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.
delegate was none other than Thomas Jefferson, quoted in my American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1997), 242. 32. JA to Moses Gill, 10 June 1775, PA 3:21. 33. JA to AA, 1 October 1775, AFC 1:290. 34. JA to AA, 17 June 1775, AFC 1:215; AA to JA, 16 July 1775, AFC 1:246. 35. JA to AA, 15 April 1776, AFC 1:383. 36. JA to John Trumbull, 13 February 1776, PA 4:22; for the arrival of news about the Prohibitory Act, see Jack N. Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics: An
restoration of the political status of the American colonies “at the end of the late war” (1763). This meant that the colonial assemblies, not Parliament, should legislate “in all cases of taxation and internal polity” but consent to Parliament’s regulation of trade “out of mutual interest to both countries.” While John believed that such an arrangement could work—over a century later it became known as the British Commonwealth—he also believed that the likelihood of the British ministry’s
advocating American independence from all forms of British authority. It had taken a long time to reach this climactic conclusion, longer than John had wished. But now even the ever-impatient and fidgety John Adams found a measure of virtue in the delay. “Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments.” Now that he had won, he could afford to be magnanimous.48 In subsequent recollections of this historic occasion,
Peloponnesian War, eventually in the original Greek, but for now in translation, available in the family library. For poetry, he should begin with Milton’s Paradise Lost. Nabby also received educational advice, mostly to recognize that she was expected to follow her mother’s path beyond what was considered appropriate for women and should make French a special focus. Charles was not pushed as hard as John Quincy. He had the most engaging personality of them all, John told him, but what calling
requests should be sent to the secretary of war, then concluding: “I will not interfere with the discipline and order of the army, because you are my son-in-law.”49 Abigail tended to focus less on Smith’s pathetic character than on Nabby’s unhappy predicament. (She almost surely second-guessed herself about the abandonment of Royall Tyler, who was enjoying a flourishing legal career with a devoted family.) Though any discussion of John’s prospects for reelection was taboo, Nabby’s plight and the