Lot 4 of 576:
Autograph note in the hand of John Adams 1802  

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Letter from John Adams declining an invitation to the anniversary dinner of the Committee of Arrangement in memory of the landing of the Fathers at Plymouth, accompanying the First Edition of John Quincy Adams' 1802 "Oration Delivered at Plymouth," as delivered at the dinner

Adams, John

Quincy, Mass.


December 22, 1802


Autograph note in the hand of John Adams, approximately 12.5x19.5 cm (5x7¾") tipped in at the rear of a bound volume also containing: 

  • Adams, John Quincy. An Oration Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1802. At the Anniversary Commemoration of the First Landing of Our Ancestors, at That Place. 31 pp. (8vo) original plain blue paper wrappers. First Edition. Boston: Russell and Cutler, 1802.

Bound together in old tan cloth and marbled boards, housed in a custom blue morocco and cloth clamshell box with gilt spine.

Autograph note in the hand of John Adams, penned by him shortly after his tenure as America’s second President and dated December 22, 1802, expressing regret at being unable to attend “the Anniversary dinner in memory of the landing of the Fathers and Plymouth” at which his son John Quincy was speaking, tipped into a first edition copy in original uncut wrappers of the Oration delivered by John Quincy at the event. Oration: Shaw & Shoemaker 1717; Sabin 293. Pocket tipped-to rear pastedown with a laid-in note (5½x8½") in typescript on the letterhead of the Plymouth, Massachusetts Pilgrim Society. The note reads: “Sometime about 1956, Mr. Lothrop Withington heard a radio broadcast one Sunday morning from the Adams Library in Quincy. The general subject matter was what John Quincy Adams had done during his lifetime to place in proper perspective in American history the contribution of the Pilgrims. He apparently made quite a study with particular reference to the importance of the Compact.”

“No family will ever be as famous as the Adamses… Their family history was History.” Founding Father John Adams, America’s First Vice-President and Second President, together with Abigail Adams, inspired their son John Quincy and all “their descendants to hold office, but they also required them to work for it. They did not expect fame and power to come to them by virtue of their birth alone.” From his earliest years, John Quincy, who would become America’s Secretary of State and its Sixth President, was told “his career should reflect his ‘advantages.” In John Adams’ own tenure as President, he steered the nation “in a remarkably steady course… It was a brave, heroic performance” (McCullough, John Adams, 566). On turning over the presidency to Jefferson, Adams returned home to his farm in Quincy in March 1801. “By the standards of the day, he was an old man, and he felt old… He would never exorcise the demons that his defeat summoned up” (Smith, 1067). That June, however, he received welcome news that John Quincy and his family would return home from the court of Berlin that September. “John Quincy wrote of his reunion with his parents as a moment of ‘inexpressible delight.” Shortly after settling in Boston, John Quincy was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in April 1802, yet continued to ride “out to Quincy to be with his parent nearly every weekend. He kept his father supplied with books and encouraged him to undertake an autobiography, which Adams, with some reluctance, began in October 1802, with Part I, titled ‘John Adams” (McCullough, 573-6).  This autograph letter by John Adams, tipped-to a blank leaf of a first edition of John Quincy Adams’ Oration, Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1802, brings together in one volume the legacy of father and son. John Adams’ letter, penned at his farm in Quincy, was dated by him, “December 22, 1802”— a mere two months after he began work on his autobiography at the urging of John Quincy. Like his son, John Adams valued the family’s Puritan ancestors as “bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency… In New England they had established governments with popular branches to check the power of priests and kings… this is what John Adams felt emanating from them like light from a not-yet-distant star” (Brookhiser, 5-14). John Adams’ letter reads: “Mr. Adams presents his compliments to the Committee of Arrangement, with his thanks for their polite invitation to the Anniversary dinner in memory of the landing of the Fathers at Plymouth, and his regretts [sic] that he cannot have the Satisfaction of Accepting it for this year. Quincy December 22, 1802.” Adams’ regretful decision not to attend the dinner may have come from his increasing wish to remain on his farm, for “his days on the move, on the road were truly over. Only on rare occasions did he go even to Boston or Cambridge… the radius of his world was about 15 miles” (McCullough, 585).  In John Quincy’s Oration, delivered the same day as his father’s letter, he proudly speaks of their family’s and America’s European forefathers: “The revolutions of time furnish no previous example of a nation, shooting up to maturity and expanding into greatness with the rapidity which has characterized the growth of the American people.” Renowned for the elegance of these speeches, John Quincy praises the “courage and perseverance” of the Plymouth settlers, and highlights that “instrument of Government by which they formed themselves into a body-politic… This is perhaps the only instance, in human history, of that positive, original social compact.” The warm reception given this Oration, along with his reunion with John and Abigail Adams, “helped make 1802 one of John Quincy’s happiest years” (Nagel, 138). John Quincy Adams would himself prove a model of statesmanship to John F. Kennedy, who began Profiles in Courage by using John Quincy as a leading example of those who faced considerable “problems of political courage in the face of constituent pressures”— thereby continuing Adams’ own tribute to America’s beginning in this 1802 Oration.

Lot Amendments

Autograph letter in a crisp manuscript hand, small closed tear to upper edge minimally affecting one letter; Oration with light scattered foxing, a bit of marginal dampstaining; light edge-wear to marbled boards; very good.

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