Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On the death of a child (1)

PART ONE OF FOUR

In 1778 John Adams, (later the second American President 1797-1801), set sail for France as part of a diplomatic commission which was sent by the Continental Congress to seek European support for the American cause versus Great Britain.

He took with him his son, John Quincy Adams (later the sixth American President 1825-1829).

John Quincy Adams (or Johnny as he was called by his family) was ten years old when he set out on this amazing voyage.

His mother, Abigail Smith Adams, was “advanced” in her era in her advocacy for the rights of women and against slavery. 

But she was a tough, demanding, and even manipulative parent.  She never failed to tell her son Johnny of her expectations and his failures.  Writing to him in France (remember - he was only ten years old!) she reminds him “never to disgrace his mother” and to be “worthy of his father”.

“Dear as you are to me”, she wrote, “I had much rather you found your Grave in the ocean you have crossed, or an untimely death crop you in your Infant years, rather than see you as an immoral profligate or a Graceless child”.

That’s quite a trip to lie upon a ten year old.  It’s also (to our ears) a very strange view of the possible death of a child.

(Quotations from the 2002 biography  of John Quincy Adams by Robert V Remini , published in the Times Books series by  Henry Holt and Company, New York)

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