First Family: Abigail and John Adams

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First Family: Abigail and John Adams

Author: Joseph J. Ellis
Publisher: Knopf
Copyright: 2010
Pages: 299
Cover Price: $ 27.95

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John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.

Ellis describes the first meeting between the two as inauspicious—John was twenty-four, Abigail just fifteen, and each was entirely unimpressed with the other. But they soon began a passionate correspondence that resulted in their marriage five years later.

Over the next decades, the couple were separated nearly as much as they were together. John’s political career took him first to Philadelphia, where he became the boldest advocate for the measures that would lead to the Declaration of Independence. Yet in order to attend the Second Continental Congress, he left his wife and children in the middle of the war zone that had by then engulfed Massachusetts. Later he was sent to Paris, where he served as a minister to the court of France alongside Benjamin Franklin. These years apart stressed the Adamses’ union almost beyond what it could bear: Abigail grew lonely, while the Adams children suffered from their father’s absence.

John was elected the nation’s first vice president, but by the time of his reelection, Abigail’s health prevented her from joining him in Philadelphia, the interim capital. She no doubt had further reservations about moving to the swamp on the Potomac when John became president, although this time he persuaded her. President Adams inherited a weak and bitterly divided country from George Washington. The political situation was perilous at best, and he needed his closest advisor by his side: “I can do nothing,” John told Abigail after his election, “without you.” In Ellis’s rich and striking new history, John and Abigail’s relationship unfolds in the context of America’s birth as a nation.(less)

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Background Information

Massachusetts generated some of the most ardent patriotism before the Revolution and it was in Massachusetts that the first shots were fired in anger. The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia beginning in 1776 and produced the Declaration of Independence as well as the Articles of Confederation. Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams. the nation's second president, and a lifelong letter writer whose letters to her husband have been widely published. John Adams of Massachusetts was a Founding Father, the second president, and the founder of an American political dynasty.