An Articulate Family
The earliest document in the manuscript records of the Adams family, upon which the present edition is mainly based, is an agreement by which William Tyng of Boston mortgaged to William Coddington of Aquedneck certain lands at Mount Wollaston, now a part of Quincy, Massachusetts. This large and handsome indenture is dated 10 April 1639, and the lands were probably among those which the Adamses eventually acquired through Abigail Adams’ descent from the Quincys, long the chief landowners at “The Mount.” But for more than a century after 1639 there remain only a few wills, deeds, receipts, printed fast-day proclamations, and scraps of correspondence to document the history of a family of farmers, maltsters, and holders of town offices who lived their lives below the level of historical scrutiny.
Then, in 1755, John Adams (1735–1826), second of his name and great-great-grandson of the first Adams to settle in Massachusetts Bay, was jolted by an earthquake into starting a diary. With this record of a young schoolmaster’s daily thoughts and experiences, the family records may be said truly to begin. Once begun, they were continued with a diligence that is almost staggering to contemplate, and preserved with exemplary care by one generation after another, each of which in turn of course added to the bulk. The habit of making and keeping written records became as persistent a trait among the Adamses as the distinctive conformation of their skulls.
“Copied into my Letter-Book the Letter written last Evening to my wife,” John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) recorded in the thirty-ninth volume of his manuscript journal while supposedly vacationing at Quincy between terms of Congress.
This is noisome, and to me useless labour [he went on]
, consuming time which might be fruitfully employed. But in my father’s first Letter-Book, I find him saying on the 2d. of June 1776 that in all the correspondences he had maintained, during a course of twenty years at least that he had
been a writer of Letters, he never kept a single copy. And he adds, This negligence and inaccuracy has been a great misfortune to him on many occasions. A Letter Book, a Diary, a Book of receipts and expenses—these three Books, kept without intermission, should be the rule of duty of every man who can read and write. But to keep them perseveringly requires a character given to very few of the Sons of men. Above all it requires a character to which toil is a pleasure, and of which untiring Patience is an essential Element.1
Patience was not a conspicuous trait in any Adams statesman before Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886). But toil at their writing desks was as natural to them as eating or walking, and those who lacked patience made up for it by self-discipline. The combined product of their labors was briefly and admirably described by Edward Everett Hale about 1888, soon after C. F. Adams had laid down his pen for good. Of a visit to the Stone Library on the grounds of the Adams homestead in Quincy, Hale wrote:
You enter by the lordly fireplace, you turn to the right, and there is the diary of the first Adams when he left college in 1755. You walk on and you walk on, turning the corners as they come, and at the fireplace end, after your walk, a hundred paces more or less, you have seen the manuscript history of America in the diaries and correspondence of two Presidents and of that Minister to England who spoke the decisive word which saved England and America from a third war.2
Hale’s “hundred paces more or less” is perhaps as good a measure for the physical bulk of the family archives as one needs. The microfilm edition of the Adams Papers, 1639–1889, runs to 27,464 feet of 35-mm. film. No one has attempted to count the pages or is likely to. If to the records created and accumulated by the three generations of statesmen were added those of Charles Francis Adams’ sons, three of whom were extremely articulate and lived well into the present century, the total would certainly run to 400,000 pages and perhaps substantially more.
The story told by these massed documents begins in a farmer’s cottage in Braintree during the year of Braddock’s defeat near Fort Duquesne, moves through the excitements of Massachusetts’ quarrel with the British ministry and crown as recorded by a young and highly observant lawyer, and then enlarges, first, to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and York, and, before long, to the
theater of world politics and diplomacy as viewed from Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague, London, and occasionally St. Petersburg. “I have written more to Congress, since my Arrival in Paris,” John Adams told a friend in the spring of 1780, “than they ever received from Europe put it all together since the Revolution [began]
This boast may not have been far from the literal truth, and Adams maintained a comparable output for eight years longer.
Then, after a decade of contending with wily foreign secretaries and rubbing elbows with generals, dukes, mistresses of salons, Dutch bankers and burgomasters, and the most eminent philosophers of the day, Deacon John Adams’ son, a former village schoolmaster, returned home and was elected in turn the first Vice President and the second President of the United States. His administration was torn by strife not only between parties but within his own party. But being convinced that war would be disastrous, he kept the peace and found himself repudiated by both parties, thereby setting an example of independence and isolation followed more than once by his descendants. John Adams retired to the house in Quincy he named “Peacefield,” where he chewed the cud of frustration and relived his public life in long self-justifying letters and memoirs.
Gradually his love of farming, of books, of his country, of life itself, aided by the tireless support and care of a matchless partner, Abigail Adams, restored him. He resumed his correspondence with friends like Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson who had differed with him during the heat of the day, by turns entertaining them with his jocularity and astounding them with his learning. His greatest satisfaction lay in watching the progress of his son in public life, and his greatest excitement in joining that son in new political battles that presented remarkable parallels with those which he himself had fought long ago.
John Quincy Adams’ records begin at a relatively earlier stage of his life than do those of his father—a tribute no doubt to parental training. He was not quite eleven when he wrote John Adams, then in the Continental Congress, that he loved “to recieve Letters very well much better than I love to write them,” and that he made “but a poor figure at Composition” because his thoughts were always “running after birds eggs, play and trifles, till I get vexd with my Self, Mamma has a troublesome task to keep me Steady.” Hoping to do better, he requested his father’s advice “how to proportion my Studies and my Play,” and in a postscript promised that if he were sent “a Blank book
I will transcribe the most remarkable occurances I mett with in my reading which will Serve to fix them upon my mind.”4
During the next eight years this boy visited most of the capitals of Europe, served as his father’s amanuensis and as French interpreter to the first United States diplomatic mission to Russia, and instructed French diplomats in the mysteries of the English language. Franklin, Lafayette, and Jay became familiar figures to him, and many years later his father reminded Thomas Jefferson that “when you was at Cul de sac at Paris, he appeared to me to be almost as much your boy as mine.”5
After taking his degree at Harvard and spending a few years in unprofitable law practice and much more successful political journalism, John Quincy Adams, then twenty-six, was appointed by President Washington American minister to the Netherlands—familiar ground to him because he had attended schools in Amsterdam and Leyden and had lived with his father in the first of all American legation buildings in Europe, at The Hague. Here began the remarkable series of dispatches that was to stretch (with an interval while he served in the United States Senate and as Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard) from 1794 to 1817, first from The Hague, then from Berlin, St. Petersburg, Ghent, Paris, and London, the originals filling volume after volume among the records of the State Department in the National Archives and the drafts and bound letterbook copies filling other shelves in the Adams Papers. The panorama they unfold of Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Europe is probably unsurpassed, especially when supported by his incredibly detailed diary entries, even in that age studded with brilliant and articulate diplomatists.
Called home to serve as secretary of state in Monroe’s cabinet, Adams spent eight laborious and highly effective years in that office. They were followed by a single term as a minority President, equally laborious but devoid of accomplishment because, like his father before him, Adams found himself a leader without a party. Looking back after his defeat by Jackson in 1828, he reflected that he would have to content himself “with the slender portion of [posterity’s]
regard which may be yielded to barren good Intentions, and Aspirations beyond the temper of the Age.”6
But even as he wrote, the way was being opened to his “second career,” as a member of Congress from Massachusetts, the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, and the indomitable champion of the right of popular petition. There were many who thought it a mistake, because beneath him, for the ex-President to
return to Congress. But Adams himself esteemed the suffrage of his neighbors the highest tribute ever paid him. The nation looked on with growing wonder as the bald little old man with his high-pitched voice fought the Southern phalanx in the House to a standstill. Emerson described the spectacle and summed up Adams’ character better than anyone else when he wrote:
Mr. Adams chose wisely and according to his constitution, when, on leaving the Presidency, he went into Congress. He is no literary old gentleman, but a bruiser, and loves the mêlée
. When they talk about his age and venerableness and nearness to the grave, he knows better, he is like one of those old cardinals, who, as quick as he is chosen Pope, throws away his crutches and his crookedness, and is as straight as a boy. He is an old roué
who cannot live on slops, but must have sulphuric acid in his tea.7
Among those who thought John Quincy Adams lost dignity by reentering political life was his son Charles Francis. Considering his upbringing, this is not surprising. The only young man who has ever been both a son and grandson of Presidents, taught by his father in Russia and enrolled in British schools while his father served as American minister in London, Charles Francis was inclined both by temperament and training to take the proprieties of life with great seriousness. His mother pampered him, and his father by turns forgot him for long intervals and then lectured him sternly and at length on what his family and his country expected of him. His closest companion during his young manhood, as one of his own sons noted with exasperation, was a diary. “He took to diary writing early, and he took to it bad,” the younger Charles Francis observed while preparing a biography of his father. Worse than that, his diary displayed no humor, no picturesqueness, no imagination, no love of nature or of sports or even of gossip, “no eye to the dramatic,... no touches of sympathy or fun.... He studied the classics and read Clarissa Harlowe to his young wife—who evidently was bored to extinction.” He went to church because it was the right thing to do, but even though he was bored by the sermons he conscientiously epitomized them in his journal.8
To this private indictment, much softened in the son’s published biography, another son made a public reply. In Henry’s opinion
Charles Francis Adams possessed the only perfectly balanced mind that ever existed in the name. For a hundred years, every newspaper scribbler
had, with more or less obvious excuse, derided or abused the older Adamses for want of judgment. They abused Charles Francis for his judgment.... Charles Francis Adams was singular for mental poise—absence of self-assertion or self-consciousness—the faculty of standing apart without seeming aware that he was alone—a balance of mind and temper that neither challenged nor avoided notice, nor admitted question of superiority or inferiority, of jealousy, of personal motives, from any source, even under great pressure.... [His] memory was hardly above the average; his mind was not bold like his grandfather’s or restless like his father’s, or imaginative or oratorical—still less mathematical; but it worked with singular perfection, admirable self-restraint, and instinctive mastery of form. Within its range it was a model.9
None of the qualities singled out for praise or blame by either son was of the kind likely to create a popular following. Charles Francis Adams therefore enjoyed limited success as a politician. He served reputably in the Massachusetts House and Senate in the 1840’s. In 1848, at the birth of the Free Soil Party in Buffalo, he was nominated as a running-mate for, of all people, Martin Van Buren. But this seems to have been largely a gesture of homage to the memory of John Quincy Adams, who had died earlier that year. After the poor showing of the Free Soilers in the national election, Adams returned contentedly to his labors on the family papers and specifically to the editing of John Adams’ Works
. A whole decade passed before he was lured back into politics. In 1858 he took his father’s seat in Congress and filled it with distinction during one term and the beginning of a second. This was the last elective office he was to hold. His name and his extraordinary resemblance to the Adams Presidents caused him to be put forward with more or less enthusiasm for high national office in almost every election year until 1876. But as often as this happened he doused his supporters’ hopes with the cold water of a self-restraint that could as well be called inverted pride. As early as 1852 a former political associate described him as “the greatest Iceberg in the Northern hemisphere,”10
and in the popular mind a chill always clung to his name.
But if Charles Francis’ prudence, self-restraint, and coolness handicapped him as a political leader, they served him well in his two diplomatic missions—in London from 1861 to 1868 and in Geneva as United States arbitrator of the Alabama
claims in 1871–1872. Both his historian sons have treated the London years well—Henry with the dramatic flourishes characteristic of his style, Charles more soberly.
Neither of them provided a better key to his conduct and to his success in coping with the denizens of Downing Street and Mayfair during critical periods in Anglo-American relations than a sentence or two the Minister himself wrote in a letter to his eldest son in 1863. “My practice,” he said, “has been never to manifest feeling of any kind, either of elation or of depression. In this, some Englishmen have taken occasion to intimate that I have been thought quite successful.”11
So it was to be again during the delicate and protracted arbitration proceedings at Geneva, the outcome of which was another tribute to Adams’ patience and firmness. Thereafter he could retire with genuine relief to his beloved books and his editorial work on his father’s diary, alternating with the seasons between the Stone Library he had built at the homestead in Quincy and the well-stocked shelves of the Boston Athenaeum.
This bare summary of the story the family papers tell has so far dealt only with the Adams statesmen, with emphasis on their preparation for and their accomplishments in public life. But the papers are quite as remarkable when considered in a wholly different light, not as documentation for momentous events but as sources for the history of a uniquely gifted family. The diaries, correspondence, and other writings of John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams are embedded in a much larger body of manuscript records to which many other members of the family have contributed. For a period of more than a century the husbands and wives, the sisters and brothers, the parents and children, the grandparents and grandchildren in the Adams family found themselves dispersed in vantage points for observation on both sides of the Atlantic and maintained a highly effective communication system by correspondence. Abigail Adams (born Abigail Smith, 1744–1818) set the pattern, first as a young mother left in charge of a farm and a house full of children, servants, and refugees from British-occupied Boston; later at her husband’s side in Paris and London, but never unmindful for a day of her boys at home or of her sisters and their families; ultimately as a matriarch, the balance wheel of her roving family, reporting charmingly on her garden, tirelessly on news of the family and neighbors, tartly on public affairs, and chiding young and old alike when they did not write regularly to her. “It is a habit the pleasure of which increases with the practise,” she pointed out as one who knew, “but becomes urksome by neglect.”12
“To know that you are well that you have Bread to Eat, and Raiment
to cloath you, are subjects of no trivial import, and communicate pleasure to me, as the reverse would be most painfull.”13
To the end she kept up the flow of news from Quincy to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, to St. Petersburg, Ghent, and London. Writing a young relative who lived no farther away than Boston but whom she was very fond of, Mrs. Adams said that her epistolary activity had provoked local comment but this would by no means deter her from going on. “I beleive the post man thinkes us very importent correspondents, as one observed that it was well the P[resident]
had the priviledge of Franking. I have no scruples upon that head. As it is the only gratuity his country ever bestowed upon him, I mean to place a high value upon it, by as frequent a use of it as I have occasion for.”14
Mrs. John Quincy Adams (born Louisa Catherine Johnson, 1775–1852) was cast in a less heroic mold than her mother-in-law. One of the most dramatic moments in the entire history of the family occurred when Louisa Catherine confronted Abigail Adams for the first time, at the Old House in Quincy during the Thanksgiving season of 1801. The daughter-in-law’s antecedents were Southern and English; she had grown up in London and France and had passed her first four years of married life at the Court of Berlin. Her sudden translation to the village of Quincy in a wintry season was more than her delicate temperament and breeding could stand. “Had I steped into Noah’s Ark,” she recalled later, “I do not think I could have been more utterly astonished.” The rustic relatives and neighbors, the queer hours, dress, food, and manners, “Even the Church, its forms, the snuffling through the nose,” dismayed and depressed her. And in the presence of the all-competent Abigail she knew she was conspicuously ill-qualified to conduct a household according to Quincy standards. “I was literally and without knowing it a fine
Lady,” which was to say contemptible in the eyes of Quincy folk. Her one comfort was that “the old Gentleman took a fancy to me.”15
John Adams’ affection was rewarded by his daughter-in-law’s unswerving devotion. Louisa Catherine accompanied her husband on his further diplomatic travels, which were extensive, and she contributed splendidly to the surviving annals of the family by writing long journal-letters home. These grew even longer after Abigail died and “the old Gentleman” lived on until he was nearly ninety-one.
After her first traumatic experience Louisa Catherine never adapted herself to the Quincy climate. Her visits there were few and usually short, though her memory haunts the chamber at the Old House where her grandson Henry described her unforgettably—“a fragile creature, ... an exotic, like her Sèvres china”—seated at her writing desk with sets of Peregrine Pickle
and Tom Jones
in 18th-century bindings behind its little glass doors.16
Her desk and books are still to be seen there.
Louisa Catherine’s fragility was perhaps more apparent than real. She not only survived more than fifty years of married life with John Quincy Adams but outlived him by four years. To those who have studied the mountainous masses of records he created and left behind him, John Quincy Adams sometimes appears to have had more of the attributes of a natural force than of a human being. Certainly we must grant his lifetime partner endurance. But if this, together with wifely loyalty and submission, is her most visible trait, her main contribution to the family was a love of letters. The Adamses had not lacked for books before her time, but their taste ran to folios of law, history, diplomacy, and philosophy. Louisa Catherine loved literature as an elegant art. Volume upon volume of her poetical compositions, both originals and translations from the French, remain among the family archives. In a prose sketch dated from the White House and entitled “The Metropolitan Kaleidoscope or Varieties of Winter” there are echoes of Goldsmith and Irving; and several short dramatic pieces (for example, “Juvenile Indiscretions or Grand Papa a Farce in one Act” and “The Captives of Scio or The Liberal American. A Melo-Drame”) suggest that she tried lightening the atmosphere of a grimly earnest household with amateur theatricals. How well she succeeded is an open question, but along with the “quarter taint of Maryland blood” her grandson Henry acknowledged from her there obviously came much that was new and leavening in the Adams strain.
Mrs. Charles Francis Adams (1808–1889) was much less articulate than the other Adams statesmen’s wives. The daughter of a Medford capitalist, Abigail Brooks was, or became, as prosy as her innumerable relatives who were always on hand and had made Charles Francis’ courtship of her (very fully recorded in his diary) almost unendurable. But if she was as Victorian as Victoria, whom she came to resemble remarkably in later years, her fortune, handled with acumen by her husband, guaranteed family solvency for several generations. And she more than compensated for her own want of brilliance by rearing
four extraordinarily gifted sons. The eldest, named John Quincy (1833–1894) after his grandfather, was a lawyer, moderator of town meetings, member of the General Court, gentleman farmer, and Fellow of Harvard College, but deliberately broke with family tradition not only by becoming a Democrat but by abandoning what he called “the vile family habit of preserving letters.”17
Yet such of his own letters as survive, mainly addressed to his father and brothers during the Civil War and Reconstruction, are among the liveliest that any Adams ever wrote. The next brother, Charles Francis 2d (1835–1915), Union Army officer, railroad commissioner and executive, capitalist, historian and biographer, and president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, became the most prolific publicist in the whole history of the family. His diaries and correspondence remain in large part intact among the family papers and constitute a mass almost as formidable as the manuscript records of any of his statesmen-forebears. The two younger brothers, Henry (1838–1918) and Brooks (1848–1927), while still boys helped their father in his editorial work on the family papers and thus began adult life with a thirst for printer’s ink. Henry’s taste for it ran its course and declined as he grew old and world-weary; Brooks’ never diminished. A niece of theirs, Mrs. Robert Homans of Boston, has told the editor in chief of
The Adams Papers
that when as a girl she visited the Adams homestead she would find her Uncle Brooks in the house itself at work on a philosophical treatise, perhaps The Law of Civilization and Decay
, her Uncle Henry in the Stone Library writing the History of the United States
, and her Uncle Charles in his house on Presidents Hill across the way narrating the settlement of Boston Bay for his Three Episodes of Massachusetts History
. She once asked her father, John Quincy Adams 2d, why her uncles were always writing and he very seldom did. “My dear,” he answered without much hesitation, “it amuses them.”
Students of the past, and students of human nature too, may be glad that the Adamses were amused or otherwise satisfied by writing. The assembled results of their activity with their pens embody a long, dense, and rich record of experience on two continents, by turns entertaining and moving and always informative. Those of us who have lived and worked with the Adams Papers have properly sensed, we hope, both the unique privilege and the high responsibility conferred on us as the agents through whom the family’s written records are being presented to the public.
History and Plan of The Adams Papers
Family Custody and Use of the Papers
Each generation of the Adams family displayed its concern to get itself on record, and to preserve the records thus created, in its own characteristic way.18
John Adams wrote up his diary (though with lapses for which he reproached himself) as a matter of course, and he evidently preserved every scrap of writing, no matter how cryptic, relative to his law practice because it was good business to do so. At an inn in Danvers, upon hearing the news that he had been elected to what became the First Continental Congress, Adams wrote that although he felt “unequal” to the “grand Scene” now opening before him, he could at least “keep an exact Diary, of my Journey, as well as a Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress.”19
He discharged this pledge with less than perfect fidelity; nevertheless, he told more about the birth of the United States in the years 1774–1776 than any of his colleagues did. On the eve of the Declaration of Independence he discovered the virtues of letterbooks, purchased some, and from then until his death a half-century later pretty regularly continued the practice of making copies of all the letters he sent out. On his arrival in Paris in 1778 he was shocked by the casual record-keeping practices of the American mission in Europe, and hastened “to procure some blank books, and to apply myself with Diligence to Business.”20
The result is a matchless body of records documenting many of the crucial transactions concerning American finances and treaty-making in Europe throughout the decade that followed.
Their survival is owing to a combination of solicitude and good luck. Conveying them safely from one European capital to another required endless arrangements and correspondence. In 1784 Adams sent the accumulation in a trunk to his bankers in Amsterdam and asked that they be treated “as a Sacred Deposit.”21
A year later they were brought to London with the Minister’s household goods from the Legation at The Hague in order to avoid growing dangers from
Dutch political disturbances. In 1787 Adams found a trusty hand to send them home by and seized the opportunity. Writing his friend and agent Cotton Tufts back home in Weymouth, he explained:
There is so much Appearance of War, that I thought it a Precaution of Prudence to send my Manuscript Letter Books, and Collections of Papers, relative to all my Transactions in France and Holland, home by Mr. Jenks. They are contained in a large Trunk, and are so numerous as to fill it, so that there is no room for any Thing else in it. I suppose the Custom house officers will let it pass: but they may open it if they please. Yet I hope they will not disturb the order of the Papers. These I suppose are neither prohibited Goods, nor liable to Duties. Let my pray you Sir, to send them to Braintree, to the Care of Mr. Cranch till my Return.22
These, in the main, were the papers from which Adams prepared the sprawling autobiographical writings of his old age, important segments of which are presented in the third and fourth volumes of the current publication. Immediately after his wife’s death, late in 1818, he made an effort to put his accumulations in order. “Tell Mr. A.,” he wrote Mrs. John Quincy Adams in Washington, “that I am assiduously and sedulously employed in Exertions to save him trouble, by collecting all my Papers. What a Mass!”23
And two days later he informed his son directly that he was
deeply immersed in researches, not astro[no]
mical or mineralogical or metaphisical; but after old Papers. Trunks, Boxes, Desks, Drawers locked up for thirty Years have been broken open because the Keys are lost. Nothing stands in my Way. Every Scrap shall be found and preserved for your Affliction [or]
for your good.... I shall leave you an inheritance sufficiently tormenting, for example, The huge Pile of family Letters, will make you Alternatly laugh and cry, fret and fume, stamp and scold as they do me.24
As good as his word, the old gentleman on the day he signed his will, 27 September 1819, signed a separate deed of gift by which he conveyed to John Quincy Adams “all my Manuscript Letter Books, and Account Books, Letters, Journals, and Manuscript papers,” contained in several trunks, a bureau, and an escritoire, each carefully identified.
The son’s own accumulations were by this time at least as formidable; they continued to increase until his death, and he was never to find (or for that matter to seek) the leisure to put them in order. Like his father before him he had usually if not invariably acted as the penman for the committees and the commissions on which he served.
In the long negotiation at Ghent the younger Adams’ relations with Henry Clay, who liked cards and cigars better than drafting treaty articles, paralleled those of John Adams with Benjamin Franklin three or four decades earlier. And in order to complete his own files J. Q. Adams stayed in Ghent, laboriously copying documents and correspondence, while his wife and little son Charles made their way from St. Petersburg across Europe, alone, in the dead of winter, and with Napoleon’s veterans gathering for what was to be known to history as the Hundred Days.25
A letter of Abigail Adams’ shows how her son entered on his duties as secretary of state two years and a half later. The new secretary and his family had been in Quincy about a week after their arrival from London when Abigail wrote that she had finally been able to persuade Louisa Catherine to take a short holiday in Boston,
and leave me to see the House put in a little order, which is covered with trunks, Books and papers, not confined to my sleeping room and the parlour, but every chamber in the House. For instance, in your uncles room, ranged in two rows, lie—I will get up and count them—no less than Eighteen large packages, addrest to all the Govenours in the United States, with Eighteen Circular Letters of half a page each, all Copied by your Aunt and Charles Foster, for she has become his private Secretary. Copies all his private letters into his Letter Books to save his hand and Eyes, his Eyes being very weak, and his right hand of which he complaind to me you remember, much upon the tremble like his Fathers. Heaven preserve both his Eyes and hands, for I am sure he is like to have labour enough for them; if he fulfills half the additional dutys which Congress by their direction to the office of States have laid upon him.26
This was the way it was always to be with Abigail’s son during his eight-year secretaryship, his four years as President, and his seventeen years in Congress. He took it upon himself to do the research and to write a report during hot Washington summers “relative to the regulations and standards for weights and measures in the several states, and relative to proceedings in foreign countries, for establishing uniformity
in weights and measures,” with accompanying recommendations, which had been called for by Congress before he took office as secretary.27
Later, in Congress, he laboriously calendared every one of the thousands of anti-slavery petitions that poured in on him during his eight-year fight against successive “gag rules” imposed on the House by Southern congressmen and their allies from the North. In the midst of this fight, when Adams was nearly seventy-three, he tripped on some matting newly laid on the House floor, fell heavily, and dislocated his right shoulder. The first attempt to reset it failed. He was carried out of the chamber and physicians reset the bone. Next day he reported in his diary that he had had “rather an uneasy night” and that his arm was in a sling. “I write against the kindest remonstrances of my family, and attended the morning sitting of the House against those of both my doctors.” But in his view such “occasional disabilities” were “admonitions and chastisements of Providence” for his own good, certainly not excuses for leaving the field of action or giving up his record of it.28
During the brief interval between his Presidency and his election to Congress, Adams sorted and examined his father’s papers and undertook a memoir of him, to contain or be amplified by diary extracts and selected correspondence. The son’s diary reveals the slow progress of the work and how little taste he had for it. And it may be added that the two chapters he produced show how little aptitude he had for such a task. They bring John Adams to his thirty-fifth year, breaking off with the Boston Massacre in 1770, and are exceedingly discursive and heavy-handed.29
Clearly he was only too happy in 1831 to dismiss the “stale excitements” of a former age and buckle on his armor for new political battles that were to continue through the rest of his life. Despairing of ever putting his own papers in order, he left both them and his father’s papers to his son Charles, enjoining him, “as soon as he shall find it suit his own convenience,” to build a fireproof building in which to keep them.30
Charles had already taken up with energy the task his father had dropped with relief. Sorting and reading family papers suited his lonely
temperament; he loved history; and he developed a talent for historical analysis and editing. His first publication from the family archives was a collection of his grandmother’s letters.31
He offered them to the public with some trepidation because of their intimate character, but to his surprise the book met with immediate and enthusiastic acceptance for that very reason.32
His next venture was a matching collection of Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife
For it he wrote a preface that is a landmark of good sense in an age of irresponsible editing. On the subject of textual fidelity he said:
If there is one recommendation to a literary work more than any other to be prized, it is that it should present the mind of the writer in as distinct a shape and as free from all extrinsic modeling as possible.... At no time in his life was John Adams a man of many concealments.... There was no hypocrisy in him whilst alive and it would scarcely be doing him justice to invest him with a share of it after his death.... We are beginning to forget that the patriots of former days were men like ourselves, acting and acted upon like the present race, and we are almost irresistibly led to ascribe to them in our imaginations certain gigantic proportions and superhuman qualities, without reflecting that this at once robs their characters of consistency and their virtues of all merit. It is imitating the conduct of those poets and romancers who laud their heroes for courage after having made them invulnerable. Fancy may do as it pleases as its purpose is only to amuse, but history has a nobler object.34
In the great task to which he addressed himself after his father’s death and the Free Soil campaign of 1848, Charles Francis Adams adhered to these principles as no other historical editor of that period did or even tried to do. In view of the difficulties he faced and the lack of good precedents for the editing of statesmen’s papers, his edition of the Works of John Adams
, published between 1850 and 1856, was a remarkable accomplishment. As a single example, his presentation of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, in which he attempted to indicate in his editorial apparatus all the changes that instrument “underwent after it left [John Adams’]
1779 to 1840, shows a grasp of scholarly standards and methods not equaled until the work of Paul and Worthington Ford almost half a century later.35
Generally speaking, C. F. Adams’ annotation throughout the volumes is also excellent. In other respects, however, the family edition has not stood up well. The format itself is repellent—“funereal,” as Mr. Zoltán Haraszti has said—and the publishers having used inferior materials, the volumes themselves fall apart when used with any frequency. These are faults not attributable to the editor, but both his selection and arrangement of material are decidedly open to question. Happily he printed large portions of both the Diary and Autobiography in the second and third volumes, but thereafter he concentrated, unhappily for John Adams’ subsequent reputation, on public writings and official correspondence until the middle of the ninth volume. At this point he announced that room was left for only “a rigid selection” of his grandfather’s private letters, although
Probably not a single leading actor of the revolutionary period has left nearly so many as Mr. Adams.... Especially is it matter of regret that room could not be found for the familiar letters as well of Mr. Adams as of his wife, a small portion of which were collected and published by the Editor in another shape some years ago. A number of letters addressed to Mr. Adams by distinguished men, which had been prepared, are likewise excluded, for the same reason. These materials, however, are not lost. They await a later period, when they may be presented in a shape not less durable than the present, to illustrate the heroic age of the United American States.36
The effect of these decisions, though of course unintended, was to exaggerate the formal and pompous traits of John Adams’ character and literary style, and to minimize the warmth, pungency, humor, and incurable playfulness that are seldom absent from his personal writings. Almost equally unfortunate was C. F. Adams’ complicated classification by subject or type of the materials he selected for editing, an arrangement that results in half a dozen or more overlapping chronological sequences, deprives the record of the writer’s career of all continuity, and almost guarantees that one will not find a given letter or document where one expects to. Many, many times students must have consulted the volumes, searched for an item that ought to be there, and put them aside without finding what they wanted—even though it was there, perhaps tucked away in an appendix, a footnote, or an introductory commentary on some other document.
The prospectus for “The Life and Works of John Adams,” issued
by Little & Brown of Boston in February 1849, stated that if this publication were well received, the editor and publishers would “be encouraged to go on and perfect the other and later part of it, the Life and Works of the no less distinguished son, JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.” At that time the family editor obviously viewed his double task as a unified enterprise. But with the approach of the Civil War he was drawn back into politics, and from politics into diplomacy, so that it was to be many years before he could undertake the work of memorializing his father’s career. In preparation for it and in fulfillment of his father’s injunction, he built a fireproof library adjacent to the Old House in Quincy.37
After returning from the arbitration tribunal at Geneva he settled down in 1873 to edit John Quincy Adams’ diary, for he had now decided that this one monumental document, extending (with a few early gaps) over seventy years, would serve his father’s memory better than a biography and a selection of his papers after the pattern of the Works of John Adams
. Or perhaps, understandably, he quailed in the face of “the superabundance of the materials.”38
The preface to the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams
set forth clearly and tersely the editor’s principles of selection. To be omitted were “details of common life and events of no interest to the public.” To be reduced were “the moral and religious speculations, in which the work abounds.” Nothing was to be excluded merely because it might be or seem unfavorable to either the diarist or any of his contemporaries. And there was to be no “modification of the sentiments or the very words, and substitution of what might seem better ones.”39
So far as the present editors’ knowledge now extends, these principles were faithfully applied. The chief deficiencies of the Memoirs
are, first, that such a very great deal had to be left out, especially relative to the writer’s personal as distinct from his public life, in order to compress the text into twelve large octavo volumes—twice as many as the editor and publisher had planned on; and, second, the almost total absence of editorial notes and commentary. A lesser fault, but a serious one in so large a work, is the woefully inadequate index.
Whatever faults may be found with C. F. Adams’ editing, he accomplished an astonishing amount of work as family archivist and editor, and performed that work with great skill and intelligence. He was beyond question the ablest historical editor of his time in the
United States. In 1886 he died, leaving his “papers, manuscripts and printed books ... to such of my four sons as may survive me, and the survivors and survivor of them, in trust,” to be kept together in the Stone Library at Quincy as long as “any of my male descendants bearing the family name shall continue to reside upon the said mansion house estate.”40
All four of his sons survived him. Three of them had literary and historical tastes and made use of the family papers for one scholarly purpose or another. Henry used them surprisingly little and before long grew inexpressibly bored with anything that concerned family history.41
Brooks made dashes at them from time to time over a long period. To the second Charles Francis fell the task of preparing a suitable literary memorial to his father. But his plans for a massive documentary biography, which was to embrace the whole of American foreign relations during the Civil War, grew so ambitious that they were left unfinished at his death.42
All that he completed was a succinct, undocumented, but admirable memoir of his father for the American Statesmen series, published in 1900.
As for the disposition of the family papers, which by now embraced the personal and official records of three major American statesmen, the brothers who jointly owned them had difficulty in determining their best course of action. It was the younger Charles Francis who hit upon the Bostonian expedient of placing the papers beyond the dangers of plundering, sale, or dispersal by creating the Adams Manuscript Trust in 1905. By consent of all the heirs of full age to the still undivided estate of the first Charles Francis Adams, the declaration of trust vested in four trustees (the three surviving brothers and their nephew, a third Charles Francis, 1866–1954) the absolute ownership and the care and supervision of the entire family archives. The Trust was to run for fifty years, and the trustees were to appoint their own successors during that period from among other lineal descendants of the first Charles Francis. They were also empowered during the term of the Trust to convey its property, by gift or otherwise, to the United States, the State of Massachusetts, or a chartered institution, and in any case within a year of its expiration they were to transfer ownership of the Trust’s property as they saw fit, “with
full power first to destroy the whole or such part” of it as they thought best.43
While the expressed intent of the agreement was to preserve the family papers intact, the trustees’ unexpressed purpose was simply to gain time. Not knowing what some of the papers might contain, they were uncertain what would be their best ultimate disposition, and they meant to keep them under close family control until they or their successors could make up their minds.
For their better physical protection the papers themselves had been moved in 1902 from the Stone Library in Quincy to the new building of the Massachusetts Historical Society on the Fenway in Boston. Six years later C. F. Adams 2d, president of the Historical Society, persuaded Worthington C. Ford to become editor of the Society’s publications. A scholar of international standing and endowed with incredible energy, Ford had known the Adams brothers well, and he enjoyed enough of their confidence to be given more or less unrestricted access to the Adams family manuscripts. With the brothers’ approval—after all, it was a burden lifted from their shoulders—Ford soon projected an edition of John Quincy Adams’ letters and other writings. He made rapid progress with it until war shortages caused the publisher, Macmillan, to break off publication with the seventh of an intended twelve-volume set.44
As late as 1925 Ford hoped to resume and complete the edition, but his hopes proved vain. Probably Brooks Adams, the sole surviving son of Charles Francis the diplomat, opposed the continuation, as he seems in his later years to have opposed any and all use of the family papers. Ford turned to other projects,45
and after Brooks’ death in 1927 the trustees in effect sealed the collection in the double-locked Adams Room on the first floor of the Historical Society building. Exceptions were sometimes made when scholars applied for copies of letters written to Adamses rather than letters and other papers written by them. The late Henry Adams 2d (1875–1951), a trustee from 1927 until his death, was fond of antiquarian pursuits and laboriously typed by the hunt-and-peck system a great many copies of such letters and sent them to inquirers. But in general the policy that he and his cousin Charles Francis 3d agreed on and applied was
that what had been published of the Adamses’ writings was all that should be published. As to the ultimate fate of the family archives they preferred to await the expiration of the Trust and the voice of a new generation.
The Present Enterprise
The history of the present editorial enterprise begins with the appointment, following the death of Henry Adams 2d, of two trustees bearing the historic names of Thomas Boylston Adams and John Quincy Adams, great-grandsons of Charles Francis Adams the Civil War diplomat. After preliminary discussions with several historians in Boston, the trustees invited a group of scholars who represented, though unofficially, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the American Antiquarian Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Park Service, the Institute of Early American History and Culture, and several universities, to meet with them at the Adams National Historic Site in August 1952. To this group gathered in the Stone Library where the first Charles Francis Adams had edited his father’s Memoirs
and where Henry Adams had finished his History of the United States
, Mr. Thomas B. Adams announced the decision of the trustees to put the Adams Papers freely in the service of history. He then asked how this might best be done. Once the significance of the question and of the moment was grasped, the answer was readily forthcoming: the papers should be published on microfilm as a nonprofit venture in the public interest, the cost to be met by subscriptions from the libraries purchasing sets of the films. An advisory committee of scholars was appointed to plan the edition. Grants for photographic equipment were obtained from the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, with both of which the Adams family had been associated since the 18th century. Preparation of the papers for filming began at the Historical Society, the sponsoring institution, in the following fall, under the oversight of Dr. Stephen T. Riley, then librarian (now director) of the Society; and technical supervision of the microfilming operation was undertaken by Dr. Vernon D. Tate, then librarian of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.46
The microfilm edition of The Adams Papers
, 1639–1889, was published in four major installments (Part I, Diaries; Part II, Letterbooks; Part III, Miscellany; Part IV, Letters Received and Other Loose Papers) in 608 reels between 1954 and 1959. The
materials filmed have been made freely available for research, but in the interest of the printed edition, hoped for from the outset and later realized, they are protected by copyright.47
With the Adams family archives as a whole under scholarly examination for the first time, the possibility of a letterpress edition commensurate with the quantity and importance of the materials could be discussed in realistic terms. Early in 1954 Mr. Thomas J. Wilson, director of Harvard University Press, informed the trustees of the Adams Manuscript Trust that the Press was willing and eager to publish such an edition and was authorized by representatives of the Harvard Corporation to assume all the publishing expenses incident thereto. Mr. Wilson’s proposal was made possible by a recent and generous bequest to the Press by the late Waldron P. Belknap Jr. for the publication of important sources and studies in American history, and it was promptly accepted by the Adams trustees. In respect to finances this left only the question of funds to support editorial work. This question too was soon settled. Mr. Roy E. Larsen, chairman of the Visiting Committee of Harvard University Press and president of Time, Inc., shortly proposed that his company purchase first serial publication rights to the Adams Papers on behalf of Life. By an agreement signed in August 1954 Time, Inc., pledged itself to pay to the Massachusetts Historical Society the sum of $250,000 over a period of ten years in return for the right to publish serially in Life, in advance of book publication, materials prepared for the Belknap Press edition of The Adams Papers; and the Society agreed (on behalf of the Adams Manuscript Trust) to be responsible for the editing of the family papers in an acceptable scholarly form. The Society appointed an Administrative Board representing itself, the Press, and the Trust. The Administrative Board appointed an editor in chief and an Editorial Advisory Committee. In the last week of November 1954 the editor took possession of an office adjacent to the Adams manuscripts, by then transferred to the Society’s manuscript stack, and editorial work began.
The ultimate event in the physical and legal history of the family archives occurred a year and a half later. By a deed of gift dated 4 April 1956 Thomas Boylston Adams and John Quincy Adams, trustees, transferred and conveyed to the Massachusetts Historical Society
all right, title and interest of the said Trust (including all literary rights, copyrights and rights to future income and proceeds) in, to and from all
manuscripts, letters, letter-books, documents, public and private, diaries and other material belonging to the said Trust and now located on the premises of the said Society ..., being all of the trust property remaining in the hands of the Trustees.
The document is signed by the two trustees, who thereby dissolved the Trust, and by Mr. John Adams, then president of the Society, signifying acceptance of the gift.
After the manner of Adamses, the family had discharged its trust well. The integrity of the records they created, accumulated, and preserved is in marked contrast with the fate of most other bodies of papers comparable in extent and importance—if any have been—in the United States and particularly during the early period of its history. The principal family archivist and editor pointed out more than once, in varying language, that “America is not the place for preservation of papers in the hands of families. The modes of life are too migratory, and the means of subsistence too precarious to be favorable to this object”48
—which is another way of saying that the shirtsleeves-to-shirtsleeves pattern of American life has usually meant, at least until the present century, the sale and dispersal of accumulations of historical manuscripts. The history of the Adams Papers has been singularly free of such misfortunes. Weeding to be sure did from time to time take place. For example, there must once have existed many more letters written to John Adams before the Revolution than can now be found, and we know from numerous references in the first Charles Francis Adams’ diary and correspondence that he destroyed, as inconsequential, the bulk of the letters received by both his grandmother and his mother except those written by members of the family. Among the sons of the first Charles Francis the destruction of their own papers was much heavier: the second John Quincy kept few papers; the second Charles Francis destroyed some of his early diaries (though nothing like what his Autobiography
appears to imply);49
Henry burned up virtually all his diaries in 1888, along with a great many of the letters he had received, and such of his own letters as he could recover (though fortunately he did not succeed too well in this last endeavor); and of Brooks Adams’ correspondence very little survives except the letters he exchanged with his brother Henry, now in the Houghton Library at Harvard. During the early stages of the autograph-collecting fad in the 19th century both John Quincy Adams
and his son Charles Francis occasionally pilfered from the manuscripts to gratify requests from institutions, charity fairs, and even individuals.50
But no evidence is known to the present editors of the sale of a single scrap of manuscript from the family archives in their entire history.
Whatever losses of these kinds may have been sustained, the assemblage was still so enormous in 1954 that it required extended exploration. The first task of the editor and the small staff he gathered in the following months was to prepare an item-by-item inventory of the papers as the family custodians had left them. The purpose of the inventory was not merely to extend a preliminary control over the mass but also to make it possible to determine at a later stage (if it proved desirable for editorial purposes—and it often has) the location and context of any given item according to the family’s arrangement of the manuscripts. About 650 entries appear in the inventory, most of them representing bound volumes and containers of loose manuscripts with some identity of their own, but ranging in size from the four-page sheet on which John Adams made his copy of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence while it was still in committee, to a gigantic folio containing the Geneva Arbitration documents, some 800 pages in all, assembled by the first C. F. Adams and bound up by his son Henry.
As the volumes, boxes, portfolios, and bundles were inventoried, all the unbound materials were placed in a single chronological sequence, and to these were added, after decasing and repairing, letters and other papers that had originally been separate pieces but had been arranged and bound by various family custodians according to their notions of convenience—by correspondent, by office, by subject, by period, and the like. Decasing of groups of manuscripts sewed into heavy leather bindings was essential in order both to photograph them and to establish a control over individual pieces (that is, to be able to find them when wanted). For the latter purpose it was also necessary to number serially every letter and other document copied into the three statesmen’s letterbooks, totaling about 21,000 items. The method of control—a simplified catalogue or finding list on slips in duplicate arranged both by date and alphabetically by the names of writers and recipients of letters and other papers—was borrowed from Mr. Julian P. Boyd’s system in the editorial office of The Papers of Thomas
at Princeton, but with modifications and elaborations because in the Adams Papers there is no single focal figure but many.
These operations required two full years, to the end of 1956. But they were not the only ones performed by the Adams Papers staff during that time and that have continued into the period of transcription and editing. There was, first of all, the problem of locating and adding to the editorial files photocopies of pertinent Adams materials outside the family’s own archives. Several hundred inquiries were sent to likely repositories in this country and abroad requesting lists of Adams materials held by them; the lists returned were studied for essential and nonessential items; orders for photoduplicates were placed for those considered essential, and the others were recorded in the control file for their possible relevance later on. Filmed materials were printed up on paper and processed as if originals (though stored in a file of “accessions” separate from the Adams Papers proper). The chief concentrations of material, as anticipated, have been found in the Boston area, where we have been able to do our own searching, and in the great Federal repositories in Washington, where we have had the invaluable help of the staff of the National Historical Publications Commission. Among the manuscript collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society alone over 2,600 supplementary items have been located, and the search is still incomplete. Harvard, the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Archives, and the American Antiquarian Society have all contributed heavily. A rich mine of material has also been found in the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Judicial Court, County of Suffolk. Some hundreds of papers documenting John Adams’ legal career before the Revolution have been earmarked among the early court files there but have not yet been photocopied for this enterprise. From Washington the Library of Congress had at the end of 1960 furnished the Adams Papers with more than 1,250 supplementary letters and other writings in photofacsimile, chiefly dating before 1800 because searches had so far been concentrated in this early period. From the National Archives the Adams Papers staff had accessioned by the same date more than 1,050 pieces, but literally thousands more had been received in the form of microfilm publications of United States diplomatic correspondence during John Quincy Adams’ long public career and were awaiting processing while John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography were being edited. The total number of supplementary items processed at the end of 1960 was something over 11,000, drawn from 204 different institutional and private sources.
Searches of printed sources, of dealers’ catalogues, and of auction records have been carried on in the Adams editorial office as time and
hands permitted, and the findings recorded in the control file. Such searches, though tedious, yield quantities of pertinent material, some of it of first importance, that would otherwise be overlooked. They can never, of course, be considered complete.
Other editorial aids have been developed as circumstances allowed. Of prime importance is an Adams Bibliography, based on Library of Congress author and subject cards but so vastly amplified that no guess beyond “thousands” can be made as to the number of entries by and about members of the Adams family this file contains. The editors hope that sooner or later the bibliography can be edited and published as a reference tool of independent value. The Adamses collected as well as published books on a heroic scale, and what is more they read their books and put them to use in performing their public duties. The editorial staff has therefore made a start on a union catalogue of all books known to have been owned by the Adamses, wherever they are now located, incorporating information on place and date of purchase, marginalia, and the like.51
A third working aid that has been carefully nurtured is a documented and indexed genealogy of the Presidential line of the Adamses and their close connections by blood and marriage. The editors plan to present this in print in conjunction with the Adams Family Correspondence (Series II of the present edition). And a fourth editorial aid, to mention no more, is a compilation of data and photographs concerning Adams iconography: portraits, views of residences and other sites associated with the family, and physical survivals of all sorts. This file serves not only as a stockpile of material for illustrations for the volumes being published but frequently, like the others that have already been mentioned, as a ready means of interpreting and annotating allusions in the Adams diaries and correspondence.
Plan of the Edition as a Whole
This summary of work done and in progress has run ahead of the main story of editorial planning for the letterpress edition of
The Adams Papers
. Planning began as soon as the work of inventorying
and arranging the papers was completed. Two major decisions were made at an early stage by the editor in chief with the concurrence of the Editorial Advisory Committee and the Syndics of the Harvard University Press. The first decision established the year 1889 as the cut-off date for materials to be included in the edition. Some terminus had to be fixed in a body of papers that extended well into the 20th century, and the year chosen was that in which Abigail Brooks Adams, wife of the first Charles Francis, died. Since she was the last of the “third generation,” there was logic in the choice, but there was also common sense, because the three highly articulate members of the fourth generation—Charles Francis 2d, Henry, and Brooks—have either been receiving or can be counted on to receive adequate scholarly attention outside the present editorial undertaking. Content with documents spanning exactly two and a half centuries, the editors have turned over to the Massachusetts Historical Society, to be served to readers like its other manuscript collections, all Adams papers dated from 1890 onward.
The other major decision was that the letterpress edition, with the exception of the diaries of the statesmen, is to be selective rather than all-inclusive in the pattern of the Jefferson, Franklin, and a number of other documentary publications now in progress. Confronting a mass of papers running to several hundred thousand pages emanating from famous and obscure Adamses and their correspondents, the editor and his advisers were never in doubt on this score. Not all the writings and all the “recorded actions”52
of all the Adamses, it was agreed, deserve perpetuation in type; it will be proper, and sufficient, to make available the entire corpus of the family archives on microfilm, but to publish in volumes only those portions which have substantial human or historical interest. Under this arrangement readers will be disburdened of much they do not want, and scholars will not be deprived of anything they do.
These decisions having been made, the character of the papers themselves has shaped the edition in its main outlines. It will consist of three principal series of volumes, numbered I, II, and III merely for convenience and not as an indication of the order in which they will appear.
will embrace the Adams Diaries and will be divided into at least three parts of disparate length: one for each of the Adams statesmen and possibly a fourth for the diary fragments and autobio•
graphical writings of Louisa Catherine Adams. The texts of the diaries of the statesmen will be published complete, without regard to previous publication of parts of some of them. To publish still another selection would simply leave the job to be done over again later, as has so often happened before with important diaries. The first part of Series I, the Diary of John Adams from 1755 to 1804, amplified by the three large fragments of his Autobiography, by three brief journals kept by Abigail Adams, and by certain other diary-like material from his papers, is presented in the four volumes now published. The second part, John Quincy Adams’ Diary from 1779 to 1848, of which perhaps half has never been published before, will run to an estimated twenty to twenty-four volumes. The third part, Charles Francis Adams’ Diary, 1820–1880, of which only a few snippets have ever appeared in print, may run to sixteen or eighteen volumes. Mrs. J. Q. Adams’ journals and recollections, if published by themselves, will fill a volume.
will be devoted to the Adams Family Correspondence. It will extend in a single chronological sequence from the courtship letters exchanged by John and Abigail Adams beginning in 1762, through three generations and part of a fourth, to the death of Abigail Brooks Adams in 1889. The second Abigail in the family (later Mrs. William Stephens Smith) remarked in one of her long journal-letters from London to her brother John Quincy in 1785 that the members of their family were brought up “Strangers to each other” because of their continuous foreign travels.53
This habit increased among the Adamses of the next century, but so did their habit of letter-writing to compensate for it, and the network of family communication grew ever wider and at the same time more closely meshed. Distinctive portions of it have been put into print, for example in the early collections of John Adams’ and Abigail Adams’ Letters
mentioned above in this Introduction; in Stewart Mitchell’s New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801
(1947), based on a collection of Mrs. Adams’ letters to her sister Mary Cranch in the American Antiquarian Society; and in Worthington C. Ford’s edition of the three-way correspondence of the first Charles Francis and his sons Charles and Henry during the Civil War, entitled A Cycle of Adams Letters
(1920; 2 vols.). It may seem hardly credible, but these are only samplings from the mine. The greatest merit of the Adams family correspondence is its continuity. It is an unbroken record of changing modes of domestic life, religious views and habits, travel, servants, dress, food, schooling,
reading, health and medical care, diversions, and every other conceivable aspect of manners and taste among the members of a substantial New England family who lived on both sides of the Atlantic and wrote industriously to each other over a period of more than a century. The editors recognize that separating family from general correspondence and thus creating an additional chronological sequence has disadvantages. But the advantages of presenting the story of the family, as told by the family, appear to them to be greater. Among other things it enables the women of the family (whether they were born into it or married into it) to be heard fully, and they are worth hearing.
Series II will be selective, but the term “family” will be broadly interpreted in choosing letters for inclusion. The criteria governing selection have not been precisely formulated and perhaps neither can nor should be. Those letters between members of the family, together with other letters written and received by the Adams ladies, will be included which reveal something of consequence about one or more members of the family. Previous publication will be disregarded in selecting letters. Since this is a very elastic formula, only a wild guess can be made concerning the length of Series II. It may possibly extend to twenty volumes.
will have the over-all title General Correspondence and Other Papers and, like Series I, will be divided into three parts: The Papers of John Adams, The Papers of John Quincy Adams, and The Papers of Charles Francis Adams. Each part will contain a comprehensive selection from the letters written by and to the statesman concerned (excluding letters exchanged between him and members of his family) and from his other writings, such as committee reports, diplomatic dispatches, newspaper communications, speeches and messages, literary productions, and the like. The scale of inclusiveness remains to be determined. Presumably the statesmen’s correspondence, without regard to previous publication, together with unpublished, inadequately edited, and inaccessible political writings and diplomatic dispatches, will have the highest priority. Certain bulky works pose special problems. John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America
(1787–1788), for example, appears to be more in need of a bibliographical monograph than of a new edition. The same is true of John Quincy Adams’ two-volume Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory
... (1810), the product of his Boylston professorship at Harvard. Probably few of either J. Q. Adams’ or C. F. Adams’ occasional speeches deserve republication, though their speeches in the Massachusetts legislature and in Congress
must certainly be represented. From the immense number of J. Q. Adams’ poetical effusions, ranging from sonnets for young ladies’ autograph albums to a mock-epic on a theme in Irish medieval history, and filling over twenty volumes in the Adams Papers Miscellany, a light sampling will suffice. On the other hand, his great Report on Weights and Measures
does deserve a modern scholarly edition; and John Adams’ legal records, fragmentary and cryptic as many of them are, would, if adequately edited, contribute significantly to our knowledge of the judicial system and modes of legal practice in Massachusetts prior to the Revolution, as well as to the social history of that period.
Too many questions of this kind remain unanswered to permit sensible guesses about the length of Series III or any of its parts. The number of volumes in
The Adams Papers
, if completed on a scale commensurate with the bulk, variety, and importance of the materials available, will run at least to eighty and possibly to a hundred. Not even so rough an estimate could have been made before prolonged study was given to the Adams Papers at large, an undertaking not feasible until the present editorial enterprise was agreed to and its funds allotted. No one, in other words, had thoroughly explored this ocean until the present principal editor launched his open boat upon it. In view of his findings he labors under no illusion that he will live to see the publication completed. But he has felt he has had no choice but to plan it in as nearly ideal terms as possible, and to execute that part of it he is privileged to execute without regard to immediate limitations of time and funds. To have done less would have been to add another to the long series of editions of statesmen’s papers that are monuments to inadequate planning, duplicative effort, and little faith.
John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography: The Manuscripts and Earlier Publication
The Diary Manuscript
John Adams’ Diary consists physically of fifty-one manuscript pieces, though to be perfectly accurate some of these are themselves multiple pieces or scraps. Of the fifty-one pieces the greater part (including the first twenty-four, which extend from 1755 to 1775) are stitched or unstitched gatherings of leaves of pocket size (6″ × 4″,
more or less), sometimes protected by wrappers of marbled paper or a piece of contemporary newsprint and sometimes altogether unprotected. Some notion of their appearance can be obtained from the reproductions in the present volume of the first two pages of the earliest Diary booklet. John Quincy Adams referred to the early booklets as his father’s “Journal Fragments”; Charles Francis Adams called them “Paper Books” (sometimes shortened to “P.B.”). Later units of the Diary as arranged and left by the family custodians are assemblages of folded sheets of various sizes, small memorandum books bound in soft or hard covers, and larger, bound journal books.
C. F. Adams numbered the pieces of this heterogeneous collection serially through No. 31. The Adams Papers staff has preserved and extended this numbering in order to facilitate references to particular parts of the manuscript. The present numbering is as follows: D/JA/1–22, 22A, 22B, 23–49. It has not seemed necessary to furnish here a tabulation of all the booklets, loose sheets, and bound journals, with the respective dates they cover, but in the present edition the first entry drawn from a new unit of the manuscript is signaled in a footnote, and the complex dovetailing of entries from overlapping parts of the manuscript is also indicated, because it sometimes explains passages that would otherwise be meaningless.
J. Q. Adams’ term “Journal Fragments” is a little ambiguous. It should not be taken to mean that there was once more of John Adams’ Diary than now exists, but rather that what does exist is full of gaps, the Diary seldom having been kept regularly and whole years sometimes passing without any entries whatever. One cannot pronounce on the matter beyond all possibility of doubt, but probably no manuscripts existed that have not survived. In a very few instances leaves may possibly have been removed from the fragile early booklets, or much more likely simply lost in handling.54
For only two entries in the entire Diary have the present editors had to rely on C. F. Adams’ printed text rather than on a manuscript source.55
Both the nature of the entries and the physical condition of the manuscripts show that John Adams carried the paper booklets of his Diary in his pocket as he rode the court circuits from county to county before the Revolution and as he traveled to and from the Continental Congress. Until he began his record of debates in Congress in Septem•
ber 1775, which was the third session he attended, he evidently did not indulge himself in a durable, store-bought notebook for diary purposes. The home-made booklets he used until then (D/JA/1–22B) were usually ill-protected against wear and, before he put them aside, often became so badly worn that their front and back pages are now scarcely legible and their fore-edges are ragged and chipped away. Since in early life he wrote in a fine hand and economized on paper by leaving no margins whatever, transcription of the early Diary has been tedious and difficult work. Nor has it been facilitated by Adams’ careless habits in writing up his journal. He often kept several booklets going at once, sometimes proceeded simultaneously from the front and back of the same booklet, used old partially filled booklets for much later entries, and occasionally went long periods without dating his entries at all. There are also cases where the threads holding the sheets together have parted and the booklets are now mere assemblages of loose leaves without determinable order.
John Quincy Adams was the first person to read the Diary as his father had left it. In the summer of 1829 he set himself the task of examining John Adams’ papers and preparing an extended memoir interspersed with excerpts from his father’s Diary and letters.56
Finding the early parts of the manuscript fragile, “scarcely legible,” and in confused order, he set two young men to work copying them: his nephew Thomas Boylston Adams Jr. (“the Lieutenant”) and a neighbor who was also a relative, William Cranch Greenleaf. This work went on into November and probably from time to time in later years. While we must be grateful for it, because the early transcripts preserve some passages of the Diary texts now utterly lost through the physical deterioration of the originals, the transcription could hardly have been done worse. J. Q. Adams thriftily chose to have the copies written into two of his father’s larger, bound journal books;57
the boys (for they were hardly more than that) could neither read nor understand much of what they were copying; and they were given little or no guidance concerning the order in which the material should be copied. The results were a fearful hodgepodge. They remained such until C. F. Adams went to work on his edition of John Adams’ Diary and, by his careful correction of the texts, filling in of gaps, and indi•
cating correspondences between the originals and the copies, rendered the copies of some use to himself and his successors.
The Autobiography Manuscript
The manuscript of John Adams’ Autobiography consists of three large fragments, none of them bearing that title. All three parts were written on folio sheets folded once to make four quarto pages that are mostly of precisely the same size (8 7/8″ x 7″), but with a few larger sheets that have plagued his editors because the three outer edges of these long ago grew brittle from exposure to the air, have partly cracked off, and have carried away some words and passages beyond recovery.
The manuscript as a whole runs to about 450 pages. Disregarding one or two false starts, the three main segments may be described as follows:
Part One, entitled “John Adams,” in 53 numbered sheets (plus a few insertions), is dated at the head of the text 5 October 1802; a few pages farther on it is said to have been resumed on 30 November 1804; and it contains later references in the text to 21 February, 8 March, and 7 June 1805 as contemporary with the composition of the manuscript—the last of these dates appearing near the end. Part One begins with what the writer knew about the coming of the Adamses to Massachusetts Bay in the 1630’s and ends with John Adams’ departure from the Continental Congress for Braintree in mid-October 1776.
Part Two, entitled “Travels, and Negotiations,” in 37 numbered sheets (plus a number of insertions), is dated at the head of the text 1 December 1806; about a third of the way through the writer refers to the current year as still 1806. Part Two begins chronologically in November 1777 with the writer’s return to Braintree from Congress and his appointment immediately thereafter as joint American commissioner to France; it breaks off with a copy of a letter dated at Passy, 25 July 1778.
, entitled “Peace,” in 18 numbered sheets (plus one insertion), bears no date of composition, but an entry in it dated 14 December 1779 refers to 1807 as the current year, and the entire fragment was doubtless written during that year. It begins with a copy of a letter from the Chevalier de La Luzerne, Philadelphia, 29 September 1779, congratulating Adams on his appointment to negotiate a peace with Great Britain, and it ends after the first few lines of a copy of Adams’ letter to Vergennes written at Paris, 21 March 1780.58
This summary gives no notion of the complex—a better word might be chaotic—structure of John Adams’ Autobiography. A glance through the last portion of Part One (“John Adams”) will, however, do so. Adams wrote most of this first large fragment from an unaided memory, never stopping to consult his own Diary or files of correspondence or the contemporaneously published Journals
of the Continental Congress which he had in multiple copies on his bookshelves. In this manner he carried the narrative rapidly through the sessions of Congress in 1774, 1775, and 1776 up to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the appointment of a committee “for preparing the Model of a Treaty to be proposed to France” in June 1776.59
But in his account of this last measure he left a blank for the names of the members of the committee, for here it evidently occurred to him that he could look these names up in the printed Journals
. Although he never did supply the missing names, his very next paragraph begins with the remark: “I have omitted some things in 1775 which must be inserted.”60
His glance at the first volume of the Journals
reminded him of all sorts of things he had not dealt with sufficiently or at all up to the point he had reached in his narrative. He at once reverted to affairs in Congress in September 1775 and, browsing at large, began to copy freely from the volume in hand, with remarks, through the point when he left Congress in December of that year.61
Having launched upon this method of combining excerpts and commentary—no new method of composition, to be sure, for him—he found it so suited to his taste that he now went back still farther. Observing that he “should be a little more particular, in relating the Rise and Progress of the new Governments of the States,” he reviewed the first volume of the Journals
for material pertinent to that subject from 2 June 1775, touching as well on some matters that were not
pertinent to it, until he had again brought the story up to mid-1776 with the voting of independence and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.62
He now simply continued his review, from early July through his journey with Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge to confer with Lord Howe at Staten Island in September and the report of that mission.63
At this point, for no discernible reason, it occurred to him for the first time in composing his Autobiography to look at his old letterbooks. “To a few of my most confidential friends,” he remarked by way of transition, “I expressed my feelings, in a very few Words,
which I found time to write: and all the Letters, of which I find Copies, in my Letter Book, are here subjoined, relative to this Transaction [Gen. John Sullivan’s invitation from Howe and the conference which followed]
from its Beginning to its End.”64
The rest of Part One is largely a collection of letter copies from August through early October. At length Adams noted that “Some time in the month of October ... I asked Leave of Congress to be absent, which they readily granted.” But “before I proceed to relate the Occurrences of this Journey, I will copy some other Letters which ought to be inserted in this place, or perhaps they would be better thrown into an Appendix all together.”65
Then, after copying in a single letter of the preceding August, he stopped flat. He never related “the Occurrences of this Journey” home, and he never filled in the gap between October 1776 and November 1777, where Part Two of the Autobiography begins.
These details are tedious, but they show the disorderly and fitful way in which Adams worked. This was to be his way again when he composed the other two parts of his Autobiography, with this principal difference, that in the meantime he had rediscovered his old diaries and drew so heavily upon them, as well as upon his letterbooks, throughout “Travels and Negotiations” and “Peace” that these two parts of the Autobiography have more of the character of compilations than of original compositions.
After John Quincy Adams was launched on his memoir of his father, he discovered “two collections of loose sheets of autobiography,” but he made very little use of them in his chapters on John Adams’ early life.66
With his usual excellent editorial judgment, Charles Francis Adams recognized both the value and the limitations of his grandfather’s autobiographical fragments and included large portions of them in his edition of John Adams’ Works
. What Charles Francis with his tidy habits and orderly cast of mind must have thought of his grandfather’s method of composition, or want thereof, he kept to himself. There were other things too that he could not approve in the Autobiography. On the brown paper wrapper in which he tied up and put away the original manuscript he wrote: “J.A. Autobiography. [Cop]
ied, perused, extracts taken and printed—to remain for the future among the secret papers. C.F.A. 16. September. 1854.”
Charles Francis Adams’ Edition of the Diary and Autobiography
John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography as edited by his grandson fill the whole of the second and most of the third volume of The Works of John Adams
, these being the first volumes published in that edition, in the years 1850 and 1851 respectively. The editor decided to combine the texts of the documents, preferring the contemporary Diary entries when available and using the retrospective narrative both to fill in gaps in the Diary and to amplify the contemporary record when the Autobiography provided what seemed to him significant additions by way of new information or comment. The additions were introduced in several ways—by subjoining them in footnotes, by inserting them within or tacking them on to Diary entries in the text
but distinguishing them by enclosing them in square brackets, and by giving two long passages, the last section of Part One and the first section of Part Two, the independent heading “Autobiography.”67
The general principle of placing material in the form of recollections and commentary with the record made some decades earlier has the advantage of enabling the reader to see precisely what the writer later added and modified. But its disadvantages, at least as applied by the editor of John Adams’ Works, are much greater. It led him to omit a very great deal of matter from the Autobiography that, while partly repetitious, was also partly “new,” or at least different because it contained both significant shadings of language and occasional interpretive comments, brief or extended. Moreover, despite the use of brackets around material interpolated in the Diary text, the blending of the two documents does lead to confusion, especially when the interpolations are so long that the reader forgets he is reading later rather than contemporary testimony. And finally, in working in some of the amplifications, the family editor sometimes altered the language and even dates of passages drawn from the Autobiography for the sake of mere editorial convenience. The total effect is an overintricate and somewhat sophisticated text.
At the same time it can hardly be overemphasized that Charles Francis Adams was honest and conscientious beyond the scholarly standards of his day. These were, to be sure, low. The most productive historical editor of the period was Jared Sparks, who was also the most notorious exemplar of the school of editing that placed its heroes on
stilts by suppressing or “improving” any passages in their writings that were indecorous or, in the eyes of their filiopietistic editors, otherwise possibly discreditable. Sparks’ methods characterized “family editing” of diaries and letters throughout the 19th and is by no means unknown in the 20th century.68
C. F. Adams repudiated them from the outset. Sparks, he said in a disdainful note in his Diary while editing John Adams’
, “is a general whitewasher who regards differences of shading in human character as in the highest degree disfiguring to the beauty of human action.”69
He had stated his own very different rationale of editing in philosophical terms in the preface to the Letters of John Adams
(1841), which is a critique of Sparks without mentioning Sparks’ name.70
In presenting John Adams’ Diary to the public, he said—so admirably as to have said it for all time:
It is proper, in cases of publication like this, to define the extent to which it has been carried. The editor has suppressed or altered nothing in the Diary, which might be considered as bearing either against the author himself, or against any other person, for that reason alone. Wherever any omission has been made, it has been from other motives than those of fear or favor. The main purpose has been to present to the public a fair and unbiased picture of the mind and heart of an individual, so far as this may be supposed to command any interest. To do this, it is as necessary to retain the favorable or unfavorable opinions expressed of men, including himself, as those of things or of events. No true, honestly written Diary can be regarded as in itself a correct general history. It is good always as biography, often as furnishing materials for history, and that just in proportion as it appears on its face never to have been written or prepared for publication. But if this be true, it is obviously perverting its character to attempt to make patchwork of it, by selecting to be seen only such passages as show a single side. Rather than this, it were wise not to publish at all. The effect is to make an opinion for the reader instead of allowing him to form one for himself, to control rather than to develop
his judgment. In the present instance at least, the fact may be relied on, that no experiment of the kind has been tried. The reader is more likely to feel disposed to find fault with being supplied beyond his wants than with having less than he might get.71
The text of John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography as edited by C. F. Adams upholds his principle of representativeness in selection very well, and that of fidelity to the manuscript originals fairly well. Much that seemed to the editor dull and inconsequential, such as jottings about legal cases and indications where the diarist supped and what the weather was like, he stripped away without compunction. Some other suppressions, scarcely of this harmless kind, will be spoken of a little farther on. His principle of textual fidelity did not of course extend to matters of mere form. He standardized spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, corrected crudities of grammar according to the somewhat overelegant standards of the 1850’s, and usually if not invariably formalized dialect and colloquial phrasing, so that John Adams and his friends were never permitted to say “Canady” (for Canada), “arning” (for “awning”), “he don’t,” “you wasn’t,” “we sat off for Philadelphia,” “he eat strawberries,” “she aint obliged,” and the like. His editorial improvements extended also to John Adams’ exceedingly careless French and Latin. But since the family editor was an extremely accurate copy reader, seldom failing to understand and convey what the diarist meant, little distortion of substance results from all these practices, though the informality and intimacy of the original record have been largely drained off.72
In order “to present to the public a fair and unbiased picture of the mind and heart” of John Adams, C. F. Adams was courageous enough to breach, upon occasion, the canons of Victorian taste. An early entry in the Diary relates an anecdote of a rustic seduction. Its purpose is didactic of course, but it is told in racy language, and the family editor did not flinch from preserving the unhappy girl’s “three-farth•
ing bastard” in the text.73
It it doubtful whether any other historical editor of his time would have done so. But he did flinch sometimes. His avowedly selective policy enabled him to suppress material of several kinds when the language in which it was couched seemed too strong. He omitted all sheer indecencies, such as a bawdy story told at Richard Cranch’s wedding party.74
He omitted passages containing suggestive words or actions, and thus wholly cut out a wonderfully colorful account of a ship-launching frolic, with Negroes fiddling and “Young fellows and Girls dancing in the Chamber as if they would kick the floor thro.”75
Later on, John Adams was himself shocked by things he heard and saw in French society, but he put them down. His grandson either suppressed them or modified the diarist’s language. Thus an amusing conversation at a Bordeaux dinner table, in which John Adams demonstrated great presence of mind when a French lady asked him if he could explain how Adam and Eve had learned “the Art of lying together,” was omitted altogether.76
And the diarist’s reports of a prostitute’s appearance at a Longchamps fête and of Louis XV’s relations with Madame de Pompadour were bowdlerized by the family editor.77
Gentility also prompted C. F. Adams to suppress a good many, though not all, of his grandfather’s frequent references to the coarser side of farm and barnyard life. Whether at home or abroad, John Adams had an irrepressible habit of comparing his own manure piles with others’ and boasting of the superiority of his own. But C. F. Adams, who had been brought up in foreign courts, had no enthusiasm for farming, to say nothing of the composition of manure heaps, and he therefore omitted or docked much of the material in the Diary relative to farm life and operations. Perhaps little was lost thereby, because most of these entries are routine enough, but the losses in the farm journal kept by John Adams during the summer of 1796, on the eve of his election to the Presidency, are more serious. For example, along with other things jettisoned went an account of Dr. Tufts’ dinner of “salted Beef and shell beans with a Whortleberry Pudden and his Cyder,” which John Adams said with some gusto made “a Luxurious Treat” for an August day.78
Here, of course, the criterion for rejection was something else again.
This rustic feast was evidently thought not quite suited to the dignity of a Vice-President about to become President of the United States. Earlier in the Diary the editor had been more tolerant of matter illustrative of his forebears’ country ways. But even there he balked at too revealing glimpses of the diarist and his family. Thus, while he left in several incidents showing John Adams’ long and rather tortured interest in Hannah Quincy, who seems to have been an outrageous flirt, he excised much more and thus gave the impression that his grandfather, after a single narrow escape from her allurements, sensibly and without regret resigned Hannah to another young man, though this was far from the truth of the matter.79
The family editor in fact laid a very heavy hand on John Adams’ moonings and mopings, his “gallanting” and “hustling” with the girls of the neighborhood, throughout the years in which he was endeavoring to establish himself as a lawyer in Braintree. The diarist’s first impressions of Abigail Smith (whom he later married), though on record in the manuscript, were not allowed to appear in print. She had wit, John Adams decided, but not Hannah Quincy’s “Tenderness.”80
This was months after he had supposedly given up all interest in Hannah. Another example of C. F. Adams’ excisions in the interest of respectability is the vivid account of “a conjugal Spat” in the Adams cottage in the winter of 1758. Deacon John Adams had brought home a destitute girl to work as a servant, and Mrs. Adams, who had a temper to which her son certainly owed something, thought her husband had made a doubtful bargain with the town authorities. Mrs. Adams raged, Mr. Adams stayed cool and firm, the servant girls blubbered, John scolded his younger brother Peter for listening on the backstairs—and then put it all down in detail, with reflections, in his Diary.81
Expurgations of this kind extended to unsavory descriptions of, and harsh observations on, the diarist’s acquaintances. Repellent sketches of Parson Wibird of Braintree and Parson Smith of Weymouth (later John Adams’ father-in-law) were entirely suppressed.82
A good many examples of Colonel Quincy’s egotism and boastfulness were eliminated, probably in deference to his numerous descendants who were friends of the Adams family. It is a little hard, however, to understand why the whole delightful episode of John Adams’ “fishing frolick” with the Colonel also disappeared, unless the editor thought so eminent a citizen of Braintree should not be shown suffering the effects of
Sometimes the editor dealt with passages unflattering to the diarist’s contemporaries by reducing their names to initials or blanks.
In editing the Autobiography, which contains so much matter duplicating the Diary entries, C. F. Adams’ selective policy and his natural caution were reinforced by a desire to avoid retrospective judgments—especially when unfriendly—on the diarist’s political associates. Such judgments when introduced into the Diary text, even if bracketed, would appear anachronistic, as indeed they were. It seemed best, therefore, to leave them out. Examples of what may be called political expurgation in the Autobiography are the omission of John Adams’ comments on Hancock’s and Samuel Adams’ jealousy of him after his appointment to France in 1777; of Jefferson’s alleged “gross insult on Religion” in the Continental Congress and his threat to the Federal judiciary; and a captious but scintillating description of Franklin’s frivolous life in Paris in 1778.84
The Autobiography was written while John Adams was smarting from Hamilton’s Letter ... concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq.
(1800), and contains a number of passages explicitly answering Hamilton’s charges in that pamphlet. C. F. Adams either suppressed these passages, one of which is perhaps the bitterest personal attack John Adams ever directed against anyone, or silently emended them to avoid the mention of Hamilton’s name.85
The reader is thus robbed of the means to measure the strength of the feelings that divided the leaders of the Federalist Party in 1800.
The Editorial Method
Materials Included and Their Arrangement
The present edition of the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams contains the following materials:
(1) The entire text of the manuscript (or manuscripts) of Adams’ Diary, 1755–1804, as identified, selectively edited, and put away by Charles Francis Adams in the 1850’s.86
So far as possible every entry
has been printed in its precise chronological position in a single overall sequence.
(2) A few supplementary materials of a diary-like character, drawn alike from John Adams’ papers in the family archives and from other sources. Examples are: dated or datable marginalia in Adams’ copy of John Winthrop’s Lecture on Earthquakes (1755), now in the Boston Public Library; scattered accounts and itineraries recorded while Adams was riding the court circuit as a lawyer and serving in Congress and in Europe, found among his letterbooks and other papers; a few receipted bills for traveling and living expenses as a delegate to the Continental Congress, preserved in the Massachusetts Archives; memoranda on visits paid and received, persons to consult, and the like, written while he was in diplomatic service and scattered here and there among his papers. Though all these materials together do not bulk large, they piece out the Diary where it is meager or quite lacking; and they are precisely of the kind that Adams often entered in his Diary.
(3) Three fragmentary journals kept by Abigail Adams and inserted here (from originals in the Adams Papers) under their respective beginning dates. They cover her voyage from Boston to Deal to join John Adams in London, June–July 1784; part of the Adams family’s tour to the west of England, July 1787; and the beginning of her and her husband’s return trip to America, March–May 1788. These are the only diaries known to survive from Mrs. Adams’ hand, and, as far as they go, they helpfully fill in gaps in her husband’s Diary.
The material listed above comprises the text of the first two volumes of the present edition and approximately the first half of the third volume. It is followed by
(4) The entire text of the three fragmentary parts of John Adams’ Autobiography. Part One, “John Adams,” completes the third volume. Part Two, “Travels and Negotiations,” and Part Three, “Peace,” together constitute the entire text of the fourth and final volume.87
The editors’ decision to print all three parts in toto
, including their inserted letter copies, transcripts of entries from the original edition of the Journals
of the Continental Congress, and copies and paraphrases of Adams’ Diary entries, was not made without difficulty. Up to the point where Adams began consulting the Journals
, Part One is entirely new matter, having been written wholly from recollection. Part Two, compiled to a large extent from his letterbooks and Diary, contains less fresh matter, and Part Three still less. Where, then, is one to draw the line?
It has seemed on the whole best to draw no line, since all three parts of the Autobiography contain some important new information, numerous altered judgments on men and events, and countless subtle shadings of language that one would not willingly lose and that to select from would merely distort. If we are so fortunate as to have from a man of John Adams’ stature and gifts of style both a contemporaneous and a retrospective record of his career, it would seem desirable to preserve both, in full, for purposes of comparison.
We have stopped short, however, of including the text of a second autobiography that Adams wrote a few years after breaking off his first one. This is his tremendous series of letters of reminiscence communicated to the Boston Patriot
from 1809 to 1812, a fraction of which were reprinted in serial parts, running to 572 pages, and still smaller portions of which were in turn included by C. F. Adams in his edition of his grandfather’s Works.88
This distended and chaotic work contains so much documentation and so relatively little comment, and it deals so largely with Adams’ Presidency, which is not covered by either his Diary or his Autobiography, that it has been omitted from the present edition except for occasional passages of highly pertinent narrative and comment that are introduced into the editorial notes.89
The circumstances that led to and accompanied the composition of what we have called Adams’ second autobiography, together with the public and private comment it evoked, form an important chapter in his later life that has not hitherto been told. The present editors plan to tell it soon but not in these volumes.
All materials introduced from sources other than the Diary and Autobiography manuscripts, whether in the text or in the footnotes, have of course been identified and credited to their respective sources at the points where they occur. Materials printed here but not printed in C. F. Adams’ edition of 1850–1851 have not been systematically indicated, though occasionally an interesting or significant omission has been pointed out. What proportion of the present text is now printed for the first time would be impossible to say accurately without word counts of both the old edition and the new—a chore the editors have not thought worth the time it would take. An informed guess is that not less than a quarter of the combined text of the Diary
and Autobiography as now printed, and quite possibly as much as a third, has never been published before.
The general principles and specific rules for rendering the text that are stated here are intended to apply to both this first published unit of
The Adams Papers
and to the edition as a whole. But it would be futile to assume that we could anticipate at the outset every textual problem that may be encountered in so large and complex a publication program. As the edition moves from one generation of the family to another, and from diaries to letters and other types of material, the rules now stated will be enlarged according to need, and exceptions for particular cases will doubtless have to be made, but always with due notice and, it is expected, without modification of the general textual policy here laid down.
That policy has been admirably stated and is being followed by the editors of two forerunners of the present work, namely The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
and The Papers of Benjamin Franklin
. Both endeavor to follow “a middle course” between “exact reproduction,” that is to say a printed text as near a facsimile of the handwritten original as possible, and “complete modernization” of the text. “The purpose,” as the Franklin
editors say, “is to preserve as faithfully as possible the form and spirit in which the authors composed their documents, and at the same time to reproduce their words in a manner intelligible to the present-day reader and within the normal range of modern typographical equipment and techniques.”90
In the opinion of the editors of
The Adams Papers
it is a happy omen for historical scholarship that this common-sense policy appears to be prevailing more and more widely. For on the one hand type simply cannot reproduce the idiosyncrasies of old handwriting—the blots and flourishes, the scribal signs and contractions, the interlineations and cancelations—with perfect fidelity. Attempts to make it do so are usually unsatisfactory or worse; it is far better to go directly to facsimile reproduction, and some documents can be presented adequately only by such a method.91
On the other hand, if it is recognized that a limited
degree of conventionalization is unavoidable and if due care is taken in converting manuscript originals into readable print, the essential
“form and spirit” of the hastily jotted diary entry or the letter written in a mood of agitation or serenity, frustration or triumph, need not be sacrificed to type and type-composing machinery.
The principal rules for rendering the text that are being followed in
The Adams Papers
and specifically the text of John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography may be summarized as follows. They may be regarded as devices for maintaining the desired middle ground between pedantic fidelity and readability. The scholar concerned with the ultimate niceties of a critical passage in the text may always resort to the photographic facsimiles of the manuscripts available in the microfilm edition of the Adams Papers.
Spelling is preserved as found in the manuscripts. But mere slips of the pen are silently corrected: Gentlement is corrected to Gentlemen, and punisment to punishment. If, however, such a slip appears to have psychological or other significance, it is retained, as in travailing (for traveling), or faignt and feignt (for faint). Proper names are given as the writers spelled them, no matter how erratically, though if a misspelling is seriously misleading it is corrected at its first appearance either by a bracketed insertion which follows it in the text, or by a footnote. A great many misspelled or inconsistently spelled names are corrected only in the index, with cross-references from the variant and erroneous forms.
Grammar and syntax are preserved as found in the manuscripts. Errors and oddities in grammatical forms and sentence structure are not given emphasis by sic-marks, but essential corrections may be furnished by bracketed insertions, and if the writer’s error creates a serious ambiguity a clarifying editorial note is subjoined. Inadvertent repetitions of words are corrected, usually without notice.
Capitalization is preserved as found in the manuscripts, with these exceptions: (1) All sentences begin with capital letters. (2) All personal and geographical names and honorifics attached to the former are capitalized; for example major leonard is rendered as Major Leonard, and cape ann as Cape Ann. (3) In indeterminate cases, where one cannot be sure whether the writer meant a capital or lower-case letter, modern usage is followed.
is normally preserved as found in the manuscripts, but a few rules of conventionalization have been systematically applied in preparing John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography for publication. Most of these have been forced upon us by peculiarities in the manu•
scripts themselves. For one thing, Adams commonly wrote all the way to the margins of the “paper books” of his Diary, leaving no room for punctuation at the ends of lines. He seems in fact to have regarded a line end itself as sufficient for medial punctuation (commas) and often for terminal punctuation (periods) as well.92
One may run through scores if not hundreds of lines of the Diary in succession and find no punctuation marks at the ends of lines. To add to the problem, Adams long persisted in “pointing” by making marks that may be interpreted as either commas or periods. And finally, he seems to have had a visual difficulty in placing his commas, since they are very frequently one or two words before or after the place where they belong according to punctuation usage either then or now.
Accordingly we have established the following rules, and they will be applied throughout
The Adams Papers
unless special circumstances call for a departure from them:
(1) Every sentence ends with a period.
(2) 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.
(3) Intrusive commas are omitted. For example, the sentence I, muse, I, mope, I, ruminate is rendered I muse, I mope, I ruminate.
(4) Minimum punctuation for intelligibility is supplied between members of a series, particularly in lists of names of persons whose forenames and family names John Adams tended to run together chaotically.
(5) Minimum punctuation for intelligibility is supplied in dialogue and quoted matter. John Adams was fortunately fond of recording conversations in his Diary and elsewhere, but he was also exceedingly casual in punctuating such passages. When, as often, the speakers’ names are given as in the script of a play, the names are arbitrarily italicized in our printed text, and each speaker’s remarks are set off in a paragraph of their own. If quotation marks appear only at one end or the other of a passage of direct discourse, the matching pair is silently supplied when its location is clearly determinable, but quotation marks are not systematically inserted according to modern usage. Quotations within quotations, when they demand editorial attention, are treated according to modern rules.
Aware of the possibility of distorting a writer’s meaning by altering,
suppressing, or supplying punctuation, the editors have refrained from applying any of the rules of conventionalization stated above when it has seemed risky to do so. Passages that are truly ambiguous because of faulty pointing have been allowed to stand, and the editors have suggested possible clarifications in footnotes.
Abbreviations and contractions are preserved as found in names of persons and places; in the datelines, salutations, and leavetakings of letters; in 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 by a modern reader. For example, such forms as Coll. and Colo. (for Colonel), N. Yk. (for New York), and Septr. (for September) are allowed to stand. But in all cases where they are retained, the superscript letters once so commonly used to indicate contractions are brought down to the line. With the exceptions mentioned above, unfamiliar contractions are silently expanded in our text; for example, abt. to about, cd. to could, Commee. to Committee, dft. to defendant, Dn. to Deacon, Mes. to Messrs., and the like. Scribal devices in such forms as Comision, petñ, yt, and yrfr are disregarded and these words rendered as Commission, petition, that, and therefore. The ampersand (&) is retained in the form &c. (for etc.) and in the names of firms, but 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. See the Guide to Editorial Apparatus, p. lxxx
in the manuscripts (scored-out or erased passages) is disregarded unless it is of real stylistic, psychological, or historical interest. When included 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. For a document that consists largely of canceled matter and in which the cancelations are of extreme importance and have therefore been restored, see Adams’ draft letter to Vergennes of 10–11 February 1779
(variations in text between two or more versions of the same letter or document) are ordinarily indicated only when
they are significant enough to warrant recording, and then always in footnotes keyed to the basic text that is printed in full. In John Adams’ Diary the texts of the inserted letters are sometimes drafts, but in the Autobiography they are always copies from his letterbooks. Whatever version is found in the manuscripts being edited
has perforce been considered the “basic” text in the present volume. Other available texts have, however, been collated with the texts of the same letters in the Diary and Autobiography, and significant differences noted.
Editorial insertions are italicized and enclosed in square brackets, for example [Enclosure], [In the margin], [sentence unfinished]. When, however, the editors have expanded initials or have inserted clarifying equivalents for names and the like, the insertions are not italicized. Thus “Coll. Q[uincy],” “P[arson] Wib[ird],” “at Slewmans [Slumans],” “sent of [off].”
Problems of Dating
One arbitrary change of form has been imposed by the editors upon the text of John Adams’ Diary. The dates of the entries in the manuscript are normally part of the entries themselves, being the first word or several words therein. Because the eye has extreme difficulty in picking up short dates (for example, “3d.”) and changes of date in sequences of entries that are of irregular length (very short entries often being intermingled with very long ones), the editors have decided to print the diarist’s dates as centered captions above the entries. We believe that students who have tried to find their way around C. F. Adams’ edition of his grandfather’s Diary, where, as in the manuscript, the dates are often effectually buried in blocks of text, will be grateful.
Many entries and even whole sequences of entries in the early booklets of the Diary are vaguely dated or wholly undated, and cannot be given specific dates. These have been assigned by the editors to a month, season, or year according to the best evidence available, and the assigned dates have been bracketed.
Semidetached or “floating” entries, separated in a Diary booklet by small or large intervals of space, or by lines across the page, from dated entries preceding them, have been printed after the dated entries they follow in the manuscript, without captions but set off by an arbitrary measure of blank space. In some cases they probably belong to the same day as the entry preceding; in others to dates either soon or considerably afterward.
Examples of all these problems and of the editors’ methods of han•
dling them by furnishing readers with the best guidance possible, will be found in the Diary entries for the early months of 1759 and the editorial notes that are appended to many of those undated and often cryptic entries (vol. 1:66
Both the magnitude and the complex publication plan of
The Adams Papers
have made the formulation of a satisfactory policy for editorial annotation difficult. In presenting so densely packed a mass of documents extending over so long a period, one can of course count on the documents’ annotating each other to a considerable degree. The diaries and letters of members of the family living at the same time repeatedly cover the same events—births, marriages, deaths, appointments and elections to office, departures and returns—from different points of view; and in this family, besides, there were always some members of later generations who were studying and commenting upon the lives and writings of their forebears. The result is a grand though uncontrived fugal pattern which ideally should be allowed to unfold itself with the least possible interference or manipulation.
On the other hand it can scarcely be assumed that everyone interested in a particular member of the family or his times will also be interested in other Adamses and their
times, and so each major segment (series or part of a series as the case may be) of
The Adams Papers
has been designed to stand as self-sustainingly as possible. Where, in such a scheme involving several overlapping chronological sequences, is the “first reference” to a person or an event requiring annotation? And should an equivalent note be furnished in each later segment of the edition, or will a cross-reference be sufficient? For that matter, how much cross-referring between parallel materials is necessary or desirable—for example between John Quincy Adams’ Diary in St. Petersburg (in Series I, Part 2) and his diplomatic dispatches written from there (in Series III, Part 2)?
In the face of problems like these, the editors have adopted a few general principles of annotation policy applicable to the entire edition rather than a body of specific rules. The principles can be stated briefly and will be amplified as necessary in later parts of the edition.
(1) Persons, personal names
. It is impracticable in so large a work to try to furnish identifying notes on the thousands of persons who will be mentioned in the documents. Members of the immediate family and other relatives who played a significant part in the family’s history
are to be identified. In the volumes now published they are ordinarily noted upon first appearance, but in Series II a systematic effort will be made to place and identify all members of the “Presidential line” by means of an Adams Genealogy based on the family papers, to be issued first in a trial form and then printed for permanent reference in the final volume of the Family Correspondence. Notes on persons who are not well known to history but who were closely associated with one or more of the Adamses are to be furnished at what seem to the editors the most strategic points. Thus while generals in the Continental Army and delegates to the Continental Congress are not identified in the present work (because they may be looked up in common works of reference), such elusive figures as C. W. F. Dumas and Edmund Jenings are sketched, especially with respect to their relations with John Adams, whose close friends and correspondents they were. Such sketches as these will simply be referred to when their subjects reappear in John Adams’ general correspondence in Series III of
The Adams Papers
. In the early years of John Adams’ Diary the editors have been rather more liberal with such identifying notes on the diarist’s contemporaries, especially his associates at the bar, because of the comparative meagerness of parallel documentation in the family archives during the pre-Revolutionary period.
Names seriously misspelled or represented in the manuscript by initials are clarified either by a corrected or full version inserted in the text within brackets or by a footnote. Names of persons likely to be confused with others bearing the same or similar names are given clarifying notes; for example, in the present volumes, the various Colonel Chandlers of Worcester and the two Jonathan Williamses. An attempt has been made and will be continued by the editors to verify and fill out partially recorded names of all but inconsequential persons, but their findings will appear far more often in the indexes to the various series than in footnotes.
(2) Place names are to be corrected by bracketed insertions in the text or by footnotes when they are seriously misspelled or otherwise confusing; but as with personal names most of the results of the editors’ verification of geographical names will appear in the indexes. Special attention has been and will continue to be given in the notes to purely local (and now often lost) names in the Braintree-Quincy area.
(3) Books and other publications
. References in the documents to writings by the Adamses and to books they purchased or were reading
are given particular attention in the annotation, and even when no notes appear the authors’ names and the titles of books mentioned have been or will be, if possible, verified for listing in the indexes. In the present volumes the bibliographical annotation and verification fall well short of the ideal, because, for one thing, some of John Adams’ publications present bibliographical problems demanding further study, and for another thing, books once owned and read by him keep turning up unexpectedly—an indication that we have much less than the complete control we would like over the Adamses’ libraries.
(4) Other subjects are to be annotated on an ad hoc basis, primarily in order to clarify the text. Examples of our ad hoc method will be found in the notes in the present volumes relative to John Adams’ law practice. Adams often alluded in his Diary to cases in which he was active, and he occasionally entered memoranda for his use in court; but his references, of whatever kind, are frequently obscure. Much closer study of both his own legal papers and the voluminous pre-Revolutionary records preserved in the Suffolk County Court House must precede full annotation of his allusions of this kind. With the aid of several consultants on colonial law, the editors have done something but not enough. A select edition of Adams’ legal papers, perhaps accompanied by a monograph on his legal studies and practice, remains a desideratum.
(5) Textual problems. The method of annotating the text and dealing with special problems therein has been explained above under Textual Policy. See also the Guide to Editorial Apparatus, below.
(6) Gaps in the Diary record
. This is a special and continuous problem in John Adams’ Diary, which, unlike his son’s and grandson’s, was kept only fitfully from first to last. Gaps of months and even years appear frequently. The editors have attempted to fill in these gaps, in a fashion, by summarizing, chiefly from Adams’ correspondence, the principal events that occurred during the intervals. If John Adams’ Diary were the only diary being published in
The Adams Papers
, a different method from the one they have chosen would have been preferable. But in the interest of uniformity of design among all the Adams statesmen’s diaries, the editors have not placed their summaries as connecting tissue between portions of the text; they have instead presented them as footnotes. Notes of this kind are usually attached to the first entry following a long break in the Diary; in a few special cases they are attached to the last entry preceding the break. Some of the summaries have an unavoidably awkward appearance because they are very long notes on very short entries.
John Adams as Diarist and Autobiographer
As a Diarist
In introducing John Adams’ Diary to the public for the first time, now more than a century ago, Charles Francis Adams stressed its representativeness of the writer’s time and place. During the years covered by the first part of the Diary, the family editor observed in neatly balanced sentences,
Puritan Massachusetts, whilst dropping much of her early religious bigotry, was yet nursing in the French wars the stern qualities that carried her successfully through the fiery trial of the Revolution. She contained one, whilst Virginia furnished the other, of the two germs of public sentiment which have since spread extensively over this continent, and which bid fair yet to develop themselves indefinitely. To these two types of mind all classes of American opinion may be ultimately reduced. The state of society through which the first of these was evolved, until from a religious it took a political direction, and the influences through which the change was shaped, gain much illustration from the following pages.93
This is plausible and in some degree true, reinforcing the point of someone’s epigram that the American Revolution was the product of a temporary alliance between the Adamses and the Lees. But C. F. Adams’ theorem obscures another truth and the most conspicuous and valuable quality of his grandfather’s Diary. John Adams was no “type” at all, but a unique human being, individualistic to the point of eccentricity. “Passion, Accident, Freak, Humour, govern in this House,” he wrote a little ruefully at his parents’ home in Braintree in 1758.94
They were to govern much of Adams’ life, because—there is no other word for it—he was a “character.” And though he of course possessed Yankee traits, to call him a Yankee character is inadequate if not misleading. What traits of mind and personality did he share, for example, with Samuel Adams, with James Otis, or with John Hancock, his temporary colleagues in Massachusetts’ struggles against the British government? John Adams would have been a character at any time and in any part of the world. Some men who knew him well thought his touchiness and tantrums went beyond eccentricity. “I am persuaded,” said Franklin, who had endured much from Adams’ jealousy and suspicion, “that he means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his
During Adams’ Presidency, Hamilton, Pickering, and McHenry, among others, would have concurred in only the last part of this judgment.
The primary value of Adams’ Diary lies in its faithful, because almost wholly unselfconscious, revelation of a complex human being who was endlessly curious about himself and all that went on around him, and who was at the same time endowed with an unsurpassed gift for idiomatic and robust language—for what Mr. Bernard Bailyn has called “fist-like phrases.”96
If we learn much from the Diary—as we do—about village life in New England during the 1750’s and 1760’s, about the origins of resistance in Massachusetts, and about the ordeals and triumphs of the Revolution itself in Congress and in European courts, these are dividends not to be undervalued. But the information in the Diary is secondary to its picture of a remarkable human being—self-important, impetuous, pugnacious, tormented by self-doubts and yet stubborn to the point of mulishness, vain, jealous, and suspicious almost to the point of paranoia; and yet at the same time deeply affectionate and warm-hearted, “as sociable as any Marblehead man,”97
irrepressibly humorous, passionately devoted all his life to the welfare of his country, and as courageous a statesman and diplomat as his country has ever had.
Both the physical nature of the manuscripts and the text itself provide abundant proof that the Diary was intended as a wholly private record. John Quincy Adams accurately described the early booklets as “effusions of mind; committed from time to time to paper, probably without the design of preserving them.”98
The booklets are too fragile ever to have been supposed a permanent record, and only by continuous good luck have they survived at all, worn and tattered as they are. Like most of his kind, the writer began with the notion that a diary is an aid to memory and self-cultivation: “A Journal, scrawled with Algebraical signs, and interspersed with Questions of Law, Husbandry, natural History &c., will be a useful Thing.”99
“A Pen,” he added a little later, “is certainly an excellent Instrument, to fix a Mans Attention and to inflame his Ambition.”100
These entries he
“scrawled” while trying to gain a footing as a lawyer in the village of Braintree, when he felt sorry for himself because he had so little to do, and the road to eminence seemed long and hard. (“It is my Destiny to dig Treasures with my own fingers.”101
) A decade later, having been drawn into Boston’s struggle with royal authority backed by military force, he felt sorry for himself because he had so much to do. But his Diary was still helpful: “The only Way to compose myself and collect my Thoughts is to set down at my Table, place my Diary before me, and take my Pen into my Hand. This Apparatus takes off my Attention from other Objects.”102
But his success in this form of self-discipline was limited. There is no discernible relationship between the regularity and length of his journal entries on the one hand and the amount of his legal, political, and other business on the other hand. He did better while he was in Congress from 1774 to 1776 than he had done a decade earlier when he was only occasionally occupied with public affairs, or than he was to do a decade later in France and England when his diplomatic tasks were light. During his Presidency he kept no journal at all, though in preparation for it he had taken up his Diary, after long neglect, in the summer of 1796.103
And for the quarter-century of his retirement only a handful of farming memoranda exist.104
The text of the Diary is almost wholly free of indications that the writer supposed anyone, including himself, would read it later. While on circuit in Maine in 1770, Adams recorded how his horse leaped out of her “bare Pasture into a neighbouring Lott of mowing Ground,” and then added: “These are important Materials for History no doubt. My Biographer will scarcely introduce my little Mare, and her Adventures in quest of Feed and Water.”105
But such remarks, and others like them to the effect that his Diary might amuse him in old age, or entertain his children after his death, are merely conventional and signify little.106
By the time he came to write his Autobiography he had himself so nearly forgotten his Diary, or rated it so poorly, that he did not consult it at all until he had reached the year 1778 in his narrative. Having discovered it, he drew heavily on it from that point on.107
But fortunately in the course of his reading, copying, and paraphrasing his old journals he seems to have felt no temptation at all to tamper with what he found there. After the most intensive study of the Diary
manuscripts the editors are convinced that Adams let everything stand in them as first hastily written and never revised—faults in grammar, unfinished sentences, mistakes of fact and opinion that he could not have helped recognizing, indiscretions, improprieties, and self-betrayals of every sort.108
The strongest possible assurances may therefore be given that the contemporaneous record has suffered nothing from suppressions, additions, or corrections. The integrity of the text reflects the integrity of a man who would have scorned sophisticating a record, and endows the Diary with an immediacy and authenticity rare in historical literature.
For none of the other founders of the republic do we have anything remotely comparable. Franklin wrote enchantingly of his early life in Boston and Philadelphia, but many years afterward and with a detachment as suitable for a character he could have invented as for himself when young. Jefferson’s autobiographical recollections were composed when he was seventy-seven and condense his entire career before he entered the Continental Congress in 1775 into fifteen printed pages. George Washington as a young man fortunately kept diaries, but being the least introspective of men he recorded only what he thought might prove to be useful information—the weather, state of the crops, distances, prices, “Where, how, or with whom my time is Spent.” One will look in vain for opinions on issues or persons. Washington was present as a member of the Virginia Convention of March 1775 on the day Patrick Henry made his speech ending “Give me liberty or give me death,” but his diary entry for that day reads: “Dined at Mr. Patrick Coote’s and lodgd where I had done the Night before.”109
Precisely the opposite qualities distinguish the present Diary. It
is both intimate and copious. The entries of the first dozen years—in many ways the most fascinating and also the most heavily cut in the only previous edition—chronicle the inner life of a young man who deeply yearned for recognition and fame and who recorded and pondered every step forward and backward in his quest. “Shall I look out for a Cause to Speak to,” he asks himself soon after setting up his office in Braintree, “and exert all the Soul and all the Body I own, to cut a flash, strike amazement, to catch the Vulgar,” and thus “take one bold determined Leap into the Midst of some Cash and Business?” Or “shall I walk a lingering, heavy Pace [?]
... Shall I creep or fly [?]
He is almost an 18th-century Dale Carnegie in his painstaking efforts to learn the “Arts ... of Living in the World” and of “Popularity.” He studies Lawyer Putnam’s well-timed “Sneer” and Parson Wibird’s habit of playing “with Babes and young Children that begin to prattle” and of talking with their mothers.111
Immediately after his narrow escape from Hannah Quincy’s wiles he adjures himself: “Now let me collect my Thoughts, which have been long scattered, among Girls, father, Mother, Grandmother, Brothers, Matrimony, Husling, Chatt, Provisions, Cloathing, fewel, servants for a family, and apply them, with steady Resolution and an aspiring Spirit, to the Prosecution of my studies.”112
But his resolutions of this kind always prove infirm, and his repeated backslidings are set down as fully as his successes in obtaining new clients and his progress in reading legal treatises.
With a footing gained in the law, as shown by the increasing number of memoranda for pleadings, Adams soon sought another—and, for the time, the most natural—path to recognition, namely writing for the press. Beginning in 1760 the booklets of his Diary are strewn with notes and drafts for essays on all manner of subjects: on the evils of taverns, on demagogic orators, on feasting at church ordinations, on political issues and personalities of the day, on the cultivation of hemp, and even one, addressed to “Dear Nieces,” on the conduct of young ladies, a wonderfully gay and frank little essay that the family editor omitted, possibly because it recommended bundling.113
None of Adams’ earliest literary efforts seem to have been accepted by the printers, if he ever actually submitted them, but from 1763 onward he was a more or less steady contributor to the Boston papers, and the Diary is a repository of both hitherto unidentified published writings by him and of materials, sometimes of considerable interest, that he pruned away before publishing his newspaper pieces.
By 1770 his substantial success at the bar and his repute as a writer
brought him the recognition he had so long and earnestly craved. How he fulfilled his own and others’ expectations on the successive stages of provincial, continental, and international politics is recorded in the pages that follow, at times with the same detail (though with sad lacunae) and always with the same vividness and candor. John Adams never learned to govern his tongue or his pen. “Mr. Adams is a decided Character,” Admiral Howe remarked during his conference with three delegates from Congress at Staten Island.114
Most of Adams’ difficulties in public life sprang from his decidedness, which he was perfectly incapable of concealing even if he had wanted to. But so did most of his triumphs—in his campaigns for new state governments and for American independence, in obtaining Dutch recognition and financial aid for the United States, and in keeping the country out of war in 1799–1800. When his thoughts were once formed, they exploded. Reading his Diary is something like watching a display of fireworks. It is also the best of all antidotes for the false idea that the nation was founded by a set of lawgivers dignified in mien and inspired by heaven. The scuffles and turmoil, the mingled pettiness and courage, the frequent foolishness and the flashes of wisdom are all here, recorded by a witness and participant who was also a master of words.
As an Autobiographer
The germ of John Adams’ Autobiography will be found in a Diary entry he wrote at Paris in 1782 a few days after he had placed his signature on the Preliminary Treaty between the United States and Great Britain. He hoped, he said, that it would be permitted to himself “or to some other who can do it better, some Ten or fifteen Years hence, to collect together in one View [his]
little Negotiations in Europe. Fifty Years hence it may be published, perhaps 20.” Whatever his accomplishments and mistakes as a diplomat may have been, “the Situations I have been in between angry Nations and more angry Factions” had surely been among “the most singular and interesting that ever happened to any Man. The Fury of Ennemies as well as of Elements, the Subtilty and Arrogance of Allies, and what has been worse than all, the Jealousy, Envy, and little Pranks of Friends and CoPatriots, would form one of the most instructive Lessons in Morals and Politicks, that ever was committed to Paper.”115
In this spirit he began in the fall of 1802 the narrative of his life. So far as we know, he did not tell even the members of his own family
about the venture, though his first paragraph states that he has undertaken it for his own children and “not for the Public.” He proceeded only as far as to get himself into Harvard College in 1751 before he tired of his task and broke off. Two years passed and then his son John Quincy, now in the United States Senate, wrote to renew a request he had apparently made verbally earlier, that his father “commit to writing, an account of the principal incidents” of his life. This would prove “a lasting and cordial gratification to your children” and ultimately, no doubt, “a benefit to your Country.” Its composition would “also amuse many hours which otherwise may pass heavily.”116
J. Q. Adams had another reason for wishing his father would occupy himself with his reminiscences. To his brother Thomas Boylston Adams, who had recently returned from Philadelphia to live in Quincy, he wrote soon afterward that since his “most ardent wish” was that their father “may in future enjoy tranquility of mind
, I wish it were possible he could see the course of things with more indifference. Try to engage his mind in something other than public affairs. For these will henceforth never affect him but unpleasantly, and the less he feels on this subject, the more he will enjoy.”117
John Adams promptly told his son that the suggestion was a poor one. He could remember no part of his public life, he said, “without pain,” and the persecutions he had suffered had been so great and constant that he could not look back on his career “without a kind of Scepticism in my own memory and a doubt whether I should be believed even by my own Children,” say nothing of other readers, who would certainly consider such a narrative a mere “Hymn to Vanity.” A week later he added: “You have recommended to me, a Work, which instead of increasing my indifference to public affairs, would engage my feelings and enflame my Passions. In many Passages it would set me on fire and I should have Occasion for a Bucket of Water constantly by my side to put it out.” And further, as if putting the idea quite out of his mind: “I wish not to be reminded of my Mortifications, Disappointments or Resentments. As to my good deeds if I have ever done any they will be recorded in Heaven: but I shall never be rewarded, nor will they ever be acknowledged upon Earth.”118
Yet on the very day that he had written the first of these letters John Adams went to work again and during the next seven months or so completed what is now designated Part One of his Autobiography, to October 1776. He evidently did not intimate to his son that he had done so.
Before long, similar appeals came to the ex-President from old friends around the country. Writing from Oldenbarneveld, New York, F. A. Van der Kemp, a friend and admirer from the time of Adams’ Dutch missions, said that by failing to furnish his memoirs Adams “would wrong your Self—you would wrong us—you would wrong our children.”119
And from Philadelphia Dr. Benjamin Rush, who had strong feelings about the way in which the history of the Revolution was being written, or miswritten, wrote to say that only actual participants would be able to counteract the errors and myths fast gaining currency as truth.120
To both friends Adams returned evasive answers. He told Van der Kemp that “The twelve Books of the Æneid, the twenty four of the Iliad, and all the Odissy, the forty Volumes of Thuanus would not be enough” for such a purpose; and besides, “My Life is already written in my Letter books.... There I shall appear as I wish with all my imperfections on my head.”121
To Rush he said that rummaging through “Trunks, Letter books, bits of Journals and great heaps and bundles of papers, is a dreadful bondage to old Age, and an extinguisher of old eyes.... The few traces that remain of me, must I believe go down to posterity in much confusion and distraction, as my life has been passed.”122
Yet once again, at the beginning of December 1806, he resumed his chore and apparently did not halt for any length of time until he had written Parts Two and Three of his Autobiography as we now have them, carrying the story to an abrupt ending in March 1780. Of this he gave a hint to John Quincy Adams, but to no one else unless to his wife.123
From innumerable indications in the text of the three fragments it is clear that the author expected to continue his narrative through the peace negotiations of 1782–1783, his other diplomatic missions, his Vice-Presidency, and his term as President.124
But for a reason not too hard to discern, he did not.
Having taken care, in various parts of the narrative he had so far written, of a number of those who had publicly criticized him, Adams was at length diverted by another assailant from going on with it at all. In 1805 Mercy Otis Warren published her three-volume History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations
. James and Mercy Warren had been friends of John and Abigail Adams
since before the Revolution, but during the 1790’s the winds of party strife had blown them apart, and in the election of 1800 the Warrens had supported Jefferson against Adams. With some of the facts Mrs. Warren furnished and with a great many of her “Observations” of all sorts, John Adams was therefore bound to disagree. He began to read her book when it came out, but in a random way, and satisfied himself temporarily with a sarcastic reference in his “Travels and Negotiations” to “My quondam Friend Mrs. Warren.”125
As he read more, or perhaps as he reflected further on what he had already read, his resentment grew and the inevitable explosion took place. In July 1807 he sat down and began a letter to her in which he proposed “in the Spirit of Friendship” to point out “some” of her errors “in those Passages which relate personally to me,” so that they could be corrected “for any future Edition of the Work.”126
He began by attempting to refute a passage in which she asserted that although he possessed “penetration and ability ... his prejudices and his passions were sometimes too strong for his sagacity and judgment.”127
As he warmed to his work he demonstrated the truth of her assertion overwhelmingly. Abandoning anything like “the Spirit of Friendship,” he rained down hammer blows on the lady’s head in a series of ten tremendous letters, some of them running to twenty or more pages of quarto letter paper. Mrs. Warren quite properly resented his “angry and indigested” tirades, and answered with skill and spirit, though less often and less lengthily. Refusing to be interrupted, Adams continued his serial self-vindication over a period of six weeks without regard to anything his correspondent said, reviewing much of his life since 1761, inserting copies of documents which she said she had no use for, and in short writing another version of his autobiographical memoirs addressed solely to a person who did not want to read them.128
This feverish effort put an end to the Autobiography John Adams had begun in 1802. He apparently never looked back at the abandoned manuscript, though much if not most of what he was to write in his remaining years was autobiographical. Early in 1809 critical questions relating to American foreign policy, in which his son John Quincy had been deeply involved as a senator, lured John Adams back into political journalism and led directly to his long series of letters of reminiscence that he stuffed with documents from his old files and
contributed to a Jeffersonian newspaper, the Boston Patriot.
Such as they were, in all their disorder, written at white heat, fired off to the printer without copies being retained or opportunity for revision, and printed with incredible carelessness, they constituted John Adams’ public testament.130
As for the Autobiography proper, written as a private record only, something has already been said of its chaotic structure, the windings and turnings of the narrative in Part One, the indiscriminate copying in all its parts, and its deplorable gaps. As the writer himself was more or less aware, those sections written from memory contained a great many minor and some serious inaccuracies. The present editors have checked Adams’ statements, dates, and names whenever they could be checked, but readers must be warned that some innocent-looking mistakes may have eluded editorial attention. Yet with all its faults John Adams’ Autobiography is a valuable and generally a highly readable document. It contains much that is “new” (in the sense of not being available elsewhere) on Adams’ early life, notably on his education, his choice of a profession, his beginnings in the law, and his involvement in provincial politics. Whereas, for example, the Diary has only the barest hint of Adams’ part in the trials growing out of the “Boston Massacre,” the Autobiography devotes several pages to what happened in King Street on that momentous evening and to the trials that followed. Adams’ retrospective account of the First Continental Congress is of course less reliable than his contemporaneous notes in his Diary, but if he had not written an autobiography we would not have had his record of the dramatic conference in Carpenters Hall between the Massachusetts delegates and the Baptists from New England supported by Philadelphia Quakers “with their broad brimmed Beavers on their Heads”131
—an incident important in the history of religious liberty. Even the tedious extracts from the printed Journals
of Congress in 1775–1776 tell us much about the crushing burden of routine business and the often insoluble problems that were laid on the shoulders of
a little group of fallible men. Amplified as the extracts are by frequent and sometimes detailed commentaries, and embellished by glimpses and sketches, affectionate or acidulous, of leaders like Dickinson, Stephen Hopkins, Hancock, Jefferson, Harrison, and Charles Thomson, they are full of nuggets for the casual reader and the scholar alike.
But it is when he reaches Europe that Adams’ method of combining extracts with clarifying comments provides the richest fare. For though his Diary supplied him with notes of travel and his files of correspondence with a record of business transacted, he had experienced twenty further years of bruising diplomatic and political life before he sat down to recount his memories and ultimate views on the origins of American foreign policy. As he knew well enough at the time, he had been but a “raw American” when in 1778 he was unexpectedly thrust into “this great Theatre of Arts, Sciences, Commerce and War.”132
He had braced himself for contrasts between New England and French ways of life, so that he contrived to maintain outward composure when asked questions that shocked his moral sense at his first dinner party in France that included ladies, and a little later when he was introduced to “amies”
of dukes and other grandees at their family dinner tables. He could even tolerate the extravagance of aristocratic life in and around Paris, though he hoped nothing like it would be introduced into America. Sometimes, to be sure, he blurted out his feelings, as he did once to a gentleman who showed him around his ornamental gardens and boasted that the collection of a thousand curious rocks he had assembled had cost several thousand guineas. Adams, who knew something about rocks because he had lived most of his life on a farm in the neighborhood of granite quarries, told his host that he “would sell him a thousand times as many for half a Guinea.”133
What he was totally unprepared for, however, was the bitter conflict between factions of Americans in France, a conflict in which the French government more or less directly participated and which, Adams despairingly thought, paralyzed American diplomacy. In reviewing his first European mission in his Autobiography he furnished a brilliant behind-the-scenes narrative and analysis which cannot, of course, be taken at face value but which, like his review of his years in the Continental Congress, adds a whole new dimension to the official records. To mention only a single example, his series of pen portraits of his co-commissioners and of the American and French satellites who gyrated around them is unparalleled in the literature of the time. And it is a sharp reminder of what we have
lost by Adams’ failure to continue his narrative through the later years of his public service, both abroad and at home.
“If my business had been travel,” Adams remarked at the end of the last letter he contributed to the Boston Patriot
, “I might write a book.”134
He never wrote such a book, but it would have been a superb contribution if to his other intellectual and literary gifts had been added some sense of form and structure. In spite of the numerous entries that appear under his name in library catalogues and bibliographies, Adams never really wrote a book. He was too much at the mercy of both his moods and his materials to do so. His best writing is always in short forms—in diary entries, in letters and dispatches (some of which, however, are brief treatises in themselves), and in comments that sizzle and sparkle in the margins of the books he read or between passages from other writers (or even himself) that stirred him, as in his Autobiography now first printed entire. Of the architecture of writing he knew nothing. But of unforgettable phrases and sentences, portraits of great and little men, homely and momentous scenes, insights into the nature of man in all conditions and of society on two sides of the Atlantic, he has left us at least as many as any of his great contemporaries whose writings have hitherto been better known. Best of all, he has left us a living likeness of a subject he never gave up studying—himself.
On board the Alliance
in the Loire in 1779, impatient to sail home to America, John Adams examined himself and concluded: “There is a Feebleness and a Languor in my Nature. My Mind and Body both partake of this Weakness. By my Physical Constitution, I am but an ordinary Man. The Times alone have destined me to Fame—and even these have not been able to give me, much.” Then he added: “Yet some great Events, some cutting Expressions, some mean Hypocrisies, have at Times, thrown this Assemblage of Sloth, Sleep, and littleness into Rage a little like a Lion.”135
Here in these pages is John Adams the “ordinary Man,” and here also is John Adams the “Lion.”
1. 20 July 1834. Unless otherwise indicated, all manuscripts cited in the Introduction are in the Adams Papers
2. Edward Everett Hale, Memories of a Hundred Years, New York and London, 1902, 2:138–139.
3. To Elbridge Gerry, 23 May 1780
(Yale University Library).
5. 22 January 1825 (Library of Congress).
6. To Charles Miner, 11 October 1830.
7. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, ed. Edward W. Emerson and Waldo E. Forbes, Boston and New York, 1909–1914, 6:349–350.
9. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, Boston, 1918, p. 26–27.
10. Marcus Morton to John Van Buren, 4 October 1852, quoted in Arthur B. Darling, Political Changes in Massachusetts, 1824–1848, New Haven, 1925, p. 352.
11. To John Quincy Adams 2d, 21 August 1863.
12. To her daughter, Abigail Adams Smith, 8 May 1808 (Massachusetts Historical Society).
13. To the same, 3 October 1808 (Massachusetts Historical Society).
14. To Harriet Welsh, 3 March 1815.
15. Louisa Catherine Adams, “The Adventures of a Nobody” (an autobiographical narrative written July 1840 and later).
16. The Education of Henry Adams, p. 16–19.
17. John Quincy Adams 2d to his father, Charles Francis Adams, 5 February 1867.
18. This section of the Introduction is mainly a condensation of an article by L. H. Butterfield, “The Papers of the Adams Family: Some Account of Their History,” Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, 71 (1953–1957): 328–356.
19. Diary, 20 June 1774
(vol. 2:96). References to the present edition are in the form given here.
20. Autobiography under date of 21 April 1778 (vol. 4:77
21. To the Willinks, Van Staphorsts, and De la Lande & Fynje, 3 August 1784.
22. 16 October 1787 (Princeton University Library).
25. Characteristically, Louisa Catherine Adams later wrote an account of this harrowing journey, of which the original, dated at the end 27 June 1836, and a copy are both in the Adams Papers
. Her grandson Brooks prepared a rather heavily edited version of her “Narrative of a Journey from St. Petersburg to Paris in February, 1815,” and published it in Scribner’s Magazine
, 34:449–463 (October 1903). Her travel costs, including the purchase of a carriage, were neatly itemized and converted into dollars from rubles, thalers, florins, and francs by her husband in one of his account books surviving in the Adams Papers. The total came to $1606.38.
26. To Susan Boylston Adams Clark, 26 August 1817 (original owned by Robert Treat Crane Sr., Stonington, Connecticut, 1957; photostat in New York Public Library).
27. Report upon Weights and Measures, by John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State of the United States. Prepared in Obedience to a Resolution of the Senate of the Third March, 1817, Washington, 1821. Voluminous notes, drafts, and correspondence pertaining to this Report remain in the Adams Papers.
28. Diary, 18–20 May 1840.
29. John Adams, Works . . . with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856, 1:3–89. J. Q. Adams’ manuscript draft bears evidence that he was struggling as late as 1839 to get on with this filial duty.
30. Signed copy of J. Q. Adams’ will, dated 18 January 1847.
31. Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1840.
32. A second edition appeared within a few months of first publication, a third in 1841, and a fourth in 1848. The contents vary to some extent in all the editions, the most complete being the last. More easily obtainable than any of these is the now classic Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution, New York, 1876, a selection, with additions, from both the earlier collections, and a splendid contribution to the literature of the centennial year of the United States.
33. Boston, 1841; 2 vols.
35. John Adams, Works, 4:213–267.
37. The Stone Library was designed by Edward Clark Cabot and constructed in 1869–1870.
38. John Quincy Adams, Memoirs ..., Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Philadelphia, 1874–1877, 1:vi.
40. Will, signed 12 September 1871 (Norfolk County Probate Registry, No. 25,276).
41. He had printed one major unpublished paper by J. Q. Adams in Documents Relating to New-England Federalism, 1800–1815, Boston, 1877, but one may look almost in vain for citations of the Adams Papers in his nine-volume History of the United States of America [1801–1817], New York, 1889–1891.
42. His extensive transcripts from British, French, and United States archives, together with segments of the biography itself, remain in the Adams Papers
43. The instrument is in the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds, vol. 1016, p. 443; it was signed 14 December and entered 29 December 1905. The Trust included the John and John Quincy Adams birthplaces, which were given to the City of Quincy in 1940, and the Adams mansion (or Old House), which was given to the United States in 1946.
44. John Quincy Adams, Writings, ed. Worthington C. Ford, New York, 1913–1917. The seventh volume ends in the year 1823, short of Adams’ Presidency.
45. On Ford’s other editorial ventures involving writings of the Adamses, see L. H. Butterfield’s article, cited above, in Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, 71:350, note.
46. From 1956 Mr. Peter R. Scott, head of the Microreproduction Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, served as technical supervisor.
47. Quotation from the filmed documents is permitted on as liberal a scale as possible, but only upon written application to the Massachusetts Historical Society. While editing of the letterpress edition is in progress, the manuscripts themselves (through the year 1889) are not available for consultation.
48. Preface to Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, 1:xiii.
49. Charles Francis Adams, 1835–1915: An Autobiography. Prepared for the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston and New York, 1916, p. 27–28, 110–111.
50. Among the beneficiaries were such well-known autograph collectors as Lewis J. Cist, Lyman C. Draper, Frank M. Etting, and Israel K. Tefft. Eventually C. F. Adams grew more chary in gratifying such requests.
51. John Adams’ library, given to the town of Quincy in 1822, has come to rest, more or less intact, in the Boston Public Library. Though John Quincy Adams’ books remain for the most part in the Stone Library at the former family homestead in Quincy, his pamphlet collection, numbering thousands of titles, was given to the Boston Athenaeum by his son in 1848, and others of his books have been placed on deposit there in more recent times. The main collection of Henry Adams’ books was given to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1919, though a portion had been given by the owner during his lifetime to Western Reserve University. Many of the second Charles Francis’ books are at the Old House in Quincy; his extensive collection of bound pamphlets is in the Massachusetts Historical Society.
52. Julian P. Boyd’s phrase in his introduction to The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Princeton, 1950– , 1:vii.
53. Letter of 4 July–11 August 1785.
55. 10 August
and first entry of 15 August 1774
(vol. 2:97–98). C. F. Adams’ source was probably a separate page of Diary entries later accidentally lost. Concerning an important segment of the Diary (D/JA/8) which strayed at an unknown time from the family archives and was returned to them in 1913, see vol. 1:226, note 1
56. See John Quincy Adams’ Diary, July–November 1829; also p. xxvi
57. D/JA/47 and 48. A third, new bound volume (D/JA/49) was later obtained in which to continue the transcripts. The first forty-four pages of D/JA/49 are in Louisa Catherine Adams’ hand, and sundry other hands appear in this volume. The transcripts of the Diary booklets end with the entry of 18 December 1773, in D/JA/19.
58. On the composition of the Autobiography and its sudden termination, see further p. lxx–lxxi
61. Vol. 3:338–351
, including one wholly unexpected leap forward to his appointment on 12 June 1776 as president of the Board of War (p. 342
66. J. Q. Adams, Diary, 22 September 1829. One extract from the Autobiography, on the choice of a profession, will be found in J. Q. Adams’ chapters (John Adams, Works, 1:41–44).
67. Works, 2:503–517; 3:3–93, covering, in irregular order, Congress’ proceedings from September 1775 to October 1776, and the appointment of John Adams to his first European mission, November 1777–February 1778.
68. Mrs. Hawthorne’s editing of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journals is a famous (or notorious) example; see Randall Stewart’s introduction to his edition of Hawthorne’s American Notebooks, New Haven, 1932, p. xiii–xxi. The editors of the new edition of Emerson’s Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, Cambridge, 1960– , have recently shown that Emerson’s son and nephew, the editors of the Journals as published in 1909–1914, had the same compulsion to keep the public image of a great man elevated, which is to say genteel, by never letting him indulge, in print, in earthy language or grotesque thoughts. In a brilliant essay on “Manasseh Cutler’s Writings: A Note on Editorial Practice” (Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 37:88–101 [June 1960]), Lee N. Newcomer has shown how, by slight but persistent editorial manipulation, editors who were striving to glorify a forebear actually succeeded in accomplishing the opposite, robbing their subject of his human attributes.
70. Quoted above in this Introduction, p. xxvii
71. John Adams, Works, 2:viii.
72. After the most exhaustive scrutiny of C. F. Adams’ printed texts (always after collating typed copy with the manuscripts), the present editors remain deeply impressed with his extraordinary skill in reading the manuscripts and his accuracy as a copy and proof reader. Curiously enough, in the first entry of the Diary he left out a figure at the beginning of a sentence (omitting “7” before “Chimnies”), but for scores of pages on end he is not to be caught out, and time and again his editorial resourcefulness has furnished us with undoubtedly the right reading of a tricky word or passage. On the other hand, he sometimes resorted to the practice, doubtless justified in his own mind by his selective policy, of skipping over serious difficulties; and he was addicted to the inexcusable and (to his successors) exasperating practice of silently altering and supplying dates for misdated and undated entries.
76. Autobiography under date of 2 April 1778
77. Autobiography under dates of 17 April
and 2 June 1778
(vol. 4:62–63, 121–122). Compare John Adams, Works
, 3:133, 170.
85. See vol. 3:386–388
, and compare John Adams, Works
, 3:47–49. See also vol. 3:434–435
for a paragraph on Hamilton totally suppressed in Adams’ Works
86. See the description of the manuscripts, p. xli–xliv
87. The manuscripts are described at p. xliv–xlvi
88. Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot ..., 10 parts, Boston, 1809[–1810]. C. F. Adams’ selections are in John Adams, Works, 9:239–330.
89. For example on Adams’ stay at Auteuil during his illness in the fall of 1783 (vol. 3:143–144
), and on his first visit to England and winter crossing of the North Sea to save the credit of the United States in Amsterdam, 1783–1784 (vol. 3:149–154
90. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree and Whitfield J. Bell Jr., New Haven, 1959– , 1:xl. See also Mr. Boyd’s statement in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1:xxix.
91. For admirable examples of this method see Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book ..., ed. Edwin M. Betts, Princeton, 1953; and the pages from Lincoln’s early “Sum Book” reproduced in the first volume of The Collected Writings of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler and others, New Brunswick, 1953–1955.
92. Miss J. E. Norton has pointed out that this was also the historian Gibbon’s practice; see her edition of The Letters of Edward Gibbon, New York, 1956, 1:xvi.
93. John Adams, Works, 2:v–vi.
95. To Robert R. Livingston, 22 July 1783 (Benjamin Franklin, Writings, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, New York and London, 1905–1907, 9:62).
96. “Boyd’s Jefferson: Notes for a Sketch,” New England Quarterly, 33:393 (September 1960).
97. The opinion of Captain Samuel Tucker of the Continental Navy, quoted in Adams’ Diary, 11 May 1779
98. Memorandum dated November 1829, in “Rubbish 1,” a volume of draft entries for his Diary and other miscellaneous material (Adams Papers, Microfilms
, Reel No. 49).
108. A single possible exception is the crossed-out expression of hurt pride in the entry of 26 May 1766
(vol. 1:312–313). The editors believe this obliteration was made soon after the passage was written, certainly not when Adams wrote his Autobiography, for he did not even consult these earlier Diary booklets at that time. It may be added that Adams was equally scrupulous in copying letters and other documents from his old letterbooks into his Autobiography. He repunctuated freely, sometimes (but rarely) made slight improvements in grammar and supplied missing words, and translated French passages into English; but all other changes in the copies he then made seem to have been merely inadvertent. The point is emphasized because then and long afterward it was a common and acceptable practice to correct one’s own records before giving them to the public or leaving them to posterity. Washington made improvements in style in his Revolutionary correspondence when he caused it to be copied at the close of the war. Madison had an incurable habit of doctoring his papers in the light of later knowledge and opinion. Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s secretary of the navy, rewrote his famous Diary
in his retirement, and it was subsequently published as if it were a wholly contemporaneous record.
109. George Washington, Diaries, 1748–1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, Boston and New York, 1925, 2:189.
111. Spring 1759 (vol. 1:96
118. 30 November, 6, 22 December 1804.
121. 9 March, 30 April 1806.
122. 23 July 1806 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).
123. John Adams to John Quincy Adams, 7 January 1807.
125. See the Autobiography under date of 27 May 1778
126. 11 July 1807 (Massachusetts Historical Society).
127. Mercy Warren, History, 3:392.
128. Their exchanges are printed in Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, 5th series, 4(1878):321–491.
129. Adams’ four letters on “The Inadmissible Principles of the King of England’s Proclamation of October 16, 1807, Considered,” dated 9 January–25 April 1809, were published in the Boston Patriot, 19 April-3 May 1809, and then reprinted in pamphlet form. The first of his series of 130 autobiographical and self-justifying letters to the Patriot was dated 10 April and was published on 15 April 1809.
130. “They are not generally read by any Party and cannot be expected to be so.—I am not anxious to have them read by the present Age. I wish them to be preserved to Posterity, that the Truth may be known, without Panegyrics on one hand or Reproaches on the other, which I have not deserved” (Adams to Joseph Ward, 31 August 1809, Chicago Historical Society). See C. F. Adams’ dry comments on this expectation, in John Adams’ Works, 1:614–615.
134. Letter dated 17 February 1812, concluded in the Boston Patriot, 16 May 1812.