Adams Family Correspondence, volume 8


The years from March 1787 to December 1789 covered by volume 8 of the Adams Family Correspondence represent an important transitional period for the Adams family. These letters chronicle John and Abigail Adams' final year in London and the beginning of their time as central actors in the United States government under the new Constitution. They also describe important changes in the lives of the Adams children, especially Abigail 2d's new experiences as a wife and mother, and John Quincy's graduation from college and the beginning of his legal training.

Because of these changes, the correspondence printed here provides a particularly rich view of this complex period in American history. It offers perspectives on the debates over the new Constitution from both Europe and America, from those directly involved in the ratification process and those observing from the sidelines. But as always with the family correspondence, these letters also comment on more intimate social and domestic issues, dealing with such diverse topics as education, travel, household management, matchmaking, and childbirth.

Once again, as in previous volumes in the Adams Family Correspondence series, fully 80 percent of the letters are written to or by Abigail Adams; roughly a quarter of those are letters to or from her sisters, Mary Smith Cranch and Elizabeth Smith Shaw. Their correspondence is especially vivid during Abigail's final year in London, but it also resumed in full force in mid-1789 when Abigail relocated to New York City. Mary and Elizabeth continued to be her eyes and ears in Massachusetts, reporting on the family's well-being, other household concerns, and local and national political news. They rejoiced with Abigail in the Adams children's successes and took on the difficult task of conveying the news of loved ones lost. Abigail in turn shared her private hopes and fears with her sisters and entrusted them with the responsibility of caring for her family in her absence.

The other major letter writers include John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Abigail Adams Smith, though all three found their time xxiifor correspondence curtailed by other responsibilities: John's writing A Defence of the Constitutions, John Quincy's schooling, and Nabby's new role as mother. In particular, John Quincy and Nabby discontinued the lengthy journal-letters by which they had maintained their transatlantic communication. Now both in America, they continued to write to one another, albeit more sporadically, thus providing some perspective from the younger members of the family. And as they came into their own as adults within the family, their insights into national affairs matured accordingly.

1. Returning to America

By early 1787, John and Abigail Adams had begun to make plans to move back to America. While Abigail had generally enjoyed her years abroad, the European lifestyle had lost its appeal. This, combined with the ongoing difficulties of serving as the wife of the first United States minister to Great Britain and increasing concern for the political turmoil within the United States, made her ready to go home. On 24 January 1787, John tendered his resignation to Congress, and by early March, Abigail wrote to her sister Elizabeth, “I hope to see you in the course of an other Year, as we are determined to return to America and share the fate of our Country whether she stand firm like mount Atlass—or make it treason to harbour an Idea that she will fall.”1

Of course, such a departure could not be effected immediately. John had been in Europe for eight years and Abigail for three; it would be another year—and an active one for the family—before the Adamses finally set sail for Massachusetts. In April, they welcomed their first grandchild when William Steuben Smith was born to Nabby and William Stephens Smith. Abigail was quite giddy with delight over this event, gushing to her niece, “I am a Grandmamma! my Grandson be sure is a fine Boy, & I already feel as fond of him as if he was my own son, nay I can hardly persuade myself that he is not.” Nabby came through the birth relatively well and was able to “dine below” three weeks later. With the aid of an especially attentive nurse—“the best Nurses I ever saw,” according to Abigail, one of the rare situations in which she found the British way better than xxiiithe American—Nabby took to raising her son with her usual quiet enthusiasm.2

The family continued to socialize in London, albeit somewhat curtailed by Nabby's lying-in period and Abigail's recurring ill health. Nonetheless, Abigail found time to attend a series of scientific lectures, as always embracing an opportunity for the more formal education she had been denied earlier in life.3 In June, Mary Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's younger daughter, paid the Adamses a visit while en route to Paris to join her father and sister. This gave Abigail an opportunity to mother another young girl—a project she embraced with great zeal, perhaps recognizing and mourning somewhat the fact that her own daughter had moved on to another stage of life—and also introduced her to a young woman destined to play an important role in Jefferson lore, Sally Hemings. The teenage Hemings was chosen to escort Mary Jefferson from Virginia to Europe after an older slave was unable to make the voyage. Abigail did not think much of Hemings, complaining that she “wants more care than the child, and is wholy incapable of looking properly after her.” Unstated but doubtless present was also Abigail's continuing skepticism over slavery in general, as either a moral or effective labor system.4

The Adamses found time to travel as well, taking an extended holiday along the west coast of England, visiting Axminster, Exeter, and Plymouth. The primary reason for the trip was Abigail's ill health. “I have been very frequently ill through the Spring & Summer,” she complained to her sister Elizabeth, “and am advised to this journey as a restoritive.” The family toured southwestern England for a month, covering over 600 miles and visiting such noteworthy sights as Blenheim Palace and Winchester Cathedral. As Abigail always did when she traveled, she kept a type of travel diary through her letters to her sisters and nieces, tartly observing and commenting not merely on the usual tourist sights but also on the people, customs, economy, and social practices of the areas she visited.5

John's public work led him on other excursions, to the Netherlands to negotiate two additional loans from the Dutch to keep the xxivAmerican government afloat, and to Portsmouth to chase down counterfeiters of American currency.6 He also made further progress during this time on his A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, the first volume of which received favorable reviews in Europe and America in the spring of 1787. Richard Cranch, Abigail's brother-in-law, informed John that his book “is eagarly read by Gentlemen of all the learned Professions here. It came to America at a very critical Moment just before the Meeting of the grand Convention at Philadelphia for revising and amending the Confederation. . . . I have my self conversed with many Gentlemen here of the first Rank for Learning and Abilities, who, after reading your Book with great attention, gave it as their Opinion that you have supported your System of the Ballance in a most masterly manner.”7 John completed the second volume in September and a third in February 1788. While the work distracted John from other letter writing, he considered the topic too important to let go: “I cannot get mr Adams to write half the Letters I want him to,” Abigail complained to her sister Mary, “He is so buisily employd about his Books, I tell him he will ruin himself in Publishing his Books, he says they are for the Benefit of his Country, and he allways expected to be ruind in her service.”8 While still in England, John was clearly already focused on the situation back in the United States and anticipating the political battles that would ensue over the creation of a new government.

Returning to America required dealing with a number of practical considerations. At the advice of Mary Cranch, who wisely realized that their old home would never adequately accommodate them, the Adamses assigned Cotton Tufts, their agent, the task of locating a new house for them in Braintree. Mary had watched over the Adamses' home while they had been away in Europe but warned them, “you can never live in that house when you return it is not large enough. you cannot crowd your Sons into a little bed by the side of yours now, & you will never inlarg it.” She suggested that Abigail instruct Tufts to acquire the Vassall-Borland estate to serve as their new home, and in fact mentioned it to him before writing to the xxvAdamses on the subject. With John and Abigail's approval, Tufts purchased the house in September 1787.9 Ironically, the previous owner had been none other than Royall Tyler, Nabby's estranged former fiancé, who defaulted on the purchase of the house shortly after the couple broke off their engagement. This home, named Peacefield by Abigail and John, and commonly called the Old House by later generations of Adamses, remained the family's estate into the twentieth century.

While Tufts served as their agent on the ground, Abigail played an active role from afar in preparing the house, issuing specific instructions on its furnishings and decoration. “The east lower room to be painted what is calld a French Grey,” Abigail ordered, “and as the furniture is red, a paper conformable, will look best. the Chamber over it will have Green furniture, and may be in the same manner, made uniform by a paper Green & white.” Not even the style of locks and chimney backs were details too minor for Abigail's keen eye and exacting standards. She also saw to the concerns of the broader household, assigning long-time servant (and former slave) Phoebe Abdee to take charge of the dairy, making recommendations to Tufts for tenants and farmhands, and determining specific plantings for the gardens.10

After considerable planning, formal leave-taking from the Court of St. James, and good-byes to friends in England and to the Smiths, who were themselves leaving for New York, the Adamses finally began their voyage home in spring of 1788. It was not without its starts and stops. They were delayed first at Portsmouth and then again at Cowes, waiting for their ship to arrive, their baggage to be loaded, and for favorable winds to sail. The crossing itself was tumultuous. Their ship, the Lucretia, had barely gone beyond Weymouth when it was forced back to port by high winds; after a week there, Abigail reported to Nabby, “the wind changed, and we sailed with a northeaster; this lasted us just long enough to carry us out of the channel, when the west wind set in, and alternately we have had a violent blow, squalls, and then calms, from that day to the present.” On 17 June, two and a half months after departing from London, the Adamses finally reached Boston, where Gov. John Hancock xxviand many others formally welcomed them home to their native land.11

Despite this warm reception, the transition back to American life was not always easy for Abigail. The Vassall-Borland estate, while spacious by Braintree's standards, seemed to Abigail a mere “wren's house” compared with the Adamses' mansion at Auteuil, France, and their gracious home at Grosvenor Square in London. Abigail warned her daughter Nabby that if she and William Stephens Smith were to visit from Long Island, New York, where they had settled, “be sure you wear no feathers, and let Col. Smith come without heels to his shoes, or he will not be able to walk upright.”12

But while the physical surroundings in Braintree did not always suit her, the opportunity to be back home, amidst her extended family, certainly did. Abigail expressed no regrets for making her European tour, but she also did not hesitate to state her preference: “I have never spent half so many pleasent hours in Europe, in the same space of time, as I have known at the foot of pens Hill.”13 If the house was too small and the travel inconvenient, John's uncertain political future frustrating and their finances worrying, the blessing of family and friends so nearby, the sheer familiarity of her dear Massachusetts, more than made up for it.

2. Becoming Adults

While John and Abigail wrestled with all the implications of their return to America, the Adams children, too, were facing new challenges in their lives. The Puritan tradition in New England deemed that a son had not reached full adulthood until he had both a calling and a wife. By the late eighteenth century, however, the path to reaching that point had become increasingly complex. Consequently, the line between child and adult had begun to blur—and John Quincy, Charles, and shortly Thomas Boylston found themselves moving into that fuzzy in-between: no longer children but not self-supporting and fully adult either.14


John Quincy remains the most prominent brother in the Adams Family Correspondence. While Charles and Thomas Boylston are largely known from the words of others (no letters of theirs have been found for this time period), John Quincy appears in his own voice, as well as through the writings of other family members. As the eldest son, he faced the highest expectations—and in general succeeded in living up to them. Ironically, however, trying to be the best and the brightest sometimes left him single-mindedly focused on his schooling to the exclusion of a more rounded life, which in turn became a cause for some concern within his family. If anything, Abigail worried that he would become too obsessed with his studies, to his own detriment: “I fear a little that my Eldest son will be so much of a Book worm & Scholar that he will grow too neglegent of those attentions which are due to the World, & which tho they may appear little, & trifling, much of our happiness is found by experience to depend upon them.”15

But his hard work paid off. Despite John Quincy's anxieties prior to the day itself—“oh Lord! oh Lord,” he prayed, “I hope it will rain hard that all their white wigs may be wet who would not let us have a private commencment”—he performed admirably at his Harvard graduation exercises in July 1787. Elizabeth Shaw recognized that he might not have been the best speaker of the day (that honor went to one Nathaniel Freeman) but still believed that “the admirers of dignity of Sentiment, & Composition would at least have debated upon the Preference— I am sure no one could be a Judge of Mr Adam's Eloquence unless they kept their Eye fixed upon his Face, & saw each Passion, & each Feeling called up, & most strikingly, & happily delineated there.”16 After graduation, he took only a brief vacation before moving to Newburyport to begin his legal training with the noted attorney Theophilus Parsons.

John Quincy found life in Newburyport and the study of law more congenial than he had expected. “The study itself,” he noted to his mother, “is far from being so destitute of entertainment, as I xxviiihad been led to expect.” But prone to anxiety, John Quincy could not stop himself from fretting over the state of the legal profession and his own financial difficulties. His repeated need to request money from Cotton Tufts (acting as agent for John Quincy's parents) clearly mortified and frustrated him—he yearned to be independent and self-sufficient. On more than one occasion, his sister Nabby had to chide him out of his depression: “It gives me uneasiness my Dear Brother to observe from the tenor of your letter that you permit the Cross accidents of Life to affect your spirits too much, true Philosophy does not Consist in being insensible to them, but in supporting ourselvs above them with becomeing dignity, and in acquiessing with chearfullness to those events which are irremidable, and by striving to attain such a Station in Life as we may not be subjected to their influence.”17 His self-pity and occasional difficulties aside, by 1789, John Quincy was well on his way to a successful legal career.

Not everything went so smoothly for the younger sons. Charles found himself embroiled in a Thanksgiving day riot at Harvard in the fall of 1787, although it is not clear if he was an active participant or merely an unwitting witness (from his post as a dining-hall waiter) who took the blame rather than betray his friends by testifying against them. Either way, there were other indications of troubles. Cotton Tufts found that “some Imprudencies (at least) had given Countenance to Suspicion” about Charles' character and behavior. A year later, John Quincy felt the need to give Charles a serious talking to upon some unnamed misconduct: “I wrote him a very serious Letter three weeks ago and conversed with him at Haverhill upon the subject in such a manner as must I think lead him to be more cautious.” Hints to the problem exist in letters from Abigail and Mary Cranch, both of whom expressed concern over the company Charles had been keeping.18

The family made the decision in May 1789 to bring Charles to New York even before his formal graduation from Harvard later that year, and to situate him in a law office—first that of Alexander Hamilton and later, once Hamilton became secretary of the treasury, that of John Laurance—right away. There he seemed to settle down and xxixworked hard; his mother noted that he “will not go into any company but such as his Father or col Smith introduces him to. he appears steady and sedate & I hope will continue so.” Abigail seemed anxious to reassure the family back in Massachusetts that he was once again behaving appropriately.19

The extant correspondence offers no direct explanation for the family's concerns about Charles beyond worry for the people with whom he associated. One possible explanation, however, is that he had begun to frequent taverns and drink excessively. Alcoholism plays a recurring role within the Adams family, and the family may have been especially sensitive to Charles' nascent problems in the wake of another family tragedy—the death of Abigail's brother, William Smith. A long-time alcoholic who had repeatedly deserted his wife, Smith died of jaundice in September 1787. At the time, he was estranged from all of his sisters, none of whom learned of his fatal illness until it was too late. His death provided the three sisters with an opportunity to contemplate both William's failings and how such a troubled man could have been raised in the same household with them. As Elizabeth Shaw put it, “The same air, we breathed—the same cradle rocked us to rest—& the same Parental Arms folded us to their fond Bosoms—& who can refrain full many a Tear at such a Death!”20

Thomas Boylston Adams remains in this volume the least noticed of the three sons. Also a student at Harvard (he would not graduate until 1790), he was apparently much beloved by his aunt Elizabeth Shaw and the other residents of Haverhill, who raised him while his parents lived overseas in Europe. By all accounts he was a respectable, well-behaved student, but references to him are unfortunately relatively rare, leaving a less clear picture of his character than exists for his other siblings.

The first extant letter from Abigail to her youngest son was written in March 1787 and reflects a typical parent's concern for her child's moral development: “Nature has implanted in the humane xxxmind nice sensibilities of moral rectitude and a natural love of excellent & given to it powers capable of infinate improvement and the state of things is so constituded that Labour well bestowed & properly directed always produces valuable Effects. the resolution you have taken of persueing such a conduct as shall redound to your own honour & that of your family is truly commendable.” But Abigail also did not hesitate to recommend more prosaic and practical skills for her son, including that he improve his handwriting and “learn the use of arms.” Clearly still a child in his family's eyes, Thomas Boylston was the furthest away from achieving full independence.21

All three boys benefited from the care and concern of their aunts, Mary Cranch and Elizabeth Shaw. In Abigail's absence, they provided John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston with clothing, places to stay during the school vacancies, and much love and affection. Both sisters fretted over the boys' health and well-being, particularly that of John Quincy, who was prone to overwork and neglect himself if no one intervened. Mary wrote to Abigail of one such bout: “His staying at cambridge during the winter vacancy was of no service to his Health whatever it may have been to his mind. He look'd so pale & wan when he came home this spring that I was not a little alarm'd about him. . . . His complants are wholly oweing to want of air & exercise & too great an attention to his studys.”22

Abigail's sisters similarly watched over the romantic lives of the Adams brothers, concerned lest the boys marry in haste and repent at leisure. Elizabeth Shaw especially was attuned to the boys' changing interests, which she dutifully reported to Abigail. Elizabeth confessed that she had been “very anxious for your young Hercules, lest his Heart might be subdued by One whom I knew his riper Judgment, could never approve.” Fortunately, John Quincy himself was able to reassure her: “Indeed my Aunt (said he) I know you have been concerned for me, but you need not have the least fearful Apprehensions with regard to this Lady, for though I was exceedingly pleased at first, yet I have lived long enough with her to know her Principles, & see into the motives of her Conduct, & the Lord knows, she is not the Person who would engage my Affections.”23


Charles, too, had his interests, to judge by the number of hair rings Mary Cranch found in his pockets. “But my dear,” she reported her conversation with Charles to Abigail, “have you left her any hair upon her head if all the rings you have are made of her hair you must have thin'd it a little at least.” The middle brother also had noteworthy good looks: “The Misses think Charles a mere Adonis—a perfect Beauty,” his aunt Elizabeth shared with Abigail. She added—then crossed out—the additional hope that “Minerva with her broad Sheild, preserve the dear Youth, from every Guile.” Fortunately, Charles was apparently too busy flirting with various girls for the aunts to worry that he might settle down with just one. Thomas Boylston, by contrast, wanted no part of this nonsense. Mary observed that “honest Tom he does not think that the Ladys need so much attention—'is sure that they have Legs as well as he & may walk without leaning upon his arm.'”24 Regardless of how quickly the boys matured, they remained fortunate to have a caring extended family to watch over them.

The situation for Abigail 2d was somewhat different. As a married woman and a mother, she was unquestionably an adult, even as she continued at times to live in her parents' homes, first in London and later in New York.25 This new stage of life still certainly contained its challenges. Like her mother, Nabby was quickly confronted with one familiar difficulty of marriage to a diplomat: long separations. Mere weeks after the birth of their first child, Nabby's husband William Stephens Smith departed for a four-month trip to Portugal to deliver a message to the queen from the United States government. As Abigail noted to her sister, “it is the first seperation even of a day since he was married. Mrs Smith thought it a Sad affliction. She has not been innured like her mamma, and I hope she never may to such long dangerous & painfull seperations. she however behaved well when it came really to the trial.”26

Also, Nabby's allegiances had to change, a process she (and the Adamses) sometimes found difficult. While Abigail was overseeing xxxiiher and John's relocation to Massachusetts, Nabby was navigating a similar transition for her young family to New York, William's home state. They left England in the spring of 1788, arriving in New York City in late May. They settled into a home on Long Island, near the Smith family, and quickly found themselves immersed in the New York social scene. But Nabby's separation from her parents and siblings was not easy for any of them. She repeatedly encouraged them to come and visit her, bemoaning to John Quincy that “this seperation of families which prevents us from paying to each other those attentions which our affection would dictate is to me the most painfull circumstance in Life.”27 Still, Nabby had other activities to keep her occupied: she built close relationships with her new Smith relatives and, in November 1788, gave birth to her second child, John Adams Smith.

Some early concerns also arose around William Stephens Smith, whose disinclination to settle into a profession in New York worried his ever-ambitious in-laws. Smith had already had a distinguished career, first in the military and then in the American diplomatic corps, but his seeming contentedness to rest on his laurels did not sit well with John and Abigail. John felt strongly that William should pursue a career in law—like his father-in-law—and did not hesitate to make this recommendation to Nabby. William was less in a hurry to settle on a profession and felt to some extent entitled to a public office, given his earlier service to the nation.28 This conflict would continue to fester for many years and lead to tensions between the Smiths and Adamses. For the moment, however, both families were content to wait and see what new circumstances New York and the new government there would bring.

3. The New Government

In the wake of Shays' Rebellion and other signs of dysfunction within the Articles of Confederation, Americans began during this time to move toward restructuring the federal system to create a stronger central government. As keen observers of the troubles in Massachusetts, the Adamses supported this action, though John's distance from Philadelphia, where the Constitutional Convention xxxiiimet, reduced substantially his influence on the process. Still, they followed events as closely as they could with a mixture of hope and anxiety. Abigail, writing to John Quincy, mused: “I wish most sincerely that the meeting of our Convention which is to take place this month, may reform abuses, Reconcile parties, give energy to Government & stability to the States, but I sometimes fear we Must experience new Revollutions, before we shall set under our vines in peace.”29

News from the family back home significantly shaped the Adamses' perspective on circumstances in America. Mary and Richard Cranch, Cotton Tufts, and John Quincy faithfully reported on the aftermath of Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts, commenting especially on the spring 1787 elections to the General Court, which repudiated many of the actions the Massachusetts government had previously taken to suppress the rebellion. As Cotton Tufts noted, “The Spirit of the Day has brought into public Life Characters that in sober Times would have been hissed off the Stage and been expelled as Members unfit to grace the Seats of Legislaters.” Tufts reported derisively the election not only of some who had supported Shays' Rebellion but also, going further back in time, of loyalists who had opposed the Revolution altogether.30

The results of the Constitutional Convention, announced in September 1787, created an entirely new political firestorm as Federalists and Antifederalists vied for support during the ratification process. Again, Cotton Tufts weighed in to Abigail: “The System of Government reported by the late Continental Convention has afforded much Matter for Pens and Tongues. . . . which of the Parties will carry their Point, is difficult to say— Many of the Advocates for the Constitution are enthusiastic open & severe in their Attacks upon all that oppose it, those on the other Side act more secretly, but with great Success.” John disliked some aspects of the new Constitution but argued strongly “for accepting the present Plan as it is and trying the Experiment. at a future Time Amendments may be made.”31 He had seen firsthand in Europe the difficulties created by a weak central government in America and longed for some improvement, even if the new system was not perfect.


John initially rejected the idea that he would take any new public position once he had resigned as minister to Great Britain: “It is mr A's intention to retire to Braintree as a private man,” Abigail informed Cotton Tufts, somewhat disingenuously, “nor need any one fear that he will become a competitor with them for offices. he has always dealt too openly & candedly with his Countrymen to be popular.” But even before he left Europe, his name had been raised as a possible vice president, and his daughter Nabby wisely recognized that “he would not I am well Convinced be Happy in Private Life.”32 While he succeeded in generally retaining a low profile initially after his return to the States, there was little doubt that his so-called retirement would be of brief duration.

Once the states' ratification of the Constitution advanced far enough to ensure its implementation, politicking for positions in the new government began. While everyone accepted that George Washington would be elected the first president, John Adams was one of a number considered for vice president. When the new Senate finally achieved a quorum in early April 1789, they proceeded immediately to counting votes from the electoral college and determined that John would indeed become the first vice president under the new Constitution. By mid-April, John was en route to New York amid much fanfare to take up his new office. Abigail followed a few months later, after she had made arrangements for the care of their home in Braintree and John had rented a suitable residence for them, an estate called Richmond Hill, located just outside of the city.

In New York both John and Abigail had to adapt to a very different lifestyle from that to which they had become accustomed either in London or in Braintree. John quickly discovered that his new position restrained and limited him. His only real work—serving as president of the Senate—was curtailed early on by the decision to disallow him to speak on any substantive issues other than procedural motions. He could cast his vote to break ties but nothing more. Needless to say, John found this incredibly irksome. Predictably, he launched into his usual litany of complaints to Abigail: “I have as many difficulties here, as you can have; public and private. but my Life from my Cradle has been a Series of difficulties and that Series will continue to the Grave.”33 Never lacking for an xxxvopinion on any subject, John—even as he dutifully attended every session—chafed at his inability to influence the critical decisions being made by Congress.

Abigail adjusted more successfully to her new life. She loved Richmond Hill, repeatedly singing the praises of this stately home to her sisters: “We are most delightfully situated, the prospect all around is Beautifull in the highest degree, it is a mixture of the sublime & Beautifull.” She also enjoyed the company of the Washingtons—whom she particularly admired and felt compared favorably with the king and queen of England—and other old friends such as Sarah and John Jay. She did, however, find the pace of visits wearing. “I have never before been in a situation,” she complained to her sister Mary, “in which morning noon & afternoon I have been half as much exposed to company.” She was expected to hold regular levees herself and entertain all members of the Senate, as well as attend other ladies' gatherings on occasion. It made for a social whirlwind. But overall she was pleased with her newfound circumstances: “I fear they will Remove from this place I am too happy in the situation of it, I fear to have it lasting I am every day more & more pleased with it.”34 Abigail referred, of course, to the possible relocation of Congress to a permanent home—one of many contentious issues still to be settled as the president, vice president, senators, congressmen, and other interested parties sought to build the new federal government.

4. Notes on Editorial Method

This volume marks the first Adams Papers publication using a substantially revised policy concerning the presentation of documents, as well as an adjustment of the selection policy for the Adams Family Correspondence series. Accordingly, it seems an appropriate opportunity to offer a full overview of the project's editorial method. Readers may still wish to reference the statements of editorial policy in previous volumes, most notably the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:lii–lxii, and the Adams Family Correspondence, 1:xli–xlviii, as they document the original conception of the Adams Papers project, but some aspects of those statements have now been superseded.


Materials Included

The Adams Family Correspondence series continues to draw its material from the wealth of extant letters written between various members of the presidential line of the Adams family, whether related by blood or marriage. The editors also consider for inclusion in this series any letters from Adams women to non-family members, such as Abigail Adams' extensive correspondence with Thomas Jefferson and Mercy Otis Warren. Similarly, correspondence from Thomas Boylston or Charles Adams to non-family members may be included (as there is no plan to publish their papers separately), but only if such a letter speaks directly to issues related to the Adams family. Finally, in rare instances, the editors have printed letters between two non-Adams family members (usually letters between Abigail's two sisters or between a sister and a cousin) if they provide extended commentary or particularly rich insight into the Adamses themselves. However, only omitted letters to or from an Adams family member are included in the List of Omitted Documents found at the end of each Family Correspondence volume.

The bulk of this correspondence comes from the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society, with important additional materials owned by other manuscript repositories and private individuals throughout the country. The series also occasionally reprints letters from nineteenth-century sources that are no longer available in manuscript form if those items are particularly important to complete the documentary record. The descriptive note at the end of each letter identifies the location of the original or the printed source, as appropriate.

As the Adams family has expanded over the project's chronological period, the editors have been and will continue to be increasingly selective about which letters to print in these volumes. The focus remains on John and Abigail Adams, with the correspondence between them and their children and siblings at the core, though as the children themselves have become more active correspondents, their letters appear with greater frequency. Increased selectivity in future volumes will especially extend to correspondence among more distant relations. For instance, letters between two siblings will receive priority over letters between first cousins, who in turn will receive priority over letters between second cousins.

The series is rapidly reaching the point where John Quincy Adams has matured to adulthood and begun to assume a public role. xxxviiConsequently, the editors intend to reserve more of his letters for printing in the series of volumes that will be devoted to his public papers, the Papers of John Quincy Adams. While any of his letters to family members are and will be considered for the Family Correspondence series, those that focus purely on public matters will be published in the Papers series instead. Such omissions will not be included in the List of Omitted Documents at the end of each Family Correspondence volume as they will be considered as part of the Papers series and dealt with there.

Within these basic guidelines, however, the editors continue to emphasize the quality and significance of each individual letter and judge each letter on its merits.

Treatment of the Texts

The editors have adopted a new textual policy. Beginning with the current volume, the texts are and will be rendered as literally as possible given the limitations of modern typography and the ability to translate handwritten manuscripts into printed documents. While some important but less extensive changes have been introduced to the edition (see Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 7, and Papers of John Adams, vols. 12 and 13), the publication of this volume marks the most important change from the earlier volumes in which the editors substantially intervened to regularize the presentation of the texts. The implementation of this policy to present a more literal interpretation preserves more of the original document and allows the reader to determine the significance of the authors' spelling, grammar, capitalization, and other mechanical aspects of their writing. In that spirit, the following is a summary of the specifics of the project's new policy.

Spelling is preserved as found in the manuscripts. Irregular spellings and spelling mistakes, even when they are obviously simple slips of the pen, are retained. The index will continue to offer corrected spellings of proper names and places, but no such corrections are made in the text itself. If a proper name is otherwise unidentifiable without some clarification, that explanation is provided in a text note.

Grammar and syntax are preserved as found in the manuscripts. Ambiguous statements resulting from grammatical errors may be explained in text notes. Inadvertent repetition of words, however, is silently corrected, and all new paragraphs receive a standardized xxxviiiindent, whether such paragraphs are indicated in the original manuscript by indents, extra space, hanging indents, extended dashes, or other conventions.

Capitalization is preserved as found in the manuscripts, even when it violates conventional standards, such as lowercase letters used for proper nouns or at the beginnings of sentences. In indeterminate cases, where the editors cannot be certain whether the writer intended for a letter to be capital or lowercase, the editors will follow modern usage.

Punctuation is preserved as found in the manuscripts. Occasionally, punctuation marks need to be supplied by the editors to preserve (or create) readability. In those instances, the punctuation is enclosed in brackets and rendered in italics to indicate that it has been editorially supplied. Additionally, as both John and Abigail Adams used periods and commas relatively interchangeably, the editors have retained some license to interpret those marks as makes sense grammatically, relying less on the structure of the character (both Adamses tended to use a single mark that might be either an elongated period or an abbreviated comma) than on the context of the sentence. Finally, the punctuation around abbreviations and contractions has been standardized in a limited fashion: (1) Underlining below a superscript is rendered as a period following the superscript. Similarly, two periods or commas under a superscript is rendered as a colon following the superscript. (2) Marks over letters used to indicate contractions or abbreviations have all been rendered as tildes. If such a mark appears over multiple letters within a word, the tilde is placed over the first letter.

Abbreviations and contractions, in general, are preserved as found in the manuscript. Ampersands are now retained in all instances, as are superscripts. Thorns, however, will be rendered as “th” and per symbols will be spelled out as “per.”

Missing and illegible matter is indicated by square brackets enclosing the editors' conjectural readings (with a question mark appended if the reading is uncertain) or suspension points if no reading can be given. Three points are used to indicate a single missing word and four to indicate two missing words. When more than two words are missing, a footnote is provided indicating an estimate of the total amount of missing material. If a single letter of a word is missing, the editors may silently supply it.

Canceled matter in the manuscript (whether scored out or erased) is disregarded unless the editors deem it to be of some xxxixsignificance. In those instances, the text is included but crossed out typographically (e.g., “the further Reduction of public Securities is unnecessary will not be attempted this Session”35). The editors will no longer use angle brackets and italicized text to indicate canceled matter as was done in earlier volumes.

Variant readings (variations in text between two or more versions of the same letter) are ordinarily indicated only when they are significant enough to warrant recording, and then always in notes keyed to the basic text that is printed in full.

Interlineations are silently included within the body of the text unless the editors deem the placement of the interlineated material worthy of mention, most commonly when it is written at the bottom or along the margin of a page and marked for insertion. Such explanations are provided by text notes.

Editorial insertions are now relatively rare and used largely to indicate errors in dating or to supply necessary punctuation. The vast majority of editorial comment can be found in the annotation, rather than interpolated into the text. Editorial insertions are still rendered in italicized text in brackets.

As has been the policy from the beginning of this editorial project—and one of the few requirements of the Adams Manuscript Trust, which donated the papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society and created the Adams Papers project—all letters that appear in the Adams Papers volumes are printed in full.36 The editors, however, reserve the right to omit publishing enclosures to letters. If multiple versions of a letter are available, the recipient's copy—the copy intended for the recipient, whether received or not—is favored over all others. Differences between that version and any other available versions of a letter (such as a letterbook copy or a draft) are explained in textual notes. In general, only significant differences (rather than mere stylistic changes) are so described, and no comment is made of material included in the recipient's copy but excluded from a letterbook copy or draft.

The formal parts of each document are organized as follows:

The place-and dateline is printed as literally as possible using the same standards outlined above. It is always placed at the head of the letter, even if it appears elsewhere in the manuscript (for xlinstance, at the foot of the text). Undated and misdated letters have their dates editorially supplied or corrected using italicized text inside square brackets.

The salutation is also printed as literally as possible on the left-hand side of the same line as the place- and dateline (space permitting). All punctuation is as it appears in the original except when a line is used to separate the saluation from the text. Such lines are silently omitted.

The complimentary close is printed literally but, in the interests of saving space, run together in paragraph style. Virgules are used to indicate line breaks within the complimentary close.

The signature is printed literally. If a letter was unsigned, it is printed as such without comment unless special circumstances require some explanation.

Enclosures are always acknowledged editorially but only printed selectively. If they belong in the sequence of family correspondence, they appear in their proper chronological places; if not, and they warrant printing, they are attached to the letter that originally covered them.

Annotation and Index

While the most important function of these volumes is to provide accurate and authoritative texts, the editors also strive to offer additional information to help readers fully understand the nature of the documents and the historical context in which they were written.

Following each letter is a descriptive note that indicates the physical nature of the document printed and the manuscript repository where the original is located. If the document is no longer available in manuscript form, the source from which it is reprinted is provided. The note also contains any markings on the original manuscript, including addresses (both cover and internal), endorsements (made by the recipient or on his or her behalf at the time of receipt), and docketings (made by the recipient or third parties at a later date). Additional notes on the manuscript may be recorded if the editors deem them of value. Any relevant comment on handwriting is also provided. Archivists' markings and postmarks/stamps are not recorded. As with the complimentary close, multiline text is run together with virgules used to indicate line breaks.

In addition, the descriptive note also now lists all variant versions of the document contained within the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection. Variant texts owned by other respositories are not xlilisted unless those variants are referenced in the annotation of the document. Enclosures to the main document are listed here even if they are not reprinted in full.

The editors do not supply information on previous printings of letters published in the Adams Family Correspondence unless there are special reasons for doing so, such as the disappearance of the manuscript or earlier printing in an unexpected place or unusual form.

All other matters annotated—textual, biographical, bibliographical, and so on—are dealt with in a single series of numbered notes for each letter. In general, the editors hope that the letters in large part annotate themselves, that together they provide an overarching sense of the activities of the Adams family and of the events in which they were immersed. Still, certain categories of material require some additional explanation, and the editors attempt to supply that through brief factual notes. Among the types of information covered in the notes, the following are the most common:

1. Persons and personal names. The single largest category of notes are identifications of individuals, whether family members, friends, political colleagues, or acquaintances. While certainly not all of the people mentioned within the letters can be meaningfully identified, short biographies are provided for as many as possible at their first significant mention within one of the project's series. When an identification is tentative, the caveats “possibly” or “probably” are used to indicate the editors' level of uncertainty. Text notes are also used to clarify spellings of names when the variations are substantial enough to make locating them in the index difficult (in most cases, names are “corrected” or regularized only in the index) and to provide cross-references to identifications available in volumes in other Adams Papers series.

2. Books and other publications. The editors attempt to supply full bibliographical information on the books and publications mentioned in the letters, especially those being read by members of the Adams family. Information on whether the family owned the item in question—either in John Adams' library, now held at the Boston Public Library,37 or in John Quincy Adams' library, now located at the Stone Library of the Adams National Historical Park—is also included when available.


3. Correspondence among family members. Demonstrating the network of correspondence among the Adams family members as well as with their other correspondents has long been of great interest to the editors of this project. Consequently, specific letters mentioned but not printed within the volume are explicitly located if the editors have any record of them, while those mentioned of which no record exists are designated in the notes as “not found.” When precise identification of letters is not possible—most commonly due to faulty dating or vague references—the editors may offer likely suggestions.

4. Other subjects are annotated on an ad hoc basis, primarily in order to clarify the text, either by providing some historical context or to explain topics that the editors believe would be unfamiliar to modern readers.

After the documents, each volume contains an appended List of Omitted Documents. This includes all Adams materials eligible for inclusion in a particular volume but not printed in that volume, with information on the location of the manuscript, any additional copies contained in the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection, and any modern printed versions thereof. The selection principles for the Adams Family Correspondence are provided above. The principles for selection in the Papers of John Adams series will be provided in the introduction to volume 14 of that series, forthcoming.

In the Family Correspondence series, as in the Diaries, a chronology for each volume follows the appendix, providing a brief overview of the activities of the various members of the Adams family during the period covered by that volume.

An index now appears as the final section of each volume, no longer in every other volume, as was the practice through volume 6. The index, besides serving as a guide to locating people, places, and subjects covered in the book, also provides a wealth of additional information. Most notably, each individual's full name is provided (wherever possible), whether it was used in full in the text or not, along with a brief description of that individual, such as his or her profession, place of residence, connection to the Adams family, and so forth. Birth and death dates are additionally supplied for all members of the Adams family, including more distant relatives. These index entries also supply corrected spellings of names or spelling alternatives, as appropriate.

Main entries of any length are subdivided into subentries to offer easier access and more specific searching within the text. Initially, those subentries were provided in page number order, but in recent xliiivolumes (Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 7, and Papers of John Adams, vol. 13), the editors have begun to supply them alphabetically, to aid in their use.

5. Related Digital Resources

Beyond their continuing support of the Adams Papers editorial project, the Massachusetts Historical Society has also committed itself to making Adams resources available online. Two digital resources in particular supplement the Adams Family Correspondence volumes and will be of great interest to all Adams scholars and readers—the Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive and The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection. Both collections are available through the Massachusetts Historical Society's website at

The Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive offers images and text files of the complete correspondence between John and Abigail Adams owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, all of John Adams' diaries, and his autobiography. The files are fully text-searchable and can also be browsed by date.

The digital collection of the Diaries of John Quincy Adams provides digital images of all pages of John Quincy Adams' enormous 51-volume diary, kept by him for nearly seventy years. The images can be searched by date or browsed by diary volume.

Finally, the editors are pleased to announce the forthcoming launch of a major new digital initiative to make all of the previously published Adams Papers volumes available online. Thanks to the generosity of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard University Press, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Founding Families Digital Edition is scheduled to become available on the Historical Society's website in 2008. This project will provide fully searchable text files of 38 Adams Papers volumes (all except the Portraits volumes), as well as 7 volumes of the Winthrop Family Papers, published by the Historical Society in the early twentieth century. While the editors intend to continue making the Adams Papers available in letterpress editions, a complementary digital edition will greatly enhance the accessibility and utility of these volumes.

The 246 letters contained in volume 8 of the Adams Family Correspondence are best read in conjunction with the other published xlivmaterials of the Adams Papers for this period, notably John Adams' Diary and Autobiography, 3:203–223, and John Quincy Adams' Diary, 2:167–465. Future volumes of the Papers of John Adams will further extend the story of John Adams' public life as he moved from his role as an American diplomat abroad back to his political roots in the United States as the first vice president.

Chronicling an important period of transition for the Adamses—from Europe to America, from adolescence to adulthood—and for the United States—from Confederation to Constitution—the correspondence in this volume provides the unique perspective of this preeminent family during a crucial time in American history.

Margaret A. Hogan September 2006


JA to John Jay, 24 Jan. 1787, PCC, No. 84, VI, f. 392–395; AA to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 10 March, below. See also AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 8 March, and to Isaac Smith Sr., 12 March, both below.


AA to Lucy Cranch, 26 April 1787, and to Mary Smith Cranch, 28 April, both below. For AA2's comments on her son, see, for instance, AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, 19 July, below.


See AA to Lucy Cranch, 26 April 1787, below.


See AA's letters to Thomas Jefferson of 26 and 27 June 1787, and 6 and 10 July, and Jefferson's to AA of 1, 10, and 16 July, all below.


AA to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, [19] July 1787; to Mary Smith Cranch, 15 Sept.; to Elizabeth Cranch, 1 Oct.; and to Lucy Cranch, 3 Oct., all below.


For the loans, see AA to WSS, [30] May 1787; JA to AA, 1 June; JA to AA, 11 March 1788; JA to AA, 14 March, all below, and Winter, Amer. Finance and Dutch Investment , 1:273–319. For the counterfeiting, see John Brown Cutting to AA, 25 April 1787, and AA to Cotton Tufts, 29 April, both below.


Richard Cranch to JA, 24 May 1787, below.


AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 8 Oct. 1787, 2d letter, below. See also vol. 7:365–366 for a fuller discussion of JA's Defence of the Const .


Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 22 April 1787, below. See also Cotton Tufts to JA, 13 June, and AA to Cotton Tufts, 1 July, both below. For a full discussion of the history of the Old House and its purchase by the Adamses, see vol. 3:264–266, and Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 2, above.


AA to Cotton Tufts, 6 Nov. 1787, 5 Oct., and 1 Jan. 1788, all below.


AA to AA2, 29 May 1788, and 7 July, both below.


To AA2, 7 July 1788, below.


AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 11 May 1787, below.


For a full discussion of eighteenth-century attitudes toward the transition from childhood to adulthood, see Harvey J. Graff, Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America, Cambridge, 1995, ch. 2.


AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 28 April 1787, below. To date, no letters written by CA or TBA prior to 1790 and 1791, respectively, have been located.


Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 16 July [1787], and Elizabeth Smith Shaw to AA, 22 July, both below. The Massachusetts Centinel, 21 July, reported that “the two principal performances were the Orations by Mr. Adams and Mr. Freeman. The first of these certainly declaimed upon a well chosen subject, in a manly, sensible and nervous style of eloquence. The publick expectations from this gentleman, being the son of an Ambassador, the favourite of the officers of the College, and having enjoyed the highest advantages of European instruction, were greatly inflated. This performance justified the preconceived partiality.” For additional comment on the newspaper reports of the commencement, see JQA, Diary , 2:265–266.


JQA to AA, 23 Dec. 1787; AA2 to JQA, 10 Feb. 1788; JQA to Cotton Tufts, 16 Feb.; and AA2 to JQA, 20 Aug., all below.


Cotton Tufts to JQA, 5 March 1788; JQA to William Cranch, 27 May 1789; AA to JQA, 30 May; and Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 21 June, all below. For the Thanksgiving riot, see JQA to Cotton Tufts, 16 Feb. 1788, below, and JQA, Diary , 2:355–356, and note 1.


AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 12 July 1789, below. JQA firmly supported the plan to place CA more closely under his parents' supervision, arguing “that if any thing can keep him within the limits of regularity, it will be his knowlege of my fathers being [near him and the?] fear of being discovered by him” (to William Cranch, 27 May, below).


Elizabeth Smith Shaw to AA, 17 Nov. 1787, below. See also Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 21 Oct.; AA to Cotton Tufts, 1 Jan. 1788; and AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 10 Feb., all below. Several decades later, CFA observed in his Diary that “the Smith blood seems to have had the scourge of intemperance dreadfully applied to it.” Besides William Smith Jr., CA and TBA both suffered from alcoholism, as did JQA's children, JA2 and GWA (CFA, Diary , 5:143–144).


AA to TBA, 15 March 1787, below. See also JQA to TBA, 3 May 1788, below, in which JQA lectures TBA on appropriate conduct as a college student. TBA's reaction to this letter is unknown, but CA was apparently frustrated enough by JQA's “Mentorial airs,” as JQA recounted the situation, that he threatened to break off all correspondence with JQA.


Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 22 April 1787, below.


Elizabeth Smith Shaw to AA, 20 May 1787, below.


Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 19 Aug. 1787, and Elizabeth Smith Shaw to AA, 22 July, both below. See also Elizabeth Cranch to AA, 23 Sept., below.


The transition to adulthood for women centered on marriage, the establishment of an independent household, and the rearing of children (see Graff, Conflicting Paths, p. 51–53). AA2 and WSS had initially established their own household following their marriage in June 1786 but returned to the Adamses' home in Grosvenor Square for the birth of their first child and WSS's subsequent departure for Portugal. Over the next several years, the Smiths would continue to alternate between living on their own and living with their respective families.


AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 28 April 1787, below. For WSS's mission, see AA to JQA, 20 March, note 5, below.


AA2 to JQA, 28 Sept. 1788, below. For other letters from AA2 encouraging her family to come visit, see AA2 to JQA, 8 June; to AA, 15 June; to JQA, 20 Aug.; and to AA, 7 Sept., all below.


JA to AA2, 16 July 1788, and AA2 to JA, 27 July, both below.


AA to JQA, 6 May 1787, below.


Cotton Tufts to JA, 30 June 1787, below. See also Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 22 April; Elizabeth Smith Shaw to AA, 20 May; Richard Cranch to JA, 24 May; and JQA to JA, 30 June, all below.


Cotton Tufts to AA, 18 Dec. 1787, and JA to Cotton Tufts, 23 Jan. 1788, both below.


AA to Cotton Tufts, 6 Nov. 1787, and AA2 to JQA, 10 Feb. 1788, both below.


JA to AA, 14 May 1789, below.


AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 28 June 1789, 12 July, 9 Aug., and 1 Sept., all below. For more on Richmond Hill, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 10, above.


Cotton Tufts to JA, 30 June 1787, below.


Remarks of Thomas B. Adams, then president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and trustee of the Adams Manuscript Trust, in The Adams Papers: A Ceremony . . . Marking the Publication of the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 22 Sept. 1961, p. 5.


The Boston Public Library has recently completed a major effort to create an online catalog of the library of John Adams, including a record of the extensive marginalia John Adams generated in his books. See for more information.