No family in three generations has contributed so much to American history as the Adamses. John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis, despite periods of doubt, knew that history, if not their contemporaries, would recognize their accomplishments. When the Adams Papers series is complete, the writings of these three statesmen will have been examined thoroughly.
Aside from the Legal Papers of John Adams, published in 1965, these two volumes are the first in Series III: General Correspondence and Other Papers of the Adams Statesmen. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Papers of John Adams include letters to and from friends and colleagues, reports of committees on which he served, his polemical writings, published and unpublished, and state papers to which he made a contribution.
All of Adams’s newspaper writings, including “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” are in these two volumes. In addition to being a condemnation of the Stamp Act, the “Dissertation” is shown to be one of the building blocks of the theory of a commonwealth of independent states under the king, which reaches complete statement in the Novanglus letters. For the first time, all thirteen of these letters appear in full with annotation.
The period September 1755–April 1775 covers Adams’s public service in Braintree and Boston town meetings, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the First Continental Congress, and the First Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. During this time his political future was being shaped by circumstances not always of his choosing. He hesitated at first at the threshold of a public career, political ambition in conflict with concern for his family’s well-being. But as the confrontation with Great Britain sharpened, the crisis became acute; no choice remained. For Adams there was no shirking the path of duty.