28 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 13

1801 - 1826

The worthy President always appeared as the friend, who had lived himself into one with the wife of his bosom.”
--An obituary for John Adams

            Following his defeat for the Presidency, John retired from politics to spend time with his family.  He and Abigail stayed in their home, where they frequently hosted their family and friends.  They kept up with politics and current events, especially because their son, John Quincy, was a diplomat.  John also picked up his pen and resumed his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson in 1812.  They wrote about their present lives and the past service they had both performed for their country.  They had not written to each other in nearly a decade, but with both men out of politics, the friendship resumed and continued to their deaths. 

In October 1818, Abigail fell ill once more.  John wrote to Jefferson, on October 20th, “The dear Partner of my Life for fifty Years as a Wife and for many Years more as a Lover, now lyes in extremis, forbidden to speak or be spoken to” (Cappon, II. 529).  On Monday, October 26, Abigail spoke for the first time in nearly a month.  She told John that if it was the will of Heaven she was ready to die.  She was only living for John.  After John came down the stairs from the room where Abigail had died, he said, “I wish I could lie down beside her and die too” (qtd. in McCullough 623).  After her death, John was truly heart-broken.  In November he wrote to his son, John Quincy, “The separation cannot be so long as twenty separations heretofore.  The pangs and anguish have not been so great as when you and I embarked for France in 1778” (qtd. in McCullough 624).  John never missed Abigail more than he did after her death.  While she was alive, he always had the correspondence with her, even if he could not be with her, and he always could go back home to Abigail.  John lost his closest companion and the person who supported him through everything.

In another letter, this one to his granddaughter Caroline, John wrote, “She never by word or look discouraged me from running all hazards for the salvation of my country’s liberties; she was willing to share with me, and that her children should share with us both, in all the dangerous consequences we had to hazard” (qtd. in Gelles 172).  John knew that Abigail could have protested at any time about John being away, but she always accepted it, and shared with John in all of his failures and successes.

            After Abigail’s death, John continued to spend time with family and friends, and he continued to write to Thomas Jefferson, with Adams’ letters outnumbering Jefferson’s about four to one.  In 1825, John was able to congratulate his son John Quincy on his election as the sixth President of the United States.  On July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson lay in his bed at his home in Monticello.  He died around one o’clock in the afternoon.  On the same day, around six o’clock in the afternoon, John Adams awakened from his sleep on his deathbed.  Told that it was the Fourth of July, Adams responded, “It is a great day.  It is a good day.”  In his final breath around six-twenty, Adams spoke, unaware that his friend had died hours earlier: “Thomas Jefferson lives” (McCullough 647).  An obituary for the late second President read, “The worthy President always appeared as the friend, who had lived himself into one with the wife of his bosom” (Withey 315).  At the time of his death, people realized Adams’ commitment to both his wife and his country.  Although recent biographies have reminded the current generations about Adams’ service to his country, his love for his wife has often been overlooked.  It is important for people today to understand the complete portrait of this exceptional man.

26 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 12

1797 - 1801

I think of you and dream of you and long to be with you. But I Suppose this must not be yet.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams from Philadelphia, January 11, 1797 (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence)

The country found out in December 1796 that John Adams had defeated Thomas Jefferson by a whisker for the office of President of the United States.  The highest office in the land now belonged to, arguably, the United States’ leading patriot.  The duty he performed in the name of his country, the sacrifices he had made since the 1770s, the many travels, propelled John to the position he had been aiming for, despite his writings to the contrary.  The victory for Adams meant that he would have to spend time away from Abigail once more, but she did not mind.

John was in Philadelphia, while Abigail remained in Quincy because she was in ill health.  In early January, John wrote home, “I am, with anxious desires to see you, which I fear cannot be gratified before July.”  Abigail wrote almost at the same time, “The Cold has been more severe than I can ever before recollect. It has frozen the ink in my pen, and chilld the Blood in my veins, but not the Warmth of my affection for Him for whom my Heart Beats with unabated ardor through all the changes and visisitudes of Life” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 14 Jan 1797, 15 Jan 1797).  The time away from each other affected John and Abigail as much as it did when John was in Europe.

On March 4, 1797, John Adams was inaugurated second President of the United States of America.  Abigail was not there, although she was no less proud of her husband.  Less than two weeks after the inauguration, John began writing to Abigail about how he missed her.  First, he wrote, “I can not live without you till October,” which was when Abigail was supposed to arrive in Philadelphia.  Days later, he wrote, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my Life.”  At the beginning of April he became more desperate in his pleas.  “I have written you before and have only time now to repeat that I pray you to come on,” he wrote.  Two days later he urged her, “I pray you to come on immediately.  I will not live in this State of Separation.  Leave the Place[. . .]to any body or nobody.  I care nothing about it – But you, I must and will have” (qtd. in Gelles 128).  He continued with this request every few days in letters to Abigail. 

It would be late April before Abigail began her journey to Philadelphia.  She wrote to John from Springfield, Massachusetts as she was on her way, “I come to place my head upon your Bosom and to receive and give that consolation which sympathetick hearts alone know how to communicate.”  John responded to her before she arrived, without concealing what lay ahead, “You and I are now entering on a new Scene, which will be the most difficult, and least agreable of any in our Lives. I hope the burthen will be lighter to both of Us, when We come together” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 30 Apr 1797, 4 May 1797).  John would face many struggles over the next few years, and Abigail would be there beside him through the grueling times, defending her husband along the way.

In March 1798, John found out about the French attempts to bribe American diplomats.  The events, which became known as the XYZ Affair (the French agents were initially known as X, Y and Z), led to a quasi-war with France.  In May, with fear of a general war breaking out, Adams proposed the creation of a Department of the Navy to Congress.  Congress approved the plan, and the Navy became one of John’s proudest achievements.  The Affair and Adams’ response to it, however, created some animosity in the nation.  The press published scathing columns against Adams.  This angered both Abigail and John, who felt John should be above such commentary because of his patriotic track record.  Adams charged that French agents in the United States were behind such reports and that they were hoping to tear the new nation apart.  With Abigail’s support, John signed the Alien and Sedition Acts.  This decision was probably the worst made by Adams in his political life. 

The acts, intended to prevent criticism of the government, were seen by many as unconstitutional.  Most likely, the Acts cost Adams re-election to the Presidency in 1800.  Despite that, John and Abigail stood together behind the decision.  With Abigail back in Quincy for the winter, they exchanged letters on politics.  “With respect to what is past,” Abigail wrote at the end of the year,

all was intended for the best, and you have the Satisfaction of knowing that you have faithfully served your generation, that you have done it at the expence of all private Considerations and you do not know whether you would have been a happier Man in private, than you have been in publick Life. The exigencies of the times were such as call'd you forth. You considerd yourself as performing your duty. With these considerations, I think you have not any cause for regret. (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 28 Dec 1798)

Abigail stood by John and his decisions until the end of his political career, which was fast approaching.

            Most of the years 1799 and 1800, John and Abigail would spend together, attending to the business of the President and First Lady.  On November 1, 1800, John Adams became the first President to live in the President’s House in the new city of Washington.  The word city is used lightly, as most of the federal buildings, including the President’s House were not yet completed, housing scarcely existed, and shacks housing workers were all over the city, including on the President’s front lawn.  Abigail joined John in the middle of November, but their time in Washington would be short-lived. 

In December, John found out that he had been defeated for the Presidency.  Thomas Jefferson won the election and Aaron Burr finished second in the voting, making him Vice President.  In a final controversial move, John appointed members of his party to judicial posts in January and February, before Jefferson came into office in March.  Four years later, Jefferson wrote Abigail that he considered those appointments “personally unkind.”  Abigail, as always, defended her husband by informing Jefferson that the appointments were perfectly legal and were “not intended to give any personal pain of offence” (Cappon, I. 270, 271).  John left Washington the night before Jefferson’s inauguration on March 4, 1801.  He and Abigail would finally get to spend time together, with John out of politics and able to concentrate his time and energy on his family and farm.  John, in fact, had written to her in January, “I must be farmer John of Stoneyfield [his farm] and nothing more (I hope nothing less) for the rest of my life” (qtd. in McCullough 559).  Despite some difficult times, John Adams had served his country for over twenty-five years. 

24 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 11

1788 - 1796 

I long to be at home, but I dare not ask leave to go. The Times are too critical for any Man to quit his Post without the most urgent necessity.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams from Philadelphia, April 1, 1794 (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence)

The new government of the United States was being established as John and Abigail were arriving back home.  John served as the first Vice President of the new nation under George Washington.  The capital was first in New York City, then in Philadelphia.*  Abigail was with John for his first four years, setting up the houses and entertaining guests.  John was dissatisfied with his position, but he served a second term after being elected.  Abigail remained in Massachusetts for the entire second term as Vice President to save money and to avoid endangering her often fragile health. 

Upon their arrival back in Massachusetts, John and Abigail moved into a new home in Quincy (which is now part of the Adams National Historical Park).  Their furniture arrived from Europe, but soon after it was unloaded from the ship and moved into the house, John was on his way to New York.  In March 1789, John Adams was elected to be the first Vice President of the United States of America, second only to George Washington, the great victorious general of the Revolution.  He took the oath of office on April 21 in New York City.  By May, he was writing to Abigail of the problems he was facing.  “I have as many difficulties here, as you can have; public and private, but my Life from my Cradle has been a series of difficulties and that series will continue to the Grave,” he wrote on May 14th.  Two weeks later, he complained that he must live “in a Style much below our Rank and station” because of the high costs in the city (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 14 May 1789, 30 May 1789).  A week onwards from there, John wrote to Abigail again.  “I must now most Seriously request you to come on to me as soon as conveniently you can,” he told Abigail.  “Never did I want your assistance more than at present” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 6 Jun 1789).  Not only was John occupied setting up his house, entertaining guests and fulfilling the demands of his job, but he was also unwell.  Abigail did go to New York, and she followed to Philadelphia when the United States capital was moved to there in 1790 and would remain with John through most of his first term as Vice President.

John was never happy with the position of Vice President.  He found it a superfluous position and he aimed for the Presidency.  “Four years more will be as long as I shall have a Taste for public Life or Journeys to Philadelphia,” he wrote to Abigail just before he was re-elected to the Vice Presidency.  “I am determined in the meantime to be no longer the Dupe, and run into Debt to Support a vain Post which has answered no other End than to make me unpopular” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 28 Dec 1792).  After John’s re-election to the post, Abigail remained in Quincy (as Braintree had been renamed) throughout the entire term.  John was able to be home half of the time, as Congress was only in session about six months of the year.  The state of their health as well as the high cost of living in Philadelphia were both considerations for this choice (Withey 223, McCullough 440). 

During his second term, with Abigail away from him, the letter-writing between them picked up again.  John wrote of how he wished to be home with Abigail, but he also wrote detailed directions regarding the running of the farm or other business.  She, in turn, wrote of how she missed him and included her own detailed responses of information regarding the business at home. 

Halfway through his second term, John wrote home, “My forces of Mind and Body are nearly spent. Few Years remain for me, if any. In public Life probably fewer still, If I could leave my Country in greater Security, I should retire with Pleasure.”  Another letter followed, with John wishing to leave, but excusing himself for staying, until at least the fourth of March lest “I shall be charged with deserting the President, forsaking the secretary of State, betraying my friend Jay, abandoning my Post and sacrificing my Country to a weak Attachment to a Woman and a weaker fondness for my farm” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 16 Jan 1795, 2 Feb 1795).  As he had for the past twenty years, John was claiming he was almost done with the political life; he was ready to come home.  Yet he maintained that he had to delay that wish in the name of serving his country that needed him.

The next year, when John found out that George Washington was most likely stepping down after his term was over, John wondered what his duty would demand of him.  “It is no light thing to resolve upon Retirement,” he wrote to Abigail.  He continued, “I love my Country too well to shrink from Danger in her service provided I have a reasonable prospect of being able to serve her to her honour and Advantage,” meaning that if he won the Presidency, he must take it, but if he won a lower position, especially the Vice Presidency again under someone he did not agree with, he should refuse in the interest of the country.  “The Probability is strong that I shall make a voluntary Retreat and spend the rest of my days in a very humble Style with you,” he wrote to Abigail. “Of one Thing I am very sure. It would be to me the happiest Portion of my whole Life” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 7 Jan 1796).  This was not to be.  John Adams would be called on to serve his country one last time.

* The federal capital was in New York City from George Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States on March 4, 1789 until August 1790, when it moved to Philadelphia.  The capital moved again in 1800, this time to the newly created city on the banks of the Potomac River, which is present-day Washington, D.C.

23 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 10

1784 - 1788

Your Letter of the 23d. has made me the happiest Man upon Earth. I am twenty Years younger than I was Yesterday.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams from The Hague, July 26, 1784 (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence) in response to Abigail’s letter informing him that she had arrived in London

Abigail arrived in London on July 21st.  John Quincy met them on the 30th.  John arrived a week later.  John recorded the event in his diary briefly.  The entry for August 4, 1784 reads: “Arrived at the Adelphi Buildings and met my Wife and Daughter after a seperation of four Years and a half.  Indeed after a Seperation of ten Years, excepting a few Visits” (Adams Family Papers, Diary).  When they last met it was during a period of war and uncertainty.  Now they were together again, husband and wife with their children, without the stress and politics of home. They were shy when they met again, but the meeting was filled with the emotions of ten years. Afterwards, Abigail wrote to her sister, Mary Cranch, of the moment she and John came together again, “You know, my dear sister, that poets and painters wisely draw a veil over those scenes which surpass the pen of the one and the pencil of the other” (qtd. in McCullough 311, Smith 602).  That was all she could say. 

In August, the Adams family moved to Auteuil near Paris in France, where they would remain until May of the following year.  On May 26, 1785, John, Abigail and Abigail 2nd arrived in London.  Less than a week later, John was presented to King George III, a man who less than a decade earlier did not have John’s name on the list of those to be pardoned.  When they met, the king conveyed to John that he heard that John was not so attached to the manners of France.  John replied, “I must avow to your Majesty, I have no attachment but to my own country” (qtd. in McCullough 337).  It was for thoughts such as those that King George III wanted John Adams hanged years earlier.

The next month saw a flurry of activity for John and Abigail.  On June 23rd, both John and Abigail were presented to King George III and Queen Charlotte.  The event was long, as the king and queen walked around the room greeting each guest individually, and Abigail was nervous.  The on the second of July, John, Abigail and Abigail 2nd moved into a house on Grosvenor Square.  This was the first American legation in London.  It was a big step for the Adamses and their country. 

Abigail would be busy with visitors for the remainder of her time in London while John would be busy signing treaties with other nations.  When a foreign ambassador questioned John regarding if he was of English extraction, John replied, “I have not one drop of Blood in my Veins, but what is American.”  The ambassador responded, “Ay We have seen[. . .]proofs enough of that.”  John recorded in his diary that he was flattered and “vain enough to be pleased” with the observation of the foreign ambassador (Adams Family Papers, Diary 43).  His love and dedication to his country were never in question, even to foreign ministers.

In August, he signed a treaty of amity and commerce with Prussia.  In January 1786, he signed a treaty of peace and friendship with Morocco.  In August, John had to travel to the Netherlands to ratify the treaty with Prussia.  Not wanting to be away from John, Abigail went with him.  Upon their return, they would remain in England until May 1787, when John left Abigail to obtain yet another loan from the Dutch.  He was to return to London in June, where he would spend the next two months with Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Mary and her attendant, Sally Hemmings, who were on their way to meet Jefferson in Paris, as he was the foreign minister there. 

As the new year dawned, the Adamses were at the end of their time in Europe.  On February 20, 1788, John had a farewell audience with King George III.  Afterwards, he visited Holland one last time for another loan.  In April, John and Abigail were on their way back to Massachusetts.  In the time John spent in Europe, he traveled over 29,000 miles by land and sea in the name of his country.  This was more than any leading American of his time.  He never once refused a journey, regardless of difficulties or preferences (McCullough 384).  After spending four years with John, Abigail began to appreciate his career and her involvement in it once again.  Over the next few years, as John would continue to be active in politics in the new nation, Abigail would still dislike the traveling and time apart, but she enjoyed the time spent with John and being involved in his career.  She would have many more years to enjoy.

21 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 9

1782 - 1784 

Oh When shall I see my dearest Friend.–All in good Time. My dear blue Hills, ye are the most sublime object in my Imagination. At your reverend Foot, will I spend my old Age, if any, in a calm philosophical Retrospect upon the turbulent scænes of Politicks and War.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams from Amsterdam, Mar 22, 1782 (Butterfield, IV. 301)

A month before John would take up residence in the first American legation in Europe in the Hôtel des Etats-Unis at the Hague, Abigail wrote him a lengthy letter. “Eight years have already past, since you could call yourself an Inhabitant of this State,” she remarked.  “I shall assume the Signature of Penelope, for my dear Ulysses has already been a wanderer from me near half the term of years that, that Hero was encountering Neptune, Calipso, the Circes and Syrens.”  She closed the letter letting him know how she wished to be there to “partake of your Labours and cares, sooth you to rest, and alleviate your anxieties” (Butterfield, IV. 306, 308).  Two days after John moved into the Hôtel des Etats-Unis, on May 14, 1782, he wrote Abigail, “I must go to you or you must come to me.  I cannot live, in this horrid Solitude, which it is to me, amidst Courts, Camps and Crowds” (Butterfield, IV. 323).  This letter would be the first of many calls by John over the next couple of years for Abigail to make the voyage to join him in Europe.

In August, with an American victory seemingly more clear, Abigail wrote to John, “But will you can you think of remaining abroad? Should a peace take place I could not forgive you half a years longer absence… I begin to think there is a moral evil in this Seperation, for when we pledged ourselves to each other did not the holy ceremony close with, ‘What God has joined Let no Man put assunder’” (Butterfield, IV. 358).  In September, she wrote that she had started to feel even more pained at the separation day after day.  She let John know, “To say I am happy here, I cannot, but it is not an idle curiosity that make me wish to hazard the Watery Element. I much more sincerely wish your return. Could I hope for that during an other year I would endeavour to wait patiently the Event” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 5 Sep 1782).  In October, Abigail shifted her request.  “I resolve with myself, to do as you wish,” she wrote.

If I can add to your Happiness, is it not my duty? If I can soften your Cares, is it not my duty? If I can by a tender attention and assiduity prolong your most valuable Life, is it not my duty?[. . . ]Yet if you do not consent so much is my Heart intent upon it, that your refusal must be couched in very soft terms, and must pledge yourself to return speedily to me[. . . .]I feel loth you should quit your station untill an Honorable peace is Established, and you have added that to your other Labours. Tis no small satisfaction to me that my country is like to profit so largely by my sacrifices. (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 8 Oct 1782)

Again, Abigail is willing to do whatever John wishes; she will love him no less.  She will be satisfied if he returns to her and she will be satisfied if he continues to serve his country well. 

On October 25th, John and Abigail’s wedding anniversary, Abigail wrote to John that eighteen years have passed yet their fire still “Burns with unabating fervour, old ocean has not Quenched it, nor old Time smootherd it.”  She missed John dearly, but she also supported his position and where it took him.  “How dearly have I paid for a titled Husband,” she wrote in the same letter.  “Should I wish you less wise, that I might enjoy more happiness? I cannot find that in my Heart” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence).  John wrote only once to her in November and twice in December.  Sentiments were few, but in his diary on November 13 he marked an anniversary: “This is the Anniversary of my quitting home. Three Years are compleated. Oh when shall I return?” (Adams Family Papers, Diary).

On December 23rd, Abigail wrote a touching letter to John.  “I look back to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an undiscribable pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightned and improved by time,” she wrote, letting him know that her love was as strong as ever for John.  Ending the letter, Abigail recalled a conversation she had a few days prior.  The person asked Abigail if she would have consented to John’s appointment if she knew he would be gone so long. “If I had known Sir that Mr. A. could have affected what he has done,” she wrote, “I would not only have submitted to the absence I have endured; painfull as it has been; but I would not have opposed it” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence).  Again, the intense love shared by Abigail and John was entangled with the love of their country, and there was no giving up one for the other in their minds.

The new year would send John off to The Hague once again, after he spent the end of 1782 signing the preliminary peace treaty with Great Britain.  In August, John and John Quincy went back to Paris and on September 3, 1783, the final peace treaty between the new United States and Great Britain, the Treaty of Paris, was signed by David Hartley representing the King of England and Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams representing the United States. 

With the treaty signed, John and John Quincy traveled to England to visit London, Oxford, and Bath.  While in London, John wrote to Abigail, “I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 8 Nov 1783).  In the letters John had sent to Abigail during the year, he had requested her to come to Europe to be with him.  In her responses, Abigail attempted to persuade John to come home.  When she realized that was not likely to happen, Abigail tried to excuse herself by claiming she did not think she could make the voyage or that she was not fit for the courts of Europe.  In December, Abigail made one last effort to bring John home.  “If you felt yourself under obligations during the dangers and perilous of war,” she wrote him on the thirteenth, “to sacrifice, your Health your ease and safety, to the independance and freedom of your Country, those obligations cannot now be equally binding” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 7 Dec 1783). 

She knew there was no convincing him though, and in February she wrote again to John, this time of her apprehensions about leaving her Country, her family and her friends to make a long, dangerous and harsh journey across the Atlantic.  “But on the other hand,” she wrote, “I console myself with the Idea of being joyfully and tenderly received by the best of Husbands and Friends, and of meeting a dear and long absent Son” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 11 Feb 1784).  It was with this consolation that Abigail would set sail from Boston with her daughter Abigail 2nd to England on June 20, 1784.

20 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 8

1779 - 1781

“I hope this will be the last Seperation, We shall suffer from each other,  for any Length of Time.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams off Cape Ann, November 1779 (Butterfield, III. 235)

            On September 27, 1779, Congress appointed John Adams to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain.  He did not, of course, turn down the appointment, and Abigail did not ask him to stay.  The country needed him.  John’s second trip to Europe was far more successful than his first.  John spent his time negotiating treaties of commerce, friendship and peace with European nations.  Abigail worried, as usual, about John’s health and safety, and she missed him, but she was happy as she could be without him as he was successful in the name of the country.  John was successful in negotiating treaties of commerce with some European nations, as well as obtaining loans for the United States.

            On November 15, 1779, John boarded La Sensible again, this time with John Quincy and Charles, and headed across the Atlantic Ocean.  Again Abigail stayed in Massachusetts as the couple felt it was too expensive and dangerous for her to go along.  A leak in the ship forced La Sensible to stop at El Ferrol, Spain.  Instead of spending his time doing nothing while waiting for the ship to be repaired, John set off for France overland across northern Spain.  The trip was long and arduous, over many mountain ranges including the Cantabrians, the Basque and the Pyrenees.  The Adamses would not arrive in Paris until February 9, 1780, about two months after they left El Ferrol.  John took time out to write to Abigail, “After this wandering Way of Life is passed I hope to return, to my best friend and pass the Remainder of our Days in Quiet” (Butterfield, III. 252). 

            While John was in Europe, Abigail would write to him concerning the war in the Colonies, the health of family, gossip about friends and officials, weather, and business.  Abigail also wrote to him requesting goods, usually when John was in Paris.  After John would ship items such as pins and clothing items to Abigail, she would sell them for extra money.  They were, of course, also filled with loving sentiments and wishes to be together again.  “May Heaven permit you and me to enjoy the cool Evening of Life, in Tranquility, undisturbed by the Cares of Politicks or War,” John wrote in June 1780, just as the Congress in the United States was commissioning him to raise a loan in the Netherlands. “And above all,” he continued,

with the sweetest of all Reflections, that neither Ambition, nor Vanity, nor Avarice, nor Malice, nor Envy, nor Revenge, nor Fear nor any base Motive, or sordid Passion through the whole Course of this mighty Revolution, and the rapid impetuous Course of great and terrible Events that have attended it, have drawn Us aside from the Line of our Duty and the Dictates of our Consciences!  (Butterfield, III. 367)

A month later, John would take his two sons from Paris to Amsterdam to raise a loan for the American cause.  Abigail wrote to John, exclaiming how happy she was that such an important charge was given to John.  “It would not become me to write the full flow of my Heart upon this occasion,” she wrote.  In the last six years, John and Abigail had seen each other for about nine months in all, yet they still both had an intense love for each other, and both were delighted in John’s position and accomplishments for the country.  While still in Paris at a dinner John had a conversation with Marie Grand, the wife of Ferdinand Grand, who was the French banker for American funds.  John remarked that sometimes it was a citizen’s duty to sacrifice his everything for the good of the country.  Marie Grand commended the sentiment, but found it hard to believe as true.  She remarked to John that loving one’s wife and children was a natural feeling that would “operate more powerfully” than the love one had for his country.  John responded to Marie Grand that not only were his feelings truthful, but his wife felt the same way as he did (McCullough 206).  Although many people may not have understood the feelings that John and Abigail had for each other and for their country, they understood each other perfectly.

The time apart, however, resulted in loneliness and heartache.  “My Dearest Friend,” Abigail began a letter at the end of December 1780 as they began almost every letter that they wrote to each other,

How much is comprised in that short sentance? How fondly can I call you mine, bound by every tie, which consecrates the most inviolable Friend-ship, yet seperated by a cruel destiny, I feel the pangs of absence some-times too sensibly for my own repose.  There are times when the heart is peculiarly awake to tender impressions…It is then that I feel myself alone in the wide world, without any one to tenderly care for me, or lend me an assisting hand through the difficulties that surround me.  (Butterfield, IV. 50)

            John would spend most of the year 1781 in the Netherlands, traveling only briefly to Paris in July.  Abigail worried about his health in the damp climate of the country.  John, for his part, told Abigail he wished for nothing more than to be home.  In May he wrote, “If I could get back again I would never more leave the Country, let who would beg, scold, or threaten.”  John would not be in his country again for seven years, but once he got back, he would never leave it again.  In July, John wrote Abigail again.  This time, he wished for wings so “that I might fly and bury all my Cares at the Foot of Pens Hill” where the Adamses home was (Butterfield, IV. 122, 170).  Abigail, who had not received a letter from John in some time, wrote in August, “I turn to the loved pages of former days and read them with delight. They are all my comfort, all my consolation in the long long interval of time that I have not received a line” (Butterfield, IV. 191).  John and Abigail loved each other through their letters for those seven years.  They shared views on politics, their fears, their ideas and their hopes.  They depended on each other for comfort and love.  Their letters to each other were everything (Withey 58).  It would take three more years of loving through letters before they were able to see each other again.  In ten years, save for the nine months John was in Massachusetts in 1779, John and Abigail only knew each other through their letters.

In October 1781, the Americans and French would strike a huge victory at Yorktown, Virginia when the British forces commanded by Lord Cornwallis surrendered after a siege of almost three weeks.  With the surrender of about 7,500 soldiers, approximately three-quarters of the British forces remained available on the continent.  The British still maintained a large force in New York and smaller forces throughout the country.  It was not clear to either side that the end of the war was near.  In fact, Washington believed it would continue on for at least another year, if not longer.  John was to be a key player in the signing of the peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States.

09 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 7

1777 - 1779

“You wish you had ventured with me–I wish you was here–no I don’t, I wish I was there.” 
--John Adams to Abigail Adams from Passy, France, Dec 10, 1778 (Butterfield, III. 134)

            John was in Europe from 1778 to 1788, except for a brief three-month return to Massachusetts in 1779 (as well as three more months for travel time).  Abigail did not arrive in Europe until July 1784.  The six years of almost total absence strained the marriage briefly, especially during the first year and a half before John came back to Massachusetts.  This year and a half was particularly difficult for Abigail because she was not receiving correspondence from John on a regular basis the way she had when he was in Philadelphia.  It was also more treacherous to travel over the ocean, particularly during war time.  Interception and loss of letters was far more common at sea than on land during this period.  The gaps in communication led Abigail to gloominess and complaints.

On November 27, 1777, John Adams was elected by Congress to be a commissioner to France, along with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee.  John spent the remainder of his time before his voyage with Abigail.  On February 14, 1778, John boarded the frigate Boston with his son, John Quincy, to sail for France.  Abigail was aware that his position was an important one both for the country and for John’s career. The next day she wrote to John Thaxter, a former law clerk of John’s and a tutor to the Adams’ children, “Your Friend might be more extensively usefull to his Country in this Department at this perticuliar time, than in any other.  I resign my own personal felicity and look for my satisfaction in the Consciousness of having discharged my duty to the publick” (Butterfield, II. 390).  John and Abigail were willing to suffer some personal unhappiness for the sake of John’s political career.  Their love was strong enough to endure the separations, and their belief in the revolution and their formidable sense of public duty allowed their marriage and their country to survive (Withey 75).

Other Congressmen declined to stay longer than one or two terms.  Other men representing the United States overseas cared little for their families, or simply did not have a family (Benjamin Franklin is a good example of the former, Thomas Jefferson of the latter after the passing of his wife).  John, however, accepted every appointment, near and far.  Abigail never attempted to convince him to decline any public position.  The couple was committed to the country and its cause and John was tied to its failure or success.  Should the revolution fail, John would be sought by the British and tried for treason, the penalty being death.  But should the revolution succeed, John would be a hero for his service, exalted and rewarded.  Still, John could have declined appointments and remained in service to his country in some other way.  John, however, felt that if his country asked him to serve in a particular capacity, he must do his best in that role, and Abigail agreed wholeheartedly. 

As John was leaving for France, the couple could not foresee that they would spend most of the next ten years apart from each other, suffering private wants for the sake of the public good (Withey 115).  While Abigail was cheerless at John’s absence, she took pleasure in knowing that she was John’s best friend and confidant.  Abigail kept abreast of events by writing correspondence to many people, including members of Congress, her good friend Mercy Otis Warren, and political figures.  They would keep her informed of the events in the States, in Europe and with John, especially when his communication was wanting, which would become often (Gelles 26).  Correspondence that John and Abigail sent to each other while John was in Philadelphia faced the dangers of interception or loss.  It also took time for letters to reach their destination, as they could only travel as fast as the rider carrying them.  The time and the dangers were nothing compared to what the couple would face after John boarded the Boston to sail for France.  Delays were the norm.  Storms kept ships in port; if an enemy ship came in for an attack, the letter-carrying ship usually threw all letters overboard to avoid the interception of sensitive material and letters were simply lost.  Moreover, even in peacetime, it took a letter months to cross the Atlantic instead of the days it took to go from Philadelphia to Boston.  John, being “so sensible of the Difficulty of conveying Letters safe,” was afraid to write anything more to Abigail then to tell her that “after all the Fatigues and Dangers of my Voyage, and Journey, I am here in Health” (Butterfield, III. xxviii, 9).  All of the letters John had written to Abigail while at sea were most likely lost for Abigail heard nothing of John for over two months.

As September rolled around, Abigail had scarcely heard from John.  The little she knew about him was what she heard through friends.  She wrote to John Thaxter in the beginning of September that she had only heard from her husband twice, and both of those letters came in April.  By the end of that month, Abigail wrote again to John; she acknowledged that four vessels bound from France to Boston had been captured, supposing that some letters from John had been lost in the process.  “If I had realized before you left me that the intercourse between us would have been so hazardous,” Abigail wrote to John on the twenty-ninth of September, “I fear my magninimnity would have faill’d me”  (Butterfield, III. 94-95).  Abigail was impatient and nervous.  She was also upset that John had gone, or that she had not gone with him and let him know this in the letters she wrote to France.  By November, Abigail would receive three letters from John.  “I cannot discribe the Effect they had upon me,” she wrote of his letters.  “Cheerfullness and tranquility took place of grief and anxiety” (Butterfield, III. 109). 

John was to receive the letters of complaint from Abigail the following month.  In what would be the only time in any of the letters that either John or Abigail showed any anger towards the other, John would send Abigail two separate letters chiding her for her complaints.  “For Heavens Sake, my dear dont indulge a Thought that it is possible for me to neglect, or forget all that is dear to me in this World,” John wrote on December 2.    “It is impossible for me to write as I did in America.  What should I write?  It is not safe to write any Thing.”  John wrote to her again on December 18th after receiving another letter from Abigail complaining that John had not been writing enough, or with enough feeling.  This time, he responded more heatedly,

This is the third Letter I have recd. in this complaining style. the former two I have not answer'd.–I had Endeavour'd to answer them.–I have wrote several answers, but upon a review, they appear'd to be such I could not send. One was angry, another was full of Greif, and the third with Melancholy, so that I burnt them all….Am I not wretched Enough, in this Banishment, without this….I beg you would never more write to me in such a strain for it really makes me unhappy.

He closed his letter, however, on a more loving note.  “Be assured that no time nor place, can change my heart…& that I write to you so often as my Duty will permit” (Butterfield, III. 124, 138).  The time it took for letters to travel allowed for some of Abigail’s complaints to come through after John had sent his two letters in December.  In February 1779, the final angry letter between the two would be sent.  “For Gods sake,” John wrote, “never reproach me again with not writing or with Writing Scrips [scraps].  Your Wounds are too deep” (Butterfield, III. 174).  Abigail and John never mentioned the incident again, nor did the letter-writing relationship come close to breaking down ever again.
            In February, John learned that Benjamin Franklin had been appointed minister to France,

superceding the joint commission that Adams was serving on.*  With no further instructions sent to

him, John wrote home to tell Abigail joyously that he would soon be making his way back to her. 

Abigail responded days before John was to board the French frigate La Sensible back to Boston, that

the ship  “may bring me comfortable tidings from my dear dear Friend whose welfare is so essential to

 my happiness that it is entwined round my Heart, and cannot be impared or seperated from it without

 rendering it assunder” (Butterfield, III. 200).  She knew, however, that John would not remain at

home for long if his country needed him.  John arrived back in Boston on August 3, 1779.  A difficult

time, both for the Adamses’ marriage and for the nation, had passed.  The separation, however, would

continue for a few more years as John would only be at home with his dear friend for a couple of

months before his country required his services again. 

* John Adams was appointed to replace Silas Deane to be a joint commissioner of France with Benjamin Franklin to work at attaining an alliance with France.  By the time Adams arrived, Franklin had already obtained the alliance with France.  Adams’ commission was dissolved and no further instructions were sent to him.

07 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 6

1776 - 1777

“O the fatal Ideas which are connected with the sound [of cannon]. How many of our dear country men must fall?”
--Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 4, 1776 (Butterfield, I. 353)

            The new year would be a significant year for the American Colonies and John was a big part of that.  In July, the Colonies declared themselves independent from Great Britain in a document that John assisted in drafting.  He was directly involved in the creation of the country which he loved.  The highs of the first part of 1776 - the evacuation of the British from Boston and the signing of the Declaration of Independence among them - were dampened by military defeats in the field in the second half of the year.  Military victories by the Americans in the last week of 1776 and early 1777 raised the spirits of the country again, but the ups and downs would continue for both the country and John.  In July 1777, Abigail gave birth to a stillborn child and in September John and the rest of the Congress had to evacuate Philadelphia with the British on their heels.  The Americans had another substantial military victory in October, but the British still occupied the capital of Philadelphia.  Through all of the events, John remained in the service of his country and in communication with his wife.
 John left Braintree on January 21, 1776 and arrived in Philadelphia on February 8th.  Abigail’s letters to him, as usual, would be filled with details of family and friends, small amounts of intelligence and accounts of events.  From March 2nd through the 4th, there was much action surrounding Dorchester Heights, just outside of Boston.  Abigail again went up to Penn’s Hill to “hear the amazing roar of cannon” and “see every shell which was thrown” (Butterfield, I. 353).  The British would leave Boston Harbor shortly thereafter.
            The victory confirmed to John that he was doing the right thing.  “My own [interests] have never been considered by me, in Competition with theirs [his fellow Citizens],” he wrote to Abigail after Dorchester Heights.  “My Ease, my domestic Happiness, my rural Pleasures, my Little Property, my personal Liberty, my Reputation, my Life, have little Weight and ever had, in my own Estimation, in Comparison of the great Object of my Country” (Butterfield, I. 363).  John was never in doubt that he was making the right choice in serving his country, and the victory reaffirmed that sacrifices were required in order to secure the freedom of the country, however long it might take.
Abigail was having a hard time, however, without John.  She missed him and did not think she was competent enough to handle all of the chores related to the farm, land, and household and whatever items of John’s that needed to be cared for (Butterfield, I. 375).  Abigail, however, never asked John to quit his public life and return to his private.  In her letters, she now signed herself “Portia” after the long-suffering wife of Brutus, the ancient Roman statesman (McCullough 26), implying that just as Portia bore all of Brutus’ fortunes, good and bad, Abigail would likewise do with John.
            John was appointed to a committee that would draft a “declaration of independency.”  Despite the many hours John spent in Congress, he thought often about Abigail, sometimes writing while working.  “Is there no Way for two friendly Souls, to converse together, altho the Bodies are 400 Miles off?–Yes by Letter–But I want a better Communication.  I want to hear you think, or to see your Thoughts,” he wrote to her.  “Instead of domestic Felicity, I am destined to public Contentions.” (Butterfield, I. 400, 399).  Abigail, never at a loss for words, replied, “All domestick pleasures and injoyments are absorbed in the great and important duty you owe your Country.”  And never forgetting to let John know how much she missed him, she added, “Thus do I supress every wish, and silence every Murmer, acquiesceing in a painfull Seperation from the companion of my youth, and the Friend of my Heart” (Butterfield, I. 402).
            Although Abigail was usually more sentimental and showed her love for John in words more often than he did, he was not short on his expressions of love for her.  “Among all the Disappointments, and Perplexities, which have fallen to my share in Life, nothing has contributed so much to support my Mind, as the choice Blessing of a Wife,” he wrote to her at the end of May. “This has been the cheering Consolation of my Heart, in my most solitary, gloomy and disconsolate Hours.”  John let her know how often he thought of her and how he wanted to be with her and the children.  “I want to take a Walk with you in the Garden–to go over to the Common–the Plain–the Meadow.  I want to take Charles in one Hand and John upon my left, to view the Corn Fields, the orchards, &c.” (Butterfield, I. 412, 413).  Such emotion shown by John in his letters delighted Abigail.
            The letters meant so much to each of them, and with events changing rapidly around them, John purchased a blank folio book at the store of William Trickett, a stationer on Front Street in Philadelphia, and began to make copies of all of his letters (Butterfield, Book 135).  Abigail had already been saving all of John’s letters, and John had been saving all of Abigail’s, but with the outbreak of war, the post would not be as reliable, and John did not want to lose a single letter.  The letters had intense sentimental value, but John and Abigail may have also sensed that they were in the process of watching and making history.
            After the Declaration of Independence was signed in July 1776, John wrote a letter home to Abigail letting her know the good news.  Abigail wrote back, “Tho your Letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightened by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our Country.”   She also informed him that she and the children were sick from the smallpox inoculation they had received (Butterfield, II. 46).  John was upset at the news.  He did not like that Abigail did not inform him of the family receiving the dangerous inoculation and he was not happy that he was not there with his family.  He could not leave, though, and he let her know that now, more than ever, he was needed in Philadelphia for the good of the country.  Abigail would understand and would explain that was why she did not tell him sooner (Butterfield, II. 50).  Again, John and Abigail both sacrificed for their country, but their commitment to each other remained as strong as ever.
            The time away wore on each of them.  Abigail spent stormy days reading old letters John had sent her.  She spent her nights before falling asleep thinking about John and when they could be together again.  John, for his part, also reflected on time he spent with Abigail.  Month after month he would write of the sadness he had of being away from her, especially leaving her in January, knowing she was pregnant again (John). “When I reflect upon the Prospect before me of so long an Absence from all that I hold dear in this World[. . .]it makes me melancholy,” John wrote in February.  And his feelings continued into March; “I want to wander, in my Meadows, to ramble over my Mountains, and to sit in Solitude, or with her who has all my Heart, by the side of the Brooks” (Butterfield, II. 153, 176). 
            By summer, John was at a loss.  He missed home and he felt as if he was accomplishing nothing in Philadelphia. “Next Month completes Three Years, that I have been devoted to the Servitude of Liberty.  A slavery it has been to me, whatever the World may think of it,” John wrote.  “To a Man, whose Attachments to his Family, are as strong as mine, Absence alone from such a Wife and such Children, would be a great sacrifice.  But in addition to this Seperation, what have I not done?  What have I not suffered?  What have I not hazarded?”  (Butterfield, II. 153, 276-277).  Furthermore, he was to find out that Abigail was sick again.  John wrote her again, expressing his concern and wishing he could be near her, even if he could only say a few kind words.  He wished that he could relieve her of all her pain.  He wanted to be at her side.  Bad news would follow again, less than a week later.  On July 16, 1777, John received a letter from Abigail explaining that she was okay, but the child had been stillborn.  John was grateful that Abigail had made it through, but was devastated at the loss of their child.  Still, John did not leave Philadelphia and his country, and Abigail did not ask him to do any such thing.
            As sorrow struck their lives and things were becoming more intense in the Colonies, John wrote to Abigail as much as to future readers. “Posterity!  You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom!  I hope you will make a good Use of it” (Butterfield, II. 153, 224).  He kept Abigail informed on the events surrounding him, and she did the same.  Letters between the two included their usual expressions of love for each other, but also contained military maneuvers, politics, and news about friends, family and other important people.  Their relationship and their country were woven into their letters.
            In September, the Congress was forced to evacuate Philadelphia to York, as the British moved in and occupied the Colonial capital.  John, in his letters, as he had always done, reported to Abigail the layout of towns he passed through and the people that inhabited them.  October marked thirteen years of marriage for John and Abigail, three of which they spent apart.  Reflecting on this, Abigail wrote to John that she has only endured the separation because she believed John was doing the right thing in serving his country.  She hoped the present generation would see his sacrifices and that future generations would understand what he was doing and why he was doing it.  This was why she was willing to give him up for so long.  Neither was aware that soon he would be much further away for a much longer time.