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.
shall leave you with an inheritance sufficiently tormenting [to] make you Alternately laugh and cry, fret and fume, stamp and scold, as they do me.” He knew, deep down, that his letters would render him ineligible as an American hero who fit the mythical mold that all new nations required. But he began to glimpse, for the first time, that the full exposure of his edges and imperfections might eventually, over the long stretch of time, endear him to posterity as the most fully revealed member of
of circumstantial evidence. 54. JA to AA, 8 December 1792, AFC, vol. 9. John took offense at the support for Clinton, calling him “a mere cipher, a logroller in New York politics, a man of mere ambition and no virtue.” JA to AA, 19 December 1792, AFC, vol. 9. 55. JA to AA, 4 February 1794, 8 February 1794, AFC, vol. 9. 56. JA to AA, 19 November 1794, UFC; JA to AA, 23 November 1794, UFC; AA to JA, 13 February 1795, UFC. 57. AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 20 April 1792, 25 March 1792, AFC, vol. 9.
foreign power. John did not know it at the time, but he had almost offhandedly defined the abiding goals of American foreign policy for the next century.64 By the beginning of October many of the other delegates had departed, making it difficult to achieve a quorum. But John regarded his duties as head of the Committee on War and Ordnance as compelling reasons to linger, especially with the fate of the Continental Army still unclear. About the same time, unbeknownst to John or anyone else on the
November 1789, for example, John and Samuel Adams met with him, and reporters, to John’s immense satisfaction, described the trio as “the three genuine Pivots of the Revolution.” John concurred with the historical significance of the meeting, writing Abigail that an artist should have been commissioned to capture the scene for posterity, painted “with the greatest care, and preserved in the best Place.” If an artist had been commissioned to paint a group portrait of the major players in the
previous elections than anyone except Washington. And if the chief criterion was revolutionary credentials, one would be hard-pressed to find anybody else who could match his. Abigail assured him on this point: “There remains not a Man in America whose Publick Service [more] entitled him to the office.”72 Prospective voters south of the Potomac did not quite see it that way, insisting that there was a certain Virginian currently in retirement at Monticello who possessed impeccable revolutionary