoroughly, from his first edition of Abigail's letters through the Familiar Letters
of 1876. On one occasion Abigail was mildly critical of the Adams' close friend James Warren; in another letter she briefly discussed Benjamin Franklin's hostility toward John Adams. C. F. Adams removed both passages.101
By far the largest deletions, however, involved Royall Tyler's courtship of Abigail Adams 2d. In C. F. Adams' editions, this interesting chapter in the family's history is simply omitted.
In 1785, when Abigail Adams 2d decided to dismiss Royal Tyler,
Abigail asked her relatives to act as if the family had never known him.102
Charles Francis Adams honored this request as faithfully as any of Abigail's contemporaries. He may have decided not to print certain letters at all because they dealt too directly with Tyler.103
In the letters that he did print, he made both the smallest alterations—once changing “Mr. Tyler” to “Mr. T.”—and the largest deletions to insure that no hint of Tyler remained in his printed texts.104
His single abridgment of a John Adams letter also involved Tyler.105
Finally, perhaps because he wished to support Abigail's argument that her daughter dismissed Tyler only for his failings and not because of any competing romantic interest, he removed a substantial passage in which Abigail praised Col. William Stephens Smith, who would soon court and marry Abigail Adams 2d.106
The cumulative impact of Charles Francis Adams' emendations and deletions, particularly in the 1780s, has been to make Abigail Adams' letters less those of a mother, center of her family in its emotional and its economic dimensions, than of an acute observer of her surroundings in Massachusetts, France, and England who happened also to be a mother. The letters in his editions present a rather isolated nuclear family, removed from its country speech and customs, and distanced from its close relatives in Braintree, Haverhill, and Boston. From these texts, the image of Abigail and John's family as a people apart, cosmopolitan and self-consciously public wherever they were living, became fixed in the public mind of over a century.
The first prominent generation of the Adams family, however, was neither predominantly cosmopolitan in its experience nor exclusively public in its concerns. The nuclear Adams family was part of an extensive, tightly connected upper-middle-class family group with
deep roots in several eastern Massachusetts towns, most of which were still largely rural and agricultural. European sophistication did not come naturally to this eighteenth-century family, not even to its most cosmopolitan member, John Quincy Adams. A large measure of the importance of the correspondence in the present volumes, above all the letters written by Abigail Adams, is its capacity to place the Adams family at one and the same time in the provincial world of eastern Massachusetts and the cosmopolitan world of western Europe.
The Adams family's second nineteenth-century editor, Caroline Amelia Smith de Windt, in bringing out three volumes of the correspondence of her mother, Abigail Adams 2d, published fewer letters, twenty-three dating from late 1782 through 1785, than did her first cousin Charles Francis Adams. At first glance this might appear fortunate, for she partook deeply of the early nineteenth-century's cavalier attitude toward historical texts that C. F. Adams worked so hard to overcome. In the ten letters from this period written by John Quincy Adams that she printed, which survive in recipient's copies, her texts show frequent misreadings and alterations of words, misreadings and suppressions of proper names, the dropping of internal datelines, the occasional moving of text from one part of a letter to another, and extensive cuts, large and small, for every reason—including the slightest references to Royall Tyler—and for no apparent reason.107
Yet Caroline Smith de Windt is an important Adams editor for one simple reason: her editions preserve other texts, presumably also defective, whose manuscript sources have been lost. For the period covered in the present volumes, she provides texts of twelve letters that lack manuscript sources, and of one more that appears superior to a surviving draft. Fortunately, given Caroline de Windt's zeal for abridgment, most of these letters were written to Abigail Adams 2d by John Adams or Charles Storer who were both relatively concise correspondents, and it is likely that most of their original text reached print. Imperfect as this source is, one must regret that Caroline Smith de Windt did not publish more letters, both to and by her mother, and more of her mother's journal, since the originals—recipients' copies, and drafts, and the manuscript diary—were probably destroyed
by the fire that consumed the home of Mrs. de Windt's family a decade after her death.
For a century after 1849 a mere handful of additional Adams family letters from the 1780s appeared in print, with little important change in editorial method. But between 1952 and 1956, the publication of the first volumes of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
and the launching of editorial projects devoted to the Adamses, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison radically transformed historical documentary editing in the United States. The last three decades have seen the publication by the Adams Papers
project of more than five thousand letters by and to various Adamses, as well as fifteen volumes of Adams diaries and three volumes of legal documents. Some fifteen hundred of these letters appear in the six volumes of Adams Family Correspondence
Notes on Editorial Method
The editors of volumes 3 and 4 of this series observed that it had been “a long interval since the first two volumes of Adams Family Correspondence issued from the press” (3:xl), and this is again true. It may be useful after such a hiatus to review the editorial method employed here. The editors will also refer the reader to particular sections of the editorial statements in earlier volumes for further information.
The Adams Family Correspondence is designed to publish letters exchanged by Abigail and John Adams, and those exchanged by their descendants through the next three generations through 1889, which the editors consider important in exploring the thought, revealing the character, and narrating the action of the Adamses in their domestic life. To these are added two other types of letters: those exchanged with close relatives who were part of the Adams' larger family circle, and significant letters exchanged by the women of the Adams family with persons to whom they were not related.
Not included in this series are letters written by Adams men to non-relatives, and other letters, written by them to cousins, brothers-in-law, or other relations, which deal primarily with non-family matters.108
Included in the present volumes, for example, are seventeen letters exchanged between John Adams and his brother-in-law Richard Cranch, and eight letters exchanged with Abigail's uncle Cotton Tufts, because they deal largely with family issues. Another three letters that he exchanged with Cranch, and eight more with Tufts, have not been included because they focus on more public matters.
These principles of selection have guided the editors of all six volumes of Adams Family Correspondence
, but in practice, selection in the present volumes differs slightly from selection in the two that preceded them, just as the selection of letters in those volumes differed from the selection in volumes 1 and 2 (see 3:xxxviii
). As in the previous volumes, most of the letters exchanged between the women of the Adams family and their correspondents, both within and outside the family, have been included.109
A much larger portion of the letters exchanged between John Adams and his male relatives and in-laws has been excluded, based on the non-family content of these letters. This extends beyond Adams' correspondence with Richard Cranch and Cotton Tufts to include all the letters that he exchanged with Isaac Smith Sr., John Thaxter, and other Boylston, Cranch, and Smith relations. Letters by and to these correspondents were often included in earlier Adams Family Correspondence
volumes solely on the grounds that they were John Adams' relatives. The present editors have decided, however, that their correspondence with John Adams, and occasionally with John Quincy Adams, is so heavily devoted to public issues that it should be considered for inclusion in Series III, General Correspondence and Other Papers of the Adams Statesmen
The result of these policies is the inclusion of 416 letters and two legal documents, the omission of 43 letters or brief notes written by or to women of the Adams family, and the exclusion of 46 letters exchanged between either John or John Quincy Adams and their male relatives. The ones by or to Adams women have been omitted for their lack of important content; it is not anticipated that they will be published in any Adams Papers
edition. Those involving John and
John Quincy's male relations are candidates for inclusion in the ongoing Papers of John Adams
or in the projected Papers of John Quincy Adams
and will either be printed, or listed as omitted documents, in the relevant volumes of those editions.
A summary census of the 415 single-author letters in these volumes may aid the reader in understanding the general character of this correspondence.110
The four principal family members wrote 284 of these letters—68 percent of the total—as follows: Abigail Adams, 125; John Adams, 77; John Quincy Adams, 46; Abigail Adams 2d, 36. For each correspondent, the following number of their letters, and its proportion of all their letters included here, now appear in print for the first time: Abigail Adams, 68 (54 percent); John Adams, 50 (65 percent); John Quincy Adams, 29 (63 percent), and Abigail Adams 2d, 32 (89 percent). Seven other correspondents—Mary Cranch, Richard Cranch, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Shaw, Charles Storer, John Thaxter, and Cotton Tufts—each wrote 8 or more letters, for a total of 90, of which 12, all by Jefferson or Storer, have been previously printed. The remaining 41 letters, all appearing in print for the first time, were penned by twenty-one different correspondents. Women wrote 210 of the 415 letters, they received 244, and 117 letters were written by one woman to another.
In these volumes, as in the earlier volumes in this series, the Adams Papers
editors have benefitted from a high proportion of ideal manuscript sources for the texts of these 415 letters. The great majority, 371 (89 percent), are based primarily upon recipient's copies. Other primary manuscript sources include 16 drafts, 6 letterbook copies, 5 contemporary copies, and just one later transcript. Sixteen other letters (4 percent of the total) are based solely or primarily on printed sources.
The location of these manuscripts has also been most favorable to the editors' work. The largest share of the 399 letters based on manuscript sources is in the Adams Papers
collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society (299 letters, 75 percent of the total). Another 28 manuscripts are in other collections at the Society. Other archives hold 62 documents, including 22 at the Library of Congress and 19 at the American Antiquarian Society. Only 10 are privately owned.
The treatment of texts in the Adams Family Correspondence
has been set forth in volumes 1 (p. xliii–xlv
) and 3 (p.xxxix
), expanding upon the project's first statement concerning texts, in the first volume of the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams
). Because so much time has passed since the publication of volumes 3 and 4, we will restate the relevant textual policy for the convenience of our readers:
Punctuation follows that in the manuscript with the following guidelines for intelligibility.
Every sentence begins with a capital and ends with a period. Dashes obviously intended to be terminal marks are converted to periods, and superfluous dashes are removed. Dashes evidently intended to indicate breaks or shifts in thought or used as semi-paragraphing devices are of course retained. Minimum punctuation for intelligibility is supplied in dialogue and quoted matter. If quotation marks appear only at one end or the other of a passage of direct discourse, the matching pair is supplied when its location is clearly determinable, but quotation marks are not systematically inserted according to modern usage. The editors have refrained from altering, suppressing, or supplying punctuation in passages that are truly ambiguous.
Abbreviations and contractions are preserved as found in names of persons and places; in the datelines, salutations, and complimentary closes of letters; endorsements and docketings; in units of money and measurement; and in accounts and other tabular documents. They are also retained elsewhere if they are still in use or are readily recognizable. But in all cases where they are retained, the superscript letters once so commonly used to indicate contractions are brought down to the line. The ampersand (&) is retained in the form &c. (for etc.) and in the names of firms; elsewhere it is rendered as and.
Missing and illegible matter is indicated by square brackets ([ ]) enclosing the editors' conjectural readings (with a question mark appended if the reading is doubtful), or by suspension points (. . .) if no reading can be given. If only a portion of a word is missing, it may be silently supplied when there is no doubt about the reading. When the missing or illegible matter amounts to more than one or two words, a footnote estimating its amount is subjoined.
in the manuscripts (scored-out or erased passages) is included when it is of stylistic, psychological, or historical interest. In our text such passages are italicized and enclosed in angle
brackets (< >). If a revised equivalent of a canceled passage remains in the text, the canceled matter always precedes it.
Variant readings (variations in text between two or more versions of the same letter or document) are indicated when they are significant enough to warrant recording, and then always in footnotes keyed to the basic text that is printed in full.
Editorial insertions are italicized and enclosed in square brackets.
The formal parts of letters are handled as follows:
The place-and-date-line is printed as literally as possible (that is, without expanding contractions &c.), except that superscript letters are brought down to the normal type line and terminal punctuation is omitted. The place-and-dateline is always printed at the head of the letter, even if in the manuscript it appears elsewhere (commonly at the foot of the text). Undated and misdated letters have their dates editorially supplied or corrected inside square brackets.
The salutation is given as literally as possible, but superscripts are lowered to the line and terminal punctuation is omitted.
The complimentary close is also printed literally, but to save space it is set in run-on style. Contractions are retained, but superscripts are brought down to the line.
The signature is printed literally except for superscripts, which are aligned, and without closing punctuation. If a letter was unsigned (which commonly happened during wartime and even at other times between intimate correspondents), it is so printed without comment, unless for some special reason an explanation is required.
The recipient's name at foot of text (sometimes called a “subscription”) is normally omitted. In letterbook copies this may be the sole or principal means of identifying the recipient, but, if so, it is reflected in the editorially supplied caption.
The annotation in these volumes closely follows the principles set forth in the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams (1:lx–lxii), and in earlier volumes in this series (1:xlv–xlvii; 3:xxxix–xl), but we note here a few changes and clarifications in our procedure.
(1) We now include the full manuscript address (or notation of direction), the postal markings, and the endorsements in the descriptive note to every letter (see 1:xlvi
(2) We follow the earlier practice of omitting the year of a letter in all cross-references where the letter referred to was written in the same year as the letter being annotated. When, however, we refer to
a letter in a previous Adams Family Correspondence
volume, we now include the page numbers in that volume (see 3:xl
As in all previous volumes, we routinely leave the full names of better-known persons, of most places, and of the titles of well-known works of scholarship, literature, or art to which the text makes only a passing reference, to the index.