J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Celebrating John Adams—Would John Adams Approve?

The Massachusetts Historical Society and other august local institutions are going a little hysterical as well as historical over the John Adams miniseries that premieres on Home Box Office this weekend. I never expected to see a larger-than-life cardboard rendition of actor Paul Giamatti in the M.H.S. lobby, for instance. But since this excitement is increasing the historical resources the public can see, who can complain?

Last week the Boston Public Library hosted a showing of the first episode of the seven-part series. Here’s a photograph from that event of Adams biographer David McCullough and M.H.S. president Dennis Fiori, clicked by Michael Dwyer and supplied to Boston 1775 by the society. The next day, I was at the Old State House and heard that producer Tom Hanks had ordered a hundred of the gift shop’s appetizing Boston Massacre mugs.

The M.H.S. has mounted a free public exhibit titled “John Adams: A Life in Letters”:

The exhibition will focus on John Adams’s extraordinary correspondence, especially the letters he exchanged over almost forty years with his “Dearest Friend,” soul mate, and closest political adviser, Abigail Adams; and later, in retirement, his renewed correspondence with an old friend and colleague who had become his bitter political rival, Thomas Jefferson.

The exhibition also will include diaries kept by John Adams, his manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence (he was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration), and a first printing of Adams’s 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution, the oldest written constitution in use today.

In addition to the earliest portraits of John and Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blyth, the Society will exhibit Mather Brown’s portrait of John Adams, painted for Thomas Jefferson (on loan from the Boston Athenaeum), together with views, engravings, memorabilia, and a costume worn by Laura Linney as Abigail.
This exhibit will be open Monday through Saturday, 1:00 to 4:00 P.M., until 31 May at the society’s headquarters, 1154 Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay.

And that’s not all. The M.H.S. is working with Vassar College in Poughkeepsie to mount an exhibition of Adams manuscripts in the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library:
“My Dearest Friend” consists primarily of letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams. While only a sampling of their almost 1,200 surviving letters is on display, the correspondence of John and Abigail is the cornerstone of the most important collection held by the Society, the Adams Family Papers. The exhibition will include some of the most famous letters in American history:
  • Abigail Adams’s admonition to husband John to “Remember the Ladies” as he worked on the “Declaration of Independency,” in a letter dated 31 March 1776.
  • his description for her of the vote for independence in Philadelphia three months later.
  • John’s 2 November 1800 letter to her from the President’s House, the first letter written from the White House, illustrated by James Hoban’s original floor plan of the executive mansion.
This exhibit at Vassar will run 5-30 April 2008.

The M.H.S. website now has a new section on Adams letters that tie directly to the miniseries episodes.

Finally, M.H.S. reference librarian Jeremy Dibbell has uploaded the details of John Adams’s personal library to LibraryThing, as explained here.

Would John Adams have approved of all this hullaballoo? I think that the easiest way to get him to say anything was to propose the opposite, so suggesting that he’d be happy with this public honor would have prompted him to say that he never believed in chasing after fame. But in secret he would have been absolutely delighted.

1 comment:

Don said...

I can not wait to see this! As one who grew up in and around Quincy, I was exposed to "all things Adams" (except for the crypts) at an early age. The interest has survived and I continue to read all I can get on the period.

Interestingly, the early start made me aware of Adams stand on Slavery and the follow through of John Quincy. This resulted in a long study of the subject and collections of Slavery related items such as Bills of Sale (sickening) and documents signed by John Quincy.