American Presidents CHAT

Chat Transcript from March 22nd 1999

C-SPANModerator Welcome to the Chat Room with Celeste Walker. Ms. Walker is the Associate Editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society

knapp what was the relationship between John and Samuel Adams

CelesteWalker John Adams and Samuel Adams were cousins. They were not first cousins however, but a bit removed.

ChuckT Ms Walker... Adams seemed to be a man among Gods. That is, a normal, tangible human being among the Gods of Jefferson and Washington... has this left him short changed in historical terms?

CelesteWalker Adams has never been honored with monuments as the other Founding Fathers have been. I think one of the reasons that we know about Adams' shortcomings is because he wrote about them before anyone else did. It is precisely his humanity that makes him so interesting and exciting to study.

Dawn Sarah How old were the students that John Adams taught right after he graduated from Harvard?

CelesteWalker John Adams taught in Worcester, Mass., after college. I'm not exactly sure of their ages. I think it was probably a mix of students from elementary to early teens. Boys would enter college then at about age 15 or 16.

ChuckT as a follow up to my previous question, Adams may be interesting to study, but have we left him as an under appreciated figure because of our own desire to raise up the founding fathers to a higher level. Adams went so far as to tell the next generation that they were of a better intellectual stock than those who created the nation.

CelesteWalker I think that John Adams is now becoming more well known because people can now read his own words along with those of the other Founders. Up until the 1950s there was only controlled access to the Adams Papers manuscript collection. Now all of the Papers are available for anyone to study.

Dawn Sarah Did John Adams have any medical problems when he was a boy?

CelesteWalker I think he was a healthy youth. In adulthood he had complaints and in the early 1770s in traveled to Connecticut (probably on the advice of his doctor) to bath in the Springs.

guest4 John Adams appointed his son (john quincy adams) to work diplomatic detail in england. I believe that Quincy Adams was 11? or 12 years old at the time. Was this unusual? What was the relationship like between President Adams and his son?

CelesteWalker John Adams was in the Netherlands with John Quincy and Francis Dana. Dana was to travel to Russia to try to establish relations between the U.S. and Russia. French was the language of the European Courts and Dana did not know the language very well. John Quincy did, however. So his father John sent him to Russia with Dana to act as a translator and secretary. It was quite an adventure for a boy.

BDein How did the nature of John Adams' relationship with Thomas Jefferson change over the years. I know they were

CelesteWalker John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were friends and colleagues during the Continental Congress. They became much closer friends when both were stationed in Paris. Jefferson was a frequent visitor to the Adams household and also became good friends with Abigail Adams. Gradually, during the 1790s, their political differences taxed their relationship but they still had great respect for one another. They became estranged during the Jefferson administration. Their good friend Benjamin Rush was able to reconcile the two men in 1812. They exchanged many letters before their deaths. Adams wrote to Jefferson that they should not die before they had a chance to explain themselves to each other.

guest4 Has John Adams ever been featured on any piece of currency or coin in the United States?

CelesteWalker I don't think so. I know he has been on a stamp -- but not recently.

BobC1 I was shocked to learn that mastectomies were performed back in that era. Was there any form of pain control at all back then?

CelesteWalker They had some types of drugs but they would only have dulled the pain. Anesthesia was not invented until the mid-19th century.

zmark I am interested in what John Adams' Unitarian faith meant to him. Unitarianism is quite different today, I believe.

CelesteWalker Unitarianism evolved in New England during John Adams' later life. His religion was very important to him and to his family. The Unitarian churches then would have had a more liberal minister than the Congregational churches.

jae My understanding is that the Adams children spent very little time with their father, and at some point with their mother when she went to be with John. What were the family dynamics as a result?

CelesteWalker John Quincy Adams was with his father in Europe in 1778-79, and 1780-85. Abigail joined them in 1784 with her daughter Abigail. Young Charles and Thomas stayed with their aunt and uncle who were neighbors. The children were always with one parent or their aunt and uncle. I think the children learned to be more independent but they were always in a loving environment. The parents al ways had a strong influence because when they were not with their children they wrote to them.

Sharon C. Smith How many children did John and Abigail have? What were their names and genders?

CelesteWalker They had five children. The oldest was Abigail, born 1765; then John Quincy, born 1767, Susanna, born 1768 - died 1770, Charles born 1770, and finally Thomas Boylston, born 1772. Abigail had a stillborn daughter in 1777.

Buddy What would you consider to be the best biography that can be currently acquired about John Adams?

CelesteWalker I have two recommendations: Joseph Ellis' The Passionate Sage, and John Ferling, John Adams: A Life. If you are interested in his political thought, there is a new book by Bradley Thompson called John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty.

sdetweiler Are the account of purchases made by John and Abigail Adams in Europe extant?

CelesteWalker There is an inventory of John Adams' household belongings that was made in 1782 in the Netherlands. There are many mentions of articles purchased by Abigail in her letters. Many of these can be found in the Adams Family Correspondence, vols. 5-6. These are part of the series of publications done by us he re at the Adams Papers at the Mass. Historical Society.

Steve34 Steam railways were beginning to be built during Adams administration? What was Adams involvement with the development of this vital transportation system?

CelesteWalker I don't think John Adams was involved in the railway. His son, John Quincy, called for (among other things) a national transportation system in his inaugural address. Shortly after John Adams death, the Quincy railway started running to bring Quincy granite to Boston to build the Bunker Hill monument.

Aaron Was Adams faulted for the US poor navy dealing with Barbary

CelesteWalker I don't think he was. The problems with the Barbary states went for years. He was a strong proponent of the navy and was the founder of the Marine Corps.

BobC1 Are there any records to indicate what percentage of letters reached their intended destinations during John Adams' life and how many of John Adams' letters are assumed lost due to the hardships of transportation?

CelesteWalker Surprisingly few letters seem to have been lost. In his official dispatches to Congress, John Adams often made two or even three copies of a letter and sent them on different ships, so he would be sure at least one could get through.

Hisiam Was it John Adams custom to rise early, say around 4:00 , and read the Bible and did he not advise his son John Quincy to do the same?

CelesteWalker This was certainly the custom of John Quincy. I don't know if John Adams did this every day (although we know he felt he should rise early to get some work done). John Adams' diary is not as detailed as his son's. I suspect John Quincy followed his father's example.

Meyersmith I would like to get a book on Abigail's Life as First Lady. Could you recommend one?

CelesteWalker On Abigail you can read Phyllis Lee Levin's Abigail Adams and Charles Akers' Abigail Adams. For a selected bibliography of the members of the Adams family, you can go to: and go to Adams Papers.

jae I am interested to know what your primary responsibilities are as an editor of the Adams Papers?

CelesteWalker My primary responsibility is the editing of John Quincy Adams' diary. I have worked on Adams Family Correspondence and the Papers of John Adams. We transcribe the manuscript letters or diary entries, make sure they are correct, add explanatory footnotes, compile indexes, and publish the volumes. All letters and diaries are published in full. We don't edit anything out.

Steve34 I think I read somewhere that the Adams family raised bees. Is this true?

CelesteWalker I don't know. John Quincy was an avid gardener so it wouldn't be unlikely.

sdetweiler I'd like to know about Adams accounts in Europe. I am especially interested in records of purchase of French porcelain.

CelesteWalker Most of the mentions of items purchased are not too specific. I think the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy may still have some of John and Abigail's china.

caycay What was John Quincy's relationship like with his parents?

CelesteWalker John Quincy Adams loved and respected his family. He and his father were very close; they exchanged many letters discussing current politics and their readings when they were apart. John Quincy spent less time with his mother, but she was a great force in his life. His early years during the Amer . Revolution when refugees were streaming through Quincy were spent with his mother. Many of his values and dedication to his country came from his parents.

Aaron Was Jefferson or Adams responsible for naval cutbacks?

CelesteWalker Adams did not cut back the Navy. He knew of its potential importance to the U.S. if his efforts to avoid war with France were not successful.

C-SPANModerator Thank you, Ms. Walker for joining us at Can chat room participants e-mail the Mass. Historical Society with follow-up questions?

CelesteWalker Yes, they should address their e-mail to

C-SPANModerator Thank you Ms. Walker and everybody who stopped by

CelesteWalker Thank you.

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