Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Charles Adams

Charles Adams was the son of President John Adams and the brother of President John Quincy Adams. He lived a short tragic life. While young, he traveled in Europe. He later went to Harvard and became a lawyer. He married and had two daughters. However, he was a chronic alcoholic and he died from this condition at 30.

The John Adams series on HBO dealt with this on the most recent episode. It showed Charles in a drunken stupor begging his father for forgiveness as John Adams disowned him. It also showed Abigail Adams visiting her sick son begging him to "come back to us."

The final scene dealing with Charles Adams is when his parents receive word that he has died. Abigail is shown as being shaken by the news but President Adams is unmoved. Instead, he said, "I still will not forgive him."

This made me very curious about Charles Adams. There is not a lot on the Web about him. I hit some books dealing with John Adams and learned more. Charles is not covered in detail in any of them but glimpses of his childhood, his time in Europe, his relationship with his family, and his dying days do come through.

I found a letter from John Adams on the topic of the death of Charles Adams in John Adams: A Biography in His Own Words (1973) which was edited by James Bishop Peabody. President Adams had written a letter to his friend Adriaan Van der Kemp on December 28th, 1800. He wrote, "The affliction in my family from the melancholy death of a once beloved son, has been very great, and has required the consolation of religion, as well as philosophy, to enable to support us. The prospects of that unfortunate youth were very pleasing and promising, but have been cut off."

It is easy to see that President Adams was dealing with both grief for his son as well as his anger towards him too. 1800 was a tough year for John Adams. He lost the Presidency to Thomas Jefferson and he lost a son as well. The manner of his son's death made it even harder to take. I do not know if there is enough source material out there but a biography of Charles Adams would certainly be interesting. I hope someone writes one someday.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

There may be some speculation that Charles Adams -- by all accounts a tormented young man -- drank himself to death because he was homosexual.

Anonymous said...

I too am curious about Charles Adams. In the HBO series(John Adams) Charles does not accompany John Adams to France. Im confused about this because many articles speak of both Charles and John Quincy going with their Father. The series only speaks of John Quincy Adams being with his dad. I wonder if John Adams didnt favor his son John Quincy over Charles and perhaps Charles had a hard time living up to the expectations of his father and also filling the shoes of his big brother. He seemed (based on the HBO series) more sensitive to his father's long absences and not at all interested in the Law. Again, Im curious about Charles and his life - a sad and short one.

Anonymous said...

I too feel as others have stated here, that Charles who was estranged by his Father, and seemingly protected by his Mother.. Leaves one sensing that his torment could easily have come from being Homosexual.
Not a far cry of what continues for many Gay People today.
John seemed to be 'put off' by his son early on. Common behavior from a 'confused Father', thus the alienation.
I thought this from the very beginning of Part 1.. on the HBO Special.
By the End.. I was convinced.

Anonymous said...

I too noticed the discrepency on the HBO series..Johns Quincy travels with his father and Charles does not. However, I have also read that Nabby traveled also. I am not sure if there are travels by John Adams that are not listed in the movie, or if the children did join them at some time but did not stay. I do not feel Charles was gay. Like many middle children, sometimes feels "stuck in the middle". I do think Abigail had John take John Quincy not only to open his awareness to the world of politics, but to ensure the family tie family from Europe to America. There could be many reasons why he was a common beverage while dining with family even at a young age. It would not be unheard of to drink at an early age and become an alcoholic. John Adams has "tough" love, there is no doubt about that!

DJM said...

Charles is my great-great-great-great-great grandfather. As the black sheep of the family, much of his life's story is unknown. I'm always looking for more information myself.

Anonymous said...

Dear DJM,
My Mom has been telling me all my life we are related to John Quincy Adams. But I have not found the connection. The other day she said we are related to Abigail His wife. Which means I am related to the children. My moms Great Aunt recieved 2,000 US dollars from the Last King of England. She put it all towards our family hertiage. In 1972 Unfortunitly All that side of moms family records were distroyed in a Flood in Elmira NY.
So I am not sure I will ever be able to connect my famous family.
Email me if you know any later family lines of Abigail Smith Adams, After her children.

Cinder131361 said...

Correction to last post of
I meant to say my Mom said I am related to John Adams's Wife Abigail Smith ( Adams )
(John Quincy's Mother)

Shs Julie_NIU UBF said...

I am listening to John Adams biography on CD (on #9 of 24 now), mainly sourced from letters and diaries. John Quincy joined his father's first journey to France and was by his side during days of glory and industry. The ship ride there was full of excitement,and John Sr. brought order to ship in the process. Both JQ and Charles joined the second journey to Europe, this time to Spain and Holland. Due to impatience after damage to the ship, John Adams dragged his retinue by land on mule rather than wait for repairs to the ship. He later admitted his mistake, but the impression left on his sons was hardly glorious. Little was accomplished in Holland, and John Sr. grew morose and stopped writing the volume of papers and letters that had characterized earlier years. When JQ went off to college, John Sr. wrote many affectionate letters full of hope and direction for his son. Throughout the years (so far), there is little mention of Charles even of his period sickness in Holland. John Sr. favored his older son and neglected the younger son, focusing his energies on JQ to groom him as a diplomatic successor. Such is the weakness of men: the firstborn IS the sign of his father's strength. I write this with sadness and understanding, as the mother of 3 daughters and 2 sons.

Anonymous said...

Check out this link for a scholarly perspective on the inaccuracies of the John Adams HBO miniseries.

It is very helpful and very distressing.

Charles Adams was also part, in 1796, of a group of men who frequented the theater in New York and wrote critiques of what they saw for further dissemination. Others in the group were John Wells, Elias Hicks, Samuel Jones, William Cutting and Peter Irving. This is noted in William Dunlap's "History of the American Theatre," published in 1832 (p. 193).

fishface42 said...

I am a Canadian educated with the notion that the Loyalists (to the Crown) were heroes as well as founders of Upper Canada (now Ontario where I live). Thus the HBO Adams saga is all new to me and compellingly interesting on many levels. As a lawyer, Adams' early training disposed him to loyalty to the King as the font of the law. The show illustrates his reluctant evolution to rebel, joining the rabble against the 'thin red line', yet defending the British officer in the interest of justice. Adams was a hugely principled man, a power of example to all Americans and others.
Re. Charles Adams and President Adams' disdain of him, one needs to regard the era's understanding of both homesexuality (if that was Charles' orientation) and of alcoholism. Both were considered morally reprehensible and disgraceful and just cause of parental alienation, attitudes still with us. So, Americans, congratulations on your splendid patrimony; may you reclaim it in the Obama presidency.

Fat eSpence said...

Get a grip, there's no evidence he was gay. You seem to be on a gay fishing expedition through history. There's a lot of evidence he was straight. Surely alcoholism, failing at law, and losing his own and his family's invested money was enough reason to cause strain. PBS is full of liberal gay agenda BS. If they had their way, they'd convince us that Adams and the rest of the founding fathers were transgender because they wore wigs. I've heard the same garbage speculated about Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

The Obama presidency...really? Comparing Adams to Obama?

rcbakewell said...

Get a grip fat e spence - full of ' an agenda ' ? - this ' Adams ' production is an HBO series not PBS ! I dare say there is much in this production to please classical conservatives . Leave the silly culture war / Fox nonsense aside please.