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exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


 


Soulmate, Myself:
The Perfect Mate

Abigail and John

 


 

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John Adams (1735 - 1826) the second President of the United States (1797 - 1801), is reputed to have been the most scrupulously honest man who ever inhabited the White House. His wisdom, as well, second to few, but outdone, I think, by the bright star, his dear mate, Abigail Adams (1744 - 1818).

I have made it my business for 20 years to search out and highlight the sage luminaries of past centuries. After reviewing thousands of applicants, in my opinion, there is no woman of history to be counted more wise than Abigail Adams, "Founding Mother" of the United States. We lost a great deal when circumstance and prejudice overlooked her for highest office.

 

 

 

Editor’s note: As much as possible, I have attempted to transcribe their words with original spellings and capitalizations.

 

John’s letter, October 4, 1762

Miss Adorable, By the same token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O’Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to his account.

 

John’s letter, February 14, 1763, Braintree, Massachusetts

Accidents are often more Friendly to us, than our own Prudence. – I intended to have been at Weymouth Yesterday, but  a storm prevented. – Cruel, Yet perhaps blessed storm! – Cruel for detaining me from so much friendly Company, and perhaps blessed to you, or me or both, for keeping me at my Distance.

 

Abigail’s letter, August 11, 1763, Weymouth, Massachusetts

Humanity obliges us to be affected with the distresses and Miserys of our fellow creatures. Friendship is a band yet stronger, which causes us to [fee]l with greater tenderness the afflictions of our Friends. And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship, which makes us anxious for the happiness and welfare of those to whom it binds us. It makes their Misfortunes, Sorrows and afflictions, our own. Unite these, and there is a threefold cord – by this cord I am not ashamed to own myself bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it. Judg[e you then] for your Diana has she not this day [had sufficien]t cause for pain and anxiety of mind?

 

Editor’s note: Abigail and John would playfully use pseudonyms borrowed from antiquity. She would sometimes call herself “Diana,” after the Greek goddess, and he would take the name of “Seneca,” the Greek lawmaker.

 

John’s letter, April 7, 1764

My dear Diana, For many Years past I have not felt more serenely than I do this Evening. My Head is clear, and my Heart is at ease. Business of every Kind, I have banished from my Thoughts… Pray continue to write me, by every opportunity, for, next to Conversation, Correspondence, with you is the greatest Pleasure in the World.

 

Editor's note: As Kairissi and Elenchus would note, it is "the great relief of having you to talk to."

 

John’s letter, April 11, 1764, Braintree, Massachusetts

I long to come once more to Weymouth before I go to Boston. … Why should I not come? … Or will you come and see me? I should be glad to see you in this House, but there is another very near it, where I should rejoice much more to see you, and to live with you till we shall have lived enough to ourselves, to Glory, Virtue and Mankind, and till both of us shall be desirous of Translation to a wiser, fairer, better World.

 

Abigail’s letter, April 12, 1764, Weymouth, Massachusetts

Here am I all alone, in my Chamber, a mere Nun, I assure you, after professing myself thus will it not be out of Character to confess that my thoughts are often employ’d about Lysander [a military official of ancient Greece; her name for John], “out of the abundance of the Heart, the mouth speaketh” [a reference to the New Testament], and why Not the Mind thinketh.

 

Abigail’s letter, April 16, 1764, Weymouth, Massachusetts

I think I write to you every Day. Shall not I make my Letters very cheep [with overabundance]; don’t you light your pipe with them? I care not if you do, tis a pleasure to me to write, yet I wonder I write to you with so little restraint, for as a critic I fear you more than any other person on Earth, and tis the only character, in which I ever did, or ever will fear you.

 

John’s letter, April 26, 1764, Boston, Massachusetts

Many have been the particular Reasons against my Writing for several days past, but one general Reason has prevailed with me more than any other Thing, and that was, an Absolute Fear to send a paper from this House, so much infected [with plague] as it is, to any Person liable to take the Distemper but especially to you. I am infected myself, and every Room in the House, has infected People in it, so that there is real Danger in Writing. [John speaks of a plague in the Boston area; also, in many earlier letters, there are allusions to a smallpox epidemic.]

 

Editor’s note: Abigail and John were married on October 25, 1764. They made their home in what today is called The John Quincy Adams Birthplace in Quincy, Massachusetts. John set up his law-practice on the first-floor of their house. Daughter Abigail was born in July, 1765. Rising tensions between England and the American Colonies, and eventual war, however, would preoccupy the Adams for years to come.

 

John’s diary, November 21, 1772, Boston, Massachusetts

Next Tuesday I shall remove my Family to Boston, after residing in Braintree about 19 Months. I have recovered a Degree of Health by this Excursion into the Country, tho I am an infirm Man yet. … How long I shall be able to stay in the City, I know not; if my Health should again decline, I must return to Braintree and renounce the Town entirely. … I must ride frequently to Braintree to inspect my Farm, and when in Boston must spend my Evenings in my Office, or with my Family, and with as little Company as possible.

 

John’s diary, December 17, 1773, Boston, Massachusetts

Last night, 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea … This is the most magnificent Movement of all … I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History. … To let [the tea] be landed, would be giving up the Principle of Taxation by Parliamentary Authority, against which the Continent have struggled for 10 years. [It would subject] ourselves and our Posterity forever to Egyptian Taskmasters. … What measures will the [English] Ministry take, in Consequence of this?

 

Abigail’s letter, December 30, 1773, Weymouth, Massachusetts

Alass! How many snow banks devide thee and me and my warmest wishes to see thee will not melt one of them. I have not heard one Word from thee, or our Little ones since I left home. I did not take any cold coming down, and find my self in better Health than I was. … We have not heard one Word respecting the Tea at the Cape or else where.

 

John’s letter, May 12, 1774, Boston, Massachusetts

I am extremely afflicted with the Relation [infection] your Father gave to me, of the Return of your Disorder. I fear you have taken some Cold. … We live my dear Soul, in an Age of Tryal. What will be the Consequence I know not. The town of Boston … must suffer martyrdom … it dies a noble Cause … of Truth, of Virtue, of Liberty and of Humanity

 

John’s diary, June 17, 1774, Boston, Massachusetts

I wander alone, and ponder. I muse, I mope, I ruminate. … The objects before me, are too grand, and multifarious for my Comprehension. – We have not Men, fit for the Times, We are deficient in Genius, in Education, in Travel, in Fortune – in every Thing. I feel unutterable Anxiety. – God grant us Wisdom, and Fortitude!

 

John’s letter, June 29, 1774, Boston, Massachusetts

… my dear Partner, from the Affection which we feel for our lovely Babes, apply ourselves by every Way, we can, to the Cultivation of our Farm. Let Frugality, and Industry, but our Virtues, if they are not of any others. And above all Cares of this Life let our ardent Anxiety be, to mould the Minds and Manners of our Children. Let us teach them not only to do virtuously but to excel. To excel they must be taught to be steady, active, and industrious.

 

John’s letter, July 1, 1774, York, Massachusetts

I have not an easy Moment, without my Pen in my Hand. My Time might have been improved to some Purpose, in mowing Grass, raking Hay, or hoeing Corn, weeding Carrotts, picking or shelling Peas. Much better should I have been employed in schooling my Children, in teaching them to write, cipher, Latin, French, English and Greek. I sometimes think I must come to this – to be the Foreman upon my own Farm, and the School Master to my own Children.

I confess myself to be full of Fears that the [English] Ministry and their Friends and Instruments, will prevail, and crush the Cause and Friends of Liberty. The Minds of that Party are so filled with Prejudices, against me, that they will take all Advantages, and do me all the Damage they can. These Thoughts have their Turns in my Mind, but in general my Hopes are predominant. … I will not willingly see Blockheads, whom I have a Right to despise, elevated above me, and insolently triumphing over me. Nor shall Knavery, through any Negligence of mine, get the better of Honesty, nor Ignorance of Knowledge, nor Folly of Wisdom, nor Vice of Virtue. I must entreat you, dear Partner in all the Joys and Sorrows, Prosperity and Adversity of my Life, to take a Part with me in the Struggle.

I pray God for your Health – intreat you to rouse your whole Attention to the Family, the stock, the Farm, the Dairy. Let every Article of Expence which can possibly be spared be retrench’d. Keep the Hands attentive to their Business, and [let] the most prudent Measures of every kind be adopted and pursued with Alacrity and Spirit.

 

John’s letter, July 6, 1774, Falmouth, Massachusetts

The Letters I have written or may write, my Dear, must be kept secret or at least shewn with great Caution. … Kiss my dear Babes for me…

 

John’s letter, July 7, 1774, Falmouth, Massachusetts

I go mourning in my Heart, all the Day long, tho I say nothing. I am melancholy for the Public, and anxious for my Family, as for myself… For God Sake make your Children, hardy, active and industrious, for Strength, Activity and Industry will be their only Resource and Dependence.

 

Abigail’s letter, August 19, 1774, Braintree, Massachusetts

The great distance between us, makes the time appear very long to me. It seems already a month since you left me. The great anxiety I feel for my Country, for you and for our family renders the day tedious, and the night unpleasant. … Did ever any Kingdom or State regain their Liberty, when once it was invaded without Blood shed? I cannot think of it without horror. Yet we are told that all the Misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great Sollicitude for present tranquility, and by an excessive love of peace they neglected the means of make it sure and lasting. They ought to have reflected, says Polibius [Greek historian, 200 BC], that there is nothing more desirable, or advantageous than peace, when founded in justice and honor, so there is nothing more shameful and at the same time more pernicious when attained by bad measures, and purchased at the price of liberty. … I have taken a very great fondness for reading Rollin’s ancient History since you left me. I am determined to go thro with it if possible in these my days of solitude. I find great pleasure and entertainment from it, and have perswaided Johnny [John Quincy Adams, the future President] to read me a page or two every day, and hope he will from his desire to oblige me entertain a fondness for it. … The little flock remember Pappa; and kindly wish to see him. So does your most affectionate, Abigail Adams.

 

John’s letter, August 28, 1774, Prince Town, New Jersey

Remember my tender Love to my little Nabby [Abigail the second]. Tell her she must write me a Letter and inclose it in the next you send. I am charmed with your Amusement with our little Johnny. Tell him I am glad to hear he is so good a Boy as to read to his Mamma, for her Entertainment, and to keep himself our of the company of rude Children. … The Education of our Children is never out of my Mind. Train them to virtue, habituate them to industry, activity, and Spirit. Make them consider every Vice, as shameful and unmanly: fire them with Ambition to be useful – make them disdain to be destitute of any useful, or ornamental Knowledge or Accomplishment. Fix their ambition upon great and solid Objects, and their Contempt upon little, frivolous, and useless ones. It is Time, my dear, for you to begin to teach them French. Every Decency, Grace, and Honesty should be inculcated upon them.

 

John’s letter, September 8, 1774, Phyladelphia

When or where this Letter will find you, I know not. In what Scenes of Distress and Terror, I cannot foresee. – We have received a confused Account from Boston, of a dreadful Catastrophy. The Particulars, We have not heard. We are waiting with the Utmost Anxiety and Impatience, for further Intelligence.

 

Abigail’s letter, September 14, 1774, Braintree, Massachusetts

Five weeks have past and not one line [from you] have I received… Every one I see is inquiring after you and when did I hear.

 

Abigail’s letter, September 16, 1774, Braintree, Massachusetts

I Dined today at Coll. Quincys. They were so kind as to send me, and Nabby and Betsy an invitation to spend the Day with them… Upon my return at night Mr. Thaxter [cousin of Mrs. Adams and law-student to Mr. Adams] met me at the door with your Letter dated from Prince town New Jersey. It really gave me such a flow of Spirits that I was not composed eno to sleep till one o’clock… You will burn all these Letters least they should fall from your pocket and thus expose your most affectionate Friend, Abigail Adams.

 

John’s letter, September 16, 1774, Philadelphia, The First Continental Congress

Having a Leisure Moment, while the Congress is assembling, I gladly embrace it to write you a Line. When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a Motion, that it should be opened with Prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of N. York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious Sentiments … that We could not join in the same act of Worship. – Mr. S. Adams arose and said he was no Bigot, and could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country.

 

John’s letter, September 20, 1774, Philadelphia, The First Continental Congress

Frugality, my Dear, Frugality, Economy, Parcimony must be our Refuge. I hope the Ladies are every day diminishing their ornaments, and the Gentlemen too. Let us Eat Potatoes and drink Water. Let us wear Canvass, and undressed Sheepskins, rather than submit to the unrighteous, and ignominious Domination that is prepared for us.

 

John’s letter, September 29, 1774, Philadelphia, The First Continental Congress

… the anxious, distressed State you must be in, amidst the Confusions and Dangers, which surround you. I long to return, and administer all the Consolation of my Power, but when I shall have accomplished all the Business I have to do here, I know not, and if it should be necessary to stay till Christmas, or longer, in order to effect our Purposes, I am determined patiently to wait.

 

Abigail’s letter, October 16, 1774, Braintree, Massachusetts

I am wearied to Death with the Life I lead. The Business of the Congress is tedious, beyond Expression. This Assembly is like no other that ever existed. Every man is a great Man – an orator, a Critick, a statesman, and therefore every Man upon every Question must shew his oratory, his Criticism and his Political Abilities. The Consequence of this is, that Business is drawn and spun out to immeasurable Length. I believe that if it was moved and seconded that We should come to Resolution that Three and two make five We should be entertained with Logick and Rhetorick, Law, History, Politicks and Mathematicks, concerning the Subject for two whole Days, and then We should pass the Resolution unanimously in the Affirmative.

 

Abigail’s letter, October 16, 1774, Braintree, Massachusetts

My Much Loved Friend, I dare not express to you at 300 miles distance how ardently I long for your return. … I greatly fear that the arm of treachery and violence is lifted over us as a Scourge and heavy punishment from heaven for our numerous offences…

 

Editor’s note: The First Continental Congress adjourned in October, to reconvene the following May. John Adams was with his family in Braintree during the interim; during which time prelude to war began to quicken. The shootings at Lexington would precipitate a new spirit at the Second Congress.

 

John’s letter, May 2, 1775, Hartford

In Case of real Danger … fly to the Woods with our Children

 

Abigail’s letter, June [16?], 1775, Weymouth, Massachusetts

I set down to write to you a Monday, but really could not compose my-self sufficiently: the anxiety I suffered from not hearing one syllable from you for more than five weeks…

 

Editor’s note: At the Second Congress John Adams found himself beset by physical ailment, unpleasantness compounded by a faction within the Assembly that urged reconciliation with England. Despite these setbacks, Adams and the Congress moved forward to establish an Army with George Washington as its head.

 

John’s letter, June 17, 1775, Philadelphia, The Second Continental Congress

America is a great, unwieldy Body. Its Progress must be slow. It is like a large Fleet sailing under Convoy. The fleetest Sailors must wait for the dullest and slowest. Like a Coach and six [horses] – the swiftest Horses must be slackened and the slowest quickened, that all my keep an even Pace. It is long since I heard from you. I fear you have been kept in continual Alarms. … We have appointed a continental Fast. Millions will be upon their Knees at once before their great Creator.

 

Abigail’s letter, June 18, 1775, Braintree, Massachusetts

Dearest Friend, The Day; perhaps the decisive Day is come on which the fate of America depends. My bursting Heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear Friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his Country – saying better to die honourably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the Gallows. Great is our loss. … Charlestown is laid in ashes. The Battle began upon our entrenchments at Bunker Hill...

 

John’s letter, June 27, 1775, Philadelphia, The Second Continental Congress

This Moment received two Letters from you. Courage, my dear! We shall be supported in Life, or comforted in Death. I rejoice that my Countrymen behaved so bravely, tho not so skillfully conducted as I could wish. I hope this defect will be remedied by the new modeling of the Army.

 

Abigail’s letter, June 18, 1775, Braintree, Massachusetts

Dearest Friend… We live in continual Expectation of Hostilities. Scarcely a day that does not produce some, but like Good Nehemiah having made our prayer with God, and set the people with their Swords, their Spears and their bows we will say unto them, Be not afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and terrible, and fight for your Brethren, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your houses… Tis exceeding dry weather. We have not had any rain for a long time.

 

John’s letter, July 7, 1775, Philadelphia, The Second Continental Congress

Your description of the Distresses of the worthy inhabitants of Boston … is enough to melt an Heart of stone. Our consolation must be this, my dear, that Cities may be rebuilt, and a People reduced to Poverty, may acquire fresh Property: But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their [liberty], they can never regain it. … The Loss of Mr. Mathers Library … is irreparable… In every Society of Men [this Congress] … you will find some who are timid, their Fears hurry them away upon every Alarm – some who are selfish and avaricious, on whose callous Hearts nothing but Interest and Money can make Impression. There are some Persons in New York and Philadelphia, to whom a ship is dearer than a City, and a few Barrells of flower, than a thousand Lives – other Mens Lives, I mean. You ask, can they realize what We suffer? I answer No, They cant, they dont… My Health and especially my Eyes have been so very bad, that I have not been fit for Business as I ought…

 

Abigail’s letter, August 10, 1775, Braintree, Massachusetts

Your Brother Elihu lies very dangerously sick with Dysentery [a local plague]…

 

Abigail’s letter, September 25, 1775, Braintree, Massachusetts

Woe follows Woe and one affliction treads upon the heal of another… I was ill and our little Tommy…

 

Abigail’s letter, October 1, 1775, Weymouth, Massachusetts

Have pitty upon me, have pitty upon me o! thou my beloved for the Hand of God presseth me soar … How can I tell you (o my bursting Heart) that my Dear Mother has Left me, this day about 5 o’clock she left this world for an infinitely better… Tis a dreadful time with this whole province. Sickness and death are in almost every family.

 

John’s letter, October 1, 1775, Philadelphia, The Second Continental Congress

I feel – I tremble for You. Poor Tommy! … At this Distance I can do no good to you nor yours … I am charmed by [your] Admirable Fortitude, and that divine Spirit of Resignation which appears in your letters. I cannot express the Satisfaction it gives me, nor how much it contributes to support me.

 

Abigail’s letter, November 27, 1775, Braintree, Massachusetts

I wish I knew what mighty things were fabricating [at your Congress]. If a form of Government is to be established here what one will be assumed? Will it be left to our assemblies to chuse one? And will not many men have many minds? and shall we not run into Dissentions among ourselves?

I am more and more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature, like the grave cries, give, give. The great fish swallow up the small, and he who is most strenuous for the Rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after prerogatives of Government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.

 

Abigail’s letter, July 13, 1776, Boston, Massachusetts

I have really so many cares upon my Hands and Mind, with a bad inflammation in my Eyes that I have not been able to write. I now date from Boston where I yesterday arrived and was with all 4 of our Little ones inoculated for the small pox…

 

Abigail’s letter, August 14, 1776, Braintree, Massachusetts

If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, What shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it. … I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution, may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal [inclined toward personal freedoms] to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principles which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishment. Excuse me, my pen has run away with me…

 

John’s letter, May 22, 1777, 4 o’clock in the morning

The Charms of the Morning at this Hour, are irresistible… I shall be on Horseback in a few Minutes, and then I shall enjoy the Morning, in more Perfection… I am wearied to Death with the Wrangles between military officers, high and low. They Quarrel like Cats and Dogs. They worry one another like Mastiffs. Scrambling for Rank and Pay like Apes for Nutts. I believe there is no one Principle, which predominates in human Nature, in every stage of Life, from the Cradle to the Grave, in Males and females, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, high and low, as this Passion for Superiority… Every human Being compares itself in its own Imagination, with every other round about it, and will find some Superiority over every other real or imaginary, or it will die of Grief and Vexation. I have seen it among Boys and Girls at school, among Lads at college, among Practicers at the Bar, among the Clergy in their Associations, among Clubbs of Friends, among the People in Town Meetings, among the Members of an House of Rep[resentative]s, among the Grave Councillors, on the more solemn Bench of Justice, and in that awfully August Body of the Congress, and on many of its Committees – and among Ladies every Where – But I never saw it operate with such Keenness, Ferocity and Fury, as among military Officers. They will go terrible Lengths, in their Emulations, their Envy and Revenge, in Consequence of it.

So much for Philosophy. – I hope my five or six Babes are all well… Pray how does your Asparagus perform?

A biographer of the Adams noted: “June and July 1777 were sorely trying months. There was little reassurance in reports from the environs beyond Braintree. General Burgoyne’s army was advancing… Inaction seemed to have laid hold upon the Congress. Looking inward, Abigail Adams found herself in those concluding months of her pregnancy more apprehensive than she had every been before. ‘I look forward to the middle of july with more anxiety than I can describe, and the Thoughts of 3 hundred miles distance are as Greivious as the perils I have to pass through,’ she wrote. ‘I am cut of from the privilidge which some of the Brute creation enjoy, that of having their mate sit by them with anxious care during all their Solitary confinement.’ Of the eleven surviving letters which John Adams wrote his wife between the end of June and July 28, in which he vainly and repetitiously attempted to alleviate the loneliness of her ordeal, only one appears below. The terse intelligence he received on the latter date from the faithful [cousin] John Thaxter at the farm cottage in Braintree confirmed that Abigail’s apprehensions were only too well grounded.”

 

Abigail’s letter, June 23, 1777, Braintree, Massachusetts

I have just retird to my Chamber, but an impulce seazes me to write you a few lines before I close my Eyes. Here I often come and sit myself down to think of my absent Friend, to ruminate over past scenes, to read over Letters… In my last I expressed some fears lest the Enemy should soon invade us here… How hard it is to reconcile myself to six months longer absence… Do you sigh for Home? … I wish the day passt, yet dread its arrival. – Adieu most sincerely most affectionately Yours.

 

Abigail’s letter, July 9, 1777, Braintree, Massachusetts

I have been very unwell… I was last night taken with a shaking fit and am very apprehensive that a life was lost [miscarriage].

 

John’s letter, July 10, 1777, Philadelphia

My Mind is again Anxious, and my Heart in Pain for my Dearest Friend…

 

John Thaxter’s letter to John Adams, July 13, 1777, Braintree, Massachusetts

Sir, the day before yesterday Mrs. Adams was delivered of a daughter; (but) it grieves me to add, Sir, that it was still born….

 

Abigail’s letter, July 16, 1777, Braintree, Massachusetts

Join with me my Dearest Friend in Gratitude to Heaven, that a life I know you value, has been spaired and carried thro Distress and danger although the dear Infant is numbered with its ancestors… My Heart was much set upon a Daughter… No one was so much affected with the loss of it as its Sister who mourned in tears for Hours

 

Abigail’s letter, July 23, 1777, Braintree, Massachusetts

We every day look for an attack upon us… The Corn looks well

 

John’s letter, July 28, 1777, Philadelphia

the Loss of this sweet little Girl, has most tenderly and sensibly affected me. I feel a Grief and Mortification…

 

John Adams to John Quincy Adams [age 10], August  11, 1777, Philadelphia

My dear Son, As the War in which your Country is engaged will probably hereafter attract your Attention, more than it does at this Time, and as the future Circumstances of your Country, may require other Wars … I wish to turn your Thoughts early to such Studies, as will afford you the most solid Instruction and Improvement for the Part which may be allotted you to act on the Stage of Life. There is no History, perhaps, better adapted to this useful Purpose than that of Thucidides, an Author, of whom I hope you will make yourself perfect Master, in the original language, which is Greek, the most perfect of all human Languages… You will find in your Father’s Library, the works of Mr. Hobbes … a learned and exact Translation of Thucidides…

 

Editor’s note: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War remains highly revered and, to this day, is studied in military colleges. Thucydides was the first historian to attempt a scientific analysis of events of the world, the first to avoid attributing outcomes to “the gods.” His realistic view of unenlightened human nature, its depths of depravity, renders his writings as more than a “period piece” but timeless literature. I like Friedrich Nietzsche’s evaluation of Thucydides: “His writings must be carefully studied line by line, and his unuttered thoughts must be read as distinctly as what he actually says. There are few thinkers so rich in unuttered thoughts... [I]t is courage in the face of reality that distinguishes such natures as Thucydides from Plato: Plato is a coward in the face of reality—consequently he takes refuge in the ideal: Thucydides is a master of himself—consequently he is able to master life.” I am rocked and set back by the insight of Nietzsche. “Courage in the face of reality” dominates Thucydides’ writings. I am reminded of Tolle’s often advice of accepting the present moment, no matter how distasteful it might be. We might not like what’s happening right now, but, for the moment, it is what it is, and, until we can change it, it will remain so. It does no good to whine, “This should not be happening,” and then to close our eyes to what’s real. Nietzsche’s use of the word “coward” is jarring. But he is correct. Plato’s idealism, his “Republic,” a flight toward totalitarianism, is an unauthorized escape from untoward reality. We cannot fix what’s wrong right now until we first accept the present moment with cool aplomb. We don’t have to like it, but we have to acknowledge what is; to do otherwise is to mire ourselves in neurotic dysfunction.

 

 

Abigail’s letter, October 25, 1777, Boston, Massachusetts

The joyful news of the Surrender of General Burgoin and his Army to our Victorious Troops prompted me to take a ride this afternoon with my daughter to Town to join to morrow with my Friends in thanksgiving and praise to the Supreem Being… This day dearest of Friends compleats 13 years since we were solemly united in wedlock; 3 years of the time we have been cruelly separated. I have patiently as I could endured it with the Belief that you were serving your Country… May future generations rise up and call you Blessed … and I shall have less reason to regret the deprivation of my own particular felicity.

 

Editor’s note: On November 28, 1777, Congress appointed John Adams Ambassador to France. In mid-February 1778, with his son John Quincy, Adams would sail for Europe on the frigate, Boston. British ships patrolled the coast, intending to seize the new Ambassador-as-traitor and to send him to England for trial and execution. The Boston, however, under cover of thick fog, slipped by the British sentries, and proceeded to the “court of France.”

 

John’s diary, April 1, 1778, France

[While attending an official state dinner, a very saucy lady engaged the U.S. Ambassador in repartee] “Mr. Adams, by your Name I conclude you are descended from the first Man and Woman, and probably in your family may be preserved a tradition which may resolve a difficulty which could never explain. I could never understand how the first Couple found out the Art of lying together?”

To me, whose acquaintance with Women had been confined to America, where the manners of the Ladies were universally characterized at that time by Modesty, Delicacy, and Dignity, this question was surprising and shocking: but although I believe I first blushed, I was determined not to be disconcerted. I thought it would be as well for once to set a brazen face against a brazen face and answer a fool according to her folly, I answered her, “Madame, My Family resembles the first Couple both in name and in their frailties so much that I have no doubt We are descended from that in Paradise. But the Subject was perfectly understood by us, whether by tradition I could not tell: I rather thought it was by Instinct, for there was a Physical quality in Us resembling the Power of Electricity or of the Magnet, by which when a Pair approached within a striking distance they flew together like the Needle to the Pole.” … she replied, “Well, I know not how it was, but this I know, it is a very happy Shock.”

 

Editor’s note: John Adams would quickly learn a wariness for the over-sexed and haughty nature of French uppercrust society. At another time he recorded that, seemingly, all men there had their mistresses, and made no shame of concealing this. Even a Bishop, he said, while attending official dinners, would be accompanied by his concubine - well, ain't 'dat sweet. In this libidinous atmosphere, the intellectual Puritan country-lawyer from Braintree, now suddenly man-of-the-world, thrust upon an international stage, would represent the fledgling United States Of America. As a party-of-one, John had'em outnumbered.

 

John’s letter, April 12, 1778, France

[His first surviving letter to Abigail from France.]

I am so sensible of the Difficulty of conveying Letters safe, to you, that I am afraid to write any Thing more that to tell you that after all the Fatigues and Dangers of my voyage … I am here in Health…

 

Abigail’s letter, May 18, 1778, Braintree, Massachusetts

I have waited with great patience, restraining as much as possible every anxious Idea for 3 months. But now every Vessel which arrives sits my expectation upon the wing…

 

John’s letter, June 3, 1778, France

There is so much danger that my Letter may fall into malicious Hands … [Viewing unfavorably the France's emphasis on luxury and consequent dissipation, he fulminates] If I had Power I would forever banish and exclude from America all Gold, silver, precious stones, Alabaster, Marble, Silk, Velvet, and Lace…

 

Abigail’s letter, June 30, 1778, Braintree, Massachusetts

Shall I tell my dearest that tears of joy filled my Eyes this morning at the sight of his well known hand, the first line which has blessed my Sight since four months absence

 

John Quincy Adams [age 11] to his mother, Abigail Adams, September 27, 1778, France

My Pappa enjoins me to keep a journal, or a diary, of the Events that happen to me, and of objects that I see … yet I have not patience, and perseverance enough to do it so constantly as I ought…

 

John’s letter, November 6, 1778, France

[Abigail grew frustrated and desperate for news from her husband]

We have received information that so many of our Letters have been thrown overboard, that I fear you will not have heard so often from me, as both of us wish…

 

John’s letter, December 2, 1778, France

It is impossible for me to write as I did in America. … It is not safe to write anything, that one is not willing to go into all the Newspapers of the World…

 

John’s letter, December 18, 1778, France

What course shall I take to convince you that my heart is warm? You doubt, it seems – shall I declare it? Would you doubt it the less? – and is it possible you should doubt it? … I beg you would never write to me in such a strain for it really makes me unhappy. Be assured that no time, nor place, can change my heart…

 

Editor's note: Imagine a lovers' spat with responses requiring months to reach the other party; if they arrived at all.

 

 

Abigail’s letter, December 27, 1778, Braintree, Massachusetts

How lonely are my days. How solitary are my nights… I am sometimes quite discouraged from writing. So many vessels are taken, that there is little chance of letters reaching your hands…

 

John’s letter, February 21, 1779, France

You complain that I do not write often enough, and that when I do my Letters are too short. If I were to tell you all  the Tenderness of my Heart, I should do nothing but write to you

 

[Adams sailed for Boston on June 17, arriving on August 2, 1779. Within 3 months, however, duty summoned him back to France.]

 

John’s letter, December 16, 1779, Spain (on the way to France)

After this wandering Way of Life is passed, I hope to return to my best friend and pass the Remainder of my days in Quiet [on my farm with you]…

 

John’s diary, January 6, 1778, Spain (on the way to France)

[John recounts an incident with a knavish power-mongering RCC bishop who expected all to prostrate themselves in his presence. John refused and “contented myself with a bow.”]

 

Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams [age 13], January 19, 1780, Braintree, Massachusetts

These are the times in which a Genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. … The Habits of a vigorous Mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the Heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into Life, and form the Character of the Hero and the Statesman…

I cannot fulfill the whole of my duty towards you, if I close this Letter, without reminding you of a failing which calls for a strict attention and watchful care to correct. You must do it for yourself. You must curb that impetuosity of temper, for which I have frequently chided you, but which properly directed may be productive of great good … If you indulge yourself in the practice of any foible or vice in youth, it will gain strength with your years and become your conqueror.

 

John’s letter, May 12, 1780, Paris

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

 

Abigail’s letter, November 13, 1780, Braintree, Massachusetts

How long is the space since I heard from my dear absent Friends? Most feelingly do I experience that sentiment of Rousseau’s “that one of the greatest evils of absence, and the only one which reason cannot alleviate, is the inquietude we are under concerning the actual state of those we love, their health, their life, their repose, their affections. Nothing escapes the apprehensions of those who have everything to lose.” Nor are we more certain of the present condition than of the future. How tormenting is absence! How fatally capricious is that situation in which we can only enjoy the past moment, for the present is not yet arrived. Stern Winter is making hasty strides towards me, and chills the warm fountain of my blood, by the gloomy prospect of passing it alone, for what is the rest of the world to me? “Its pomp, its pleasures and its nonsense all?”

The fond endearments of social and domestic life is the happiness I sigh for, of that I am in a great measure deprived by a separation from my dear partner and children, at the only season in life when it is probable we might have enjoyed them all together. In a year or two, the sons will be so far advanced in life, as to make it necessary for their benefit, to place them as the seats of Learning and Science, indeed, the period has already arrived, and whilst I still fondle over one, it is no small relief to my anxious mind, that those who are separated from me are under your care and inspection. They have arrived at an age when a Mother’s care becomes less necessary and a Father’s more important. I long to embrace them. The Tears my dear Charles shed at parting have melted my Heart a thousand times. Why does the mind Love to turn to those painful scenes and to recollect them with pleasure? …

I am wholly unconscious of giving you pain in this way [a complaining in the letters]… If anything of the kind escaped my pen, had I not ample retaliation, and did we not Balance accounts tho the sum was rather in your favor even after having destroyed some of the proof. In the most intimate of Friendships, there must not be any recrimination. If I complained, it was from the ardour of affection which could not endure the least apprehension of neglect, and you who was conscious that I had no cause would not endure the supposition. We however wanted no mediating power to adjust the difference, we no sooner understood each properly, but as the poet says, “The falling out of Lovers is the renewal of Love. Be to my faults a little Blind, Be to my virtues ever kind” and you are sure of a Heart all your own, which no other Earthly object ever possessed. Sure I am that no a syllable of complaint has ever stained your paper, in any Letter I have ever written since you had left me. … You well know I never doubted your Honor. Virtue and principle confirm the indissoluable Bond which affection first began, and my sincerity depends not upon your passion, which other objects might easily excite, but upon the sober and settled dictates of … Honor. It is these that cement [and] ensure affections…

Your brother has lost his youngest daughter….

 

John Adams to John Quincy Adams, student in Amsterdam, December 28, 1780

… Do not conclude from this that I advise you to spend much of your Time or Thoughts upon these Exercises and Diversions [skating, riding, dancing]. In Truth I care very little about any of them. They should never be taken but as Exercise and Relaxation of Business and study. But as your [young] constitution requires vigorous Exercise, it will not be amiss to spend your Time in swimming, riding, dancing, fencing, and skating, which are all manly amusements… Everything in Life should be done with Reflection, and Judgment, even the most insignificant Amusements. They should all be arranged in subordination to the great Plan of Happiness and Utility. That you may attend to this Maxim is the Wish of your affectionate Father.

 

John Adams to John Quincy Adams [age14], student in Amsterdam, May 14, 1781

I am glad you have finished Phaedrus and made such progress in Nepos, and in Greek. Amidst your ardor for Greek and Latin, I hope you will not forget your mother Tongue. Read somewhat in the English Poets every day. You will find them elegant, entertaining and instructive Companions, through your whole Life. … You will never be alone with a Poet in your pocket. How many weary hours have been made alert, to me, in the course of my Life, by this means.

 

Abigail’s letter, August 1, 1781, Braintree, Massachusetts

The next month will compleat a whole year since a single Line from your Hand has reached [my] longing eyes…

 

John’s letter, October 9, 1781, Amsterdam

This is the first time I have been able to write to you since my Sickness… seized with a fever…

 

John’s letter, May 14, 1782, The Hague

I must go to you or you must come to me. I cannot live in this horrid Solitude

 

A biographer noted: “[The Adams’] daughter Nabby, now seventeen, had an admirer, Royall Tyler, recently established in Braintree. The mother, though clearly taken with the young lawyer, was honest in listing his flaws. But, Adams, absorbed with duties and concerned for the safety of John Quincy in his return journey from [Russia], was in no mood to listen charitably to her description of the talented and charming youth who had dissipated half a fortune and now sought the hand of the Adamses’ only daughter.

 

John’s letter, January 22, 1783, Paris

[Addressing the subject of Abigail the younger’s suitor] I think he and you have advanced too fast, and I should advise both to retreat. Your Family as well as mine have had too much Cause to rue the Qualities which, by your own Account, have been in him. This is too serious a subject to equivocate about. I don’t like this method of courting Mothers

 

John’s letter, February 4, 1783, Paris

I don’t like the Trait in his Character, his Gaiety. He is but a Prodigal Son, and though a Penitent, has no Right to your Daughter, who deserves a Character without a Spot. That Frivolity of Mind, which breaks out into such Errors in Youth, never gets out of the Man but shows itself in some mean Shape or other through Life. – You seem to me to have favoured this affair much too far, and I wish it off. Nevertheless … I must submit my Daughter’s Destiny to her own Judgment and her own Heart… I am so uneasy about this subject that I would come instantly home if I could with decency.

 

Editor’s note: Both these young people eventually married others.

 

John’s letter, July 17, 1783, Paris

I cannot live much longer without my Wife and Daughter, and I will not

 

John’s letter, October 14, 1783, Paris

My dearest Friend, I have had another Fever, which brought me low…

 

Editor’s note: On Sunday, June 20, 1784, Abigail Adams boarded a ship to cross the Atlantic to be with her husband in London.

 

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, July 20, 1784, England; she recounts an event during a carriage ride, approaching London

Upon this road, [was] a Gentleman alone in a [carriage] past us, and very soon a coach before us stopped, and there was a hue and a cry, “a Robbery, a Robbery.” The man in the [carriage] was the person robbed, and this, in open day, with carriages constantly passing. We were not a little alarmed and everyone [was] concealing their money… The Robber was pursued and taken in about two miles, and we saw the poor wretch, ghastly and horrible, brought along on foot, his horse rode by a person who took him, who also had his pistol. He looked like a youth of 20 only … and looked Despair. You can form some idea of my feelings when they [shouted] at him], “aya, you have but a short time, the [trial is set for] next month, and then my Lad, you swing.” Tho every robber may deserve Death, yet to exult over the wretched is what our Country is not accustomed to; long may it be free of such villainies, and long may it preserve a commiseration for the wretched!

 

John’s letter, July 26, 1784, The Hague

I am twenty years younger than I was Yesterday [as I have learned of your arrival in London]…

A biographer noted: “Neither [Abigail nor John] recorded with any peculiarity the reunion at the Adelphi in London on August 7, 1784. Five months later, Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to Mrs. Cranch, ‘You will chide me,’ for not recounting the event, ‘but, you know, my dear Sister, that poets and painters wisely draw a veil over those scenes which surpass the pen… we were indeed a very happy family once more, met together after a separation of four years.’”

 

 

Kairissi. I am deeply moved by the story of Abigail and John. And I’m feeling what the author means about the wisdom of Abigail. She wasn’t perfect; she did have some outdated views of God lingering from her Puritan heritage.

Elenchus. They weren’t so Puritan as to enjoy, right from the start, a license to use terms like “Miss Adorable.”

K. (smiling) I like to think of them as “enlightened Puritans.”

E. (small smile) Puritans by day, admirers of Gibran's paintings after dark.

K. (softly laughing)

K. (smiling) Now let’s be fair. They didn’t do anything wrong. I’m quite inspired by their conduct and their lives.

E. I have to admit – certain passages from Abigail are just drop-dead beautiful in their wisdom.

K. Which one is your favorite?

E. There are four or five that are incredible, but the one about the robber on the way to London, the mob’s glee for his coming hanging, and Abigail’s eloquent compassion, I think, is just heart-stopping. It made me think how, in recent times, how far we’ve fallen from our Founding Mother’s dictum.

K. What are you thinking of?

E. The soldiers who found Osama bin Laden’s hide-out were under orders, from the “top of the flagpole,” not to allow his surrender, but to kill him. As Mother Abigail said to all of us, this is not what our country stands for! – even though “the wretch” may deserve death. I count that murder as one of the darkest acts our country ever committed. This is not who we are!

K. (sighing)

K. (softly) Abigail well understood the dark side of human nature. And how articulately-stated is her deep insight:

I am more and more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature, like the grave cries, give, give. The great fish swallow up the small, and he who is most strenuous for the Rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after prerogatives of Government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.

K. I gasp in awe at her sublime use of language – “…at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.”

E. Wow!

K. Dear, what are you left with after reading their letters?

E. (sighing) I feel so oppressed by their burdens! Their letters would be destroyed enroute -- no word getting through to each other, often, for many months; local plagues bringing death to almost every family; drought for their farm; hyper-inflation during the war years; personal health problems; extreme loneliness and despair. And poor Abigail with-child, having just lost her mother, now would have to deliver the baby alone. How we feel her terrible anxiety with, “the Brutes of creation,” their mates, are better off than I, she lamented, as many of them help each other in the birthing process -- but she had no one to stand by her.

K. She had to run the farm all alone. How poignant her letters, discussing matters of high moment -- the war, or Congress, or educating their children – but then to close her missive with, “the corn does well”; or, sometimes, more darkly, “your brother’s baby daughter just died.”

E. And imagine John, receiving this barrage of bad news, from every quarter, for years, and then having to be on top of his game every day, having to “be the adult,” banging heads with egos who were jostling for power, "the Apes scurrying for nutts," as he tried to do what was best for the country.

K. It is incredible that any of this worked out! What a testimony to sheer human grit and determination!

E. At the end of all this, Dear, what can we say about their love affair?

K. No one can ever know if the love of two might rise to the level of the Twin relationship. This is something they will have to evaluate. I will say this, though – during those draconian years, they needed each other so much, just for survival, it would have been difficult to sort out true love from necessity, if you see what I mean.

E. In more pacific times, free of utilitarian concern, the truest nature of their love will have presented itself.

K. I would like to say one more thing about Abigail and her son John Quincy. Her words to him, like some august Greek orator, astound us with their perspicacity and gravitas:

These are the times in which a Genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. … The Habits of a vigorous Mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the Heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into Life, and form the Character of the Hero and the Statesman…

K. John was 13 when he received this advice. Imagine the effect upon a young impressionable mind to be given such eloquence from a mother! Fast-forward 61 years to 1841. John Quincy, at age 74, now a former President, is asked to defend, before the US Supreme Court, an issue which would limit the scope of slavery in America. His efforts were popularized in the movie, “Amistad,” the name of Spanish slave-ship.

Attorney Adams was not expected to prevail in his arguments before the High Court because several of the Justices were from Southern states, which, at the time, supported slavery. However, John Quincy’s arguments were so compelling, so ingenious, and so patently supportive of the dignity of human rights, that even the Southern judges buckled and ruled in his favor.

My point is this: John Quincy’s achievement, his formidable powers of persuasion, was deemed to be a kind of miracle. How did this come to be? I submit to you that the voice and spirit of his mother Abigail, her incisive and penetrating wisdom into the human heart of darkness, as her influence shaped her son's character and mind, led John to a great moral victory that day – a victory for the whole country and for the world.

The hand that rocks the cradle...

 

Kairissi. Oh, Elenchus, I'm feeling so inspired by the selfless examples of Abigail and John! They sacrificed so much, surrendered their own time of intimate love  -- for years! -- in order that others could live in freedom.

Elenchus. Yes...

K. I want for us to live that way. I mean, I'm not asking God to create any more trials for us, but, even so, I want to live a life of heroic altruism. Do you remember, before we came here, how I chided the idea of us as a "military family" always on call? Well, part of me hates to think of our happy home-life being disrupted by a summoning to duty, but, I have to admit, as I think of the noble and honorable Abigail and John, I do want to give of myself for the benefit of others.

E. (small smile) Who's the "military spirit" now, Darling Dear?

K. Yeah, I know. I've become more like you -- you're to blame. And you know what?

E. What?

K. Someday I'd like for us to have a family coat-of-arms, a symbolical piece of artwork, representing our strength, our high-mindedness, our love of education, art, and culture, our will toward success and godliness -- all in service of the greater good.

E. (smiling) We can have this artwork over the fireplace in our Summerland living-room. It will be a centerpiece of our home.

K. That would be wonderful. (sighing) Dear, I don't know what it should look like; we'll have to think about it -- but the author's favorite photo of Superboy, I think, takes us in the right direction...

 

nothing is too wonderful to be true if consistent with the laws of nature
        Michael Faraday, the great English chemist and physicist

“ambitious for the sake of others”

 

 

Elenchus. (smiling) "Ambitious for the sake of others," Babe.

Kairissi. (smiling) Yeah... that's how I want us to live our lives.