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John Adams Papers (1735 - 1826)

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John Adams

A comprehensive collection of John Adams papers is currently being published by Harvard University Press through the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers editorial project. The Adams Papers project is a massive endeavor dedicated to publishing the papers of the Adams family from 1753-1889. The editorial team has divided the project into 4 series:

  • Series I: Diaries
  • Series II: Adams Family Correspondence
  • Series III: General Correspondence and Other Papers of the Adams Statesmen
  • Series IV: Adams Family Portraits

Material related to John Adams can be found in each of the four series.

  • Diary and Autobiography of John Adams (1755-1804). 4 vols. The complete diary of John Adams, which he kept primarily from the 1750s into the 1780s, and his unfinished autobiography. These volumes are also available free online as part of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers Digital Edition.
  • The Earliest Diary of John Adams (1753-1759). 1 vol. A supplement to the above diary discovered in the 20th century. This volume is also available free online as part of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers Digital Edition.
  • Adams Family Correspondence. 10 of a projected 24 volumes from the Adams Family Correspondence series have been published to date. The published volumes cover the years 1761-1795. While these volumes include family correspondence from the entire Adams family, John Adams is featured prominently. The first seven of these volumes are also available free online as part of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers Digital Edition.
  • Legal Papers of John Adams. 3 vols. These volumes include material from Adams's years as a law student and from legal cases in which he was involved. The third volume is dedicated exclusively to his participation in the “Boston Massacre” case. These volumes are also available free online as part of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers Digital Edition.
  • Papers of John Adams. The Papers of John Adams, which fall under the General Correspondence and Other Papers of the Adams Statesmen series, are currently in progress. To date 15 volumes of a projected 40 have been published covering the years 1755-1784. The first fourteen of these volumes are available free online as part of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers Digital Edition.
  • Portraits of John and Abigail Adams 1 vol. An illustrated volume including all known life portraits, busts, and silhouettes of John and Abigail Adams.

The published volumes above represent only a fraction of the available source material. The best available resource at this time for the unpublished material is the microfilm collection of the Adams Papers. Comprising 608 reels of film, this collection includes all of the published and unpublished Adams family material housed at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The microfilm collection is available at a number of libraries throughout the world, including Alderman Library at the University of Virginia through which the Scripps Library has access.

The Massachustts Historical Society has also been active in digitizing portions of its Adams Manuscript Papers collection and making them freely available online. Currently, digital images of all of John Adams’ diary and autobiography and all correspondence between Abigail and John Adams are available online at Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive.

Prior to the Adams Papers editorial project, the best available edition of Adams papers was the 9-volume Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, published in 1856 by Adams's grandson Charles Francis Adams. This edition is not comprehensive and readers must confront the inevitable bias of the editor.

For the official papers of Adams during his Presidency, see James Richardson's Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents. This retrospective compilation was published in several different editions. The final edition was published in 1918 in 20 volumes. This edition covers the Presidencies of Washington through Taft and includes a significant portion of Wilson's Presidency. The contents of the Compilation are typically limited to official proclamations, addresses, and messages.

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