Grateful American Book Series

A Blog About Abigail and John, Part 4:
“My Dearest Friend/Miss Adorable”

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 4

By David Bruce Smith

This is the fourth part of a continuing series of blog posts with author David Bruce Smith about Abigail and John Adams. Historic Deerfield’s resident historians will pose questions to Smith, who is the author of Abigail & John, a nonfiction children’s book that offers readers the opportunity to view prominent scenes in American history through the remarkable lives of one of the country’s most beloved couples—the Adams’s. Exploring the historical significance of a partnership that spanned over five decades, the book details the love they shared for each other and the country. We hope this blog can be a helpful historical resource for learners of all ages.

1. While the Adams’s may have been our first “power couple” and famous for it, did either John or Abigail have other love interests over their long lives?

Before there was an Abigail, John was in love with the “witty, flirtatious”, Hannah Quincy. He was poised to propose to her in the late 1750s, but their “moment” was hijacked by his friends. (Journal of the American Revolution.)

Eventually, the romance ended–she was swooped up by another bachelor–and the 24-year-old Adams catapulted into a catch—of sorts. Though he was capon-shaped and prematurely bald, John had other attributes; he had already garnered accolades for his legal skills in Braintree and beyond.

When John met Abigail at fifteen, she was petite and dark-eyed; the daughter of William Smith, a well-to-do farmer and minister, who, according to Adams, was nothing more than a “…crafty, designing man”.

Their clumsy introduction in the pastor’s parlor was orchestrated by Richard Cranch—John’s best friend–who happened to be courting–and later married– Abigail’s older sister, Mary.

At first, Abigail was not titillated, tantalized, or thrilled with John; that night, he noted in his diary that Abigail [was lacking] in “fondness and Tenderness.”

(“The Adams Papers, Earliest Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, June 1753-April 1754, September 1758-January 1759, 1-42.)

When Reverend Smith hired Adams, his casual contacts with Abigail morphed into kinetic conversations; eventually, they discovered similar interests, and—slowly–their relationship was repositioned into a romance.

Meanwhile, the snobbish Elizabeth Smith, was aghast. She did not approve of John Adams; after all, the town of Quincy had been named in honor of her father—a colonel; a former forty-year Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, and—now—her daughter wanted to wed a farmer’s son.

Abigail and John were married on October 25, 1764, with Reverend Smith officiating.

In a union that produced five children, three lived unhappily into adulthood, and one soared to the presidency; throughout it all, Abigail was John’s steadfast, strategic advisor; lover, confidante, partner—and–his “Miss Adorable”. And while her “My Dearest Friend” traversed the world proffering patriotism, participation, and peace, they exchanged more than a thousand letters. But, without her steady, soothing strength guiding him through his manic moods from afar, John Adams would have never scaled the White House:

“There are few people in this world with whom I can converse. I can treat all with decency and civility, and converse with them when it is necessary, on points of business. But I am never happy in their company…I am in ear-nest [sic]. I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you.” (ibid., p. 4).

Until the family’s 1784 reunification in Paris, Abigail had never traveled outside of Boston. She was grounded at Peacefield, their farm in Quincy, tending to chickens and livestock in calamitous cold, and hellish heat; milking cows, laboring in the fields, tutoring the children, and taking the sometimes-deadly smallpox inoculation.

There is little doubt that the principles that Abigail and John promoted, helped to position America’s vigorous democracy. They were a powerful couple, who usually worked from two different locations, but the future President and Mrs. Madison—operating from the same place—emerged as the nation’s first “Power Duo”.

John was the absolute, consuming love of Abigail’s life; however, if she ever had a “forbidden” fantasy, then the complex, conniving, cad—Thomas Jefferson—was probably the only one who could have filled that space, and—briefly—raised her temperature.

Abigail and John had befriended Jefferson after his wife’s 1782 death; two years later, the trio reunited in Paris. Now diplomats, Jefferson greased the Adams’s entree into sophisticated society, and a scintillating swirl of soirees.

While John worked, Abigail and Jefferson bred a separate friendship based on unearthed, mutual interests in ornamental gardens, an appreciation of the beautiful music made by songbirds, and their children. Martha Jefferson; Nabby and John Quincy, were friends.

It was period of happiness for the two families–until their peaceful pause was pitched. John was ordered to report to the Court of St James in London, and the dejected Abigail wrote her uncle, Cotton Tufts:

“I shall regreet…the loss of Mr. Jefferson’s society.”

(Adams Family Correspondence; April 26, 1785)

Abigail, John, and Jefferson remained friends. During George Washington’s first term, Adams was vice president, and Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State. But, when Adams defeated Jefferson in the 1796 presidential election, Jefferson’s loyalties lagged; though he was dissatisfied with the vice presidency, [the first and only time a presidential ticket consisted of two parties] Adams still anticipated an agreeable working arrangement; instead, Jefferson ramped up his rigidity, and discarded his desire to compromise on prickly political issues.

Always on the lurk for an advantageous angle, Jefferson choreographed an elaborate campaign to jettison Adams from the presidency. He hired James Callendar, a scandalmonger, to write a piece that accused Adams of being a crazy warmonger who planned to crown himself king.

Wielding the hefty powers of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams prosecuted Callendar, and tossed him into jail, but the public believed in the credible propaganda, and pivoted against their president. Jefferson defeated Adams, and they escaped Washington before the Inaugural ceremonies began.

Abigail and John were furious; they exiled Jefferson from their lives until they learned that Polly—his daughter, and their beloved charge in Paris—had died in childbirth. Abigail wrote Jefferson to express her sympathies; he acknowledged her note, and then trespassed, dangerously, by blaming John, again, for appointing the “Midnight Judges” –three years earlier–in 1801:

With asp-like anger, Abigail walloped him with her words:

“The Constitution empowers the president to fill up offices as they become vacant. It was in the exercise of this power that appointments were made…characters selected whom Mr. Adams considered…faithful to the Constitution…the different political opinions which have so unhappily dividing [sic] our Country, must have given rise to the idea, that personal unkindness was intended…You will please to [to] recollect Sir, that at the time the appointments were made, there was not any certainty that the presidency would devolve upon you.”

(“Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson: A Secret Correspondence” from Emerging Revolutionary War Era, p. 3)

Jefferson got 26,000 letters in his lifetime, but this was considered the angriest of all.

2. What was John and Abigail’s position on slavery at the time of the Revolution, and the creation of the new Massachusetts State Constitution, and in the new nation?

John Adams was raised in a family that loathed slavery:

“I have, through my whole life, held the practice…in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave; though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character…” (John Adams, Wikipedia; p. 29.)

Abigail did not come from an abolitionist-pure milieu. Her father, Reverend William Smith, owned slaves, but when she married John, the option was eliminated.

In the beginning, the couple hired servants for their homes in Massachusetts, but eventually Abigail—activist-like—became more disturbed over the widespread injustice of servitude. She called it a sin, and “…wondered if disease and war were God’s way of punishing America for committing acts of slavery.”

Abigail discussed her feelings with John; urged him to deliver her opinions to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, but he knew the fifty-five representatives—almost all slave owners—were assembled only to draft an acceptable Declaration of Independence. That coterie had no interest in emancipation, and that included George Washington.

By 1789, Vice President Adams was at the beginning of his career apex. Gradually, his position on slavery got confused, contradictory, and out of focus. Some of the simplicity in their lives vaporized, and suddenly, various households had to be set up, dismantled, and managed as he and Abigail hopscotched from Philadelphia to New York, and—then–Washington.

Unlike George and Martha Washington, who owned their staff, the Adams’s had to piece together a whole new infrastructure each time they were relocated:

“In each city, they [the Adams’s] formed an official household, hosted family members, welcomed guests, and hired a staff of servants to maintain the home… Adams did not own enslaved people. Instead, the Adamses [sic] hired white and free African American workers to provide these services. However, that did not mean that they avoided slavery altogether. While the Adamses [sic] opposed slavery both morally and politically, they tolerated the practice in their daily lives and they may have hired out enslaved African Americans, paying wages to their owners, to work in the Vice President’s and President’s house.”

(“The Households of President John Adams” by Lindsay M. Chervinsky; White House Historian, pp. 1-7).

Domestic duties daunted and drained Abigail; in 1790, she wrote her sister from Philadelphia, complaining about her endless quandary with help. She had hired and fired seven cooks in a year and a half, but most of them turned out to be drunks.

Surviving records do not reveal much about their domestic staff in Washington, except that Abigail and John had a “complicated relationship with race, slavery, and workers in their homes. At times, Abigail was condescending and racist: “I cannot find a cook in the whole city but what will get drunk, and as to the Negroes—I am sincerely sick of them.” (ibid).

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 1 >
Historic Deerfield‘s Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 3 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 4 >
Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website >
More information about Abigail & John and the Grateful American Book Series >

A Blog About Abigail and John, Part 3:
“Braintree, Boston, Britain and Back”

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 3

By David Bruce Smith

This is the third part of a continuing series of blog posts with author David Bruce Smith about Abigail and John Adams.  Historic Deerfield’s resident historians will pose questions to Smith, who is the author of Abigail & John, a nonfiction children’s book that offers readers the opportunity to view prominent scenes in American history through the remarkable lives of one of the country’s most beloved couples—the Adams’s. Exploring the historical significance of a partnership that spanned over five decades, the book details the love they shared for each other and the country. We hope this blog can be a helpful historical resource for learners of all ages.

1.     Please discuss Abigail’s correspondence with John while trying to make ends meet during the war. How did she try to ensure their family’s financial security despite an uncertain financial future?

While the Colonies and King George III continued to clash, John Adams was dispatched to Philadelphia in 1774, for the First Continental Congress. Fifty-five representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies—including George Washington, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry—assembled there to devise a strategy for independence.

In the meantime, Abigail toiled at Peacefield, their farm in Quincy, Massachusetts. At slightly over 30 years old, Abigail managed an entire operation of formidable functions, with almost no help. The family was staunchly abolitionist until John Quincy catapulted to the presidency in 1825—and in a moral reversal—seasoned the White House with slaves.

While John was away—layering his law practice with luster, fighting for freedom, and polishing his political profile, Abigail tended to the chickens and livestock—in calamitous cold and hellish heat; milked the cows, labored in the fields;  cared for her the four surviving children, and equipped them with an education of excellence.

Abigail also sorted out the family’s financial affairs, with guidance from her uncle, Cotton Tufts, who recommended investments “in debt instruments issued to finance the Revolutionary War.” Eventually, the bonds were redeemed at full-face value. Abigail’s acumen—and good fortune—provided enough familial wealth until John’s death. (Abigail Adams Wikipedia, p. 3)

Sometimes, the revolution inched up, close to their home. When the Battle of Lexington and Concord was fought 20 miles away, some of the soldiers who escaped hid in Abigail’s house, or trained in her yard, while she melted down utensils into musket balls for the Cause.

In another incident, cannon fire awakened her. She and John Quincy climbed a nearby summit, and watched, aghast, as Charlestown, Massachusetts burned during the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Abigail had been caring for the children of Dr. Joseph Warren, a family friend. He died in the skirmish.

There is little doubt that the couple’s long separations were taxing and tough, but they were not unusual—for the time—even though Abigail pined to her John in December of 1773: “How many snow banks [sic] divide thee and me”.

But the harder hurdle to maneuver was the creeping along of communications; letters were slow in coming; lost; or intercepted in wartime. Still, Abigail’s words conjured a combination of constant concern about her beloved husband that was homogenized with hilarious humor, and an appetite to apprise John of a home life he would hardly ever experience:

“Pray let me know how your Health is, and whether you have not had exceeding [sic] hot weather. The drought has been very severe. My poor Cows will certainly prefer a petition to you, setting for the their Greavences and informing you that they have been deprived…whereby they are become great Sufferers…They Humbly pray that you would consider them least hunger should break thro the Stone walls. Our little flock are well, and present their Duty to their Pappa…Nabby [daughter] has enclosed a letter to you—would be glad I would excuse the writing, because of a soar Thumb, which she has.

The tenderest regard evermore awaits you from your Most Affectionate.”

(Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 2 September 1774; Adams Family Papers).

2.     What was the couple’s life like in England and France when John was deployed abroad?

In 1779, Adams was appointed to negotiate a peace with Britain that would officially end the Revolutionary War. He brought along his sons, John Quincy, and Charles.

After four years of arduous negotiations, the “Treaty of Paris” was signed by Adams, John Jay [diplomat; future second governor of New York, and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court]; Benjamin Franklin, and representatives from the Court of King George III.

When the work completed, John sent for Abigail and Nabby; after five years, apart, it was time to reunite the family.

In those days, transatlantic crossings were unusual and dangerous. The country’s stockpile of ships was skeletal, and most were only capable of cargo transport.

The journey was expected to take four to six weeks—depending on the weather; a cook was aboard, but passengers oversaw their own food. If milk was needed, a cow was brought—and so were oversized barrels of beer and ale; water and wine; flour and corn meal; sugar and lard.

Dozens of chickens were needed for eggs, until they were slaughtered at the end of the trip.

Abigail and Nabby packed their bedding, and knitting, sewing, cards, books, and games, for entertainment. Abigail also secured a surplus of soap and candles to outlast the journey, plus a potpourri of potions, powders, and preparations to stop seasickness–but none of them worked.

The lucky Adams’s had a servant girl who tidied their Best of the Worst accommodation; it was little more than a tiny cabin cordoned off from the crew by a hanging sheet anchored to a clothesline.

Their sanitation requirements were fulfilled by a wooden bucket; every day it was tied to a rope, submerged, retrieved, and doused with vinegar.

Abigail could not have predicted any phase of the odyssey because she had never traveled beyond Boston.

Five weeks later, the Adams women arrived in Paris. At first, Abigail was astonished by its size. Boston—considered a large American city–had a population of 16,000, but the French capital eclipsed it by many multiples—600,000—who circulated among captivating castles, glorious gardens, august architecture, and magnificent museums.

During their year-long stay, Abigail saw much of the world’s greatest art; attended theatre, opera, and concerts; socialized with Benjamin Franklin, and befriended Thomas Jefferson.

The future frugal First Lady did not realize initially that she would be living in luxury, as well: a 12- room house in nearby Anteuil—with an equivalent number of servants. Prickly about the pomp at first, Abigail eventually acclimated to her social ascent, grew fond of the French, cultivated the artistic treats that were novel to her, and admired the women’s exquisite fashions, which—for her—“would never be in the mode.”

In 1785 John was appointed Minister to Great Britain; after the family followed, Nabby married William Smith, her father’s amiable secretary, who turned out to be a lifelong disappointment, and a poor provider who bankrupted his family in a bum steer real estate investment.

Abigail, meanwhile, was unable to form any friendships with the people in  England: stylish society shunned her, but garnering the guardianship of Thomas Jefferson’s youngest daughter, the motherless Polly, was far more satisfactory to her and the rest of the family.

Free, at last, of all public responsibilities, Abigail and John went back to Peacefield in 1788. Abigail started to enlarge and refurbish the house, while John prepared for his journey to New York.

He was about to become George Washington’s vice-president.

3.     Did Abigail and John ever disagree about politics?

Arguments become less “audible” through the ages, but surely the practically perfect partnership of Abigail and John Adams had occasional bouts of bickering.

Abigail—the stronger spouse—was principled, passionate, progressive—and pushy. She was a proponent of independence, and insisted it be applied equally to women and men.

While John was at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, haggling over the Declaration-of-Independence-To-Be, she wrote him from Braintree:

“And, by the way, in the New Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors

…Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no Voice, or Representation.” (Abigail Adams History.Com, p. 2).

John absorbed—and seriously considered Abigail’s advice–but he also knew it was an inopportune time to pitch women’s rights to a gaggle of men who were tone-deaf to the savagery of slavery.

Although Abigail must have been disappointed, Adams tried to assure her that smarter, cooler, and more enlightened brains of the future would surely flatten the disparities between the sexes.

Little did Abigail know: “Remembering the Ladies” wafted the sentiment of suffrage across the land—and it rang.

Twenty-two years later, Abigail’s heavy-handed, protective personality generated a political presidential policy generated a political firestorm–, and maybe—a marital moment of misery.

After years of tension with France, failed diplomacy junkets to Paris, and a country-wide rise in resentment against the French, Congress was angling to corkscrew Adams into granting the government more leeway in determining the punishments of suspicious persons and foreigners; a hastily passed Naturalization Act raised the residency requirements for citizenship eligibility from five to 14 years; Vice President Jefferson was against the legislation, but President Washington—retired at Mount Vernon–endorsed it.

On June 25, 1798, Adams signed the Alien Act, which “gave him the power to deport any alien living in the U.S. with ties to U.S. wartime enemies…”, but he dilly-dallied over whether to sign the Sedition Act into law. During his period of pause, Jefferson and his Republicans slandered the president, and mocked his policies, while the cabinet torqued up the pressure to corral him into conformity. Abigail feared for John’s life, believed all his opponents were “criminal and vile” and pressed– her husband—hard–into relinquishing his resistance.

The Sedition Act was passed on July 14th –the ninth anniversary of the French Revolution. It “gave Adams tremendous power to define treasonable activity…including any false, scandalous and malicious writing…”—which encompassed publishers of newspapers, pamphlets, and other printed matter.

Meanwhile, the incendiary Jefferson—always on the hunt for a political advantage—accused his former friend of abusing his presidential powers and stripping the people of their right to free speech. America pivoted against their president, picked Jefferson in the next election, and Adams’s career was over.

4.     What was Abigail’s relationship with Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, and how did it change the relationship between Jefferson and Abigail and John?

After their 1784 arrival in Paris, Abigail and John soaked up their new society, and started to socialize with their neighbor, Thomas Jefferson. He was a frequent guest in the Adams’s commodious home; that hospitality was generously reciprocated.

Abigail wrote to her sister, Mary Cranch, excitedly,  ”Mr. Jefferson with one or two Americans visits us in the Social friendly way…On Thursday I dine with him at his house, on Sunday he is to dine here, on Monday, we all dine with the Marquis, and on Thursday we dine  with the Sweedish Ambassador. Jefferson [is] one of the choice ones of the earth. (Adams Family Correspondence; May 8, 1785).

Abigail and Jefferson had various in-common interests such as ornamental gardens, an appreciation of the beautiful music from the songbirds—and their children: Martha Jefferson, John Quincy, and Nabby were friends with a rising camaraderie.

The families were content, until their stasis was jarred by John’s diplomatic transfer to the Court of St. James in London. The crestfallen Abigail wrote   her uncle, Cotton Tufts: “I shall regret…the loss of Mr. Jefferson’s Society”. (ibid., April 26, 1785).

A year later, Jefferson returned to England, after having tricked his youngest  daughter—Polly– into boarding a ship that was traveling to Europe. He asked if Abigail “could take over her care, until he got there.”

“My friends write me that they will send my little daughter to me by a Vessel which sails in May for England. I have taken the liberty to tell them that you will be so good as to take her under your wing till I can have notice to send for her…”
 (Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, December 21, 1786; Transcription available at Founders Online).

 Abigail agreed; six months later, she happily reported to Jefferson that his little girl was “the favorite creature in the house.” (ibid., July 6, 1787).

The nine-year-old was attached to the Adams’s as well. Abigail delicately suggested to Jefferson that “he should have come to Polly himself,” and—recommended—against throwing her into a Parisian convent.

Soon, the guardianship ended, the diplomatic tour was over, and Abigail and John went home to Peacefield in 1788; the following year John was elected George Washington’s Vice President, and Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State.

During the next decade, the carefully cultivated closeness between Adams and Jefferson unraveled. Jefferson was uncomfortable in the vice-presidency: their political views were mismatched, and he still resented Adams for defeating him in the presidential election of 1796. But this election cycle, Jefferson was positioned to choreograph a smear campaign that would clip the odds of an Adams victory.

In the early hours of Inauguration Day, Abigail and John departed for Quincy; they had decided to exile Jefferson from their lives, but then Polly died  in 1804, and Abigail felt compelled to send Jefferson a note about the little girl an entire family had loved. Jefferson acknowledged receipt of Abigail’s condolences, but he trespassed her tenderness with his criticism of John.

Always the loyal and loving wife, Abigail and Jefferson traded a few more testy letters, but the three-sided anger stayed stoked until Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father, and a mutual friend of Adams and Jefferson, intervened—and brokered a truce.

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 1 >
Historic Deerfield‘s Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 3 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 4 >
Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website >
More information about Abigail & John and the Grateful American Book Series >

A Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2:
Friendship with Thomas Jefferson

Historic Deerfield‘s Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2: Friendship with Thomas Jefferson

By David Bruce Smith

This is the second part of a continuing series of blog posts with author David Bruce Smith about Abigail and John Adams.  Historic Deerfield’s resident historians will pose questions to Smith, who is the author of Abigail & John, a nonfiction children’s book that offers readers the opportunity to view prominent scenes in American history through the remarkable lives of one of the country’s most beloved couples—the Adams’s. Exploring the historical significance of a partnership that spanned over five decades, the book details the love they shared for each other and the country. We hope this blog can be a helpful historical resource for learners of all ages.

1. What are the chances that the two leading architects of the American republic should both die on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence?

When a former president dies, it jolts the country—especially if he is well-liked, and highly-regarded.

In 1826, John Adams, 90, and Thomas Jefferson, 83, were known to be in declining health, but when they died on July Fourth, the news shocked the country; their deaths coincided with an event that they—and America—wanted to celebrate: the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Suddenly, the anticipated national mood of merriment turned mournful and morose.

The odds of their dying on the same day were low—1 in 365— according to historians, but because the double tragedy was wrapped into that date and occasion—194 years ago—certain circumstances created conspiracy conjecture; mystery; and mystique:

…A coincidence/freak occurrence?

…A last shared gasp of life from two Founding Fathers?

…Murder?

2. Is there any evidence that both clung to the idea of living to that milestone despite their maladies?

Afterwards, acclaim and accolades came from all directions.

Daniel Webster, the former congressman, and Secretary of State to Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore, spoke of the deaths as a phenomenon; a “striking and extraordinary” coincidence—with evidence of “divine design at work.” Webster wondered how two events of such gravity would be absorbed by the country, because he considered the lives of Adams and Jefferson gifts from Providence.

Jefferson allegedly stretched his mortality by foregoing his usual dose of laudanum on the night of July 3. Strategically, the decision might have compromised his pain, and likely, torqued his will, in exchange for a few extra hours of existence—enough to nudge him into the Fourth.

In his eulogy, Virginia Governor John Tyler, the future 10th president, divulged that Jefferson had spoken often about his desire to die on July Fourth, implying—perhaps—that the timing of  his—or their—denouements had not been wholly accidental.

Adams’s granddaughter reported that their doctor was administering an experimental medicine to her grandfather that would extend his life up to two weeks, or—extinguish it—within twenty-four hours:

“Even those quite unconnected to the deaths wondered if something more sinister, or planned, had been afoot.” (History.com news)

But, John Randolph, a Virginia planter, former congressman, and senator; friend and second cousin to Jefferson, balked—especially at the euthanasia scenario attributed to Adams:

“Euthanasia, indeed…They have killed Mr. Jefferson, too, on the same day, but I don’t believe it.”

After eighteen decades, supporters of the sinister scenario still dismissed the vanilla veracity on record. Then, in a 2005 piece for the Bulletin of the Historic Society, Margaret P. Battin mentioned a possible “silent conspiracy among physicians, family members and other caregivers to help their patient ‘make it’ to the 4th, where the effort came to an end once the day had been reached.”

Five years later, President James Monroe passed on July 4th; about that, the perplexed press could only postulate,  “Again our national anniversary has been marked by one of those events, which it may be scarcely permitted to ascribe the chance.”

3. What is the nature of their last extant letters to one another?

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a relationship that was complicated—and sometimes thwarted by—oversized personalities, tempestuous temperaments, and potent political convictions.

Early on, Adams and his wife, Abigail, had a cordial relationship with Jefferson, but after his wife, Martha, died in 1782, they formed a friendship, and hosted him in their home, frequently.

Adams later confided to him, “intimate Correspondence with you…is one of the most agreeable Events in my Life.” [sic].

But, within a few years, the friends would become fierce foes.

When Adams succeeded George Washington as president (1797-1801), Jefferson became his vice president; [the first and only time in which a presidential/vice presidential ticket was comprised of two different parties].

Adams was a Federalist, who favored a strong central government, while Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, preferred the governing powers to remain with the states.

It was a divergence neither could ditch.

As the 1800 election neared, Jefferson and his constituency revved up their rhetoric, activated the Adams animosity, and accused him of a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman;” meanwhile, the president and his allies predicted that a Jefferson victory would cause “chaos [to] envelop the country, complete with ‘dwellings in flames, female chastity violated, and children writhing on the pike.”

Jefferson carried most of the votes, but, just barely; despite their animosity, Adams and Jefferson continued to correspond until 1804; then, all communication stopped.

After his loss, Abigail and John left for Massachusetts without attending Jefferson’s inauguration; they did not intend to associate with him, ever again, but when Jefferson’s daughter, Polly, died in 1804, Abigail gave in to the “powerful feelings” of her heart, and sent him a note.

Jefferson responded affectionately,  but not without reminding Abigail about her husband’s “personally unkind appointment” of the “midnight judges” at the end of his term; Abigail, always the loyal wife and partner, retorted with her own charge: he had condoned James Callender’s [newspaper editor, political writer] “lowest and vilest Slander” against John Adams.

Four more letters passed between them–without any deactivation of their differences.

Finally, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father, and a friend to Adams and Jefferson, orchestrated a reconciliation in 1812. The following year, with mutual trust restored, Adams wrote to Jefferson, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

In their final 14 years, they exchanged 158 letters about politics, history, philosophy, family life, and the North-South fissures which foreshadowed the Civil War.

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 1 >
Historic Deerfield‘s Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 3 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 4 >
Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website >
More information about Abigail & John and the Grateful American Book Series >

Abigail, John and “Their” Crowd: Part 1

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 1

By David Bruce Smith

This is the first part of a continuing series of blog posts with author David Bruce Smith about Abigail and John Adams.  Historic Deerfield’s resident historians will pose questions to Smith, who is the author of Abigail & John, a nonfiction children’s book that offers readers the opportunity to view prominent scenes in American history through the remarkable lives of one of the country’s most beloved couples—the Adams’s. Exploring the historical significance of a partnership that spanned over five decades, the book details the love they shared for each other and the country. We hope this blog can be a helpful historical resource for learners of all ages.

1. While John Adams was certainly a Founding Father, was he a good parent, and what is known about his parents?

John Adams was the son of John Adams, Sr., a genial multitasker, who was a farmer, cordwainer, lieutenant in the militia, and an active councilman. He had a loving relationship with his son, but in that orb, his wife, Susanna Boylston Adams, fell short. She was a socialite of sorts, with unpredictable emotions that overflowed, disrupted the house, and frightened her four children. Today, many people would probably agree she was a manic­ depressive–the illness she seemed to have passed on to her son, the prickly­ president-to-be.

Abigail was the “antidote” in John’s life; she managed his moods, and enabled his political progression; without her, it is unlikely he would have made it to the White House.

As a parent, John juggled the colliding responsibilities of an ascending politician, long absences from the family, and a particularly passionate partnership with his wife. Abigail permeated nearly all parts of his personality, sometimes to the exclusion of  others.  She was John’s best friend and lover; sole confidante; and most valued advisor.

As a couple, they lived many stories: Abigail raising the children alone on the farm without any slaves-an unpopular position for the time; surviving the death of their daughter, Susanna; Abigail choosing to inoculate herself, and the children with a smallpox vaccine that could have killed them all.

Although John missed out on a decade’s worth of milestones in their lives, Abigail removed his remoteness with loving, informative letters. The two exchanged more than 1,000–from their years of courtship, to her 1818 death.

Abigail and John were undeniably in love—perhaps too much; the children­ — and less so, John Quincy—had compromised lives.

Early on, Abigail and John earmarked John Quincy for greatness; from childhood to adulthood, he was prodded, pushed, and parentally prepared-­ for politics –and the presidency. It was a life he might not have wanted, but he was going to have it.

Abigail “Nabby” Adams: She married her father’s secretary during his years as the ambassador to Great Britain. Colonel William Stephens Smith was ten years her senior; a kind man, who was never satisfied in his various jobs, he spent more than he made, and bankrupted his family in an early 1800s real estate speculation. She died from breast cancer in 1813 at the age of 48.

Charles Adams, a graduate of Harvard, Adams moved to New York to work in the office of Alexander Hamilton, but after he was appointed Secretary of Treasury, Adams switched to another legal office. He passed the bar in 1792 and married the sister of Nabby’s husband. Eventually, Adams became an alcoholic, had numerous affairs, and died at age 30; disowned by his father, diseased by cirrhosis of the liver, and destitute.

Thomas Adams: John Quincy did not believe his brother had the capabilities to practice law, competently, so he settled in Quincy, Massachusetts, and became the town’s representative to the state’s legislature. Later, he was appointed chief justice of Circuit Court of Common Pleas in the Southern Circuit of Massachusetts.

An alcoholic like Charles, Thomas died in 1832 at the age of sixty.

2. Who was “X Y Z,” and why wouldn’t Adams tell his people who they were?

When France went to war with Great Britain in 1793, George Washington declared a position of neutrality. The following year, the United States and Britain negotiated the Jay Treaty; it was intended to settle some of the ripples between the two countries, but France, feeling betrayed and excluded, retaliated by commandeering American ships.

Washington dispatched Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, [later Madison’s foe in the 1808 presidential election], to stabilize the situation, but Paris refused to receive him.

After Adams rose to the presidency in 1796, he sent a three-man delegation to France–Pinckney, John Marshall [later appointed Chief Justice by Adams], and Elbridge Gerry [Madison’s second term vice president, who died in office]-to restore peace, but Foreign Minister  Charles  de  Talleyrand,  put them off, and ordered his representatives  to  inform  the  Americans:  a meeting  was possible  only if  he was paid a hefty bribe, and France received  a substantial loan.

Gerry allegedly responded, “No! No! Not a sixpence!”

Once these warped words reached America, the country’s rage ramped up, and Congress demanded the release of the diplomats’ reports; but when Adams handed over the documents, the names of the French agents had been substituted with the letters, “X Y Z” to diffuse the delicate dilemma, but the strategy backfired.

Now, at the very edge of a material conflict, Adams formed the Department of Navy, and Congress authorized the construction of warships; by July of 1798, American attacks on French vessels were being sanctioned-if necessary, but the seas remained still.

Meanwhile, the president’s popularity soared; he had kept the  country out of battle, and the undeclared “Quasi-War”, was ended with the 1801 ratification of the Treaty of Mortefontaine.

 

Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 1 >
Historic Deerfield‘s Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 3 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 4 >
Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website >
More information about Abigail & John and the Grateful American Book Series >

Instructional Video for Teachers and Parents to Use in Conjunction with “Abigail & John”

From Executive Producer David Bruce Smith, comes a new instructional video that offers teachers and parents pedagogical strategies and activities to use in conjunction with Abigail & John, the inaugural book in the Grateful American Book Series

WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2020 – From Executive Producer David Bruce Smith, author of Abigail & John, comes an engaging and illuminating instructional video, produced by Torrey Maloof. It is designed to enhance the teaching and learning experience; its tutorials provide inspirational and creative activities, along with teaching strategies aimed to get the most out of the highly regarded book, Abigail & John.

Abigail & John examines the unique roles the Adams’s played in the formation of America, and the contributions and sacrifices they made for democracy. The video complements the book perfectly, and illuminates the endless possibilities for using the text at home and in the classroom.

The video contains literacy activities to engage and support readers. Art activities connect students with the unique and brilliant illustrations produced for the book by the world-renowned artist Clarice Smith. Furthermore, STEM-based activities, and of course, Social Studies activities are covered in-depth, as well.

Additionally, a free downloadable curriculum packet is included on the website. It features activity sheets that accompany the points explained in the video in addition to assessments to assess student learning. These will assist teachers and parents in a further engagement with Abigail & John. To view the video and download the curriculum activities go to Teaching Abigail and John.

For more information about the children’s book visit AbigailandJohn.com.

Implementing Abigail & John at Home
and in the Classroom

 

From David Bruce Smith, author of Abigail & John, comes an engaging and illuminating instructional video designed to enhance the teaching and learning experience. Created for teachers and parents alike, this video tutorial provides inspirational and creative activities along with teaching strategies aimed to get the most out of the highly regarded book Abigail & John .

Abigail & John looks into the unique roles the Adams’s played in the formation of America, and the contributions and sacrifices they made for the young country. The video perfectly complements the book and illuminates the endless possibilities for using the text at home and in the classroom.

The video discusses literacy activities created to engage and support readers. Art activities are also covered, which connect students with the unique and brilliant art produced for the book by world-renowned artist Clarice Smith. Furthermore, STEM-based activities, and of course, Social Studies activities are covered in-depth, as well.

Video Contents
1:27 – A Closer Look at “Abigail & John” – About the Book
4:30 – Reading Activities
15:40 – Social Studies Activities
23:38 – Arts Activities
31:17 – STEM Activities
44:00 – Assessments
45:06 – Conclusion

Additionally, a free downloadable curriculum packet features activity sheets to go with the activities discussed in the video, as well as assessment materials. These sheets will assist teachers and parents in further engaging students with the Abigail & John book and its rich content.

Abigail & John is the inaugural book in the Grateful American Book Series, which will concentrate on presidential and historical marriages that influenced the nation. For more information about the children’s book visit AbigailandJohn.com.

Illustrating a Historical Partnership: Abigail and John Adams

In 2014, author David Bruce Smith established The Grateful American Foundation to restore enthusiasm about American history for children—as well as adults—via videos and podcasts. The multimedia offerings have grown to include a book series, which includes the inaugural title Abigail & John, a look into the life and partnership of one of the country’s foundational couples. In the centennial year of women’s suffrage, the book shines a spotlight on the life and influence of Abigail Adams.

In an interview with National Museum of Women in the Arts, Smith discussed the genesis of the book and his creative partnership with his mother, renowned painter Clarice Smith, who created the book’s illustrations.

Why did you want to tell the story of Abigail and John Adams?

I wanted to write a series of books about presidential and historical couples whose marriages were partnerships. Many women have been diminished through the decades, despite their durable contributions to American history. Abigail Adams, recognized as one of the most educated First Ladies, was also her husband’s politically savvy partner; without her, John Adams would—probably—never have ascended to the White House.

In 1776, while John Adams was in Philadelphia helping to draft the Declaration of Independence, he received a letter from Abigail advising him “to remember the ladies.” Adams considered his wife’s words; it wasn’t the right time to act, but the fact that he reflected on—and respected—her request, proves their marriage was warm, loving, and equal.

A re-examination of Abigail’s life is timely. One hundred years ago, the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and women got the right to vote. No doubt, the country is now more enlightened—partially because of her.

Why did you choose to work in the children’s book genre?

Actually, I didn’t choose it—the genre “found” me. In 2009, I went to a history conference in Richmond and met the executive director of the John Marshall Foundation. I was offered a commission to write a children’s book about Marshall, with the intent of raising his profile among young people. I told them I had never written for a young audience, but they had read some of my books and were convinced I was qualified, despite my misgivings.

I agreed to the project only if my mother consented to be the illustrator. American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States, was published in 2013, with my favorite collaborator.

Can you describe your collaborative process with your mother?

My mother and I have been working together for so many years that it’s no longer a “process.” While I am in the midst of the early drafts, she makes preliminary sketches of the cover and some of the events which have to be included in the story. As my drafts near the finishing point, she fills in with the remaining illustrations, knowing that a book designed for young children requires a picture to accompany almost every idea. When we’re finished, the art and the story pages are laid out to make sure all of the pieces are understandable, cohesive, at the proper grade level. Then, to the editor.

 

What do you hope young readers will take from this story?

The Adamses lived many stories, which intertwined: for example, Abigail raising the children alone on a farm, while John ascended in politics; their individual sacrifices to help create a democracy; surviving the death of their daughter, Susanna; Abigail, choosing to inoculate herself and the children with a smallpox vaccine that could have killed all of them; John and Abigail pushing and preparing their son, John Quincy, for an un-requested life in politics—and the presidency.

Usually, a children’s book biography is idealistic, with the following trajectory: subject is born; excels in school; succeeds in his/her career quickly; becomes famous; dies a hero. My mother and I wanted to construct Abigail & John differently, so that a young person would learn that everyone—famous or not—has difficulties in life. I think we succeeded, because we explained hardships with age-appropriate language.


Abigail & John is available for purchase in NMWA’s Museum Shop.

Have We Deviated From John Adams’s Vision for Education, or Is the System too Sick to Fix?

Author David Bruce Smith interviews Grace Leatherman, Executive Director, National Council for History Education (NCHE).

The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.

Listen to the podcast.