“The publick Power should be divided into different parts”: On the Trail of John Adams and Plato

By Rhonda Barlow, Research Associate

According to Abigail Adams, Plato was John Adams’ favorite author, and she wrote in 1784 that he was “in his easy chair reading Platos Laws.” Although John later wrote that some of the ideas of the Greek philosopher emerged from a lunatic asylum, Plato’s views on balanced constitutions resonated with the New Englander. So how did John Adams learn about them?

It is tempting to imagine the Harvard-educated lawyer absorbed in reading Plato’s complete works in the original Greek. This does not seem to be the case. Years later, Adams recalled that he read all of Plato in translation, using English, French, and Latin, and compared selections with the Greek. But his 31 March 1791 letter to Connecticut poet John Trumbull gives us a glimpse into how he actually accessed a classical author.  In his criticism of the unbalanced constitutions of revolutionary France, Adams quoted from Plato’s Laws in Latin, not Greek.

handwriting, letter
John Adams letter to John Trumbull, March 31, 1791

Adams’ Latin can be translated as, “The republics, gentlemen, of which you are members, are true republics; but those we have just been speaking of, aristocracy, democracy, and monarchy, are not republics; they are communities where one part is a slave to the other part that dominates,” and “Not one of them is a true republic; the right name is seditions. In none do we find a willing sovereign with willing subjects, but a sovereign controlling reluctant subjects by violence.”

Adams then explained, “Human passions domineer in each of the three Simple Governments. to enquire which of them is the best is only to enquire, which will produce most mischief, the Passions of one Man the Passions of the Majority of a Senate or the Passions of a Majority of the Multitude. to enquire whether a mixed Government is better than a Simple one, is to ask whether the Passions are as wise as just and as moderate as the Laws.”

Adams had a Greek and Latin parallel version, and as lawyers, he and Trumbull could be expected to be more proficient in Latin than Greek. But the quotes did not come from Adams’ parallel version, and do not follow the original Greek closely. Instead, his source was his friend Gabriel Bonnot Abbé de Mably’s Entretiens de Phocion, a dialogue highlighting ancient Athenian statesman Phocion. Not only do the two Latin quotes match exactly, but Adams quotes them in the same order. Furthermore, when writing to James Madison about balanced constitutions 27 years later, Adams repeated his appreciation for Plato and de Mably and their views on mixed governments, and this time provided page numbers:

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John Adams letter to James Madison, April 22, 1817

Accidentally his Phocion is on my Table. In the Second Conversation, p. 45 and 49, he censured Monarchy, pure Aristocracy, and popular Government, The Laws are not safe, under these Administrations… What is the Security against these dangers? According to Plato, Phocion and De Mably, “An able Mixture of all these Governments; the publick Power should be divided into different parts, capable of controuling restraining, over-awing each other; of ballancing each other, and of reciprocally moderating each other.”

Adams probably did read much of Plato’s Laws in translation, and also encountered the ancient philosopher in contemporary writers. His dedication to his own role in a mixed and balanced government while serving as America’s first vice-president is showcased in volumes 20 and 21 of the Papers of John Adams.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding of the edition is currently provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Guide, Guide, Everywhere a Guide

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

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Screenshot from MHS website

The job of processing the MHS’s terrific collections falls to members of the Collections Services department. Processing archivists like me are responsible for arranging and describing collections in the best and clearest way possible for our researchers, be they scholars, teachers, students, authors, genealogists, members of the general public, or MHS staff.

Not only are collections cataloged in our online catalog ABIGAIL, but many of our manuscript, photograph, graphics, and artifact collections are further described in online guides. The guides contain more detailed historical and contextual information and allow researchers to zero in on the specific material they’re looking for. But these guides are not static. They’re frequently revised, and new guides are posted on a regular basis.

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight a few of the guides that have been added to our website recently.

The Kimball-Griswold family papers consist of papers of Unitarian clergyman John C. Kimball, his wife Emily, their adopted daughter Grace, and other family members. Rev. Kimball was a Civil War chaplain and a social activist for temperance, abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and workers’ rights. Emily Kimball was a teacher, school administrator, and women’s rights advocate. John’s brother Joseph served in the Civil War as an officer in the 37th and 116th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments and took part in 37 battles.

The Heath-Doliber-Hedge-Hammond family papers contain papers of four interrelated families, including a large number of diaries kept by several different women. Correspondence of Charles H. Heath covers his travels to California, Jamaica, Italy, Greece, Nicaragua, and Mexico in the mid-19th century. And one interesting journal describes the “water cure” at a hydropathic institution in Brattleboro, Vermont.

And last but certainly not least, the Garrison family papers consist of papers of noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and several members of his family, particularly his son George T. Garrison. George worked in various professions all over the country and during the Civil War served as an officer in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, a Black regiment. The collection includes 50 years of his diaries. John Ritchie, whose papers also form part of the collection, was a Garrison family friend and officer of another Black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

These are just three of the most recent collections now available for research at the MHS. You’ll find guides to hundreds of other collections of manuscripts, photographs, and other materials at our website.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention here the contributions of our crack digital team that works diligently to provide digital access to MHS material. For examples of the work they do, see the recently digitized papers of the Indian Industries League, diaries of Charles Edward French and John Rowe, and 17th-century sermon notes by Robert Keayne. To see more digitized collections, look for the blue “Digital Content” label.

text, webpage
Screenshot from MHS website

Highlight from the Collections: The Lafayette Medals

By Evan McDonagh, Library Assistant

Visitors to the MHS will not be surprised to learn that the Society holds an extensive records collection on early American history. On paper and film alone, the Society houses more than fourteen million pages of manuscripts, approximately 120,000 images, more than 10,000 broadsides, and over 2,500 maps among a plethora of books and other items.[1] However, the MHS also possesses a wide range of unconventional American artifacts, many of which receive less visibility than the more prominent paper records. The Society’s numismatic holdings provide one such example.

As defined by Meriam-Webster dictionary, numismatics refers to “the study or collection of coins, tokens, and paper money and sometimes related objects (such as medals).” The Society holds a plethora of coins, tokens, and medals, with medals’ being of particular interest.

Beginning shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, the production of medals and tokens bearing the likenesses of prominent heroes and political figures cemented and reinforced the developing American mythos. Likewise, collecting these special coins, tokens, and medals became a means of demonstrating individual patriotism and of flexing one’s status and means.

Left to right: An 1825 General Lafayette, Companion of Washington silver medal. The visible side depicts a radiant sun flanking two monuments; a globe labeled USA and an eagle sit between them. A Lafayette medal in the MHS collections. The inscription reads ‘Aux Intrepides Citoyens de Paris.’ An 1830 Lafayette The Hero tin medal. The visible side depicts the right-facing profile of Lafayette; the opposing side shows the profile of the French king Louis Philippe I surrounded by two concentric circles.

Patriotic artisans found a popular subject in the Revolutionary War hero Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Born on 6 September 1757 in Chavaniac, France as the orphaned son of a French aristocratic family, Lafayette traveled to the rebelling American colonies in July 1777 to obtain glory as a revolutionary fighter. Despite his lack of experience, the young soldier quickly won the friendship of George Washington. Lafayette earned distinction and fame for his actions at the Battle of the Brandywine in 1777, Barren Hill in 1778, and his successful campaigns against British commanders Benedict Arnold and Lord Charles Cornwallis in 1781.

By the war’s end, Lafayette had attained nationwide fame, so much so that several states named him an honorary citizen during a 1784 visit. Lafayette’s youth and reputation marked him as an ideal figurehead and symbol for Revolutionary War medals and tokens.[2]

A 1789 ‘Vivre libre ou mourir’ Lafayette silver octagonal medal. On the left is a left-facing military bust of Lafayette. The image on the right depicts the coat of arms of Paris.

In the present day, the MHS has the good fortune to hold a number of Lafayette medals dating from the Revolutionary War to the late 19th century. Many of these medals come from the collection of William Sumner Appleton, Sr., a wealthy Boston resident in the late 19th century. Appleton specialized in the preservation of historic homes, but American coins and medals ranked high among his other interests. Upon Appleton’s death, his estate split up his numismatic collection, and though it sold a majority of the coins, the “Americana” part of the collection – U.S. colonial and federal coins and U.S. and personal medals – found its way to the MHS in 1905. Other Lafayette medals entered the collection in the following decades.

A 1934 Lafayette medal produced by the American Friends of Lafayette to celebrate the centenary of the general’s death. The medal depicts themes of peace and war.

The Lafayette medal collection showcases a method by which Americans have left their history and mythos to the future. Even during the 19th and 20th centuries, the production of new Lafayette medals saw the celebration of the general and of American patriotism go hand in hand. This 1934 Lafayette medal (above), produced by the American Friends of Lafayette to celebrate the centenary of the general’s death, demonstrates this dichotomy. Lafayette walks past a pillar labeled “America’s Adopted Son,” a reflection of Lafayette’s French roots and the mythos of the great American melting pot. Meanwhile, the depiction of the sword and olive branch, of war and peace, reflects the symbology present on the Great Seal of the United States.[3]

seal of the United States
The Great Seal of the United States, first designed in 1782 by Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson.

The Lafayette medals serve as a portable, collectible reminder of the American experiment. Their inclusion in the Society’s collection alongside other numismatic items and artifacts speak to the plethora of ways in which Americans have chosen to remember and to commemorate their history.

[1] Massachusetts Historical Society. “Our Collections.” Accessed July 27, 2022. https://www.masshist.org/collections/our-collections.

[2] Leepson, Marc. “Marquis de Lafayette.” Britannica. Accessed July 27, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marquis-de-Lafayette.

[3] National Museum of American Diplomacy. “The Great Seal.” Accessed July 29, 2022. https://diplomacy.state.gov/exhibits/explore-online-exhibits/the-great-seal/.

Missions to the “highways of sin”: Reports of the Penitent Females’ Refuge Society

By Jenna Colozza, Library Assistant

MHS Digital Volunteers who have tried their hand at transcribing historical documents with the MHS’s new crowdsourcing portal may already be familiar with the efforts of missionary Luman Boyden to bring aid and religious piety to struggling families in 19th-century Boston. Volunteers as well as readers of Laura Wulf’s blog post on Boyden’s journals will recognize both a genuine desire to help and a tone of judgment and disapproval toward the disenfranchised families.

Missionary societies hoped to bring reform to the poor of Boston through various kinds of projects, and nowhere is the mixture of sympathy and judgment more potent than in the reports of the Penitent Females’ Refuge Society. Boyden’s tone of disapproval sounds mild in comparison to that reserved for women who found themselves selling sex in the city.

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The title page for the 1828 report of the Penitent Females’ Refuge Society.

The Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes (later known as the Bethesda Society) was formed in 1800 by a group of women from Baptist and Congregational churches in the area. By 1819, a coterie of the women’s mission evidently saw it as their duty to extend “the purifying light of Revelation into the darkened and vicious places in our own city,” provided there were missionaries willing to place themselves in these “highways of sin” to minister to the “wretched outcasts” there.

Thus the Penitent Females’ Refuge was established, governed by a group of men, and supervised and run by female volunteers. The women’s missionary group became the “Ladies’ Auxiliary” to the Refuge. The goal of the Refuge was to mitigate prostitution and poverty among women in Boston.

It was decided that women could never be truly penitent and receptive to reform while residing in “abodes of iniquity” and was therefore determined necessary to remove them from their environment and their social contacts. A house was established for the women to stay, where they were provided basic education, ministered to in weekly Bible classes, taught practical skills such as sewing, and placed in housework positions.

The MHS holds copies of the Refuge’s annual reports from 1821-1908 as well as other pamphlets the Society printed promoting its good works to the public. Public promotion was not always easy. As the Society points out in an appeal to the public published in 1839:

The inherent difficulty of conducting a charity of this description, and the various embarrassments which must ever impede the best directed efforts, it is believed, are not duly estimated by the public in making up a judgment in reference to the beneficial results to be expected from such an institution as the Refuge; while, at the same time, these difficulties and embarrassments present the strongest claims upon benevolent interposition in behalf of the peculiarly debased, forlorn, and miserable class, to whom the door of every other refuge is effectually closed.

Nevertheless, the Society attempted to justify its existence by sharing success stories of women who had passed through its doors. The 1826 report relays the stories of current inmates at the time and the ways in which the Refuge improved their circumstances. Censorship and social mores prevented the Society from sharing too many prurient details of the women’s lives, lending to the reports a more suggestive vocabulary that sounds rather Victorian and overwrought to our modern ears.

Of one young woman, admitted four and a half years previously at the age of 17, it was reported:

A child of parents addicted to intemperance, she had neither precept nor example to restrain her from wandering into the paths of sinful indulgence. … Her temper is somewhat ungovernable, which has occasioned a difficulty in finding a suitable place for her out of the house. She has been at service about 10 months during the 4 ½ years, and is very faithful in the performance of her tasks. … To keep out of the vortex of vicious example, a young female, whose age and temper expose her to fall into the worst excesses, is surely a duty of Christians and of moral men.

Of another, a young woman from Maine, it was written:

No care appears to have been taken of her morals, and at the age of 14, her character was ruined. Despised and driven from her connexions, … she wandered to this city, where she entered on a full career of wickedness which brought her several times into the House of Correction, at the age of nineteen. … She was received here in November, 1824, and since her residence in the house, her disposition, which was naturally headstrong and passionate, has undergone a sensible revolution. … She has for some months given evidence of having experienced the grace of God upon her heart, and spares no pains to excite the attention of others to the concerns of their own souls. Is this a character, whom any father or mother would bid us let remain in the highway?

Despite referring to them as “inmates,” reformers at the Refuge expressed the goal to “govern the inmates as children in the best managed families are governed,” reasoning that “to throw around them the influence of kindness has the happiest effect in exciting their love and gratitude, and securing their respect and obedience.” Nonetheless, the Refuge reported the “elopement” of multiple women each year.

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A motif printed on the July 1, 1850 edition of Friend of Virtue, a magazine published by the New England Female Moral Reform Society.

Similar organizations existed in New England as well as in other American cities, such as the New England Female Moral Reform Society in Boston and the Magdalen Societies of New York and Philadelphia. Treatment of women at similar societies in other cities seems to have varied. The Magdalen Society in Philadelphia, for instance, apparently found it necessary to build a large fence to prevent the escape of women who decided they didn’t want their help.

The New York Magdalen Society permitted only white women as the subjects of its benefaction; whether this was the case for the Penitent Females’ Refuge is not explicitly stated in its reports. Such organizations often admitted only young women who had recently found themselves among “vice and misery,” reasoning that they would be more amenable to reform. However, the Refuge reported women as old as about forty among its inmates.

Many scholars agree that 19th-century ideas about female sexuality were structured around a “Madonna/whore” complex wherein women were deemed either pure or debased. Only men, it was claimed, experienced sexual desire and enjoyment. Sexual feelings and activities were directed toward sex workers in order to preserve the perceived purity of wives and the family.

In one sense, the Penitent Females’ Refuge and similar organizations were radical in their assertion that prostitution was far from a necessary evil, that it was often a result of economic disenfranchisement, and that women who made their living with sex work could find themselves in more conventional livelihoods. On the other hand, the idea that women needed to be saved and their behavior controlled clearly played into these restrictive ideals.

Despite their deeply gloomy, judgmental tone, such sources may provide valuable insights into 19th-century attitudes about female sexuality as well as the daily lives and experiences of poor and working-class women.

Bethesda Society (Boston, Mass.). Annual reports of the Penitent Females’ Refuge Society and the Bethesda Society, 1821-1908. Boston, Mass.: Penitent Female’s Refuge.

New York Magdalen Society. First annual report of the executive committee of the New-York Magdalen Society. New York: Printed by John T. West & Co., 1831.

Ruggles, Steven. “Fallen Women: The Inmates of the Magdalen Society Asylum of Philadelphia, 1836-1908.” Journal of Social History 16.3 (Spring 1983): 65-82. https://users.pop.umn.edu/~ruggles/Articles/fallenwomen.pdf

Further Reading
Davis, Robert. “‘The men will not do it’: 19th Century Sex Work and Reform.” Lady Science. April 18, 2019. https://www.ladyscience.com/19thcentury-sex-work-and-reform/no55

Hobson, Barbara Meil. Uneasy Virtue: The Politics of Prostitution and the American Reform Tradition. New York: Basic Book, Inc., 1987.

Roberts, Nickie. Whores in History: Prostitution in Western Society. London: Harper Collins, 1992.

Eyewitnesses to History: The Attack on William Lloyd Garrison

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

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William Lloyd Garrison, Photo. 81.271, Portraits of American Abolitionists, MHS

Many historians have written about the mob attack on William Lloyd Garrison on 21 October 1835. But some details of the infamous event—the attempted lynching of one of America’s most prominent abolitionists, right in the heart of Boston—were hotly contested by eyewitnesses.

A letter by John Hill Thorndike, written 34 years later, paints a vivid picture of what happened that day and shines a light on one important figure in the story, the mayor of Boston, Theodore Lyman.

On the afternoon of 21 October 1835, Thorndike, a young lawyer, was walking to his office on State Street when he heard a commotion and went over to investigate. A meeting of the Female Anti-Slavery Society, featuring Garrison, had been overrun by angry pro-slavery rioters who gathered outside the building, tore down the sign, and demanded Garrison show himself. Garrison tried to escape out a back door but was seized by the mob, and what Thorndike saw next was chilling: “There was a rush of some dozen men close together […] and in their midst a bare headed man with a rope round his neck.” This man was Garrison.

Garrison was saved through the intervention of Mayor Lyman and others, who rushed him into the Old State House. (The very site, coincidentally, of the Boston Massacre 65 years earlier.) In his letter, Thorndike described Lyman’s declaration to the rioters from the entrance of the building: “You can come no further, and any man who passes here will have to pass over my dead body.” Later, from a second-story window, he “ask[ed] them as good citizens to disperse, which they did.”

The fact of Lyman’s intercession is undisputed. But not all bystanders saw it the same way.

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Wendell Phillips, Photo. 81.513, Portraits of American Abolitionists, MHS

Wendell Phillips also witnessed the attack and was equally horrified at what he saw. However, his interpretation of Lyman’s role was less generous than Thorndike’s. In a 1869 lecture, he characterized the mayor not as demanding peace, but as pleading for it, “metaphorically speaking, on his knees to the mob.”

Mayor Lyman died in 1849, but his son took up his cause. He wrote an angry letter to the Boston Daily Advertiser arguing that his father would never have behaved that way and accusing Phillips of defaming a dead man. Phillips’ fiery reply was also published in the Advertiser:

[Theodore Lyman, Jr.] was in his cradle that day. I was in Washington Street. I saw his father beg and sue; I heard him beseech and entreat that mob to disperse and preserve order. He never once commanded or sought to control it. […] I saw him consent, if not assist, at tearing down the antislavery sign and throwing it to the mob, to propitiate its rage. The city was mine as well as his, and I hung my head, ashamed of it and him.


Twenty years ago I said, “The time will come when sons will deem it unkind and unchristian to remind the world of acts their fathers take pride in.” That hour has come.

It was, in fact, this account in the Advertiser that prompted Thorndike to write the letter quoted above, addressed to Lyman’s son. (For more details of the dispute, see Papers Related to the Garrison Mob, edited by Theodore Lyman III and published in 1870.)

It’s true that Mayor Lyman was no friend of abolitionists. But it wasn’t just his tone that Phillips took issue with. He criticized Lyman for breaking up the meeting of the Female Anti-Slavery Society and ordering its members, who were legally assembled, to disperse. The mayor also arrested Garrison for disturbing the peace and none of the rioters, though he claimed it was for Garrison’s safety and the abolitionist was released the following day.

The details of Phillips’ story were corroborated by William Lloyd Garrison himself, in an article called “Triumph of Mobocracy in Boston,” published in his Liberator newspaper shortly after the attack. A copy of this article is included as an appendix in Selections from the Writings and Speeches of William Lloyd Garrison (Boston: R. F. Wallcut, 1852).

Nearly Seven Decades of “Journalizing” Available through the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary

By Karen N. Barzilay, The Adams Papers

“There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race of whose daily existence from early childhood to four score years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine.”

Diary, 31 October 1846

Five years ago, I joined a team of transcribers, editors, and digital production specialists preparing the diaries of John Quincy Adams for online publication. At the time, high quality scans of each manuscript page of the diary were available through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website, but without transcriptions, they were only date, not keyword searchable. Our goal was to provide verified transcriptions of the diary free to the public, complete with headnotes and other features, to benefit students, scholars, and other users interested in the Adams family specifically and the Early Republic more generally.

Producing a digital edition of this diary has been no small task. John Quincy Adams started keeping a journal in 1779 at age 12 and wrote almost continuously for the rest of his long life, nearly up until his death in early 1848 at age 80. There are 51 volumes of diary entries—a total of over 15,000 manuscript pages. Today, transcriptions of nearly 12,000 of those pages are available online, covering the years 1789 to 1848. On our website, you can view the original manuscript page images and transcriptions side by side. They are fully searchable and we hope people will spread the word about this helpful digital resource.

The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is truly a collaborative project; my primary role has been to verify the transcriptions, which involves carefully comparing each manuscript page of the diary with a typed transcript for accuracy. This process is performed twice, by two different editors, to ensure that the final version you find online is as faithful as possible to the original. As with the Adams Papers printed editions, we strive to produce authoritative versions of these manuscripts for general use. It is detail-oriented work and can be tedious, but historians are nosy and always looking for an excuse to read old diaries and letters.

My dissertation was on the First Continental Congress of 1774, so for many years John Quincy Adams existed in my mind only as a little boy, the son of John Adams who was left behind in Massachusetts when his father departed for Philadelphia and who watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from Penn’s Hill in Braintree alongside his mother, Abigail Adams. During my work on the Adams Family Correspondence series back in the 2000s, the project was publishing documents from the 1790s, when John Quincy was a young, single lawyer in Boston eager to make a name for himself.

During my time working on the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, I have had the opportunity to follow John Quincy through the rest of his extraordinary life, from his years as a diplomat in Europe to his service as secretary of state, from his presidency through his long tenure in the House of Representatives. It was painful to read about his heartbreaking personal losses, including the deaths of his parents, whom he dearly loved, all of his siblings, three of his four children, and two cherished grandchildren. It was rather dull, to be honest, when John Quincy became obsessed with various countries’ standard weights and measures in the 1810s and when he described at length the varieties of trees he planted in his garden in the 1830s. Recently, I’ll confess that it was with some sadness that I verified the transcriptions of the diary written in 1847 and 1848, just before John Quincy’s death, most of which were dictated by John Quincy and penned by another granddaughter, Louisa, due to his unsteady hand.

handwritten pages
The first (left) and last (right) dated diary entries written by John Quincy Adams.

John Quincy Adams encountered a staggering array of familiar historical and literary figures during his life and he knew personally many of the people we associate with both the American Revolution and the Civil War. He had dinner with George Washington in 1794, shortly after Washington appointed him minister to the Netherlands, and he served briefly in Congress with future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and with Abraham Lincoln, who was on the committee that made arrangements for Adams’s funeral. Along the way John Quincy heard Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Phi Beta Kappa poem at Harvard, had lunch with Charles Dickens, and interacted with thousands of other more “ordinary” men and women of diverse backgrounds. The diary is a who’s who of late 18th-century and early 19th-century America and a window into the many political, cultural, and technological changes transforming the young nation during that period. Fortunately for us, John Quincy was self-disciplined when it came to his daily “journalizing” and his diary has survived the passage of time.

Work on the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary continues. We invite you to explore the site and follow our progress.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary was provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, with additional contributions by Harvard University Press and a number of private donors. The Mellon Foundation in partnership with the National Historical Publications and Records Commission also supports the project through funding for the Society’s digital publishing collaborative, the Primary Source Cooperative.

The Cure for What Ails You

by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

Last spring, the Massachusetts Historical Society acquired a prescription recipe book kept by Charles Lyman Hubbell from 1880 to 1888. In this book, Dr. Hubbell, a physician of Williamstown, Mass. and Troy, N.Y., recorded his own recipes for prescriptions, as well as those he learned from other doctors and medical journals. It’s a very interesting (and sometimes amusing) window into late 19th-century medical history.

notebook, handwritting
Sample pages from the Charles Lyman Hubbell prescription recipe book

Here you’ll find treatments for a wide variety of conditions, organized alphabetically, including acne, anemia, angina pectoris, asthma, bronchitis, cancerous ulcers, catarrh, constipation, consumption, cough, diabetes, diarrhea, diphtheria, dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, eczema, emphysema, epilepsy, gonorrhea, hair loss, hay fever, headache, heart disease, hernia, itching, neuralgia, night sweats, psoriasis, rheumatism, sciatica, skin disease, tape worm, toothache, and uterine disease.

I have a few favorites. If I look under “F,” for example, I find that the cure for “Feet – Fetid smelling” involves “a solution of Chloral in alcohol and water applied several times a day” or an “application of equal parts Belladonna ointment and glycerine.” One heading that was unfamiliar to me was “Chelsea pensioner,” which Hubbard apparently used as a euphemism for hemorrhoids. And I was intrigued by the page that seems to describe a treatment for “insanity […] cerebral inability & hysterical affection,” though the handwriting is difficult to make out.

Then there’s this:

notebook page, handwritting
One page from the Charles Lyman Hubbell prescription recipe book

The heading on this page made me do a double take. It reads: “Nervous, exhausted & irritable females. Hysterical headache, insomnia &c.” What, you ask, is Hubbell’s remedy? Well, I tried to make sense of the medical abbreviations and apothecarial symbols, but only got as far as: one ounce of calcium bromide mixed with four ounces of…something else. Whatever it is, I’m willing to bet it doesn’t cure this particular “condition”!

I was curious to know more about Hubbell, and I found a smattering of biographical details in published histories of his family, his wife’s family, and Rensselaer County, New York. He was born in 1827, the sixth of seven children of Louisa and Lyman Hubbell. He graduated from Williams College in 1846 and Berkshire Medical College in 1848. In 1852, he married Juliette Bulkeley (or Bulkley), with whom he had six children. And during the Civil War, he served as a surgeon for the Black Horse Cavalry and the 12th New York Infantry.

When he started recording the recipes in this volume, he was in his fifties and had been a practicing physician for decades, as well as a member of numerous medical societies. But he also had other interests. Appearing among the medical recipes are recipes for pickled cabbage, sausage, fertilizer, and harness polish (he was interested in horse racing and breeding).

I uncovered just one other story about Hubbell in my research: the sad circumstances of his death in 1890. According to correspondence digitized and made available at the Sibley Watson Digital Archive, Hubbell died unexpectedly the day before his daughter’s wedding. That archive includes a newspaper obituary of Hubbell and a letter by Elizabeth Sibley of Rochester, N.Y., the second page of which reads:

I have nothing of special interest to write, except that just as the marriage ceremony of Elbridge Adams and Miss Hubbell was to take place, the guests all arrived and everything in readiness, Dr. Hubbell went to his room, threw himself on his bed, and died, before anything could be done for him with heart disease. The marriage took place, only a very few friends present.

Was it not terrible? I can think of nothing more dreadful that could have happened, unless the Bride or groom had been taken.

Charles Lyman Hubbell was 63 years old. He’s buried with his wife at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, N.Y.

The Turtle: Submarine Warfare during the American Revolution

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

On 23 October 1775, Samuel Osgood, a militia leader who fought at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, wrote to John Adams with a military update. In one paragraph he mentions:

“The famous Waters Machine from Connecticutt is every Day expected in Camp. It must unavoidably be a clumsy Business as its Weight is about a Tun. I wish it might succeed [and] the Ships be blown up beyond the Attraction of the Earth for it is the only Way or Chance they have of reaching St. Peters Gate.”

What Osgood is referring to as the “famous Waters Machine” was the first submarine with recorded use in battle. It was built in Connecticut and used in New York Harbor against the British Navy and was called the Turtle because of the way it looked. The submarine was designed for a single occupant and would be positioned just below the water’s surface, with a pipe leading to fresh air. When the operator wanted to submerge, he would close the pipe and let the interior’s cavity fill with water, leaving enough space at the top to breathe for a few minutes. Propellers would move the submarine back to the water’s surface. Replicas of the Turtle can be seen in a few museums around the world; one is at the Connecticut River Museum.

The Turtle’s design was the work of two men—David Bushnell, who had graduated Yale College in 1775, and Isaac Doolittle, a clockmaker. While at Yale, Bushnell proved that gunpowder could be ignited and exploded underwater, and he used this knowledge to design underwater mines and torpedoes. With Doolittle, he designed a mechanically triggered time bomb and the first propeller. Combining these designs together, he and Doolittle created and built the Turtle.

Although the original idea was to use the Turtle to force the British out of Boston Harbor, the machine took too long to build, and the British had already evacuated Boston for Canada. Once the Turtle was built and undergoing tests in Connecticut, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin both heard about it, and Franklin was able to tour it. Sergeant Ezra Lee of the Continental Army spent two weeks learning to operate it proficiently. It was then time to deploy it against the British.

By that time the British Navy was occupying New York Harbor. On 6 September 1776, Sergeant Lee deployed the Turtle to attack the HMS Eagle, commanded by Admiral Howe, a move that might have delivered a decisive blow to the British Navy. The plan was to launch the Turtle at night and get as close to the HMS Eagle as possible, then submerge the submarine to go under the ship and attach a bomb to its underside by use of a hand auger. However, once Lee was under the ship, his auger hit metal, not wood as planned, and the bomb would not attach. As dawn approached, he abandoned the mission, and although the submarine had worked, the mission failed.

The Turtle was used in two more missions, both of which also failed, and then was lost during the Battle of Fort Lee in New Jersey, when the British sunk the sloop transporting it. Although the Turtle’s missions failed and the submarine was lost, it marked the beginning of an age of innovation in the newly formed United States at a time when the former colonists were eager to find a new identity.

The Journals of Luman Boyden

By Laura Wulf, Photographic & Digital Imaging Specialist

As you may have read in a previous post, the MHS created a new tool for volunteers to crowdsource manuscript transcriptions with the goal of making our content more accessible. We’re still looking for volunteers and invite you to set up an account and start transcribing!

When we started developing and testing this crowdsourcing tool, we first transcribed letters written by Charles F. Morse during the Civil War as well as some diaries of John Rowe, a prominent merchant living in Boston in the late 18th century. Most recently we have been working with a collection of journals kept by Luman Boyden, a Methodist clergyman hired by the Boston City Missionary Society to visit and assist the city’s poor and immigrant families in East Boston in the mid-19th century. This is the collection I’d like to focus on here. Below are some of the people and stories that we’ve run across in our work.

The Boston City Missionary Society was originally known as the Boston Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction for the Poor. Still in existence today, it is now known as City Mission—the oldest multi-service agency in New England and the second oldest in the United States. Founded in 1816, the organization was started by members of Old South Church and Park Street Church. According to the society’s By-Laws, it’s mission was to further “the religious and moral instruction of the poor in the city of Boston.” [1] Boyden and his fellow missionaries were hired to go door-to-door distributing religious material, offering some financial and legal assistance, and promoting temperance, Sunday schools and summer youth programs, all of which laid the groundwork for the establishment of Boston’s first primary schools as well as the founding of the Boston YWCA.

Boyden often found himself in heartrending and unusual situations during these home visits and he wrote about them in the journals that he kept between 1854-1863. Sometimes his notes are short and list-like, while other times he includes vivid descriptions and even follow-up information. Boyden approached his missionary work zealously. His desire to help those in need, while admirable and sometimes effective, can also sound, to our modern ear, judgmental and narrow-minded. His work does seem to take a toll on him, and some entries can sound impatient and exasperated.

First let me introduce Luman Boyden to you in his very own words, written on his birthday, 12 November 1854:

“My birth day, 49 years old, I am led to inquire is it possible? I am compelled to answer yes! My head is grey, my eyes about 2 years since began to fail & within a few days have used [glasses] some in the day time. I can walk as rapidly as ever & perhaps feel but little more fatigued. The Lord has greatly blessed for which I think I feel thankful.”

His missionary work takes him to places such as the “Insane Asylum” on 1 November 1854:

“It was a most solemn sight.  The inmates appeared calm, some quite gloomy — some smiled & apparently happy — some started back with fear & all were objects of great compassion.

And he visits a State Prison the very next day:

“…went into the State Prison.  about inmates.  They are not allowed to speak or even look to each other or to strangers & no one paid us the least attention.  about 7 in for life —  One man about 40 years of age, has served one term at Concord, one at Charlestown, & about three days since returned to Concord for 7 years.  How different from the scene of yesterday.  The contrast between the Maniac & the convict is great still the sight of both must excite the sympathy of those who behold them.”

But mostly he visits people in their homes. One home belongs to a Mr. Pickles, whose name appears regularly in the journals, and seems to be a tailor who lives with his children and his chickens all under the same roof and even in the same room:

1855 June 27

“My visit at Mr Pickles was rather peculiar… As I entered I found him at his work, three children & a flock of chickens in the room & one hen shut up in a closet. He appeared quite solemn &… was at work on a nice coat.”

Sometimes the people he is trying to help are also trying to help others in even worse circumstances. On 4 May 1855 Boyden describes a man who,

“Tho very poor…has opened his door for a blind woman who for months [has] been aided by city missionaries & others. She will not go to the almshouse but prefers sleeping on the floor in that or some other wretched mansion and subsists by begging.”

One day earlier, on 3 May 1855 Boyden seems a little less compassionate.

“Today an Irishwoman expressed a strong desire to have her children brought from Ireland…She said one was going on 27 — another 25 and another going on 17. I…told her that her children I thought were old enough to help themselves.”

Boyden writes often about his temperance work. He is much disturbed by the use of alcohol and the effects it has on those he meets.

On 15 September 1855 he writes about a visit to a family and ends his description with a succinct expression of exasperation:

“… the woman was nursing an infant & said that her husband had been sent to Deer Island for 8 months — Crime getting drunk & beating her. They have seven children, she said the oldest was 10 years old — So much for Rum.”

handwritten text
Luman Boyden journal entry, 15 September 1855

The entry continues and we get more of a sense of the relations between neighbors.

“In another tenement, an american woman formerly lived in Paris Street She said that the woman just mentioned was as bad as her husband & that they owed her 3 dollars for food, crackers & herring. I saw a bar in another room & that seemed to tell the story. Last winter this woman had a bar & I asked her if she sold intoxicating drink She then said no she only kept candy.  A number of tumblers behind the bar appeared unnecessary to affect the sale of candy.  O the misery produced by intemperance.”

His wry and understated comment about the tumblers made me chuckle. Boyden’s use of the term “american” is also noteworthy. He uses other descriptions such as “Irish”, “Irish Catholic” or “colored”, so “american” may be used to mean “white”, this at a time before the European immigrants were accepted as either “white” or “american”.

Handwriting, paper
Luman Boyden journal entry, 15 September 1855

I opened with Boyden’s own words and I’ll end with this surprising entry from the teetotaling author himself:

1855 Septr. 16

“Was quite unwell & came to Chelsea and took a swett, by drinking some gin in hot water. It is nearly twenty five years since I have drunk any before & now used it for want of other medicine. Where I believe it kills hundreds when it helps one I view it as almost wrong to use it under any circumstances”

I’ve only shared a small selection from these fascinating diaries. There’s much more to be discovered in these journals. Vareoloid smallpox? Poisoned pond water? An incident of cayenne pepper being purposefully blown into the eyes of children? All this and more awaits your discovery at www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0538. Consider joining the transcription efforts.

[1] https://beatleyweb.simmons.edu/collectionguides/CharitiesCollection/CC023.html

Recovering Massachusetts’s Radical Free-Trade Tradition

By Marc-William Palen, University of Exeter, MHS-NEH Long-term Research Fellow

On the evening of 3 June 1904, the opulent Hotel Vendome in Boston’s Back Bay hosted a now-forgotten gala. The members of the American Free Trade League were celebrating the centenary of the birth of Richard Cobden. As the diners finished their meals, Charles Francis Adams, Jr. (1835-1915), took to the podium. The great-grandson of John Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the president of the Massachusetts Historical Society proclaimed that “as Americans,—citizens of the United States,—to Richard Cobden we owe a debt of political gratitude than which we owe none greater to any European. . . . I am here also as a Free-trader; one who believes in the economic dispensation of Adam Smith, as developed by Richard Cobden.”

text document
Charles Francis Adams Jr.’s speech at the Richard Cobden Centennial, Boston, 1904. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Now you might be asking yourself who was this Richard Cobden character? And why were Boston’s leading liberal lights like Charles Francis Adams, Jr. singing his praises at the turn of the twentieth century?

The name of Richard Cobden (1804-1865) is now largely a forgotten one in American history. Briefly, he started a radical free-trade movement in Britain in the 1830s and 1840s that had long-lasting repercussions for Britain and the world. He helped overturn Britain’s Corn Laws–high tariffs on foreign grain—ushering in nearly a century of the island nation’s adherence to the ideology of free trade. Cobden was a Liberal radical, a staunch opponent of British imperialism, an antislavery advocate, and a leader of the mid-century international peace movement. Cobden and his disciples believed that protectionism was a policy designed to prop up the aristocratic landed elite at the expense of the British workingman; high tariffs also led to trade wars, and trade wars to military conflict. Free trade instead promised democratization by undermining the power of the aristocrats; cheap food to Britain’s poorest; and friendlier relations with Britain’s trading partners.

In other words, when Cobden was alive, and when Charles Francis Adams, Jr. was giving his homage forty years after Cobden’s death, free trade was an important ideology of transatlantic leftwing radicalism. This ideology went by a variety of names at the time. One was the “Manchester School” owing to the ideological movement’s home base of Manchester, England. The other was, of course, “Cobdenism.”

Cobdenism’s importance has been ably traced within British history.[1] But what about Cobdenism’s radical influence within American history? As it turns out, beyond Britain, this free-trade ideology had its most numerous disciples within the United States, who set their sights on turning the protectionist nation into a free-trade nation like Britain.[2]

To understand this, we need to look to Massachusetts’s leftwing radical past.

The first American subscribers to Cobdenism were among the most radical abolitionists. Freeing trade was, for them, the next logical step after ending slavery on the road to emancipating mankind.

Reverend Joshua Leavitt deserves due credit, and ably highlights the radical confluence of the antislavery and free-trade movements. The Massachusetts-born Congregationalist minister, founder of the antislavery Liberty Party, and editor of the abolitionist periodical Emancipator sought a resolution at London’s 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention condemning the Corn Laws. Their repeal, he argued, would enable Britain to import free-grown wheat from the American northwest rather than slave-grown cotton and tobacco from the south. In 1842, Leavitt next went to the US Congress to lobby for them to pressure the British to repeal the Corn Laws. He brought a similar case to the 1843 London antislavery convention, before undertaking a free-trade lecture tour with Richard Cobden. Upon returning to the United States, Leavitt founded anti-Corn Law organizations across the American northeast and west to keep up the grassroots pressure and as a sign of solidarity with his British free-trade allies.[3]

Leavitt would thereafter become one of the first honorary (non-due paying) members of London’s Cobden Club upon its creation in 1866, a year after Cobden’s death. Its motto was “Free Trade, Peace, and Goodwill Among Nations.” Other early US Cobden Club members included Boston abolitionist firebrand William Lloyd Garrison, Boston transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, Boston economist Edward Atkinson, as well as various members of the Adams family, including Charles Francis Adams, Sr., Henry Adams, and Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

After the Civil War and the end of US slavery, the Republican Party rebranded itself as the party of protectionism and imperial expansion.[4] As a result, the GOP became the main target for many of these same Massachusetts radicals, who became leaders of the late nineteenth-century free-trade, peace, and anti-imperialist movements. For them, as for Cobden, these were all one and the same cause.

A new generation of even more radical Massachusetts free traders joined the fray at the turn of the century under the auspices of the Anti-Imperialist League (AIL), which was most active in Chicago and Boston. The AIL was created in 1898 in opposition to the US war with Spain during the Republican presidency of William McKinley, “the Napoleon of Protection.” The AIL’s officers were predominantly American Cobdenites, many of whom would go on to spearhead the peace movement during the First World War.[5]

Leaflet, printed document
AIL officers William Lloyd Garrison Jr. and Edward Atkinson writing on behalf of the American Free Trade League of Boston in 1902. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

As Boston AIL officer Erving Winslow put it at the outset of the Great War in his pamphlet Tariffs After the War, “there is one simple and solid foundation for world harmony . . . the foundation of economic peace, a firm and straightforward movement towards free trade.”

Printed text
Erving Winslow, Tariffs After the War, n.d. 1916? Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The leftwing leaders of the US free-trade movement, many of them from Massachusetts, counted among the most pro-active actors within the US peace and anti-imperial movement. After 1898, these included William Lloyd Garrison’s children—William Lloyd Garrison Jr. and Fanny Garrison Villard—as well as Morefield Storey, AIL president, and Erving Winslow, AIL secretary, both of whose papers are held at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Fanny Garrison Villard would go on to co-found the Women’s Peace Society in 1919. Its motto was “Immediate and universal disarmament. Abolition of mob violence. Free trade, the world over.” Another Garrison child, Frank Garrison, would become the president of the Boston-based International Free Trade League upon its founding in 1918, a radical leftwing peace organization dedicated to undermining protectionism in the United States and across the globe.

Massachusetts’s leftwing free-traders—its Cobdenites—thus played a central part within the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century US peace and anti-imperialist movements. And this was the radical backdrop Charles Francis Adams, Jr.’s forgotten speech in Boston’s Back Bay in early June 1904.

[1] See, especially, Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998); Peter Cain, “Capitalism, War and Internationalism in the Thought of Richard Cobden,” British Journal of International Studies 5 (Oct. 1979): 229-247; Anthony Howe, “Radicalism, Free Trade, and Foreign Policy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Britain,” in William Mulligan and Brendan Simms, eds., The Primacy of Foreign Policy in British History, 1660-2000 (London, 2010): 167-180; Oliver MacDonagh, “The Anti-Imperialism of Free Trade,” Economic History Review 14 (April 1962) 489-501; Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan, ed., Rethinking Nineteenth Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays (London: Routledge, 2006); Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[2] Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, c. 1846-1896 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

[3] Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade, 16-19; Marc-William Palen, “Free-Trade Ideology and Transatlantic Abolitionism: A Historiography,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 37 (June 2015): 291-304.

[4] Marc-William Palen, “The Imperialism of Economic Nationalism, 1890-1913,” Diplomatic History 39 (Jan. 2015): 157-185.

[5] Marc-William Palen, “Transimperial Roots of American Anti-Imperialism: The Transatlantic Radicalism of Free Trade, 1846-1920,” in Jay Sexton and Kristin Hoganson, eds., Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain (Duke University Press, 2020): 159-182.