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Louisa Catherine

Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams

Margery M. Heffron
Edited by David L. Michelmore
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Louisa Catherine
    Book Description:

    Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife and political partner of John Quincy Adams, became one of the most widely known women in America when her husband assumed office as sixth president in 1825. Shrewd, intellectual, and articulate, she was close to the center of American power over many decades, and extensive archives reveal her as an unparalleled observer of the politics, personalities, and issues of her day. Louisa left behind a trove of journals, essays, letters, and other writings, yet no biographer has mined these riches until now. Margery Heffron brings Louisa out of the shadows at last to offer the first full and nuanced portrait of an extraordinary first lady.The book begins with Louisa's early life in London and Nantes, France, then details her excruciatingly awkward courtship and engagement to John Quincy, her famous diplomatic success in tsarist Russia, her life as a mother, years abroad as the wife of a distinguished diplomat, and finally the Washington, D.C., era when, as a legendary hostess, she made no small contribution to her husband's successful bid for the White House. Louisa's sharp insights as a tireless recorder provide a fresh view of early American democratic society, presidential politics and elections, and indeed every important political and social issue of her time.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20690-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    David L. Michelmore
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The little boy had it exactly right. Although it might be argued that her entire married life had been spent in service to the United States, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams was unalterably an “exotic” in Boston and a European in America. The only First Lady to have been born and brought up outside the United States, she did not put down permanent roots in American soil until her forty-third year. Yet when she died in Washington in 1852 , both houses of Congress adjourned for a day in her honor—a rare tribute to a woman who never held a...

    (pp. 7-25)

    Louisa wove her myth of an idyllic childhood around “the handsomest man I have ever seen,” her adored father, Joshua Johnson. In his daughter’s eyes, Joshua’s “temper was admirable; his tastes simple; his word sacred; and his heart pure and affectionate as that of the most unsophisticated Child of Nature.” Others may have harbored a more jaundiced view of Joshua’s moral compass, but Louisa never wavered in her loyalty. It was, after all, her father’s willingness to seize the main chance that had provided the luxurious backdrop for the “visions of delight” that warmed her memory.¹

    Sprawling, chaotic London was...

    (pp. 26-44)

    For Louisa, home always meant Number 8, Cooper’s Row in the City of London. She remembered the brick, multistory mansion, steps away from the Tower of London, as “large, not sumptuous or extravagant, but such as the first Merchants in London at that day usually had: kept a neat Carriage and one pair of Horses, and every thing was conducted in the family with . . . regularity.” Joshua, in his daughter’s fond reminiscence, presided over a smoothly functioning machine: “My father’s establishment was so perfectly regulated though large, that every thing in it moved like clock work; his household...

    (pp. 45-65)

    At first sight, the prince more nearly resembled a frog. During dinner, John Quincy “was in high spirits” and “conversed most agreeably,” but when he left to go to his hotel in the Adelphi buildings, off London’s Strand, the Johnson sisters, recalling the details of his unfashionable costume, were convulsed with laughter. “His dress did not impress us agreeably as it made his person appear to very great disadvantage,” Louisa recalled long afterward.¹

    Their daughters could giggle, but Joshua and Catherine would have recognized at once that John Quincy was, in reality, American royalty. His father was now completing a...

    (pp. 66-90)

    Theirs was not a match made in heaven. Highly sensitive, quick-tempered, and prone to self-doubt and depression, Louisa and John Quincy mirrored and reinforced the other’s least attractive and most vulnerable characteristics. The exceptional strengths they shared—intelligence, ambition, courage in adversity—would be critical to a marital bond lasting more than fifty years but did little to ease their path through an excruciatingly painful courtship and engagement period.

    Although it took John Quincy more than a month after his first visit to the Johnsons to find his way back to Cooper’s Row, he soon became a regular. At Nancy...

    (pp. 91-113)

    On the morning of July 26, 1797, in the cool half-light of the Church of All Hallows Barking, an ancient parish church just west of the Tower of London, Louisa Catherine Johnson became the bride of John Quincy Adams. The Rev. John Hewlett—Oxford scholar, distinguished theologian, and Johnson family friend—performed the ceremony as Thomas Boylston Adams, several members of the bride’s family, and two of the groom’s friends, Joseph Hall and James Brooks, looked on.¹

    That so few were present for the brief Anglican ceremony uniting the twenty-two-year-old bride and thirty-year-old groom would have raised few eyebrows. Marriage...

    (pp. 114-136)

    As she aged, Louisa’s memories of Berlin grew decidedly mixed. When depressed, she could recall every ounce of coldness she noticed in her husband, every social or marital slight she had attributed to her father’s financial failure, every pang of homesickness she had felt for her struggling family far away in America. Genuinely unwell throughout much of her four years in Berlin, Louisa had every reason to appear pale and wan and to mourn the loss of her four unborn babies. “In the midst of this apparently gay life, suffering was my portion,” she recalled in her poignantly titled unpublished...

    (pp. 137-164)

    Louisa’s first sight of her “native” land was unexpectedly reassuring. After sixty days on the high seas between Hamburg and Philadelphia with an infant son in her arms, any spot on dry land would have been welcome. But Philadelphia on September 4, 1801, even in the midst of a blistering heat wave, was a pleasant surprise. Then the wealthiest city in the new nation, Philadelphia boasted a thriving free library, a hospital, the nation’s first university, and a prosperous, sophisticated populace that supported theaters and several newspapers. Until very recently the nation’s capital, the city basked in its role as...

    (pp. 165-194)

    Senator Adams prepared to go north on April 2, 1804—alone. He would spend the April–November Congressional recess with Abigail and John Adams in Quincy while Louisa and the children remained in Washington with her family. Neither wanted it that way. Badly misreading the other’s views on where the family should spend the summer, they had reached an impasse. Their quarrel, still unresolved when they parted, followed John Quincy all the way home and simmered for more than a month in their correspondence.

    Louisa was on the attack in a letter written two days after John Quincy left Washington....

    (pp. 195-217)

    Only an unusual woman would willingly embark on an eighty-day ocean voyage in wartime with a two-year-old child in tow. Louisa was not only unwilling, she was “broken-hearted, miserable,alonein every feeling.” No longer was a proximity to royalty enticing. She knew from bitter experience the embarrassment of a well-worn gown in a fashionable imperial court. Even the companionship of her sister Kitty offered little comfort. Nothing but trouble, Louisa feared, could come from the combustible mix of the flirtatious, attractive Kitty and the three young male aides accompanying John Quincy to Russia.¹

    The path of theHoraceacross...

    (pp. 218-243)

    “Eighteen twelve.” Two words echoed over the centuries by the tolling bells and booming cannons of Tchaikovsky’s 1812Overture.In that momentous year the entire Western world was engulfed in war. At the end of June, Napoleon led his Grande Armée of 450,000 men across the Nieman River in what he expected would be a three-week subjugation of the Russian Empire to his will. Meanwhile, Russia and Great Britain, allied in opposition to Napoleon, made peace with one another. On June 18, in a decision indirectly related to events on the Continent, the U.S. Congress declared war on Britain. By...

    (pp. 244-271)

    Night falls early in the Russian winter. At five o’clock on the evening of February 12, 1815—her fortieth birthday—Louisa emerged from her small, gloomy apartment for the last time. Anxious to avoid the “disagreeable and painful feelings” of saying good-bye, she had chosen the dinner hour as her moment to slip away in darkness from the city she had called home for nearly six years. Life in Russia had never been easy, yet it was surprisingly difficult to go. “I leave Russia with regret,” she acknowledged in her final letter from St. Petersburg to John Quincy. The grave...

    (pp. 272-295)

    Two strangers awaited Louisa and John Quincy in their London hotel on May 25, 1815. George and John II looked like what they were—two Yankee schoolboys, painfully uncomfortable in elegant Regency London and equipped with one good suit apiece. George, fourteen, was all arms and legs, an ungainly adolescent just coming into his future height; John, who would turn twelve on the Fourth of July, was still small for his age but unrecognizable as the lively six-year-old Louisa and John Quincy had left behind in Quincy in 1809 . The iced-over Baltic from November to May each winter had...

  17. 13 CAMPAIGN
    (pp. 296-327)

    In March 1818, barely six months into his term as secretary of state, John Quincy found himself in the midst of the race to succeed President Monroe in 1825, seven years later. The partisans of known candidates, he complained in his diary, “descry me as much as possible in the public opinion.” Urged to strike back against one particularly egregious attack, John Quincy stood true to his vision of how an ethical presidential campaign should be conducted. Until the end, he promised, “I should do absolutely nothing.”¹

    Not so Louisa. From the moment of her arrival in Washington in 1817...

    (pp. 328-356)

    It took an unlikely catalyst—her weak and chronically listless only brother, Thomas Baker Johnson—for Louisa to resuscitate her “campaign” in the spring of 1822. Thomas arrived in Washington from New Orleans in May, a pitiful spectacle of a man in “a dreadful state of suffering which has reduced him to a state of debility.” Often sickly and now the victim of painful hemorrhoids and severe constipation, he had been reduced to a diet composed almost entirely of “Iceland Moss,” which seemed to help but which Louisa found “very nauseous to the taste.”¹

    Always at her best when she...

  19. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 357-357)
    (pp. 358-360)
    (pp. 361-368)
  22. NOTES
    (pp. 369-406)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 407-416)