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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Monday, September 13, 2021

Yanks Abroad

I don’t want to leave the topic of early Americans in Paris on a down note, so I’ll share this link to Michael K. Beauchamp’s review of A View from Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe by Jeanne E. Abrams.

Beauchamp writes:
The book begins with John Adams’s initial journey to Europe to serve as part of the US diplomatic mission to France, where he served alongside Arthur Lee and Benjamin Franklin. Adams arrived after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce had been signed and ended up doing much of the grunt work of keeping accounts and records while mediating between Franklin and Lee, who were often at odds. While Adams appreciated aspects of French art and culture, he found himself horrified by the decadence of the aristocracy, the futility of court ceremony, the superstitious Catholicism of the lower orders, and the Deism of so many members of the French elite.
Well, maybe John was more impressed on his second long-term posting, in Holland.
Though a Protestant country and one in which Adams secured diplomatic victories, here, too, Adams criticized elements of Dutch society such as the absence of hospitality, the lack of public spirit, and an obsession with accumulating wealth. He also wrote of a growing American oligarchy, which he linked to his opponents in Congress.
Perhaps when Abigail Adams joined her husband she saw more to like.
Abigail’s arrival in 1784 resulted in an analysis of France that mirrored her husband’s judgments. Abigail proved highly critical of Americans like Anne Bingham, whom she believed had become too enamored of French culture, though Abigail praised French women like Adrienne de Lafayette due to her husband’s service to the United States, her knowledge of English, and her elegant but simple dress.
And then the family moved to London.
As in France, the Adamses proved critical of British society, with Abigail particularly shocked by the degree of poverty: “She insisted that the English elite were occupied with the pursuit of enjoyment and pleasure and that they suffered from depraved manners. Moreover, she was grateful that American society did not exhibit the extreme social divides she witnessed in England” (p. 167).
Ironically, John Adams’s political opponents in America would later point to his years in Europe and say he’d become too enamored of Old World societies and too aristocratic in his thinking. However much Adams distrusted popular politics, he consistently criticized European countries for being too dominated by aristocracy and feared America would produce a new aristocracy of wealth.

“Abrams does an excellent job of interweaving the official diplomatic duties of Adams and the personal family dynamics at play,” Beauchamp writes in his review. “Just as importantly, Abrams writes well and the text has a strong narrative, which should allow it to reach a more popular audience than most university press monographs.”

No comments: