GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE AND OTHER PAPERS OF THE ADAMS STATESMEN
Cover: Papers of John Adams, Volume 18: December 1785 – January 1787, from Harvard University PressCover: Papers of John Adams, Volume 18 in HARDCOVER

Papers of John Adams, Volume 18

December 1785 – January 1787

Volume 18 is the final volume of the Papers of John Adams wholly devoted to John Adams’ diplomatic career. It chronicles fourteen months of his tenure as minister to Great Britain and his joint commission, with Thomas Jefferson, to negotiate treaties with Europe and North Africa. With respect to Britain, Adams found it impossible to do “any Thing Satisfactory, with this Nation,” and the volume ends with his decision to resign his posts. His diplomatic efforts, Adams thought, were too much akin to “making brick without straw.”

John Adams’ ministerial efforts in London were disappointing, but other aspects of his life were not. He and Jefferson failed to finalize treaties with Portugal and Great Britain, but they did, through agent Thomas Barclay, conclude a treaty with Morocco. Barclay’s letters are the earliest and most evocative American accounts of that region. Adams witnessed the marriage of his daughter, Abigail 2d, to William Stephens Smith, promoted the ordination of American Episcopal bishops, and toured the English countryside, first with Thomas Jefferson and then with his family. Most significant perhaps was the publication of the first volume of Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. This work is often attributed to concern over Shays’ Rebellion, of which Adams knew little when he began drafting. In fact, it was Adams’ summer 1786 visit to the Netherlands that provoked his work. There, Dutch Patriot friends, involved in their own revolution, expressed interest in seeing “upon paper” his remarks “respecting Government.”

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Who We Might Have Been, and Who We Will Become

Who among us hasn’t considered what our lives would be like if we had taken alternate paths, made different decisions? Storytellers of every stripe write of the lives we didn’t have, says Andrew H. Miller, author of On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives. As we live through a worldwide pandemic, the ideas of what might have been are even more appealing. Much like the adolescents on the verge of adulthood in Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, Miller tells us, we wait to see what comes next.