Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dear Friend

We've just completed a John Adams marathon.  First we watched a 13-part miniseries, produced in 1976, entitled The Adams Chronicles about John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and two more generations of Adams men.  Next came the 2008 miniseries, John Adams, with seven episodes.

This has been, for me, a refresher course in American history -- the founding of our nation and its struggle to survive the many threats from within and without -- as well as a glimpse into the complexity of the issues facing our fledgling nation and the strong personalities and convictions of the founders.  These men, formerly one-dimensional in my mind, took on flesh and blood, grappled with fundamental issues of independence and governance, and hammered out the ideals upon which our country would stand.

John Adams was portrayed as a man of strong conviction and integrity.  He was also a stickler for detail.  Among his first pursuits as vice president of the newly established nation was leading Congress in a discussion of what title to use when addressing President George Washington.  The debate was long and hot, as Adams wanted a title that showed due respect for the office and others felt anything but "Mr President" smacked of monarchy.  Adams relented, but it was such attention to detail that aided in his success as a strong colonial leader.

That, and his relationship with his wife Abigail.

Life was difficult for the couple from Braintree, Massachusetts.  Newly married, he set off to Boston to build his law practice.  Later he spent years away at the Continental Congress and, still later, in Europe as a diplomat.  Of the first 14 years of his marriage to Abigail (whom he fondly called My Friend), he spent half of it away from home.

The separations were difficult, with Abigail home tending to all the responsibilities of a homeowner, as well as raising their four children.  Not only did he miss her presence as his wife, but also as his confidant.  Over the years they exchanged more than 1200 letters.  It was the counsel of Abigail that helped him stay grounded.

In 1778 he was sent to France to help negotiate an alliance with France in America's battle for independence against Britain.  According to author Joseph J Ellis, in First Family: Abiagil and John Adams, his letters to Abigail were "short, businesslike, and devoid of just the kind of intimate expressions that Abigail craved to hear."  He was afraid the letters might fall into the hands of the British, providing military intelligence that would compromise America's interest.  But she made it plain how she felt about his lifeless letters:

"'The affection I feel for my Friend is of the tenderest kind, matured by years, sanctified by choise and approved by Heaven...What care I then for the ridicule of Britains should this testimony fall into their Hands, nor can I endure that so much caution and circumspection on your part should deprive me of the only consolor of your absence.'"

My hat is off to both John and Abigail Adams, for their profound influence on our nation.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has the original copies, along with transcriptions, of all of their letters.  You can find them here.

1 comment:

wildninja said...

They were extraordinary, and yet in history class we rarely heard about them.

Go gluten-free cooking! I saw that you are GF too.