The Adams Papers Volumes Published
Volumes are available for purchase from:
Harvard University Press
79 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
(800) 405–1619; www.hup.harvard.edu.
The Diaries series focuses on the diaries of the three primary Adams statesmen—John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Charles Francis Adams—but also includes related journal and diary material by other Adams members as appropriate.
Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 4 vols. (1755–1804), ed. L. H. Butterfield, Leonard C. Faber, and Wendell D. Garrett, 1961
The Earliest Diary of John Adams, a supplement (1753–1759), ed. L. H. Butterfield, Wendell D. Garrett, and Marc Friedlaender, 1966
Diary of John Quincy Adams, vols. 1–2 (1779–1788), ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, Marc Friedlaender, and Celeste Walker, 1981
Diary of Charles Francis Adams, vols. 1–2 (1820–1829), ed. Aida DiPace Donald and David Donald, 1964
Diary of Charles Francis Adams, vols. 3–4 (1829–1832), ed. Marc Friedlaender and L. H. Butterfield, 1968
Diary of Charles Francis Adams, vols. 5–6 (1833–1836), ed. Marc Friedlaender and L. H. Butterfield, 1974
Diary of Charles Francis Adams, vols. 7–8 (1836–1840), ed. Marc Friedlaender, Robert J. Taylor, Celeste Walker, and Richard Alan Ryerson, 1986
Diary and Autobiographical Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams, vols. 1–2 (1778–1815, 1819–1849), ed. Judith S. Graham, Beth Luey, Margaret A. Hogan, and C. James Taylor, 2013
Series II selects letters among members of the Adams family from 1761 to 1889, broadly interpreted to include those related by blood and marriage to the presidential line, and from all correspondence of Adams women.
Adams Family Correspondence, vols. 1–2 (1761–1778), ed. L. H. Butterfield, Wendell D. Garrett, and Marjorie E. Sprague, 1963
Adams Family Correspondence, vols. 3–4 (1778–1782), ed. L. H. Butterfield and Marc Friedlaender, 1973
Adams Family Correspondence, vols. 5–6 (1782–1785), ed. Richard Alan Ryerson, Joanna M. Revelas, Celeste Walker, Gregg L. Lint, and Humphrey J. Costello, 1993
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 7 (1786–1787), ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Celeste Walker, Anne Decker Cecere, Gregg L. Lint, Hobson Woodward, and Mary T. Claffey, 2005
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 8 (1787–1789), ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Hobson Woodward, Jessie May Rodrique, Gregg L. Lint, and Mary T. Claffey, 2007
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 9 (1790–1793), ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Karen N. Barzilay, Hobson Woodward, Mary T. Claffey, Robert F. Karachuk, Sara B. Sikes, Gregg L. Lint, 2009
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 10 (1794–1795), ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Sara Martin, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Gregg L. Lint, Sara Georgini, 2011
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 11 (1795–1797), ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Sara Martin, Neal E. Millikan, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Gregg L. Lint, 2013
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 12 (1797–1798), ed. Sara Martin, C. James Taylor, Neal E. Millikan, Amanda A. Mathews, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Gregg L. Lint, Sara Georgini, 2015
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 13 (1798–1799), ed. Sara Martin, Hobson Woodward, Christopher F. Minty, Amanda M. Norton, Neal E. Millikan, Emily Ross, Sara B. Sikes, Sara Georgini, 2017
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 14 (1799–1801), ed. Hobson Woodward, Sara Martin, Christopher F. Minty, Amanda M. Norton, Neal E. Millikan, Gwen Fries, Sara Georgini, 2019
Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 15 (1801–1804), ed. Hobson Woodward, Sara Martin, Christopher F. Minty, Neal E. Millikan, Gwen Fries, Amanda M. Norton, Sara Georgini, R. M. Barlow, 2021
Series III considers the public papers of the three primary Adams statesmen: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Charles Francis Adams. The project is currently focused on the Papers of John Adams, including the separate three-volume run of the Legal Papers of John Adams.
Legal Papers of John Adams, 3 vols., ed. L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, 1965
Papers of John Adams, vols. 1–2 (1755–1775), ed. Robert J. Taylor, Mary-Jo Kline, and Gregg L. Lint, 1977
Papers of John Adams, vols. 3–4 (1775–1776), ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and Celeste Walker, 1979
Papers of John Adams, vols. 5–6 (1776–1778), ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and Celeste Walker, 1983
Papers of John Adams, vols. 7–8 (1778–1780), ed. Gregg L. Lint, Robert J. Taylor, Richard Alan Ryerson, Celeste Walker, and Joanna M. Revelas, 1989
Papers of John Adams, vols. 9–10 (1780), ed. Gregg L. Lint, Joanna M. Revelas, Richard Alan Ryerson, Celeste Walker, and Anne M. Decker, 1996
Papers of John Adams, vol. 11 (1781), ed. Gregg L. Lint, Richard Alan Ryerson, Anne Decker Cecere, Celeste Walker, Jennifer Shea, and C. James Taylor, 2003
Papers of John Adams, vol. 12 (1781–1782), ed. Gregg L. LInt, Richard Alan Ryerson, Anne Decker Cecere, C. James Taylor, Jennifer Shea, Celeste Walker, and Margaret A. Hogan, 2004
Papers of John Adams, vol. 13 (1782), ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Margaret A. Hogan, Jessie May Rodrique, Mary T. Claffey, and Hobson Woodward, 2006
Papers of John Adams, vol. 14 (1782–1783), ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Hobson Woodward, Margaret A. Hogan, Jessie May Rodrique, Mary T. Claffey, Sara B. Sikes, and Judith S. Graham, 2008
Papers of John Adams, vol. 15 (1783–1784), ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Robert F. Karachuk, Hobson Woodward, Margaret A. Hogan, Sara B. Sikes, Mary T. Claffey, and Karen N. Barzilay, 2010
Papers of John Adams, vol. 16 (1784–1785), ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Robert F. Karachuk, Hobson Woodward, Margaret A. Hogan, Neal E. Millikan, Sara B. Sikes, Sara Martin, Sara Georgini, Amanda A. Matthews, James T. Connolly, 2012
Papers of John Adams, vol. 17 (1785), ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Matthews, Sara Martin, 2014
Papers of John Adams, vol. 18 (1785–1787), ed. Gregg L. Lint, Sara Martin, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda M. Norton, 2016
Papers of John Adams, vol. 19 (1787–1789), ed. Sara Georgini, Sara Martin, R. M. Barlow, Amanda M. Norton, Neal E. Millikan, Hobson Woodward, 2018
Papers of John Adams, vol. 20 (1789–1791), ed. Sara Georgini, Sara Martin, R. M. Barlow, Gwen Fries, Amanda M. Norton, Neal E. Millikan, Hobson Woodward, 2020
This series consists of two volumes that list the known and/or extant portraits of Abigail and John Adams and Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams.
Portraits of John and Abigail Adams, by Andrew Oliver, 1967
Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, by Andrew Oliver, 1970
In addition to the letterpress volumes, Adams Papers staff have made the Adamses’ writings accessible to general audiences through two trade publications.
My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams, ed. Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor, 2007.
A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams, ed. Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor, 2014
The Diary, partially published in the 1850s, has proven a quarry of information on the rise of Revolutionary resistance in New England, the debates in the early Continental Congresses, and the diplomacy and financing of the American Revolution; but it has remained unfamiliar to the wider public. “It is an American classic,” Zoltan Haraszti has said, “about which Americans know next to nothing.” Actually the Diary’s historical value may well prove secondary to its literary and human interest. Now that it is presented in full, we have for the first time a proper basis for comprehending John Adams—an extraordinary human being, a master of robust, idiomatic language, a diarist in the great tradition. From none of the other founders of the Republic do we have anything like a record at once so copious and so intimate.
The Autobiography, intended for John Adams’ family but never finished, consists of three large sections. The first records his boyhood, his legal and political career, and the movement that culminated in American Independence. The second and third parts deal with his diplomatic experiences, and serve among other things as a retrospective commentary on the Diary; they are studded with sketches of Adams’ associates which are as scintillating as they are prejudiced. Parts and in some cases all of these sketches were omitted from Charles Francis Adams’ nineteenth-century edition.
In 1779, John Adams wrote, “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 Hypocrises, have at Times, thrown this Assemblage of Sloth, Sleep, and littleness into Rage a little like a Lion.” Both the ordinary Man and the Lion live on in these volumes.
The existence of this diary was totally unsuspected until its recent and somewhat accidental discovery among papers at the Vermont Historical Society during a search by Wendell D. Garrett, associate editor of The Adams Papers, for Adams family letters of a later period.
In part, the diary antedates by more than two years all other diaries of John Adams, and as a whole it is an invaluable addition to The Adams Papers. The editors’ introduction describes the romantic and dramatic circumstances under which it is supposed the diary left the hands of the Adams family and found its way into the possession of young Royall Tyler, later a successful writer and distinguished Vermont judge, but in the 1780s a suitor for the hand of John Adams’ daughter Abigail. Among other matters, the newly found diary contains material on John Adams’ life as an undergraduate at Harvard, his law studies, his ambitions, and his observations on girls.
As L. H. Butterfield, editor in chief of The Adams Papers, said of John Adams, “He almost never fails to give even his casual reflections a characteristic turn. He is a great stylist. . . . His wry, amusing, engaging comments, whether on literature, science, or government, show an original mind at work.”
November 1779 – December 1788
These volumes begin the publication of the greatest diary, both in mass and substance, in American History. Recording a span of 68 years, it has been known heretofore only in partial form. When, over a hundred years ago, Charles Francis Adams edited his grandfather’s diary he chose to omit “the details of common life,” reduce “the moral and religious speculations,” and retain criticisms of others only if they applied to public figures “acting in the same sphere with the writer.”
Now the diary is being published complete for the first time. Starting with the entries of a twelve-year-old boy, the present volumes cover John Quincy Adams’ formative years—his schooling and travel abroad, study at Harvard, and the first months of training for the law. Adams’ six years overseas with his father took him to a half a dozen countries, with lengthy stays in Paris, the Netherlands, and St. Petersburg. On his return he stayed for a time in New York, making the acquaintance of influential congressmen. To finish preparing for college, he lived with an aunt and uncle in Haverhill, caught up in a round of social activities. Entering Harvard with junior standing in the spring of 1786, he graduated in fifteen months.
As Adams matured, diary entries became less a dutiful response to a father’s request and more a record of the young man’s perceptive observations and reflections—and thus a rich source for social history. There are accounts of play-going in Paris, evenings with Lafayette and Jefferson, the diversions of rural New England, apprenticeship in a Newburyport law office. And through the eyes of a serious but not unbending student we are given a picture of Harvard in the 1780s.
Candid opinions of preachers, writers, men of affairs, and family members accompany the closest self-scrutiny. Here is a remarkable record of the passage from adolescence to manhood of a precocious and sensitive boy torn by self-doubts and driving himself to fulfill his promise and his parents’ expectations.
January 1820 – September 1829
Third and last of the Adams dynasty of statesmen, Charles Francis Adams followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps by keeping a diary from youth to old age. With only a few gaps in the earliest years, Charles Francis Adams’ diary extends from 1820 to 1880, furnishing a massively detailed and intensely personal record of the writer’s life as an undergraduate at Harvard, manager of the Adams family’s business affairs, historian and biographer, Free Soil political leader and Republican Congressman, United States minister in London during the Civil War, arbitrator of the Alabama claims at the Geneva Tribunal, and father of a whole constellation of gifted sons.
Unlike John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography (4 volumes, 1961) and John Quincy Adams’ Diary (2 vols. to date), that of Charles Francis Adams has never before been even selectively published. This is partly because the protracted efforts of the family to prepare a satisfactory edition after the writer’s death finally broke down under the sheer bulk of the material.
The present two volumes reveal Charles Francis Adams as a sensitive and self-critical young man during his college years, in the social whirl of Washington while his father was Secretary of State and President, during his training in Daniel Webster’s Boston law office, and throughout his prolonged courtship of Abigail B. Brooks, a New England heiress. A central theme of these volumes is the struggle which raged within young Adams’ mind and heart between the warm, poetic heritage of his Southern-born mother and the cold, political New England legacy of his Adams forebears. The defeat of his father in the 1828 election, the tragic death of his older brother, and his marriage to Abigail in 1829, with which these volumes end, were weigh stations toward making himself a “New England man.”
September 1829 – December 1832
Covering the period from Adams’ marriage to the end of 1832, these volumes record the early years of his maturity during which he was seeking to find his vocation. Engaged in the day-to-day management of John Quincy Adams’ business interests in Boston and Quincy, he nevertheless had no inclination toward commerce or the active practice of law. Son and grandson of Presidents, proud heir to a name already great and controversial in American politics, he also at this time considered himself “not fitted for the noise of public life.” Dependent for support on his father and father-in-law but determined to maintain his independence, he devoted his available time to a program of studies and writing that would prepare him for a career he hesitated to name but in which he wished distinction. His own public career still years away, he was drawn at this period to the study of American history and his famous grandparents’ papers, an effort that would continue and that would make him the family’s archivist and editor.
These volumes offer manifold opportunities for an enlarged understanding of a complex and able man who was later to assume positions of high responsibility. In addition to furnishing innumerable personal and family insights, this portion of the diary is of capital importance for the historian of society and culture. Probably no more detailed and faithful record exists of Boston life in the period.
January 1833 – June 1836
A man’s 27th year is “critical,” according to Charles Francis Adams. And so his proved. Twenty-five at the start of these volumes, Adams had yet to embark on the public career that would mark him a statesman, but by their conclusion he had been drawn into the maelstrom of politics. It was an unwilling plunge, dictated by what both he and his father, John Quincy Adams, regarded as betrayal of the elder Adams by Daniel Webster and his Whigs. Once in, however, he showed himself politically adept.
This diary, kept from January 1833 to June 1836 and hitherto unpublished, has elements of hidden personal drama. Through private meetings and caucuses and newspaper articles signed with pseudonyms, the younger Adams found effective means to carry on political activities in the face of dilemmas posed by his father’s public prominence, his father-in-law’s contrary persuasions, and his own preferences. He emerged with growing self-respect and solid accomplishment as political journalist—his initial vocation.
The diary has fresh disclosures also about the personality of John Quincy Adams, shrewdly assessed by an observer uniquely placed to interpret domestic scenes as well as the greatly waged struggles in Washington against the Southern “slavocracy” and “gag rules.”
Colorful figures in Boston’s political and social life are finely etched in outspoken appraisals characteristic of the Adamses. The diarist shows acuteness too in comments on books, sermons, paintings, the theater, and opera.
June 1836 – February 1840
The period of June 1836 to February 1840, from Charles Francis Adams’ 28th to 32nd year, was characterized by his turn from the political activities that had occupied him for the preceding several years. The course of the Van Buren administration he had helped to elect dissatisfied him, the Massachusetts Whig leadership had earned his distrust, positions on political issues that would either echo or oppose those being vigorously espoused by his father, John Quincy Adams, he felt inhibited from avowing publicly. So confronted, Charles found occupation in preparing and expressing himself on economic matters of the moment—banking and currency—and moral questions generated by the slavery issue. With increasing effectiveness he employed the lecture platform and the press for the expression of views he felt free to attach his name. On all these matters he found his opinions at odds with prevailing ones held among those prominent in the Boston scene, as John Adams and John Quincy Adams had found before him. Yet, despite a sense of loneliness, so induced, his participation in the varied social life of the city has its place in the Diary.
However, activities in Boston and its environs that provided a focus for the record of the preceding years give way in these volumes to wider scenes made available by train and ship. An extensive journey with his wife by way of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal to Niagara and Canada, a visit of some length and interest in Washington, and stays of lesser length in New York City are recounted.
Wide and persistent reading, the theater, numismatics, and the building of a summer home in Quincy also occupied him and are fully reflected in his journal. Family tragedies are not absent from its pages. As the period comes to its close his long and distinguished labors as editor of the family’s papers had begun. A new self-assurance has become evident.
With the publication of these volumes, the Adams saga takes a long stride through the first half of the nineteenth century, as Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams comes forward to chronicle her life with John Quincy Adams. Born in London in 1775 to a Maryland merchant and his English wife, Louisa recalls her childhood and education in England and France and her courtship in London with John Quincy, then U.S. minister to the Netherlands. Shortly after their marriage in 1797, Louisa accompanied her husband on his diplomatic posting to Prussia, where the first of their four children was born. In 1801 the family sailed to America, where John Quincy took his place as Massachusetts state senator and U.S. senator before his appointment as minister to Russia in 1809, and to Great Britain in 1815. The first volume—comprising Louisa’s memoirs Record of a Life, The Adventures of a Nobody, and Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France, as well as a Russian Diary for 1812 to 1814—vividly portrays the republican couple in the splendid courts at Berlin and St. Petersburg.
In 1817 the Adamses returned to America where John Quincy served as secretary of state, president, and, finally, a member of Congress. Volume 2 comprises Louisa’s remaining extant Diaries, those for 1819 to 1824, 1835 to 1841, and 1844 to 1849. The earliest of these portrays a reluctant but increasingly canny political wife who helped to propel John Quincy through his distinguished service as secretary of state and his quest for the presidency. In her later Diaries, a more private Louisa makes a reckoning of her eventful life.
Lamentations about separation and loss—occasioned by the demands of John Quincy’s career, the deaths of three of the Adams children, and the trials of the Johnson family—abound in these volumes. John Quincy emerges in a fullness seldom seen—ambitious and exacting, yet generous and gallant. Here, too, are views of Napoleonic Europe and an America torn by sectional disputes, with witty sketches of heroes and scoundrels in the seats of government, and keen observations of social life in the ballrooms, drawing rooms, and parlors of two continents. Louisa’s candid writings add immeasurably to the record of an eminent American family.
December 1761 – March 1778
“The Adams family correspondence” Mr. Butterfield writes, “is an unbroken record of the changing modes of domestic life, religious views and habits, travel, dress, servants, food, schooling, reading, health and medical care, diversions, and every other conceivable aspect of manners and taste among the members of a substantial New England family who lived on both sides of the Atlantic and wrote industriously to each other over a period of a century.” These volumes are the first in an estimated twenty or more in Series II of the Adams Papers.
Including about six hundred letters to and from various members of the family, the Adams Family Correspondence begins with a series of hitherto unpublished courtship letters between John Adams and Abigail Smith. The weekly and sometimes daily reports by Adams of what was going on in the Continental Congress during the years 1774–1777 are a far fuller and franker record than has been available before. His wife’s letters in reply recount her difficulties in raising a family of young children and operating a farm while war went on not far from her doorstep, refugees inundated Braintree, local epidemics raged, prices soared, and goods and labor became ever scarcer. We learn for the first time that amid these distractions Abigail lost a baby daughter, that getting herself and four children inoculated against smallpox was an agonizing ordeal of months in 1776, that after Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga she wrote a long, lecturing letter to her single relative who had chosen the Loyalist side, and that her comments on blundering politicos, lax generals, and unpatriotic neighbors were more frequent and incisive than has been supposed.
Thinking her letters too careless and too intimate for preservation, Abigail Adams pleaded at the end of one of them, written a couple of months before the Declaration of Independence was voted and while British warships hovered within range of her house, “I wish you would burn all my Letters.” To which John Adams replied, “The conclusion of your Letter made my Heart throb, more than a Cannonade would. You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.”
So he faithfully kept hers, she kept his, and they both kept their children’s. Their grandson Charles Francis Adams chose some of these for publication in a succession of small editions in the nineteenth century, but he was highly selective, and he discreetly pruned away from the letters that he printed much that is both revealing and engaging. Here, as is the practice with all Adams documents in this edition, every letter used is given in full. The second of these first volumes ends in March 1778 with John Adams on a Continental frigate bound for his first diplomatic mission in Europe, accompanied by his ten-year-old son, John Quincy.
April 1778 – September 1782
The letters in these volumes, written from both sides of the Atlantic, addressed by and to members of the Adams family, chronicle nearly five years of its history. They were years in which John Adams in successive missions to Europe, accompanied first by one son, then by two, initiated what would be a continuing role for Adamses in three generations: representing their country and advancing its interests in the capitals of Europe.
John Adams, a troubled but stouthearted Yankee lawyer on the vast new scene of Europe, though always circumspect in familial correspondence in referring to public matters, provides, in his revealing letters about his own health and state of mind, sufficient insight into the difficult relations among the American commissioners, the designs of America’s allies, and the diplomatic failures and triumphs he experienced in Paris and the Netherlands to permit some reevaluation of purposes and tactics. With these high matters are mingled the rigors and rewards of travel, concern with his sons’ education, books for their reading, Dutch cloth and ribbons for his wife.
Whether Mrs. Adams’ letters relate to the upbringing of children, the problems of wartime taxes and inflation, the inferior roles assigned to American women, or her wide historical reading, they bear the marks of distinction of mind and mastery of language that make them timeless.
If the letters of these two are central, those written by others are hardly less interesting, relating as they do to the concerns of young John Quincy at school in Leyden and his observations on his way to and during his stay in St. Petersburg at age fourteen; to the adventure-filled return voyage of Charles, aged eleven, to America; to the interests of the younger Abigail maturing in Braintree; to the reactions of sturdy patriots to the tides and rumors of war.
October 1782 – December 1785
"I cannot O! I cannot be reconciled to living as I have done for 3 years past . . . Will you let me try to soften, if I cannot wholy releave you, from your Burden of Cares and perplexities?” So begins Abigail Adams’ correspondence to her husband in these volumes: a plea to end their long separation, as John Adams represented the United States in Europe while Abigail tended to family and farm in Massachusetts, and passed on crucial political information from Congress.
In October 1782, the Adams family was as widely scattered as it would ever be, with young John Quincy Adams in St. Petersburg, John at The Hague, and Abigail in Braintree with her daughter and younger sons. With the summer of 1784, however, Abigail would have her fondest wish, as most of the family reunited to spend nearly a year together in Europe. As the Adams family traveled, and as the children came of age, so their correspondence expanded to include an ever larger and more fascinating range of cultural topics and international figures. The record of this remarkable expansion, these volumes document John Adams’ diplomatic triumphs, his wife and daughter’s participation in the cosmopolitan scenes of Paris and London, and his son John Quincy’s travels in Europe and America. These pages also welcome Thomas Jefferson, who soon became one of Abigail’s closest friends, into the family correspondence. From the intimacies of the children’s education, sentimental and worldly, to the details of the warm friendship between Abigail and Madame Lafayette, to the grand drama of Edmund Burke and William Pitt the Younger debating in Parliament, the contents of these letters draw an incredibly rich picture of international life in the 1780s and an incomparable portrait of America’s first family of politics and letters.
January 1786 – February 1787
Continuing the saga of the Adamses of Massachusetts as told through their myriad letters to one another, as well as to their extended family and friends, this volume opens in January 1786 with the family physically divided. John and Abigail were living at Grosvenor Square in London with their daughter Nabby, partaking of the English social scene while John represented the United States at the Court of St. James. Back in Massachusetts, John Quincy had rejoined his brothers Charles and Thomas to prepare for his entrance to Harvard, where Charles was already a student.
The correspondence among the family members over the ensuing fourteen months documents changes in both the family and the wider world. In Europe, John engaged in treaty negotiations with Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, Tripoli, and Morocco, but also found the time to tour English gardens and historic sites with Thomas Jefferson. Abigail joined him for additional trips to the English countryside as well as to the Netherlands, where her observations on Dutch society and its people provided material for many letters. This volume also chronicles Nabby’s marriage to William Stephens Smith in June 1786, following a painful broken engagement with Royall Tyler. By the fall of that year, Nabby and her husband were expecting their first child.
In America, the lives of the three Adams boys at Harvard are described through the letters John Quincy wrote to his parents and sister in Europe, as well as through the continuing correspondence of Abigail’s sisters, who acted as surrogate mothers for the boys. John Quinicy intersperses stories of exams and orations with tales of dormitory life and collegiate traditions on the Cambridge campus. He and other family members also served as witnesses to the growing unrest in Massachusetts that culminated in Shays’ Rebellion. As the volume closes at the end of February 1787, Adamses on both sides of the ocean are left debating the meaning of the rebellion and its effect on the future of the American state.
March 1787 – December 1789
By early 1787, as the latest volume of this award-winning series opens, John and Abigail Adams were eagerly planning their return home to Massachusetts from Great Britain, frustrated by John’s lack of progress in his diplomatic mission and anxious for a reunion with family and friends. Arriving in Massachusetts in mid-1788, they anticipated a quiet retirement from government service running their farm. But they barely had time to unpack and arrange the furniture in their new home before they were pulled back into the public sphere by John’s election as the first vice president under the newly ratified Constitution. Settling in New York City in 1789 John and Abigail found themselves once again center stage in American political life.
Meanwhile, John and Abigail’s children were rapidly growing up. Sons John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston all studied at Harvard during this period, causing their anxious parents to fear that the boys’ morals and reputations would be challenged by the temptations of college life. After John Quincy’s graduation in the summer of 1787, he moved on to Newburyport, Massachusetts, to begin his training as a lawyer. Charles would follow the same path in 1789, studying at the offices of Alexander Hamilton in New York City. Perhaps most importantly, daughter Nabby presented the family with two new members—the first grandchildren of the Adams clan.
As always, the Adamses serve as prescient and thoughtful observers of the world around them, from the manners and mores of English court life to the political intrigues of the new federal government in New York. Beyond that wider world, however, these letters also comment on the more intimate day-to-day domestic concerns of a New England family, chronicling the myriad challenges of educating one’s children, running a household and farm, managing intractable servants, and successful matchmaking. With more of the forthright candor that marks all of the Adamses’ correspondence, this volume offers the unique perspective of this preeminent family on a crucial period in American history.
January 1790 – December 1793
The early years of the American republic under the new Constitution marked a contentious period in U.S. history as the nation struggled to create a functioning government amid increasingly bitter factionalism. On the international stage, the turmoil of the French Revolution raised important questions about the nature of government, while war among the European powers forced the United States to rethink its diplomatic priorities and stance on neutrality. As usual, the Adams family found themselves in the midst of it all—and chronicled it extensively in their correspondence with one another. John, as vice president, faithfully presided over Senate sessions even as he was prevented from participating in any meaningful fashion. Abigail joined him first in New York and then in the new federal capital of Philadelphia when her health permitted, but even from afar, she provided important advice and keen observations on American politics and society.
All four Adams children are likewise well represented in this volume, especially younger sons Charles and Thomas Boylston, who, for the first time, appear as substantial correspondents in their own right. Both embarked on legal careers, Charles in New York and Thomas in Philadelphia, while elder brother John Quincy did the same in Boston. Their letters document the successes and frustrations they faced as young men striving to make their way in romance, politics, and their profession. Daughter Nabby cared for her growing family as her ambitious husband, William Stephens Smith, pursued various financial schemes at home and abroad. Increasingly independent, the children nonetheless continued to rely on their parents for support and advice, which John and Abigail naturally provided in abundance.
As with previous books in the series, this volume offers insight into this important American family and the frank commentary on life in the late eighteenth century that readers have come to expect from the Adamses.
January 1794 – June 1795
The newest volume of Adams Family Correspondence offers over 300 letters from the irrepressible Adamses, including many between John and Abigail never before printed. As always, the Adams family serve as important observers of and commentators on national and international events, from America’s growing tensions with Britain and France, to its internal struggles with increasingly virulent political factionalism and the Whiskey Rebellion. John, languishing as vice president in Philadelphia, reported extensively on congressional debates and growing divisions within the Washington administration but also found time to improve his sons’ legal education and keep up to date on events in Massachusetts. Abigail’s letters juxtapose her own political insights with lively accounts of her farm management and the day-to-day happenings in Quincy.
The most significant event of the period for the Adamses themselves was John Quincy’s appointment as U.S. minister resident at The Hague, the beginning of his long and storied diplomatic career. Accompanying him overseas was his brother Thomas Boylston, the only Adams child who had not yet seen Europe. Arriving just as the French Army began its occupation of the Netherlands, John Quincy and Thomas Boylston became first-hand observers of the European war and the impact of the French Revolution on the broader society. Back in the United States, Charles continued to build his legal career, expanding his law office and acquiring two clerks, while Nabby’s family grew with the birth of the Adamses’ first granddaughter, Caroline Amelia Smith.
The Adams family never lacks for words, and this volume once again demonstrates why they are considered among the premier observers of late-eighteenth-century American political and social life.
July 1795 – February 1797
The more than 300 letters in this volume of Adams Family Correspondence span the period from July 1795 to the eve of John Adams’ inauguration as president of the United States, with the growing partisan divide leading up to the election playing a central role. The fiery debate over funding the Jay Treaty and caustic exchanges between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, ably documented by the Adamses, only grew as rumors emerged of George Washington’s impending retirement. John’s calm reporting from Philadelphia on the speculation about Washington’s successor slowly gave way to hope and expectation of his own election, coupled with surprise at the ferocity of electioneering among both political allies and opponents. Although she remained in Quincy throughout this period, Abigail’s letters offer keen, even acerbic, commentary on these national events while also contemplating the changes to occur in her own life with John’s elevation to the presidency
From Europe, John Quincy’s and Thomas Boylston’s correspondence sheds light on the rise of the French Directory, the shifts in the continental war, and the struggles within the Dutch government under the Batavian Republic. Their letters also testify to the broader scale of the U.S. presidential election by chronicling French and British attempts to influence American politics. Both men wrestled with choices regarding their professional futures, as John Quincy grew in stature among the U.S. diplomatic corps and Thomas Boylston debated a return to the United States and his legal career. Back in the United States, Charles was experiencing continued success as a lawyer and enjoying newfound delight in marriage and fatherhood. But Nabby’s life remained turbulent as the financial schemes of her husband, William Stephens Smith, provided a less than stable platform for their family.
Back in London, John Quincy’s engagement to Louisa Catherine Johnson in the spring of 1796 introduces a new and important character into the Adams family universe. Their initial courtship letters appear in this volume, the first in what promises to be the next great collection of correspondence documenting the Adams family saga.
March 1797 – April 1798
This volume of Adams Family Correspondence opens with the inauguration of John Adams as the second president of the United States and closes just after details of the XYZ affair are made public in America. This stunning revelation fueled tensions with France but did little to mend the caustic divide within national politics. Through private networks of correspondence, the Adamses revealed both their individual concerns for the well-being of the nation and the depth of their public and political engagement with the republic. In particular, Abigail’s letters to friend and foe demonstrate the important role she played as an unofficial member of the administration. As John struggled to maintain American independence and honor while at the same time avoiding war, Abigail fielded requests for the president’s patronage and worked to influence public opinion.
On the move in Europe, John Quincy’s and Thomas Boylston’s letters from The Hague, Paris, London, and finally Berlin offer keen observations about France’s aggressive posture toward neutral nations, the aftermath of the 18 fructidor coup d’état, and the implications of both for the United States. They also comment on shifts in the European landscape resulting from the continental war and describe the vibrant court life in Berlin following the coronation of Frederick William III.
In the midst of political partisanship and international crisis, it was the family’s domestic life and personal connections that both challenged and sustained them. After months of separation, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Johnson were reunited and married in London in July 1797. John Quincy’s diplomatic mission, redirected from Portugal to Prussia under his father’s nomination, caused a minor rift in the family as the scrupulous younger Adams struggled with concerns about nepotism. Visits between the elder Adamses and their children Nabby and Charles in New York proved a welcome distraction from the challenges of public life, even as John and Abigail worried about their daughter’s precarious domestic situation. Imbued with the candor and perception expected from the Adamses, the 276 letters comprising this volume once again offer forthright commentary from one family at the center of it all.
May 1798 – September 1799
This volume of Adams Family Correspondence begins with a nation preparing for war and ends with the crystallization of forces that would bring John Adams’ public service to an end. Although Abigail suffered a severe illness and remained in Quincy during most of the seventeen months covered, her correspondence reveals a determination to remain an unofficial member of John’s administration. Her letters are filled with astute commentary on events both public and private. Fiery debates over foreign relations and domestic affairs between and among Federalists and Democratic-Republicans reinforced competing ideological visions for the future of the United States. The Adamses’ networks of correspondence attest to John’s fluctuating popularity, chronicling his surge in support after details of the XYZ Affair were made public and the controversy following his decision to initiate a second peace mission to France. The letters also describe political developments that sharply divided Americans, most significantly the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
John Quincy’s letters from Berlin, where he served as U.S. minister to Prussia, display a keen understanding of the importance of French imperial ambition and its implications for Franco-American relations. Detailed descriptions of armed conflict in Europe accompany discussions of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, providing an unparalleled view of the tumult overseas. His letters also reveal the turmoil of his personal affairs, including his concern for his wife Louisa Catherine’s health, the failure of his agents to manage his financial affairs, and the departure of Thomas Boylston as his secretary.
John and Abigail’s joy over the return of their youngest son was tempered by abiding concerns about the domestic situations of Charles and Nabby. Thomas Boylston’s choice to settle in Philadelphia was disappointing, but it yielded a vibrant correspondence with Abigail and cousin William Smith Shaw. After four years in Europe, a newly cosmopolitan Thomas Boylston commented astutely on transatlantic events, while lending a perspective on family life that bridged the distance between John Quincy and their parents. Written with the Adamses’ hallmark candor, the nearly 300 letters in this volume reveal a family—and a nation—determined to counter the forces pushing them apart.
October 1799 – February 1801
“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it,” John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams as he took up residence in the building that became known as the White House. John and Abigail’s reflections on an emerging nation as they settle into the new national capital of Washington, D.C., are one highlight of the nearly 280 letters written over seventeen months printed in this volume of Adams Family Correspondence. The volume opens with the Adamses’ public and private mourning of George Washington and concludes with John’s defeat in the contentious presidential election of 1800. Electioneering, charges of sedition, and state-by-state strategizing are debated by the Adamses and their correspondents as the election advances toward deadlock and concludes with victory for Thomas Jefferson in the House of Representatives. John’s retirement from public life had some sweet mixed with the bitter. The U.S. mission to France resulted in the Convention of 1800 that ended the Quasi-War and John’s nomination of John Marshall as chief justice marked the beginning of a transformative era for the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall’s nomination preceded the so-called “midnight appointments” at the close of John’s presidency, a coda anticipated in Abigail’s request to John in the final days of his administration—“I want to see the list of judges.”
The domestic lives of the Adamses were equally compelling during the period. Abigail and John endured the crushing loss of their son Charles, whose struggle with alcohol ended in repudiation and death in New York. Son Thomas Boylston and daughter Nabby spent the period in relative stability, while John Quincy chronicled a tour of Silesia in letters written during an interlude in his reports on the tumult in Europe and Napoleon’s rise to power in France. The volume’s close includes the final letters exchanged between Abigail and John. In retirement, the couple’s correspondence with family and friends will continue to offer rich observations that provide insight into politics and the American family in the early republic.
March 1801 – October 1804
“In the Rural shades of Quincy: and the domestic occupations of a Farm; we enjoy a tranquility unruffeld by party Spirit, hopeing for peace upon Earth, and breathing good will to Man,” Abigail Adams declared from the quietude of Peacefield, as she and John Adams traded Washington, D.C., for retirement in Quincy. This volume of Adams Family Correspondence chronicles a generational transition, as the elder Adamses yield the political center to John Quincy Adams, who returns from abroad to take a seat in the United States Senate just in time to earn the ire of both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans over his votes on the Louisiana Purchase. Still, Abigail and John kept watchful gazes on American political life and, especially, the actions of the new administration. A highlight is the lively exchange between Abigail and Thomas Jefferson, in which she condemned the corrosive nature of party politics, challenged the new president to be the nation’s moral leader, and questioned his removal of John Quincy from a federal post. The dismantling of the judicial reforms enacted at the end of John’s presidency drew the family’s acerbic comment, although topics ranging from the mobilization of the navy for the Barbary wars to the duel that killed Alexander Hamilton also warranted their time.
The 251 letters in this volume prove equally compelling for their insight into the Adamses’ private world. The abrupt failure of a British bank spelled financial disaster for John and Abigail until John Quincy repaired the damage by selling and purchasing several properties to support his parents’ retirement. His wife, Louisa Catherine Adams, embraced her role as mother to two young sons, made her way in a new country, and offered perceptive commentary on Washington society. Thomas Boylston Adams enjoyed forays into political and literary writing for the Port Folio as a diversion from the struggles he faced in his legal career. Ultimately, he chose to start over and returned to the family fold in Quincy. At once sharp and nuanced, witty and insightful, the letters in this volume continue to demonstrate why the Adams family’s correspondence is a national treasure.
Like many another statesmen, John Adams entered the political arena by way of the legal profession. Here, gathered together in three volumes, is an inclusive presentation of the important legal cases in which he was involved. Student notes and Commonplace Book, which show the influences on the young law student in 1758 and 1759, are followed by Adams’ Pleadings Book, a collection of forms providing a cross-section of the law in 18th-century Massachusetts and showing his work as teacher as well as student.
The 64 cases documented are divided into 16 legal categories, such as Torts, Property, Domestic Relations, Town Government, Conservation, Religion, Slavery, and Admiralty. They are preceded by editorial headnotes which discuss the background, significance, and importance of each category and case. Careful and thorough footnotes explain textual and legal problems; a register of John Adams’ contemporaries furnishes sketches of his colleagues on the bench and bar; and an exhaustive chronology records his growing practice. But the bulk of the material consists of Adams’ own notes and minutes, supplemented by court records, letters, depositions of witnesses, and the minutes of other lawyers, as well as extracts from Adams’ correspondence and diary to make the record of each case as full as possible. Many of the cases concern events, personalities, and legal struggles directly related to the American Revolution.
The entire third volume of this imposing collection is devoted to the so-called “Boston Massacre.” Confronted by a fascinating mass of conflicting evidence, charges and countercharges, and confused and confusing witnesses, many Americans will be surprised to discover that they must revise their notions about what actually happened on that March evening in 1770, why it did, and what ensued.
September 1755 – April 1775
Volumes one and two of the Papers of John Adams include letters to and from friends and colleagues, reports of committees on which he served, his polemical writings, published and unpublished, and state papers to which he made a contribution. All of Adams’ newspaper writings, including “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” are in these two volumes. In addition to being a condemnation of the Stamp Act, the “Dissertation” is shown to be one of the building blocks of the theory of a commonwealth of independent states under the king, which reaches complete statement in the Novanglus letters. For the first time, all 13 of these letters appear in full with annotation.
The period September 1755–April 1775 covers Adams’ public service in Braintree and Boston town meetings, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the First Continental Congress, and the First Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. During this time his political future was being shaped by circumstances not always of his choosing. He hesitated at first at the threshold of a public career, political ambition in conflict with concern for his family’s well-being. But as the confrontation with Great Britain sharpened, the crisis became acute; no choice remained. For Adams there was no shirking the path of duty.
May 1775 – August 1776
As the American colonies grew more restive, and a break with the mother country ceased to be unthinkable, John Adams was forced to spend less and less time with his beloved family. Although burdened by ever-expanding responsibilities in the Second Continental Congress, he found time for an amazing amount of correspondence.
The majority of his letters were written to secure the facts that would enable this duty-ridden man to decide and act effectively on the issues being debated. Military affairs, a source of never-ending concern, provide some of the most fascinating subjects, including several accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill, assessments of various high-ranking officers, and complaints about the behavior of the riflemen sent from three states to the southward to aid the Massachusetts troops. The heated question of pay for soldiers and officers early strained relations between New England and southern colonies. By refusing to confront the issue of slavery when it was raised by several corespondents, Adams sought to avoid exacerbating regional sensitivities further.
When the question of independent governments for former colonies arose, at the request of several colleagues Adams sketched a model: Thoughts on Government, three versions of which are included here. His optimistic republicanism, however, was balanced by fear that a “Spirit of Commerce” would undermine the virtue requisite for republican institutions.
Adams’ important committee work included his draft in 1775 of rules for regulation of the Continental Navy, which have remained the basis for the governance of the United States Navy down into our time, and his plan of treaties, which would guide American diplomatists up to World War II. Both were derivative, but he skillfully adapted his materials to American needs and circumstances.
These volumes reflect the spirit of those tumultuous years when the leaders emerging in America confronted each other, and exciting new ideas, as they tried to resolve the issues of a revolutionary period.
August 1776 – August 1778
These volumes document John Adams’ thinking and actions during the final years of his congressional service and take him through his first five months as a Commissioner in France in association with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee.
While Adams was still in Philadelphia, military matters continued to be his major concern. Most demanding was his presidency of the Board of War, which took up his “whole Time, every Morning and Evening.” In general though, the documents and reports of his conduct reveal a commitment to a national outlook. Congress should be a national legislature, and personal, state, and regional rivalries should give way to concern for the greater good—these were his deeply held convictions.
When chosen a Commissioner to France, Adams was reluctant to go. But duty and the honor of the position, along with the encouragement of an understanding and self-sacrificing wife, persuaded him to accept. With son John Quincy for a companion, he crossed the Atlantic to a new career. His initiation into the complexities of diplomacy brought a growing awareness of European affairs and the problems facing the new nation in the diplomatic arena. Letters deal with such varied topics as the supervision of American commercial agents in French ports, regulation of privateers, settlement of disputes between crews and officers, negotiation of loans, and help for American prisoners in England. Personal letters run the gamut from Adams’ views on the proper conduct of American diplomacy to strangers’ pleas for aid in locating relatives in America. Contrary to the usual impression of Adams as little more than a clerk for the Commission, evidence shows that he was its chief administrator.
Acclimation to living abroad among diplomats did not stifle Adams’ yearning for the simplicities of private life in the midst of his family. Yet as the important and interesting documents of this volume show, the ground work was being laid for his even more significant role in diplomacy.
September 1778 – February 1780
These volumes provide an unparalleled account of the conduct of American diplomacy in the early years of the republic, while the war with Britain continued and after the treaty of alliance with France was signed. John Adams served for ten months as a commissioner to France. Though he was the newest member of the three-man commission, he was its chief administrator, handling most of its correspondence, and his papers are the first full documentary record of the commission ever published. They provide a wealth of detail on every aspect of diplomacy, from negotiations with ministers of state to the arranging of prisoner exchanges.
The documents throw new light on Adams’ relations with his fellow commissioners, Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee. Historians have depicted Adams as hostile to Franklin and supportive of Lee, but the record shows that he found himself increasingly in disagreement with Lee, while working harmoniously with Franklin from the outset. Moreover, after the commission was disbanded in February 1779 and Franklin was appointed Minister to France—a move Adams had advocated—he undertook an important mission at Franklin’s behest. It is now clear that the rift that developed between the two statesmen did not begin until after Adams’ return to Paris in 1780.
Legal and constitutional scholars will find volume eight of particular interest. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, drafted by John Adams in 1779, served as a crucial source for the Constitution of the United States; today it is the oldest written constitution in the world still in effect. The earliest surviving version of Adams’ text, the Report of a Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is here published with full annotation for the first time. It is John Adams’ most enduring constitutional work.
On the last day of December 1780 John Adams wrote that he had just spent “the most anxious and mortifying Year of my Whole Life.” He had resided first at Paris, then at Amsterdam, attempting without success to open Anglo-American peace negotiations and to raise a Dutch loan. In volumes nine and ten of the Papers of John Adams, over 600 letters and documents that Adams sent to and received from numerous correspondents in Europe and America provide an unparalleled view of Adams’ diplomacy and a wealth of detail on the world in which he lived.
These volumes chronicle Adams’ efforts to convince the British people and their leaders that Britain’s economic survival demanded an immediate peace; his “snarling, growling” debate with the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, over the proper Franco-American relationship; and his struggle to obtain a loan in the Netherlands, where policies were dictated by Mammon rather than republican virtue. Adams’ writings, diplomatic dispatches, and personal correspondence all make clear the scope of his intelligence-gathering and his propaganda efforts in the British, French, and Dutch press. The letters reflect his interest in Bordeaux wines, the fate of Massachusetts’ Constitution that he had drafted in 1779, and political developments in Philadelphia, Boston, London, and St. Petersburg. The volumes leave no doubt as to John Adams’ unwavering commitment to the American cause. Even in this most difficult year, he believed the revolution in America to be “the greatest that ever took Place among Men.” He felt honored to serve a new nation where “the Wisdom and not the Man is attended to,” whose citizens were fighting a “People’s War” from which the United States would inevitably emerge victorious to take its rightful place on the world stage.
In mid-March 1781 John Adams received his commission and instructions as minister to the Netherlands and embarked on the boldest initiative of his diplomatic career. Disappointed by the lack of interest shown by Dutch investors in his efforts to raise a loan for the United States, Adams changed his tactics. In a memorial dated 19 April he proposed that the States General of the Netherlands immediately recognize the United States. Determined to prevent the States General from tabling and ignoring his petition, Adams published the memorial in Dutch, English, and French, thereby offering all of Europe a radical vision of the ordinary citizen’s role in determining political events. In this volume, for the first time, all of the circumstances and reasoning behind Adams’ bold moves in the spring of 1781 are presented in full.
After six years of war, rumors of a negotiated peace circulated throughout Europe. In July the French court summoned Adams, the only American in Europe empowered to negotiate an Anglo-American peace, to Paris for consultations regarding an offer made by Austria and Russia to mediate the Anglo-French war. In his correspondence with France’s foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, Adams passionately insisted that the United States was fully and unambiguously independent and sovereign and must be recognized as such by Great Britain before any negotiations took place. This volume shows John Adams to be a determined and resourceful diplomat, unafraid to go beyond the bounds of traditional diplomacy to implement his vision of American foreign policy.
October 1781 – April 1782
For John Adams, “the most Signal Epocha, in the History of a Century” occurred on 19 April 1782 when the Netherlands recognized the United States and admitted Adams as its minister. Adams believed then and for the remainder of his life that this event was the foremost achievement of his diplomatic career. Volume 12 chronicles his efforts, against great odds, to succeed in his objective. Adams responded vigorously to criticism of his seemingly unorthodox methods by the French foreign ministry and Congress’ newly appointed secretary for foreign affairs, Robert R. Livingston, who would have preferred that he pursue a different course. He informed Livingston that while the diplomatic establishment might contemptuously view Adams and his colleagues “as a kind of Militia, . . . wise Men know that Militia sometimes gain Victories over regular Troops, even by departing from the Rules.”
But obtaining Dutch recognition of the United States was not the only matter occupying Adams’ time and attention. The documents in Volume 12 illuminate his efforts to assist American prisoners, raise a much-needed loan for the United States, and convince Europeans of the justice and inevitable triumph of the American cause. Most important was the possibility, after the American victory at Yorktown in October 1781 and the fall of the North ministry in Great Britain in March 1782, that Adams might soon be involved in peace negotiations. To prepare for the occasion John Adams and Benjamin Franklin discussed the matter in their letters and agreed on the fundamentals. The North and Rockingham ministries sent emissaries to discover Adams’ views regarding peace and he made it clear that there would be no separate peace or any negotiations without British recognition of the United States as independent and sovereign. The volume ends with John Adams describing his reception by the Dutch States General and his audiences with the Prince and Princess of Orange, at long last recognized as the U.S. minister, a full-fledged member of the diplomatic corps.
A new chapter in John Adams’ diplomatic career opened when the Dutch recognized the United States in April 1782. Operating from the recently purchased American legation at The Hague, Adams focused his energies on raising a much needed loan from Dutch bankers and negotiating a Dutch-American commercial treaty. Volume 13 chronicles John Adams’ efforts to achieve these objectives, but it also provides an unparalleled view of eighteenth-century American diplomacy on the eve of a peace settlement ending the eight-year war of the American Revolution.
John Adams was a shrewd observer of the political and diplomatic world in which he functioned and his comments on events and personalities remain the most candid and revealing of any American in Europe. His correspondence traces the complex negotiations necessary to raise a Dutch loan and throws new light on his conclusion of a treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands, achievements of which he was most proud. Events in England and elsewhere in Europe also provided grist for his pen. Would the establishment in July of a new ministry under the Earl of Shelburne hinder or advance the cause of peace? That question bedeviled Adams and his correspondents for the fate of the new nation literally rode on its answer. The volume ends with John Adams’ triumphal departure from The Hague to face new challenges at Paris as one of the American commissioners to negotiate an Anglo-American peace treaty.
October 1782 – May 1783
John Adams reached Paris on 26 October 1782 for the final act of the American Revolution: the negotiation of an Anglo-American peace treaty. Volume 14 chronicles Adams’ role in these negotiations and the decision—made by him and his colleagues—to conclude a peace separate from France. Determined that the United States would pursue an independent foreign policy, Adams in his letters criticized what he saw as Congress’ uncritical and naïve confidence in France. By April 1783, frustrated by delays in negotiations for a definitive treaty and real and imagined slights from Congress and Benjamin Franklin, Adams showed that, in his mind, the crux of the problem was Franklin’s servile Francophilia in the service of a duplicitous Comte de Vergennes.
Volume 14, however, deals with more than just the peace negotiations. Adams’ anxiety over posterity’s understanding of the American Revolution led him to offer historians a guide to documenting the great events in which he had played such a key part. These letters also detail Adams’ role as American minister to the Netherlands and his distribution of funds from the Dutch-American loan. Adams likewise provided always candid and often astute commentaries on the fall of the Shelburne ministry and its replacement by the Fox-North coalition, the future of the Anglo-American relationship, and the prospects for the United States in the post-Revolutionary world. Finally, Adams, an anxious father, craved news of John Quincy Adams’ slow journey from St. Petersburg to The Hague. By May 1783, Adams had tired of Europe but was resigned to remain until his work was done.
June 1783 – January 1784
On 3 September 1783, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay signed the Anglo-American definitive peace treaty. Peace was established, but how the United States would survive in the postwar world remained an open question. Adams and his colleagues strived to establish a viable relationship between the new nation and its largest trading partner but were stymied by rising British anti-Americanism. Domestic turmoil also complicated their diplomatic efforts. Americans, in a rehearsal for the later Federalist-Antifederalist conflict over the U.S. Constitution, were debating the proper relationship between the central government and the states. Adams, a Federalist as early as 1783, argued persuasively for a government that honored its treaties and paid its foreign debts. But when bills of exchange far exceeding the funds available for their redemption were sent from America to Europe, he was forced to undertake a dangerous winter journey from Britain to the Netherlands to raise a new loan and save the United States from financial disaster.
None of the other founding fathers equals Adams in the candor of his observations on the people and events of the eighteenth-century world. Adams fully indulged his penchant for leaving nothing unsaid regarding Franklin, France, and Congress’ management of foreign affairs. Thus his letters, always interesting, reveal with absolute clarity Adams’ opinions on the personalities and issues of his time.
February 1784 – March 1785
“Once more after an Interruption of ten Years, I pronounce myself a happy Man, and pray Heaven to continue me so.” Thus wrote John Adams in late August 1784 after the arrival in Europe of his wife Abigail and daughter Nabby. Adams and his family were living together in the pleasant Paris suburb of Auteuil. There Adams, with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, formed a joint commission to conclude commercial treaties with the nations of Europe and North Africa. For the first time since he had left America in 1778, Adams was engaged in normal diplomacy, absent crises and deadlines.
Volume 16 of the Papers of John Adams chronicles fourteen months of Adams’ diplomatic career. As minister to the Netherlands, he raised a new Dutch loan to save America from financial ruin. As joint commissioner, he negotiated a commercial treaty with Prussia, proposed similar treaties with other European nations, and prepared to negotiate with the Barbary States. The commissioners also sought to resolve Anglo-American differences left over from the peace negotiations and arising from the two nations’ burgeoning trade. Volume 16 forms a prelude to the next phase of John Adams’ diplomatic career, for his February 1785 appointment as minister to the Court of St. James meant that the management of Anglo-American relations would be his responsibility alone.
April November – 1785
“You may well Suppose that I was the Focus of all Eyes,” John Adams wrote on 2 June 1785 of his first audience with George III, which formally inaugurated the post of American minister to Great Britain. Eager to restore “the old good Nature and the old good Humour” between the two nations, Adams spent the following months establishing the U.S. legation at No. 8 Grosvenor Square. For Adams, it was a period of multiple responsibilities and mixed success. He remained minister to the Netherlands and one of the joint commissioners charged with negotiating commercial treaties with the nations of Europe and North Africa—sensitive duties that occasionally called for Adams to encode his correspondence with the aid of his new secretary and future son-in-law, Col. William Stephens Smith.
Rebuffed by the British ministry in his mission to enforce the peace treaty of 1783 and renew Anglo-American commerce, Adams identified and achieved other goals. He preserved American credit despite the bankruptcy of a Dutch banking house that handled U.S. loans, petitioned for the release of impressed sailors, marked the ratification of the Prussian-American treaty, championed the needs of the American Episcopal Church, and laid the groundwork for negotiations with the Barbary States. His attention was not confined solely to foreign affairs. John Adams’ letters from London, laced with his trademark candor, demonstrate his ripening Federalist view of the new American government’s vulnerability and promise.
December 1785 – January 1787
Volume 18 is the final volume of Papers of John Adams wholly devoted to John Adams’ diplomatic career. It chronicles his work as minister to Great Britain and the Netherlands. With Thomas Jefferson he sought to negotiate treaties with the nations of Europe and North Africa. In Britain, Adams found it impossible to do “any Thing Satisfactory” and the volume ends with his decision to resign, his diplomatic efforts too much akin to “making brick without straw.” He and Jefferson were unable to finalize treaties with Portugal and Great Britain, but did, through their agent Thomas Barclay, conclude a treaty with Morocco.
But there was more to John Adams’ life than diplomacy. He witnessed the marriage of his daughter, Abigail 2d, to William Stephens Smith; promoted the ordination of American Episcopal bishops; and toured the English countryside, first with Thomas Jefferson and then with his family. Most significant perhaps was the composition and publication of the first volume of Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, often attributed to his concern over Shays’ Rebellion, of which he knew little when he began drafting the volume. In fact the project was owing to Adams’ summer 1786 visit to the Netherlands, where his Dutch Patriot friends sought “upon paper” his remarks “respecting Government.”
February 1787 – May 1789
“Huzza for the new World and farewell to the Old One,” John Adams wrote in late 1787, wrapping up a decade’s worth of diplomatic service in Europe. Volume 19 of the Papers of John Adams chronicles Adams’ last duties as the American minister to Great Britain and the Netherlands. In the 28 months documented here, he petitioned the British ministry to halt impressment of American sailors, toured the English countryside, and observed parliamentary politics as the threat of a general war shadowed the continent. Adams salvaged American credit by contracting two new Dutch loans amid the political chaos triggered by William V’s resurgence. Correspondents like Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette mulled over the ongoing Anglo-American trade war and reported on the French Assembly of Notables––topics that Adams commented on with trademark candor. He wrote the final two volumes of his work, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.
Though he savored the intellectual and cultural opportunities of life abroad, Adams yearned to return home and watch the American republic take shape. “For a Man who has been thirty Years rolling like a stone,” Adams wrote, the choice was whether to “set down in private Life to his Plough; or push into turbulent scænes of Sedition and Tumult; whether be sent to Congress, or a Convention or God knows what.” Back in his native Massachusetts in June 1788, Adams settled into rural retirement with wife Abigail and watched the United States Constitution’s ratification evolve. His retirement was happy but brief. By volume’s end, John Adams resumed public life, ready to serve as America’s first vice president.
June 1789 – February 1791
John Adams' shaping of the vice presidency dominates Volume 20 of the Papers of John Adams, which charts the formation of the American government from June 1789 to February 1791. As the first federal Congress struggled to interpret the U.S. Constitution and implement an economic framework, Adams held fast to federalist principles and sought to define his duties. While outliers North Carolina and Rhode Island delayed ratification, Congress battled through three sessions of major progress. Moving from New York City to Philadelphia, Adams and his colleagues warred over how to collect revenue and where to locate the federal seat. They established the departments of justice, state, treasury, and war. Whether or not the union would hold, as regional interests impeded congressional momentum, remained Adams’s chief concern. “There is every Evidence of good Intentions on all sides but there are too many Symptoms of old Colonial Habits: and too few, of great national Views,” he observed.
Equally challenging to John Adams was the scope of his role, since the Constitution said little about the vice president’s powers. He focused on presiding over the Senate, where he broke a number of ties. Adams found his voice in George Washington’s cabinet, too, drawing on his diplomatic expertise to champion American neutrality during the Nootka Sound conflict of 1790. He pledged to continue laboring for the American people. “If I did not love them now, I would not Serve them another hour—for I very well know that Vexation and Chagrine, must be my Portion, every moment I shall continue in public Life,” he wrote. Finally, Adams carved out time to create. He issued his Discourses on Davila, a synthesis of national progress and republican history. Once again, John Adams’ frank letters reveal firsthand the labor of nation-building in an age of constitutions.
The 116 illustrations of this handsome and fascinating book include all known life portraits, busts, and silhouettes of John and Abigail Adams, plus many important replicas, copies, and engravings. In the years between his 30th birthday and his 91st, John Adams sat for his portrait at least 30 times. The variations in his appearance are astonishing: The Adams who appears to be a Dutch burgher in a Vinkeles engraving bears little resemblance to the man Copley portrayed a year later; and the delicate physiognotrace by Saint-Mémin differs far more radically from the Browere life mask than can be accounted for by technique alone.
The book contains a particularly useful catalogue listing 219 items, all the known paintings of John and Abigail Adams, with information about the artist, the size of the painting, the date if possible, the inscription if any, and the owner if known. A chart of the painted and engraved derivatives from Stuart’s famous portrait of John Adams shows how the second President’s image was established in the public mind during the nineteenth century.
The fact that John Adams was painted by the leading American artists of his day—men such as Copley, Stuart, Trumbull, and West—makes this book considerably more than just a collection of pictures of one man. The editor has written lively sketches of each artist and his work, and in each has included the Adams family reaction to the work. (This was often negative.) The result is a stimulating survey of the state of art and portraiture in the late 18th century and the early nineteenth.
Portraits of John Quincy Adams and his Wife makes available a record which both affords unique visual documentation of the most varied political career in American history and exemplifies the work of the principal American portraitists from the days of Copley and Stuart to the dawn of the daguerrean era.
Included in the volume’s 159 illustrations are all the known life portraits, busts, and silhouettes of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams, along with important replicas, copies, engravings, and representative likenesses of their siblings. The book is organized into seven chapters which generally coincide with the major divisions of John Quincy Adams’ political career. Within each chapter are discussed the artists, their relationships with the Adamses, and the provenance of each of their works. A comprehensive chronology of John Quincy Adams’ life for each period accompanies the chapter to which it pertains. All important information about the size of each likeness, the inscriptions if any, the date executed, present ownership where known is summarized in the List of Illustrations.
The Adamses, as they watched themselves age over the years in the marble, ink, or oil of the artists who portrayed them, recorded much by way of commentary on the artistic talent and process at hand. Mr. Oliver, in his detailed and lively discussions of each likeness, makes full use of the diaries and correspondence preserved in the Adams Papers, thus combining a learned appreciation with an intimate glimpse of the Adamses as they saw themselves.
In 1762, John Adams penned a flirtatious note to "Miss Adorable," the 17-year-old Abigail Smith. In 1801, Abigail wrote to wish her husband John a safe journey as he headed home to Quincy after serving as president of the nation he helped create. The letters that span these forty years form the most significant correspondence—and reveal one of the most intriguing and inspiring partnerships—in American history.
As a pivotal player in the American Revolution and the early republic, John had a front-row seat at critical moments in the creation of the United States, from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to negotiating peace with Great Britain to serving as the first vice president and second president under the U.S. Constitution. Separated more often than they were together during this founding era, John and Abigail shared their lives through letters that each addressed to "My Dearest Friend," debating ideas and commenting on current events while attending to the concerns of raising their children (including a future president).
Full of keen observations and articulate commentary on world events, these letters are also remarkably intimate. This collection—including some letters never before published—invites readers to experience the founding of a nation and the partnership of two strong individuals, in their own words. This is history at its most authentic and most engaging.
Congress adjourned on 18 May 1852 for Louisa Catherine Adams’s funeral, according her an honor never before offered a first lady. But her life and influence merited this extraordinary tribute. She had been first the daughter-in-law and then the wife of a president. She had assisted her husband as a diplomat at three of the major capitals of Europe. She had served as a leading hostess and significant figure in Washington for three decades. And yet, a century and a half later, she is barely remembered. A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams seeks to correct that oversight by sharing Adams’s remarkable experiences in her own words.
These excerpts from diaries and memoirs recount her early years in London and Paris (to this day she is the only foreign-born first lady), her courtship and marriage to John Quincy Adams, her time in the lavish courts of Berlin and St. Petersburg as a diplomat’s wife, and her years aiding John Quincy’s political career in Washington. Emotional, critical, witty, and, in the Adams tradition, always frank, her writings draw sharp portraits of people from every station, both servants and members of the imperial court, and deliver clear, well-informed opinions about the major issues of her day.
Telling the story of her own life, juxtaposed with rich descriptions of European courts, Washington political maneuvers, and the continuing Adams family drama, Louisa Catherine Adams demonstrates why she was once considered one of the preeminent women of the nineteenth century.