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Adams on Adams

Adams on Adams

Selected and Edited by Paul M. Zall
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Adams on Adams
    Book Description:

    After more than two hundred years in the shadows of Washington and Jefferson, John Adams enjoys fame as one of our top presidents. Of unprepossessing appearance and feisty temperament, he expressed his personal feelings in copious correspondence and public documents along with two unfinished autobiographies.

    Paul M. Zall draws from Adams's own letters, diaries, notes and autobiographies to create a fresh portrait. Adams's writings, both public and private, trace his rise from country lawyer to the nation's highest office by the sheer force of his personality. Lacking the advantages of money, connections, class, or patronage, Adams used "the severest and most incessant labor" to promote American independence.

    Zall's commentary illuminates Adams's words, focusing on how Adams's inner strengths -- in conflict with a sense of inferiority and an obsession with fame -- helped win government under law at home and national respect abroad. Borne along by an irresistible sense of Spartan duty and refusing to compromise high principles for cheap popularity, he sacrificed family, fortune, and even fame. InAdams on Adamswe are at last able to hear Adams describe his extraordinary journey in his own words.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4936-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments and Note on the Text
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Last Angry Man
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    I first met John Adams back in the fifties when I fell in love with his wife. Along with countless casual readers, I was enthralled by their letters in the newly released Adams Papers. Next he emerged from her shadow as hero of the scholarly volumes edited by Lyman Butterfield and the very popular musical “1776.” By the turn of this century, a succession of biographies culminated in David McCullough’sJohn Adams, a phenomenal best-seller that made “John Adams” a household word.

    Today the Web opens a ready and easy way to view a generous sampling of his writings in...

  5. 1 Becoming a Lawyer, 1735—1758
    (pp. 1-14)

    You have no idea of the prolific quality of the New England Adamses. Why, we have contributed more to the population of north America, and cut down more trees, than any other race.¹

    My father was John Adams, the son of Joseph Adams, the son of another Joseph Adams, who all lived independent New England farmers, and died and lie buried in this town of Quincy, formerly called Braintree²…. [He] had a good education, though not at college … was an officer of militia, afterwards a deacon of the church, and a selectman of the town; almost all the business...

  6. 2 Practicing Law, 1758–1765
    (pp. 15-26)

    There was one motive with me which was decisive. I was in very ill health … I panted for want of the breezes from the sea, and the pure zephyrs from the rocky mountains of my native town; that my father and mother invited me to live with them; and, as there never had been a lawyer in any country part of the then county of Suffolk, I was determined at least to look into it and see if there was any chance for me.²

    In the beginning Adams found only frustration and failure. Competition came not from Boston lawyers...

  7. 3 Becoming a Radical, 1764–1770
    (pp. 27-40)

    1765. January 24. Thursday.Soon after I got to Boston, at January Court [Samuel] Fitch came to me, upon ’Change, and told me that Mr. Gridley and he had something to communicate to me that I should like—in sacred confidence, however. I waited on Mr. Gridley at his office (after many conjectures what the secret might be) and he told me that he and Mr. Fitch had proposed a law club, a private association for the study of law and oratory…. He was considering who was, for the future, to support the honor and dignity of the bar; and he...

  8. 4 Reconciling Idea and Inclination, 1770–1774
    (pp. 41-54)

    If Heaven, in its anger, shall ever permit the time to come when, by means of an abandoned administration at home, and the outrages of the soldiery here, the bonds of parental affection and filial duty between Britain and the colonies shall be dissolved, when we shall be shaken loose from the shackles of the common law and our allegiance, and reduced to a state of nature, the American and British soldier must fight it out upon the principles of law of nature and of nations. But it is certain such a time is not yet arrived, and every virtuous...

  9. 5 Maneuvering Independence, 1774–1775
    (pp. 55-66)

    Wednesday, 7 September 1774. Dined with Mr. Miers Fisher a young Quaker and a lawyer. We saw his library, which is clever. But this plain Friend and his plain though pretty wife, with her Thees and Thous, had provided us the most costly entertainment; ducks, hams, chickens, beef, pig, tarts, creams, custards, jellies, fools, trifles, floating islands, beer, porter, punch, wine, and a long etc.

    Thursday, 8 September 1774. Dined at Mr. [Samuel] Powel’s … a most sinful feast again! every thing which could delight the eye or allure the taste; curds and creams, jellies, sweetmeats of various sorts, twenty...

  10. 6 Declaring Independence, 1775–1776
    (pp. 67-78)

    [16 September 1775] Walking to the State House this morning, I met Mr. Dickinson, on foot, in Chesnut Street. We met, and passed near enough to touch elbows. He passed without moving his hat or head or hand. I bowed, and pulled off my hat. He passed haughtily by…. I shall, for the future, pass him in the same manner; but I was determined to make my bow, that I might know his temper.²

    A soul sensitive to criticism of any kind bruised more readily under stress. Word came that Braintree was under a two-month siege of dysentery; the cozy...

  11. 7 Practicing Diplomacy, 1776–1780
    (pp. 79-92)

    It is a great mortification to me, I confess, and I fear it will too often be a misfortune to our country, that I am called to the discharge of trusts to which I feel myself so unequal, and in the execution of which I can derive no assistance from my education or former course of life. But my country must command me, and wherever she shall order me, there I will go without dismay.¹

    In fact, a month of chairing the Board during a Philadelphia summer almost ruined his health.

    The increasing heat of the weather, added to incessant...

  12. 8 Becoming the “Washington of Negotiation,” 1781–1783
    (pp. 93-106)

    I wish I were at home that I might do something worthy of History. Here I can do nothing. The beauteous olive branch, I fear, will never decorate my brows. I must spend my life in the pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war, without sharing any of its laurels…. There are in my power means enough for the pursuit of pleasure and of knowledge; but I have not that inclination to take the advantage of them, which I should have done in earlier life, before my soul was bowed down with care.¹

    The black cloud that hung over the...

  13. 9 Implementing Independence, 1783–1788
    (pp. 107-120)

    I make no scruple nor hesitation to advise that a Minister may be sent, nor will I be intimidated from giving this advice by any apprehension that I shall be suspected of a design or desire of going to England myself. Whoever goes will neither find it a lucrative or a pleasant employment, nor will he be envied by me…. It is my desire to return home, at the expiration of the term of the present commissions.¹

    Unknown to Adams, Congress had already appointed him to the post—though faulting his “vanity” (to which he reacted, “I should be more...

  14. 10 Succeeding Washington, 1788–1801
    (pp. 121-136)

    I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.¹

    While their parents were abroad, the boys had lived with a maternal aunt. Thomas was sixteen; Charles seventeen.

    John Quincy at twenty-one had already commenced a career in diplomacy.

    The oldest has given decided proofs of great talents, and there is not a youth of his age...

  15. 11 Outliving Enemies, 1801–1826
    (pp. 137-150)

    He spent 17 years at the bar, riding circuits, getting money and a wife and children. But the 17 years flew away like the morning cloud…. Four years were then spent in Congress…. But they were gone like a dream…. Then he was ten years in Europe, on the mountain wave, over the hills and far away. But the ten years were gone he scarcely knew how…. He had then an interval of eight or nine months. Then he was eight years Vice-President, a target for the archers, a constant object of the billingsgate, scurrility, misapprehensions, misconstructions, misrepresentations, lies, and...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 151-166)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-172)
  18. Index
    (pp. 173-181)