Grateful American Book Series

ABIGAIL, JOHN AND “THEIR” CROWD: Part 2

A 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.

Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website. >

ABIGAIL, JOHN AND “THEIR” CROWD: Part 1

A 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 three boys. 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.

 

Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website. >

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.

Martha Meehan-Cohen, Director of Advancement of the Supreme Court Historical Society, and David Bruce Smith, author of Abigail & John, on John Marshall, George Washington, and John Adams

Martha Meehan Cohen, Director of Advancement of the Supreme Court Historical Society, interviewed David Bruce Smith, author of the children’s book, Abigail & John. George Washington and John Adams had an uneasy alliance, but their mentoring of John Marshall, propelled him to Chief Justice–and durable greatness.

Listen to the podcast.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Nyerges, Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Author David Bruce Smith, Discuss Art in Storytelling

Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, interviewed David Bruce Smith, founder of the Grateful American Foundation, and author of the children’s book, Abigail & John. They talked about the ways in which paintings and drawings stimulate children to understand their heritage, and America’s, as well. David’s mother, Clarice Smith, created the illustrations.