First Family: Abigail and John Adams
Joseph J. Ellis
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In this rich and engrossing account, John and Abigail Adams come to life against the backdrop of the Republic’s tenuous early years.
Drawing on over 1,200 letters exchanged between the couple, Ellis tells a story both personal and panoramic. We learn about the many years Abigail and John spent apart as John’s political career sent him first to Philadelphia, then to Paris and Amsterdam; their relationship with their children; and Abigail’s role as John’s closest and most valued advisor. Exquisitely researched and beautifully written, First Family is both a revealing portrait of a marriage and a unique study of America’s early years.
care at Quincy, where they were deposited for most of John Quincy’s term in the Senate and then again when he was appointed ambassador to Russia. Louisa Catherine frequently fretted about her role as absentee mother, and Abigail did due diligence as a hovering grandmother who tried to reassure her that the boys had her fullest attention: “I told him [John, then two years old] that I was writing to you,” she wrote Louisa Catherine, “and asked him what I should say. Shall I say John is good? No.
TJ to AA, 25 September 1785, AFC 6:390–92; AA to TJ, 7 October 1785, AFC 6:414–15. 27. TJ to AA, 9 August 1786, AFC 6:312. 28. TJ to AA, 22 February 1787, AFC 6:468–69; AA to TJ, 29 January 1787, AFC 6:455. 29. AA to TJ, 26 June 1787, AFC 8:92–93. 30. AA to TJ, 6 July 1787, AFC 8:107–9. 31. AA to TJ, 10 July 1787, AFC 8:109–10. 32. TJ to JA, 21 June 1785, AJ 1:34; JA to TJ, 22 May 1785, AJ 1:21. 33. AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 24 June 1785, AFC 6:192. 34. DA 3:184. 35. JA to John Jay, 2
were together virtually every hour of the day and night: dining together, socializing together, watching Nabby and John Quincy mature together, reading together, touring Paris, London, and the English countryside together, sleeping together. Never before in their twenty-year marriage had they enjoyed such prolonged and routinized proximity. And they would never again experience such abiding closeness until their retirement years at Quincy. This chapter in their story as a couple, then, is rich
someone purportedly required to remain silent during debates, then suggesting that the vice president had apparently been infected by the disease called “nobilmania” during his long sojourn in Europe. Other senators agreed, reprimanding John for his violation of procedure and joking that perhaps he himself would prefer to be referred to as “the Duke of Braintree” or, better yet, as “His Rotundity.” Maclay’s diary, hardly a neutral source, is the fullest account of the exchange, so that most
proved prescient. The French were having second thoughts.26 Meanwhile, Abigail’s thoughts were moving in a different direction. Her comments on the French government became more strident and absolute (e.g., “the most dissolute and corrupt Nation now existing”). Unlike John, she held open no realistic hopes for a diplomatic resolution; indeed, she believed the nation was already engaged in an undeclared war with France, and therefore urged that Bache and his pro-French minions be identified as