Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

Introduction Introduction
A General View of the Adams Family Correspondence

In the formidably complex plan of publication of The Adams Papers , the volumes now issued are the first two of an estimated twenty or so in Series II: Adams Family Correspondence . Series II will extend in a single chronological sequence from 1761 to 1889 and embrace the letters exchanged by members of the family through three full generations and part of a fourth, beginning with the courtship of John Adams and Abigail Smith and ending with the death of Abigail Brooks Adams, wife of the first Charles Francis Adams, United States minister to London during the American Civil War.1

The earliest manuscript letter among the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society that, by stretching the term, can be called an Adams family letter, was written in 1678. In the fall of that xxyear the Reverend John Norton (ca. 1651–1716), a young Harvard graduate distinguished alike for his family connections and his literary attainments, made a trip from his home in Ipswich to preach for a time at Hingham. That he paused in Boston on his way is clear from the following letter he wrote soon afterward to Mary Mason, a young lady who lived in that town: Dearest Sister. Hingham. 23. Sept. 78.

These lines are only in hast to tell you that my body is here at hingham in good order and health, as for my heart I must require an account of it from your Selfe for I left that with you at Boston. Dear Soul, I am always with you but cannot at present be permitted to visit you. I am exceedingly rejoyced and lightened to hear it is so well with you. the Lord continue it, and give you a comfortable restauration, that is the dayly prayer of him that desires nothing more than to se it.

Dear Sister se that love which you Doe bear in truth to me And know therby what charitie Thy Brother bears to thee. That Hearty love may ever be Reciprocal in us Looke thou to thine I'le looke to mine Let's ever keep it thus.

I am interrupted, and cannot write a word more at present only that I am all and always

Yours. John Norton

The congregation at Hingham and the young lady in Boston both found Norton's words fair, for in the last week of November 1678 he was ordained at Hingham and married to Mary Mason. The town built a handsome new meetinghouse for him, which still stands, and he labored successfully there until his death.2 In 1715 his daughter Elizabeth married John Quincy of neighboring Braintree, colonel of xximilitia and sometime speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and their daughter Elizabeth, who in 1740 married the Reverend William Smith of Weymouth, became the mother of Abigail Smith, who was from 1764 the wife of John Adams of Braintree and Boston, second President of the United States.

John Norton's love letter makes an auspicious starting point, but for the next eighty years there is little in the Adams Papers that by any definition can be called family correspondence or that is particularly informative about the families from which the Presidents sprang. Among the indentures drearily recording the purchase of cedar swamps, the land plats, receipts, bonds, wills, and inventories of Nortons, Shepards, and Quincys—all forebears of Abigail Smith Adams, it will be noted—one comes occasionally upon a scrap whose embrowned ink still gives off a small but unquenchable spark of life. A memorandum in a tiny and unidentified hand begins with a list of “Books lent to Cous Samuel Shepard November. 12.,” including “the wekly paquet of advice from Rome thre volums thre Books,” and goes on to list similar loans to others, for example “to Mr. Emarson A french Bibel” in February 1690/1 “and A rethorik Book lent the 16 day of Agust.” In June 1704 the minister at Woodbridge, New Jersey, Samuel Shepard (grandson of the famous Thomas, who was Abigail Adams' great-great-grandfather), writes to his “Kind Sister” (read “Kinswoman”), Mrs. John Norton, in Hingham, boasting about his wife's cheeses, for she “is become a great Dary-woman”; and Shepard goes on to avow that “Ye heap of Nonsense (as Yu. are pleasd to term Yr. Lr.) has for the family in distant New Jersey more Retorick in it than one of Tully's Orations.” On another fragile scrap someone—perhaps a clerk in his father's countinghouse—has totted up the annual expenses of William Smith during his years at Harvard College, 1721–1725, arriving at “The Sum Totall £41 .. 1 .. 10.” And a tailor's bill apparently furnishes a glimpse of the single year of married life enjoyed by Norton Quincy, an uncle of whom Abigail Adams was very fond but who lived in seclusion on the shore of Quincy Bay for more than half a century after his wife died. Among the items listed are: “To silk Thread Twist Buckm: Buckram & stays £4,” and “To shapes wadding & Coverg: £3.4.”3

In the early 1760's, when John Adams, a young lawyer of Braintree, began to court Abigail Smith in the Parsonage at Weymouth, the file of family correspondence truly begins, thickens in the next xxiitwo decades while Adams served in the Continental Congress and as a diplomat abroad, and swells to a torrent in the 1790's when their children, dispersed here and there on both sides of the Atlantic, start their regular contributions to the stream of family intercommunication. For a century thereafter the torrent flowed without stopping. At the age of eighty John Adams announced the birth of a great-granddaughter on his own birthday and observed that “It is very ungenteel in these days of Politeness and civilization to have so numerous a Posterity: but I cannot help it, and would not if I could.”4 A few years later he told a friend: I lay no serious claim to the title of Father of the navy or of any thing else but my family.... I have now living two Sons, Fourteen Grand Children and five Great Grand Children. Of this Tribe I claim to be a Father but I assure you the duties I owe to this little flock are greater than I can perform with my utmost exertions, anxiety and privation, to the satisfaction of my own conscience.5 He meant, among other things, that because of failing eyesight and a “Quiveration” in his fingers he could not answer all their letters promptly and fully. For all of them who were old enough to put pen to paper wrote him ceaselessly, and he could only do his poor best, through sundry devoted but not always very competent amanuenses, to keep up his side. At the foot of scores if not hundreds of his notes of reply in later years he affixed his short name in such jagged characters that it would be unrecognizable if the sentences above did not breathe both the fire and affection that John Adams' letters always had—and always will have.

Abigail Adams had died only a few months before her husband wrote the letter just quoted, and the patriarch himself was to go at length, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Such deaths were turning points in the family's history, but they did not stem the tide of letter-writing. As Adams' letters imply, many more pens were busy when he was eighty than had been earlier, and this pattern continued to the end of the century. Three full and successive generations of Adams statesmen served in public stations in the capitals of the United States and Europe. Sometimes their wives accompanied them on their missions, with some or all of their children; sometimes not. But whatever the arrangements were at a given time, there was always physical separation within or between generations—between husband and wife, sister and brother, brother and brother, father or xxiiimother and son or daughter, grandparents and grandchildren, parents-in-law and children-in-law—hence the obligation, enforced by example, training, and conscience, to inform each other in an endless and complex network of correspondence from every vantage point of observation. Little John Quincy Adams, who in 1781 went to St. Petersburg as Francis Dana's companion and French interpreter, described for his father the sights of that ice-locked city and his progress with Latin authors in letters that are as full and formal as diplomatic dispatches. Two generations later, Henry Adams' pronouncements on German life and institutions, in his letters to his parents from Berlin and Dresden, are less solemn but just as thorough.

The ultimate and gathered product of all this activity with pen, ink, and paper, it seems safe to say, is unsurpassed by any other accumulation of its kind. Its bulk is of course impressive, but its real distinctions are its continuity and its literary quality. Readers should be left to judge of the latter, but the editors may be allowed to point out that the series of Adams Family Correspondence , now begun, forms a contrapuntal personal record of 130 years of modern history during which the United States won its independence, fought to preserve it, fought again to prevent its own dissolution, and rose to the rank of a leading world power; during which, as well, both western Europe and Latin America were politically and socially revolutionized, in some measure under the force and inspiration of the United States' example; and during which, finally, technological innovations so transformed men's lives as to make such families as the Adamses (as one of them said) seem by the end of the 19th century merely “troglodytic.” It is not with these vast events themselves that the letters now printed mainly deal—though to be sure many among them do—but with the conditions of human life that were both their causes and effects. What we can read in the letters is a faithful, day-by-day transcript of the thoughts and feelings of men, women, and children during an era of onrushing change—from the sailing vessel and the horse, for example, to the Cunarder and the Pullman car—such as the world had never before known. Yet at the same time basic human concerns and problems remain in the foreground, and in their illustrations of these the family letters are inexhaustibly rich: in the relationships of the human pair, between members of the same and different generations, between servant and master or mistress, between the family and the world outside, and above all between individuals and their own consciences and desires. Births, marriages, and deaths are staple topics of discussion in this as in all other families. Romances xxivare followed by marriages, or perhaps are not, and always touch off flurries of concerned or humorous comment. Sickness and its treatment are perpetual subjects; with few exceptions the treatment seems to improve little until toward the close of the period covered. On the other hand, although the First Church of Quincy and Harvard College remain in the same location and equally prominent in the family annals throughout the entire period, by the end of it their spiritual and intellectual fare has been transformed as completely as the dress worn by those who worship in Quincy or study in Cambridge.

Since the record of these constants and these changes is so extended and so detailed, and since the letters that the Adamses wrote each other have been so carefully preserved, the editor in chief decided at an early stage in his planning to present the family correspondence as a unit by itself. A disadvantage of this arrangement is that it adds another chronology to a pattern already complicated enough. But its advantages seem much greater. For one thing, it will present the letters and replies of the Adams statesmen to each other in the same sequence, rather than widely separated in the volumes devoted to each statesman's general correspondence and other writings. For another thing, it enables the women of the family, both those born into it and those who married into it, to take their places beside the Adams men instead of being obscured by them. Finally, and, as the editors believe, most significantly, certain kinds of evidence furnished by the family correspondence are not too abundant in print elsewhere and are better recognized today than formerly by historians as peculiarly precious. The principal archivist-editor of the family, Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), sensed this and stated it well when he published the first of his several collections of his grandparents' letters. Writing in 1840, he pointed out that even though much documentary material on the American Revolution had already been made available and more was constantly appearing in print,

Our history is for the most part wrapped up in the forms of office. The great men of the Revolution, in the eyes of posterity, are many of them like the heroes of a mythological age. They are seen, for the most part, when conscious that they are acting upon a theatre, where individual sentiment must be sometimes disguised, and often sacrificed, for the public good. Statesmen and generals rarely say all they think or feel. The consequence is, that, in the papers which come from them, they are made to assume a uniform of grave hue, which, though it doubtless exalts the opinion entertained of their perfections, somewhat diminishes the interest with which later generations study their character. Students of human nature seek for examples of man under circumstances of difficulty and trial; man as he is, not as he would appear; but there are many reasons why they are often xxvbaffled in the search. We look for the workings of the heart, when those of the head alone are presented to us. We watch the emotions of the spirit, and yet find clear traces only of the reasoning of the intellect. The solitary meditation, the confidential whisper to a friend, never meant to reach the ear of the multitude, the secret wishes, not to be blazoned forth to catch applause, the fluctuations between fear and hope, that most betray the springs of action,—these are the guides to character, which most frequently vanish with the moment that called them forth, and leave nothing to posterity but those coarser elements for judgment, that may be found in elaborated results.6

In short, the editor offered the family letters he was printing as a contribution to the history of “feeling” rather than to that of “action” during the Revolutionary era; but his point was that feelings are the real clues to action. He himself felt some trepidation in violating the privacy of a generation not long dead, and, as we shall see, he stayed well within the reigning proprieties in selecting and editing the letters he published. But to a modern reader his self-justification, though admirably phrased, seems altogether needless. If we are fully to understand an historical figure, we certainly ought to know, if we can find out, what he said to his wife and what she said in reply (or perhaps said first). The surviving morsels of Franklin's correspondence with Deborah Franklin are invaluable, even though she was not especially articulate on paper. For Washington and his wife and for Jefferson and his, we have next to nothing, and we are the poorer. For John and Abigail Adams we have a full and frank record of the forty years from their courtship until John Adams' retirement from public life, and for later generations we have correspondence sometimes as extended if not always of the same high merit on both sides.

These are the considerations that have persuaded the editors to present the Adams Family Correspondence in the form it now assumes. For their part, the editors envision the series, when completed, not simply as a contribution to the history of an eminent American family or even simply to the history of a growing nation, but as a substantial and enlightening chapter in the history of humanity during the age just antecedent to our own.


“Whatever you write preserve,” John Adams sternly ordered two of his grandsons when they sailed to join their parents in the American legation in London in 1815.7 Among Adamses this injunction seldom xxvilost its force, and what they preserved constitutes the chief but by no means the only source of the materials to be printed in the Adams Family Correspondence .

Accounts of the creation and transmission of the family archives and of their ultimate placement in the service of scholarship have been printed elsewhere.8 But it is proper to provide in this place a summary view of the materials available therein for the present series and of their previous use and publication.

The letters written by one member of the family to another throughout the century and a third spanned by this edition are ordinarily present in the Adams Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society as holographs (“A.L.S.'s” in the parlance of the autograph trade, recipients' copies or “RC's” in the terminology of this edition). The successive custodians of the manuscripts in the 19th century usually gathered runs of family letters as units and had them stitched into stout leather binding cases with appropriate gold-lettered titles. But as the network of correspondence grew more complex, there was no possibility of a logical classification; supplements could be added, but many family letters never got bound at all. In preparing the manuscripts for microfilming and editing, the staff of the Adams Papers discarded all earlier schemes of classification, disbound the bound letters, and filed all originally loose letters and papers, both public and private, in a single chronological sequence that forms Part IV of the Microfilms of The Adams Papers under the title “Letters Received and Other Loose Papers.”9 Very, very few accidental losses have occurred over the years among the family letters, and there was only minor pilfering for autographs during the decades before the Civil War when autograph collecting first became a fad in the United States.10 But the papers of some members of the family in early generations did not join the main archives (examples of consequent dispersals, losses, and a few happy recoveries will be mentioned below), and some members, especially in later generations, were faithless to John Adams' injunction. The younger John Quincy Adams (1833–1894) had the temerity to tell his father that he had “abandoned the vile family habit of preserving letters,” on the principle that “the less xxviiweight you carry in life the better”; and both Henry and Brooks Adams eventually destroyed large portions of their incoming correspondence.11

Other gaps that will never be filled are the result of Charles Francis Adams' orderly habits of mind. He worked longer with the family accumulations than anyone else did, and we owe much to his archival and editorial labors. But he was forever sorting out and destroying what he considered “the smaller matters” among the papers, so that he could get the rest into tidy files and within protective bindings.12 In 1852 he told Mrs. Horace Mann, who had inquired about letters of her Palmer forebears, that no Palmer letters survived among the Adams manuscripts:

A year or two since, after a thorough examination of all the papers of John Adams and of his Wife, I selected such as seemed to me of any value, and destroyed the remainder.... It is proper to add that of the letters addressed to Mrs. Adams during the period not more than a dozen or two are preserved, and they are for the most part from men active in the revolution, or from Mrs. Warren, and her own sisters.13

The writer should of course have added to his exceptions the letters written to Abigail Adams by her husband, children, and numerous other relatives. His weeding of the papers of his mother, Mrs. John Quincy Adams, appears to have been conducted on the same principles but was perhaps even more rigorous.14 And there are serious gaps in C. F. Adams' own correspondence (for example with his wife, Abigail xxviiiBrooks Adams) that may be attributed partly to his sense of good housekeeping and partly to a determination that his private life never become a matter of public record.

Besides the recipients' copies there survive in the Adams Papers alternate versions of a great many of the letters exchanged by members of the family. These are ordinarily in the form of letterbook copies (“LbC's” in our editorial terminology). All three of the Adams statesmen kept letterbooks during most of their lives, though with more perfect fidelity during their periods of public service than at other times.15 On the eve of American independence John Adams bought two ledger-size blank books from a Philadelphia stationer and began keeping copies of his outgoing family letters in one and copies of his more general and official letters in the other. His letter to his wife of 2 June 1776 recites the benefits he hoped to obtain from this practice and adds that he will send her such a book if he can find a conveyance, “for I really think that your Letters are much better worth preserving than mine.” The children, he points out, will soon be able to do the tedious work of copying, “which will improve them at the same Time that it relieves you.”16 Except for one brief interval Mrs. Adams never brought herself to keep a letterbook, with or without her children's aid.17 Of the thousands of letters she wrote, some hundreds of the more important ones and especially those going long distances or overseas, do, however, survive in draft form. These she usually scribbled hastily on odd bits of paper and far too often failed to furnish with dates or even recipients' names; and they have therefore proved somewhat mixed blessings to the editors.18 John Adams was more persistent but far from ideally methodical. Gaps in his record of outgoing letters appear early and late; bored with paperwork, he occasionally xxixmade only skeleton or summary entries in his letterbooks; he sometimes used the same letterbook at different periods of his life and for different purposes, and sometimes kept several such books going at once without discernible distinction in their contents.

Serving from boyhood as his father's amanuensis (and thus establishing a pattern often followed in later generations), John Quincy Adams began his letterbooks earlier and slaved harder at them all through life than his father did. From Passy on 27 September 1778 he wrote his “Honoured Mamma” that upon advice from his father, who had given him “a Convenient Blank Book for this end,” he proposed to keep copies of his letters hereafter, although “a letter Book of a Lad of Eleven years old, Can not be expected to Contain much of Science, Litterature, arts, wisdom, or wit.”19 He was evidently not quite so good as his word because the earliest of his letterbooks now among the family papers dates from his sojourn in St. Petersburg, 1781–1782. With his appointment as American minister resident at The Hague in the spring of 1794 he began keeping separate “private” and “public” letterbooks, and the entries in them continue with relentless regularity until within a few days of his death.20 Charles Francis Adams' letterbooks begin in 1826, when he was nineteen, and extend to 1882. The editors have not yet closely analyzed these volumes, but they have a clear impression that although C. F. Adams was extremely conscientious in recording his letters relating to public affairs he was highly selective in making copies of his private letters, including those he wrote to members of his family.

Other gaps will be only partially supplied in the Adams Family Correspondence because some members of the Presidential line did not keep their papers or place them in the main family archives. Of the four children of John and Abigail Adams who grew to maturity, the papers of three have suffered various vicissitudes. Young Abigail married William Stephens Smith of New York in 1786 and had children. A daughter of theirs, Caroline Amelia Smith (Mrs. John Peter de Windt), published in the 1840's two small volumes contain-xxxing tantalizing extracts from her mother's journal and a thin selection of family letters.21 In 1862 a fire totally destroyed the de Windt homestead at Fishkill Landing on the Hudson (now Beacon, New York), and only fragments of the younger Abigail's once voluminous papers have turned up since.22 John Adams' letters to his second son, Charles, a long and valuable series written while Charles was studying law in the 1790's, were fortunately acquired by purchase for the Massachusetts Historical Society from a California descendant of Charles in 1948–1951.23 Other descendants of the same son own a large assemblage of family letters written over four generations; in 1936 they permitted the New York Public Library to make photostats of them, from which, with permission, microfilm copies were made for the present enterprise. On the other hand, the diaries kept and letters received by Judge Thomas Boylston Adams, the youngest of the brothers in that generation, evidently left the possession of his family not too long after Thomas' death, were dispersed through the autograph market, and now come to light, if they do so at all, singly or in twos and threes in private collections and public repositories in many parts of the country.

Since Abigail Adams was so erratic in keeping copies of her outgoing letters, it is pleasant to find that her letters to her sisters, who were among her most faithful correspondents, have survived with little attrition. Some 200 letters she addressed to her elder sister Mary (Mrs. Richard Cranch) between 1784 and 1811 were purchased in 1942 by the American Antiquarian Society from a Cranch descendant.24 A few years later the parallel series of Mrs. Adams' letters to her younger sister, Elizabeth (successively Mrs. John Shaw and Mrs. Stephen Peabody), was acquired by the Library of Congress as part of a larger collection of Shaw and related family papers.25 Since xxxiElizabeth's son, William Smith Shaw (known in Boston circles as “Athenaeum” Shaw), served as his uncle John Adams' private secretary during Adams' Presidency, the Library of Congress collection fills in other chinks in the family correspondence as well. One wishes that the papers of the Cranch family, interconnected with the Adamses in so many ways, had been as carefully kept together. The materials at the American Antiquarian Society, mentioned above, form the largest but only one of many remnants. Judge William Cranch, only son of Richard and Mary Cranch and from boyhood a close friend of his cousin John Quincy Adams, had thirteen children. From the present dispersion of Cranch manuscripts in public collections and private hands throughout the United States, it has sometimes seemed to the editors of The Adams Papers that each of the Judge's surviving children must have received a numerically proportionate share of the extensive papers he inherited and accumulated. That such divisions took place later, fractionalizing the papers still further, is known from the testimony of a Cranch descendant, who told one of the present editors that his mother, a grand daughter of William Cranch, had divided the papers that had come to her by dealing them out to her children round a table like playing cards. That particular distribution has been repaired (for the editors) by the cooperation of the children concerned in furnishing photocopies. Relevant materials in collections of Cranch papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Albany Institute of History and Art, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and elsewhere have also been tracked down, duplicated, and brought under editorial control. As recently as December 1962 a group of nearly forty letters, mostly dating before 1800 and mostly Adams-Cranch exchanges, was presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society by Mrs. E. Emerson Evans of Framingham Center, Massachusetts, a descendant not only of Richard and Mary Cranch but also, through a de Windt who married a Cranch, of John and Abigail Adams.

These instances are more than enough to show that, while much once lost to sight has been recovered, the search for family letters must continue indefinitely into the future. The editors of The Adams Papers are as eager now as ever to hear of estrays, in ones, twos, and larger numbers, that have so far eluded them. They will be happy rather than distressed if from time to time they are obliged to add supplements to the present series, out of chronological order, for newly found letters that help to tell the story of the Adams family on two continents.

Previous Use and Publication

The earliest suggestion for publishing any part of the Adams family correspondence seems to have come from John Adams himself. In a letter of 1809 to his old friend Francis Adrian Van der Kemp he said:

It is a little remarkable that you never heard the Litterary Character of my Consort. There have been few Ladies in the World of a more correct or elegant Taste. A Collection of her Letters for the forty five Years that We have been married would be worth ten times more than Madame Sevignés, though not so perfectly measured in Syllables and Letters: and would or a[t] least ought to put to the Blush Lady Mary Wortly Montague and all her Admirers.26

This passing hint Van der Kemp did not forget, and a few years later, having meanwhile exchanged some letters himself with Mrs. Adams, he improved it by asking her husband for letters of hers that ought to be published. She answered this appeal herself: “You terify me my dear Sir when you ask for Letters of mine to publish!” She conceded that two or three letters she had written to Thomas Brand Hollis and one to her son John Quincy Adams had somehow or other made their way into print, but “those I beleive are all the mighty works which ever have or will by my consent appear before the public.”27 “A pretty figure I should make,” she remarked on this scheme to an intimate friend. “No. No.... Heedless and inaccurate as I am, I have too much vanity to risk my reputation before the public.”28

So the matter rested until John Quincy Adams retired from the Presidency in 1829 and gave some thought and labor to the family papers. But he never gave his heart to the task, and it fell to his son Charles Francis, who had both leisure and scholarly tastes, to sort the accumulations and try to decide what might best be done with them. His diary during the 1830's records in great detail his “methodizing” of the papers at the Old House in Quincy. “I feel unwilling,” he very sensibly wrote on 31 August 1833, “to leave them to take their chance again in old trunks and damp rooms”; and so he proceeded to arrange them for binding, to compile indexes, and to make copies of the more interesting letters and papers he en-xxxiiicountered.29 Gradually the idea of editing a collection of his grandmother's letters formed in his mind, and although delayed by ventures in political journalism and other literary projects, it resulted in the appearance, in September 1840, of Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams, consisting of an excellent biographical “Memoir” and 114 letters of Abigail Adams written between 1761 and 1814. The editor's justification for giving the world “materials for a history ... of feeling” rather than of “action” has been quoted above, but it was followed by an apology for an undertaking so “novel” that he thought it unlikely to succeed.30

He need not have worried. A second edition was required six weeks after first publication, a third in 1841, and a fourth in 1848. Each varied at least slightly from the others in content, for as an editor Adams was nothing if not fussy, adding and withdrawing letters and even passages within letters in the successive editions. As if at last fully assured that the public approved of what he was doing, he greatly enlarged the fourth edition, which contains 153 letters. In the meantime he had brought out a more or less matching selection of John Adams' letters to his wife, because, as he said in the preface, “a wish has been expressed by some persons to the Editor, that the mode and degree in which the affection and sensibility of the lady were returned should be shown.”31 This collection contains 301 letters dating from 1774 to 1801. About the same time, though we do not know exactly when, C. F. Adams projected a scheme for continuing the family correspondence into the second and even the third generation. Among his papers were found three bundles wrapped in brown paper containing transcripts on loose sheets, perhaps 1,500 pages in all, in his own hand and his wife's, of family letters from 1780 to 1843. In this sequence John Quincy Adams was to have been the central figure, represented by copious selections from his correspondence with his parents and from his letters to his wife (beginning during their courtship), to his brother Thomas Boylston, and to two of his sons (including C. F. Adams). But this plan came to nothing. Adams turned instead to the editing of John Adams' Works, published in ten volumes between 1850 and 1856 and including a long biography and extensive editorial apparatus. Family letters were rigorously excluded from the Works (except for a few inserted in the “Life”), though with a half-promise that these and other private letters of John Adams would be xxxivmade available at “a later period.”32 But for fifteen years thereafter the family editor was wholly occupied with politics and diplomacy. When the centennial of independence approached he had the happy inspiration of presenting both sides of John and Abigail Adams' correspondence during the Revolution in a single sequence between two covers.33 In the preface to this volume he noted that the earlier collections had become so scarce that he could not procure copies himself and that for the years concerned (1774–1783) he was adding to the new collection further letters hitherto unpublished.34

The volume of Familiar Letters was evidently printed in a large edition. It soon became a standard source for historians and eventually a minor literary classic. No other account of the Revolutionary struggle in personal terms has ever matched it, for here was a dialogue between two highly articulate and observant people who were not only thoroughly involved but strategically placed to see and hear what was going on. And since they were man and wife on terms of perfect understanding, there were no bars to complete freedom of communication except temporary and, for such correspondents, rather easily evaded official restrictions and the risks of the post. But, as we shall see, the editor's treatment of the texts did erect bars between the letters as they were originally written and the readers of the letters in printed form.

Charles Francis Adams' policies and practices in editing John Adams' Diary and Autobiography have been described and illustrated in the general introduction to The Adams Papers .35 His editing of his grandparents' correspondence exhibits the same virtues when compared with the work of other historical editors of his time and the same faults when judged by scholarly standards of our time.

With Adams' selection of letters for publication one perhaps has little right to quarrel. He had to make a limited choice among great riches, but he grew bolder, or at least more inclusive, as he proceeded from edition to edition between 1840 and 1876. For the period covered by the two volumes of family correspondence now published, December 1761—March 1778, he printed, in all, 235 letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams. The present editors have found (and printed) 469, or almost exactly double the number xxxvhitherto published. Adams invariably omitted letters that according to 19th-century canons of taste were too revealingly intimate, for example all but a single one36 in the spirited courtship series of 1761–1764, and all of Abigail's letters reporting the progress of her pregnancy ending in the stillbirth of a daughter in July 1777. He excluded letters too graphically descriptive of diseases, for example nearly all of Abigail's accounts of the dysentery epidemic in Braintree in 1775,37 and most of those describing her and her children's prolonged and agonizing experience with smallpox inoculation in 1776, thereby rendering some passages in her husband's letters unintelligible. It has never been considered polite to discuss family finances in public, but C. F. Adams' reluctance to allow anything to reach print that touched even remotely on his grandparents' business interests amounted to a phobia, and deprived readers of what they would most like to know about the management of affairs in wartime. An example is Mrs. Adams' “Letter wholy Domestick” of 14 May 1776 dealing with weather and crops, the scarcity and wages of laborers, and the bills she has collected and paid.38 More understandably, perhaps, he could not bring himself to print letters that spoke caustically of the conduct of the Adamses' Braintree neighbors. One of Abigail Adams' greatest difficulties during the siege of Boston was finding room for friends and relatives among the hordes of refugees that spread over the countryside from the beleaguered city. It is hard to imagine a more typical episode of the war in New England than her dispute with old Mr. Hayden, a tenant in the farm cottage now known as the John Adams Birthplace, who for many months steadfastly refused to make room for anyone else in the house even though his sons (whose labor was supposed to contribute toward the rent) were away in the army. “In this Day of distress for our Boston Friends” Hayden flatly declared that “all the art of Man shall not stir him.... What not have a place to entertain his children in when they come to see him ?” This “obstinate Wretch” proved too much for the arts and determination of even such a woman as Abigail Adams, but nothing can be learned from her letters as printed by her grandson about this tussle serially reported in many of them.39


In the letters that he did select for printing the family editor regularly excised passages, usually without any indication that he had done so, that treat matters of the kinds mentioned above and still others he thought either unimportant or indelicate. Abigail's expressions of endearment, sometimes verging on the sensual, were of course suppressed.40 Her informative letter of 13–14 July 1776, reporting her arrival with all the children at her Uncle Isaac Smith's in Boston for inoculation, was at length printed in Familiar Letters but with heavy excisions, among them both the cow driven in from Braintree to furnish the family with milk and the favorite mare lamed by an accident. “She was not with foal, as you immagined,” Mrs. Adams added in her businesslike way, “but I hope she is now as care has been taken in that Respect.”41 These were evidently not subjects for founding fathers and their wives to be discussing, especially in a book that might be read in family circles, and so along with much else about farming operations they were pruned away. So too were the details on the squalid condition of the Adamses' town house after the British troops left Boston.42 The extremity of editorial reticence was reached in the omission of a sentence in which John Adams said, after describing how the sulky he had borrowed for a trip to Congress was wrecked, that he would pay his father-in-law for the damage.43 Eating and drinking had taken on a certain grossness by the 1840's, and although John Adams seems seldom if ever to have overindulged in either, his casual allusions to these necessary and agreeable habits were subject to his grandson's vigilant censorship. A good example is the lopping off, perhaps in deference to the rising temperance movement, of John Adams' approving comments on Philadelphia porter, now that he was deprived of New England cider.44 Less easy to explain is C. F. Adams' suppression of much that a fond mother reported to an equally fond father about their children—their escapades, their prattle, the comfort they furnished her, and the trials they caused her. The editor must have thought these things too trifling for preservation, as perhaps they often were; and there was also the problem of converting the children's questions to “Mar” and their inquiries about “Par” into conventional English.


For like virtually all 19th-century editors, C. F. Adams corrected the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of the texts he printed according to the standards of his own time. Those standards were highly formal and without tolerance for archaisms and country idioms; interest in the history of the language seems hardly to have existed. The resultant editorial processing laundered out much that is both diverting and revealing in the family exchanges, especially in Abigail's letters, because her phonetic spelling and informal grammar preserve many local pronunciations and constructions that were the very essence of 18th-century Yankee speech. In C. F. Adams' texts her “otherways” becomes “otherwise,” her habitual “I arrived here a Monday” is corrected to “on Monday,” her “Canady” and “Frankling” are rendered conventionally, her “lay by” becomes “lie by,” and “a Letter wrote to you” becomes “a letter written to you.” Some of her spellings are, of course, uniquely her own, and the words they represent are not always recognizable at first glance, for example “Revere” (for reverie), “ridged i.e. rigid oeconomy,” “bugget” (for budget), “voilene” (for violin). None of these survived in her letters as printed by her grandson, to whom even the familiar form “Mamma” was unacceptable in print (he rendered it as “mother”) and whose limits of tolerance for nicknames are suggested by the fact that he consistently altered both parents' use of the diminutive “Nabby” to “Abby,” which for some reason he thought less inelegant.

A device short of straight suppression that the family editor occasionally indulged in was the reduction of names to initials. A typical instance occurs in Abigail Adams' comments on “Mr. G——'s” queer taste in young lady friends, where, happily, it has now proved possible to identify not only the gentleman, whose full name is in the manuscript, but also the lady, whom Abigail did not name at all (and thereby mystified her husband).45

None of these small alterations and suppressions matters much individually, but their cumulative effect amounts to a remodeling of the writers themselves as they appear to posterity. It should be added at once, however, that C. F. Adams almost never resorted to the practice, unforgivable as it may seem to us but common enough in his time, of substituting different words for words that offended his sensibilities in the manuscripts. In the letters now printed the editors have found only a single example. This occurs in Mrs. Adams' vivid narrative of the Boston housewives' mobbing of a merchant who xxxviiirefused to sell them provisions at legal rates. “It was reported,” she wrote, “that he had a Spanking among them.”46 But in the five times that C. F. Adams printed this letter between 1840 and 1876 he rendered this sentence every time as follows: “It was reported that he had personal chastisement among them.”

During the lifetime of the first Charles Francis Adams only one further attempt was made, as far as the present editors know, to put other portions of the family correspondence into print. This was a venture of Henry Adams soon after his return from England with his family in 1868. From boyhood Henry had been strongly attracted by the figure of his grandmother, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife of the sixth President. An “exotic” he called her, because of her Southern blood and European upbringing, and his affectionate portrait of her in his Education is memorably vivid.47 In 1869 Henry undertook to edit a selection of Louisa Catherine Adams' reminiscences, fragmentary journals, and correspondence with her parents-in-law and her children. He told Charles Milnes Gaskell that the contemplated book might “grow to be three volumes if I have patience to toil.”48 But he had not the patience, or, rather, was drawn away by other projects, and his unfinished collection of transcripts reposes in the Houghton Library at Harvard.

Henry's next older brother, Charles Francis 2d, and his younger brother, Brooks, both later drew more or less extensively on the family correspondence, Charles Francis for his projected life of his father, and Brooks for a life of John Quincy Adams. But neither of these ambitious undertakings ever reached print.49 Meanwhile, in 1905, a family trust had been established for the preservation of the manuscripts (which had been placed in the locked Adams Room of the Massachusetts Historical Society), and in 1909 Worthington C. Ford was brought from the Library of Congress to serve as editor of the Society and given at least some of the powers of curator of the Adams xxxixPapers. He shortly projected his edition of John Quincy Adams' Writings, of which seven volumes (of twelve planned) appeared before the work was dropped as a casualty of wartime publishing conditions.50 Ford drew as freely as he liked on J. Q. Adams' letters to members of his family, but he included relatively few compared with the masses available, discreetly omitted much personal matter from those he did print, and presented only part of a single strand in the great network of family correspondence that developed during his subject's lifetime. Ford was so chary of personal documents and of intimate personal allusions that there is no mention of Louisa Catherine Johnson in the text of his volumes until five months after she had married J. Q. Adams in London in July 1797, although dozens of their courtship letters exist and many of the letters that Adams wrote his parents prior to his marriage of course deal with this interesting subject. The John Quincy Adams of Ford's Writings is a bloodless creature, a mere writing machine, and his wife, though in fact a highly articulate woman, is a wraith.

More satisfactory was a quite different venture of Ford's, the collection that he entitled A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861–1865,51 containing the three-way correspondence among C. F. Adams, American minister in London, his son Henry, also in or about London, and C. F. Adams 2d, writing from American camps and battlefields. The collection would have been even richer if it could have included letters to and from the eldest son, J. Q. Adams 2d, who was at least as independent-minded as any other member of the family and as spirited a letter-writer.52 The Cycle remains, however, in spite of the floods of other material documenting the period subsequently printed, a superb and indispensable commentary on the conduct and diplomacy of the Civil War.

Ford's final service in putting the Adams family on record was his gathering and editing the letters of his friend Henry Adams. He began his inquiries among Henry's principal correspondents, including members of his family, immediately after Henry's death in 1918, and by 1920 could tell a fellow historian that he already had “enough to fill some five or six volumes, which would be an absurd contribu-xltion.”53 His purpose, he said in his preface, was to make Henry Adams “better and more humanly known than he can be from the detached examination of himself in the 'Education.'54 This the letters he presented were bound to do, and did, despite the editor's selectivity and discreet omissions within letters he printed. Young Henry Adams' mood in reporting contemporaneously his views and hopes and the events he witnessed and participated in could hardly have been more different from what someone has called the “sentimental nihilism” of his later years; and even the letters in Ford's second volume, covering the years 1892–1918, present a different face from the one so carefully modeled for posterity in the Education.55

Only a handful of Henry Adams' letters to his wife, Marian Hooper Adams, survived Adams' several holocausts of his private papers, and none of hers to him. But to compensate for these losses, Mrs. Adams' weekly epistolary reports to her father, Dr. Robert W. Hooper, during the thirteen years of her married life, do survive. When the late Ward Thoron (who married Louisa Hooper, a niece of Mrs. Henry Adams) published his admirable edition of The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams, 1865–1883,56 he stated that the letters available to him covered only half of the intervals during which Marian Adams, being in Washington or traveling abroad, furnished her journal-letters to her father. The editor could only suppose that her “letters relating to the first two and the last two winters in Washington ... and those written between January and September, 1880, when she was still in Europe,” had, accidentally or otherwise, disappeared forever.57 But the only accident was the unintentional separation of Mrs. Adams' letters into two unequal halves after her husband's death. The larger half came into the possession of Henry Adams' Hooper nieces and comprised the materials published by Mr. Thoron. The missing smaller half, filling precisely the gaps enumerated, had made its way to the Adams Trust, and will amplify and greatly enliven the later volumes of the present series.58

Two other printed collections have already been mentioned in this xliintroduction. One is early, meager, and otherwise unsatisfactory, the Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams of 1841–1842, but we shall be in a degree dependent on it since it contains some materials that are irrecoverably lost.59 The other is recent and of substantial value, the late Stewart Mitchell's edition of New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801, based on the Cranch-Adams manuscripts in the American Antiquarian Society.60 Aside from a certain number of letters published singly and in small groups in both learned and popular journals, disregarded in the present survey, these complete the record of correspondence among members of the Adams family that has been put into type. With respect to both bulk and quality it is an impressive record. There have been numerous volumes wholly or partly devoted to Adams family letters, and the number of such letters hitherto printed must run to upwards of 1,500, perhaps as many as 2,000. But if compared with the uncounted total number of family letters surviving in manuscript and constituting the Adamses' unbroken chronicle of their affairs and their times, what is in print is a mere patchwork, a collection of fragments in which the gaps are more conspicuous than the pieces that have been supplied. Series II of The Adams Papers is designed to remedy this situation.

The Editorial Method
Materials Included

Series II of The Adams Papers , as has been said, will consist of letters exchanged by members of the Adams family in a single chronological sequence from 1761 through 1889. The letters will be principally those written to each other by members of the Presidential line, meaning John and Abigail Adams, their descendants during the following three generations, and the wives and husbands of those descendants through the year indicated.61 But other close relatives by blood and marriage will also be represented when surviving letters of theirs, to as well as from the Adamses and even between each other, appear worthy of inclusion. For example, in the volumes now xliiissued, letters of Abigail Adams' Smith, Cranch, Tufts, and Thaxter connections appear; later on, the Boylstons and Welshes of Boston, the Smiths of Long Island, the Johnsons of London, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., the Brookses of Medford and Boston, and other allied families will contribute to the family annals when they have contributions to make. And, finally, letters from and to the Adams wives and daughters to and from persons outside even this broad definition of the family will be printed in Series II when they deserve to be. Examples in these first two volumes are Abigail Adams' exchanges with Mercy Warren and James Lovell; her correspondence with Thomas Jefferson will duly appear in later volumes. The decision to include such non-family letters here was forced on the editors by there being no other place in The Adams Papers where they could go. But since the Adams ladies' correspondence outside as well as within the family circle mainly treats domestic themes, this arrangement is appropriate and even advantageous.

Not everything written by every Adams to any other Adams deserves perpetuation in print. Series II will therefore, unlike the statesmen's Diaries that comprise Series I of The Adams Papers , be selective. The first of the two volumes now published contains 266 letters over a period of fifteen years, but the 324 letters in the second volume span less than two years. By the mid-1790's the flow of family letters in all directions amounts to little less than 300 a year, and many of these, being John Quincy Adams' accounts of European wars and politics, are very long. There are slack periods later on, but anything approaching an all-inclusive publication of the family correspondence would run to a staggering number of volumes of the present size. Although we have not yet been able to survey in detail the materials available beyond the first decade of the 19th century, we believe that twenty volumes should be enough to present the full family orchestration. We are, at any rate, aiming at that number.

Our problem throughout will be how to stay within that number rather than how to attain it. In order to show the roots of the family in the granitic soil south of Boston, we have been rather more inclusive in these earliest volumes than we can be hereafter. Even exchanges between such principals as John and Abigail Adams, though up to this point included without exception, will from now on be judged, like all others, according to whether they add a real increment of fact or illumination to the story of the family and its times.

In selecting letters for inclusion the editors will allow the fact of earlier publication very limited weight. Every eligible letter will be xliiijudged first on its merits. If there is then a question whether or not it should be published in the present series, it may be rejected on the ground that it has already been published. If a reference to a previously published letter that we omit occurs in a letter that we include, the location of the original (if known) will be given, the previous printing will be cited, and, when apropos, a summary of the contents or relevant passages will be furnished.

Treatment of the Texts

The textual policy followed so far, and to be followed throughout the Belknap Press edition of The Adams Papers , is stated and explained in detail in the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams.62 In moving from diary manuscripts, which are written in a single hand and exist in a single version, to manuscript letters, written in many hands and often surviving in more than one version, it is necessary to supplement that statement at several points.

Although the letters to be printed in the Adams Family Correspondence are selected from a much larger body of letters available, this edition will present only complete texts of the letters that it does print. This would in any case have been the wish and decision of the editors acting independently, since nothing is more frustrating to scholars (and we believe to most readers of every kind) than to be served up materials that have been editorially pruned and pared, whether for good reasons or bad. The point is that the reader, who has no means to judge, cannot tell whether the reasons for any given omission, or for all of them collectively, were valid or not—whether he is being spared trifles or deprived of revealing facts or expressions. In some circumstances and for some purposes, a trifle itself may be highly revealing. But this argument need not be pursued further here, since in presenting complete texts the editors are carrying out the sole injunction laid upon them by those representatives of the family who, as trustees of the Adams Manuscript Trust, made the Adams Papers available for publication in the first place. That injunction was that “if a document was selected for printing it should be printed whole and entire, no single word expunged.”63


One of the features giving the family correspondence an unusual dimension and a special charm is the exchanges between parents and young children and sometimes between the children themselves. In the children's letters here printed the editors have not applied even the minimal corrections for intelligibility that, by stated rules, they ordinarily apply to the letters of their elders, but have printed them as literally as type can render them.64

The formal parts of letters are handled as follows:

The place-and-date-line is printed as literally as possible (i.e. without expanding contractions, &c.), except that superscript letters are brought down to the normal type line and terminal punctuation is omitted. The place-and-date-line is always printed at the head of the letter even if in the manuscript it appears elsewhere (commonly at the foot of the text). Undated and misdated letters have their dates editorially supplied or corrected inside square brackets.

The salutation is also given as literally as possible, but superscripts are lowered to the line and terminal punctuation is omitted.

The complimentary close (or “leavetaking”) is also printed literally, but to save space it is set in run-on style continuous with the text. Contractions are retained, but superscripts are brought down to the line. A closing comma is supplied if it is absent but is called for by the sense.

The signature is printed literally except for superscripts, which are aligned, and, by rule, there is no closing punctuation. If a letter was unsigned (and this commonly happened during wartime and even at other times between intimate correspondents), it is so printed without comment unless for some special reason an explanation is required.

The recipients's name at foot of text (sometimes called a “subscription”) is normally omitted in our texts. In letterbook copies this may be the sole or principal means of identifying the recipient, but, if so, it is reflected in the editorially supplied caption.

Concerning the address, endorsement, postal markings, and the like, see below under Annotation.

Enclosures are always taken account of editorially, but are 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.65


Whenever possible, the texts presented here are taken from recipients' copies (“RC's”), meaning those versions that went by the post or other means to those for whom they were intended. If the recipient's copy of a letter has not been found, the editors have resorted to a letterbook copy (“LbC”), if available, or (as frequently in the case of Abigail Adams) to a retained draft (“Dft”) as their basic text. In the preparation of any given text all the known manuscript and printed versions that have any claim to authority have been compared with each other. Small variations between them are disregarded, but conspicuous differences in language and content are editorially noted. Sometimes, especially in the case of John Adams, the variations between a letterbook copy (serving him as a draft) and the fair copy he made afterward were merely inadvertent, being careless omissions of words, phrases, or even sentences. Such omissions are restored in our printed texts, but sparingly and always with due indication to the reader. For an example of a revealing sentence apparently dropped unintentionally by John Adams when copying from his letterbook and only now restored after many printings of the text, see his first letter to Mrs. Adams of 3 July 1776.66 On the other hand, if the writer deliberately canceled or significantly altered matter in the letterbook version when preparing his fair copy for posting, the cancellations and alterations are recorded in footnotes. For such a canceled passage, mainly concerning John Hancock, which in the end the writer decided not to trust to the post, see John Adams to Abigail Adams, 18 August 1776;67 and for a letter rather heavily revised between its first and final form, see Adams' second letter to his wife of 3 July 1776.68 Collation of alternative versions often clarifies small snarls and ambiguities in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing. In such cases the editors have not hesitated to adopt the more intelligible and likely reading and have usually done so silently. Small mutilations in the texts of recipients' copies (commonly resulting from careless sealing or opening of the originals) have also been silently rectified when a draft or letterbook version supplies what is wanting.


The text of every letter printed is immediately followed by a descriptive note, unnumbered and set full measure, which furnishes xlvithe following kinds of information (the first two kinds invariably when our text derives from a manuscript, the rest only when called for by the circumstances):

(1) The physical nature of the original from which our text derives, normally indicated by the symbols RC, LbC, Dft, &c. When no manuscript has been found, the descriptive note states that this is the case and cites the source from which we are reprinting our text.

(2) The location or ownership of the original, shown in coded form if the original is in a public repository in the United States; otherwise spelled out.69

(3) Address (or “direction”), postal markings, endorsement, and docketing memoranda.70 These are quoted in full if of consequence or interest but are summarized or merely mentioned if routine.

(4) Peculiarities of handwriting,71 mutilations of the text, unusual provenance, auction history, and like matters.

(5) All other versions that have been collated, with their locations. It should be emphasized here that the first version entered in the descriptive note is always the basic or master text from which the text printed here derives.

(6) Enclosures, if any, that are found with or called for in the letter. These are here identified and located so far as a reasonable effort has enabled the editors to do so. If they are of real pertinence, but not of sufficient importance to print in full, they may be summarized or partially quoted in the descriptive note.

Readers should note that previous printings of letters included in the Adams Family Correspondence are not recorded in the descriptive note (or elsewhere in our editorial apparatus) unless there are special reasons for doing so, such as the disappearance of the manuscript or earlier publication in an unexpected place or unusual form.


All other matters annotated—textual, biographical, bibliographical, &c.—are dealt with in a single series of numbered notes for each letter, set in double column following the descriptive note. The general principles of annotation set forth in the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams 72 are meant to apply as well to the present series, but we should repeat here that many personal and place names erratically spelled in the texts of letters are regularized or “corrected” only in the indexes, which according to present plans will appear at the end of each published unit of the Adams Family Correspondence (i.e. in volumes 2, 4, 6, and so on).

The editors have taken particular pains in the notes to account for letters mentioned as sent and received by one correspondent when writing to another. Letters thus mentioned but not here printed are explicitly located if we have any record of them, while those mentioned of which we have no record are designated in the notes as “not found” or “missing.” The identification of such letters from the writers' casual allusions to them is often a treacherous business at best. This is especially true when Abigail Adams is in any way involved, for she habitually misremembered, miswrote, and misread dates whenever she was considerate enough to provide them at all. Within two months of Concord fight she spoke of “the never to be forgotten 14 of April”;73 and on two successive days in September 1776 she recorded the year at the head of one letter quite clearly as “1777” and at the head of another, just as clearly, “1774.”74 In a letter of 13–14 July 1776 she acknowledged to John Adams the receipt of a letter from him dated on the 4th, which would have been a notable letter indeed, but the editors are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he never wrote such a letter.75 These examples suggest some of the difficulties of reconstructing the complete record of family correspondence and accounting for the actual and apparent gaps in it.

Attention was drawn in the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams to the need for systematic study and selective publication of the surviving records, both in the Adams Papers and in old court files, of John Adams' legal practice.76 While the present two volumes were in preparation, this proposal became a reality and has already been mentioned in this introduction.77 It has happily relieved the editors of the Adams Family Correspondence of xlviiithe need to deal, at least in any detail, with allusions to Adams' legal cases, and with a few exceptions antedating the Legal Papers project they have taken full advantage of this relief.

Relatively little further progress can be reported toward gaining effective control over the books owned by members of the Adams family or toward the compilation of a comprehensive bibliography of their publications, both of which would be boons to the editors. One gap, however, has been admirably filled by Mrs. Wendell D. Garrett in her annotated checklist of “The Published Writings of Charles Francis Adams, II (1835–1915),” which will appear in a volume of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Proceedings now in the press.78 This will prove highly useful in annotating family letters from 1855 on, and the editors warmly wish that comparable checklists existed for the Adams publicists of earlier generations.

When the present two volumes were far advanced in proof, the editors were cheered by the prospect of effective help with one of their most difficult, ramified, and fascinating problems—the portraiture of the Adams family. A grant from the Charlotte Palmer Phillips Foundation, Inc., of New York City, will make it possible for us to get on with the work, too long at a standstill because other tasks were more pressing, of tracing, photographing, studying, and writing up the histories of the scores if not hundreds of likenesses of members of the family concerning which we have partial information or merely vague clues. At our request, though wholly as a volunteer, Mr. Andrew Oliver, author of Faces of a Family,79 has undertaken to rationalize the materials so far collected and to plan and take further steps. As we advance with both the correspondence and the diaries of the Adams family, hardly a single member of which was so indifferent to worldly fame as not to leave likenesses of himself, a full and authoritative record of their portraits will become more feasible to compile and more essential to good editing. Mr. Charles Coleman Sellers' recent Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture 80 is an inspiring example of how written and painted or sculptured evidence go hand in hand in the interpretation of both character and the impact of character upon an age.


For a table of the members of the family in the Presidential line principally concerned, see p. liv–lv, below.

Series I of the Belknap Press edition of The Adams Papers comprises the Diaries, of which the first segment was published as the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, edited by L. H. Butterfield and others, 4 vols., Cambridge, 1961, and the next segment will begin with the first volumes of the Diary of Charles Francis Adams, edited by David and Aïda DiPace Donald, now in the press. Series III is reserved for the General Correspondence and Other Papers of the three Adams statesmen and will, like Series I, consist of three parts, one each for John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams. The first volumes of Series III, the Legal Papers of John Adams, are scheduled for publication in 1964, under the editorship of L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, with Professor Mark DeWolfe Howe serving as consulting editor, under a grant from the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation to the Harvard Law School.

The over-all plan of publication of The Adams Papers is more fully set forth in the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:xxxvii–xli. The editors intended to make clear in that statement, but did not say as explicitly as they should have, that since the precise number of volumes in any single series or part that was to follow could not be predicted, and since work on more than one part is going on simultaneously, there could and will be no continuous volume numbering for The Adams Papers as a whole. They therefore take the present opportunity to point out, with emphasis, that scholarly references to the Belknap Press edition should be to particular units therein (such as John Adams' Diary and Autobiography , his Legal Papers, or the Adams Family Correspondence ) rather than to The Adams Papers , which is a collective name for an editorial enterprise that includes several sets of books, each with its own volume numbering and indexes and each intended to stand as a unit by itself, though of course related to the other parts of the work as a whole.


John Langdon Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1873–1885, 2:394–396; John Coolidge, “Hingham Builds a Meetinghouse,” New England Quarterly, 34:435–461 (December 1961). John Norton contributed a moving “Funeral Elogy” to the edition of Anne Bradstreet's Several Poems published at Boston in this same year 1678, and it has been suggested that he may have edited that notable volume of early American poetry; see Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, eds., The Puritans, New York, &c., 1938, p. 580 and references there, and, at p. 583–585, the text of Norton's “Elogy,” which contains the remarkable lines:

“Some doe for anguish weep, for anger I That Ignorance should live, and Art should die.”

There is a question, however, concerning the date of this bill, which lists the items as purchased in 1748. Martha Salisbury Quincy died early in that year.


To John Quincy Adams, 7 November 1815 (Adams Papers).


To Elkanah Watson, 14 April 1819 (New York Public Library).


Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams, Boston, 1840, p. xxii–xxiii.


To George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d, 3 May 1815 (Adams Papers).


In condensed form in the introduction to John Adams' Diary and Autobiography, 1:xxiii–xxxiv, and more fully in L. H. Butterfield, “The Papers of the Adams Family: Some Account of Their History,” Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, 71 (1953–1957): 328–356.


The microfilm edition, in 608 reels, is a publication of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, 1954–1959. Part IV includes Reel Nos. 343–608, of which the last seven reels are supplements of various sorts.


See Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:xxxiv–xxxv.


See John Quincy Adams 2d to Charles Francis Adams, 5 February 1867 (Adams Papers). All three brothers, however, made exceptions for family letters. John Quincy Adams 2d's exchanges with his father survive intact and in 1955 were presented to the Adams Papers by his daughter, Mrs. Robert Homans. Some years earlier both sides of Henry and Brooks Adams' correspondence had been given by Mrs. Homans to the Houghton Library at Harvard.


See, for example, his Diary (Adams Papers), 30 December 1844, and numerous entries in the summer of 1848 after his father's death earlier that year.


7 September 1852, letterbook copy (Adams Papers). Elizabeth Peabody Mann was a great-granddaughter of General Joseph and Mary Cranch Palmer, whose home, “Friendship Hall,” in the Germantown district of Braintree, was a social center much resorted to by young Adamses, Cranches, and Smiths before the Revolution. One of Mrs. Mann's sisters was Sophia, wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was after looking through an assemblage of General Palmer's papers before their subsequent wide dispersal that Hawthorne wrote the most evocative description of the appeal of historical manuscripts ever put down on paper. See his essay entitled “A Book of Autographs,” first published in the Democratic Review, 15:454–461 (November 1844).


See note 48, below. Surviving fragments of Louisa Catherine Adams' papers, essentially a collection of souvenir autographs, together with Adams family china, costumes, portraits, and other memorabilia, were presented by descendants to the Smithsonian Institution in 1950. See its publication, The Opening of the Adams-Clement Collection..., Washington [1951].


The Letterbooks of John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams comprise Part II of the Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel Nos. 89–179. There are about 21,000 entries in the entire run.


Printed at vol. 2:3–4, below; see the descriptive note there; also John Adams to Isaac Smith Sr., 1 June 1776, and descriptive note, 2:1–2, below. Note the implication in his letter to Mrs. Adams that one first drafts one's letters in a letterbook and afterward copies them fair (or has them copied by another hand) for posting. This was more often than not John Adams' practice, though every pattern will be found in his and his son's and his grandson's letterbooks.


About a dozen copies of her letters to her husband, her oldest son, and other correspondents, November 1779–December 1780, will be found in a volume included in the John Adams series of letterbooks (Lb/JA/9, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 97).


Abigail Adams' drafts, found as a bundle wrapped in brown paper in the Adams Papers, have now, like other unbound materials, been interfiled and filmed in the chronological series of “Letters Received and Other Loose Papers.”


Adams Papers.


Note, however, the following self-reproach in Adams' Diary (Adams Papers) under date of 23 February 1813, in St. Petersburg:

“This morning I finished making the Index to my private letter Book, containing my private letters from October 1801, on my return from my first public missions to Europe, untill March 1812. During the eight years that I was in America, my correspondence was inconsiderable, and I kept copies, only of a small portion of the letters that I wrote. 65 pages comprize the correspondence of almost seven years. There are a number of letters, of which I now wish I had kept copies; but as they were chiefly to my father, mother and brother I may hereafter have access to them again.”


Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams, New York and London, 1841–1842.


Mostly in a small but valuable collection of de Windt family papers presented by Heyliger de Windt to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1938. Selections were edited by the late Allyn B. Forbes and printed under the title “Abigail Adams, Commentator,” in the Society's Proceedings, 66 (1936–1941): 126–153.


The late Henry Adams (1875–1951), a trustee of the Adams Manuscript Trust, was the principal contributor toward their purchase and planned to edit them for publication.


Among them are some addressed to Mrs. Adams' niece, Lucy Cranch. Those to Mrs. Cranch dating from 1788 to 1801, being the larger part of the collection, were edited by Stewart Mitchell and published in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 55 (1947):95–232, 299–444; also in a trade edition as New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801, Boston, 1947.


See Dorothy S. Eaton, “Some Letters of Abigail Adams,” Library of Congress, Quarterly Journal of Acquisitions, 4:3–6 (August 1947).


15 December 1809 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).


From a draft dated only “1818” (Adams Papers), but probably written in January of that year.


Letter quoted and cited by Charles Francis Adams as “to a female friend” (probably Harriet Welsh), 24 January 1818 (Letters of Mrs. Adams, 1840, p. lxi); this letter has not been found by the present editors.


A volume of transcripts he made that summer, with his wife's help, is in the Adams Papers with the shelfmark M/CFA/31 (Microfilms, Reel No. 327).


Letters of Mrs. Adams, 1840, p. xxvi.


Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, Boston, 1841, 1:v.


Editorial note in John Adams' Works, 9:331.


Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution, New York and Cambridge, 1876 (copyright 1875).


About fifty “new” letters were inserted, more than two-thirds of them Abigail's.


Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:xxvii–xxx, xlvii–lii.


Abigail Adams to John Adams, 16 April 1764 (p. 32, below).


He did, however, insert a few not too harrowing extracts from these in his “Memoir” of his grandmother; see the 1848 edition of her Letters, p. xxxv–xxxvii.


P. 407–408, below. Another example is her letter about renting the Adamses' house in Boston, 26 March 1777 (2:186–188, below).


Her first and principal letter about the dispute with Hayden is dated 12 July 1775; but the issue was recurrent and was not settled until the spring of 1778, when she capitulated and “hired him to remove” (p. 243–245, below).


An example is noted in her first letter to John Adams of 29 August 1776 (2:112–113, below).


2:45–47, below.


See Abigail Adams to John Adams, 20 September 1776 (2:128–129, below).


To Abigail Adams, 8 May 1775 (p. 195, below).


To Abigail Adams, 29 September 1774 (p. 164, below).


See Abigail Adams' second letter to John Adams of 14 August 1776 (2:94–95, below).


To John Adams, 30–31 July 1777 (2:295, below).


The Education of Henry Adams, Boston, 1918, p. 16–19.


Letters of Henry Adams, ed. Worthington C. Ford, Boston and New York, 1930–1938, 1:156–157; see also p.154. C. F. Adams encouraged Henry in this undertaking but warned him, “I have been carefully over my mother's papers since my return, and have reduced their volume very essentially, perhaps rather too much for your purpose” (24 March 1869, Adams Papers).


On the project for a multivolume documentary life of the first Charles Francis Adams, see “The Papers of the Adams Family” (as cited in note 8, above), p. 347. An abridgment, of sorts, of Brooks Adams' life of his grandfather was prefixed to Brooks' edition of his brother Henry's Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, New York, 1920, under the title of “The Heritage of Henry Adams.”


The seven volumes published, New York, 1913–1917, cover the years 1779–1823.


Boston and New York, 2 vols., 1920.


These were evidently withheld from Ford at the time but have since come into the Adams Papers and will be used in the present series; see note 11, above. Some use of them has been made in an illuminating article by Robert Mirak, “John Quincy Adams, Jr., and the Reconstruction Crisis,” New England Quarterly, 35:187–202 (June 1962).


To Frederic Bancroft, 12 May 1920 (Massachusetts Historical Society, Society Correspondence).




Less than ten years after the second volume appeared, Harold Dean Cater brought out some hundreds of further letters in his Henry Adams and His Friends: A Collection of His Unpublished Letters, Boston, 1947, but almost none of these that date before 1890 are family letters.


Boston, 1936.


Preface, p. vii.


In 1955 Mrs. Thoron and her sisters presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society the originals of the letters in the published collection, in the editing of which Mrs. Thoron had assisted.


See p. xxx, above, and note 21.


See p. xxx, above, and note 24.


The terminus chosen, because Abigail Brooks Adams, last of the third generation in the Presidential line, died in 1889, cuts across the fourth generation in middle life; but, as has been elsewhere explained, three of the sons of Charles Francis and Abigail Brooks Adams have received or are receiving intensive scholarly attention from other hands. Their papers from 1890 on, which are not included in the microfilm edition of the Adams Papers, are available in the Massachusetts Historical Society for use without restriction, in the collection designated as Adams Papers, Fourth Generation.


See that work, 1:lv–lix, and see also the table of “Textual Devices” in the Guide to Editorial Apparatus, p. liv, below.


Remarks of Thomas B. Adams, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and trustee of the (now expired) Adams Manuscript Trust, in The Adams Papers: A Ceremony Held at the Massachusetts Historical Society on September 22, 1961..., Boston, 1962, p. 5. Accordingly, the only “omission” from the text of a letter printed in the volumes now published is a four-thousand-word discourse on wage and price fluctuation copied from a volume by Lord Kames in John Adams' second letter to his wife of 6 April 1777; see 2:201–202, below. We are reasonably sure that this omission comes within the spirit if not the letter of the family's injunction.


An example is John Quincy Adams' letter to his father, 23 March 1777 (2:186, below).


Examples: Mrs. Warren's poem on the Boston Tea Party, enclosed in her letter to Abigail Adams, 27 February 1774 (p. 100–103, below); John Hancock to John Adams, 16 July 1776, enclosed in Adams' letter to his wife of the same date (2:51, below).


“I am not without Apprehensions from this Quarter” (i.e. from “the People”) (2:28, below).


2:99–100, below.


2:29–31, below.


See the list of “Location Symbols,” p. lvi–lvii, below.


As used in The Adams Papers , an endorsement is a notation (normally by the addressee but sometimes by a clerk or other person standing in the place of the addressee) at or near the time of receipt. A docketing, on the other hand, is a notation (usually but not invariably by someone other than the addressee) at a later date, as in sorting or filing letters. Thus any given letter may bear both an endorsement and one or more docketings, and we have indicated such cases when they occur, as we have indicated variations from the standard patterns here described. But we should point out: (1) that the distinction between an endorsement and a docketing, while ordinarily clear, is not always so, because the notations may be so brief as to give little clue to the handwriting; and (2) that in the early stages of editing we did not rigorously apply the distinction stated above, and so, although a number of corrections have been made, some imprecise and possibly inconsistent language in the descriptive notes on the earlier letters in this volume may have escaped us.


Such as clerical hands, multiple composition, and the like.


In that work at 1:lx–lxii.


To John Adams, 16 June 1775 (p. 217, below).


See her letters to John Adams of 20 and 21 September 1776 (2:127, 129, below).


See 2:46, 48, below.


Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:lxii.


See p. xix, note 1, above.


Proceedings, 72 (1957–1960): 238–293.


Privately printed, 1960.


New Haven and London, 1962.