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tv   The Presidency  CSPAN  January 11, 2015 8:00pm-8:46pm EST

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the public followed them just as feverishly as our public follows contemporary celebrities. >> it was given as a gift by a wealthy investor to an orthopedic surgeon. >> you have been watching a preview of "american artifacts." visit www.c-span.org>> next on the presidency, author edith gelles explores the marriage between john and abigail adams. professor gelles spoke regarding the 250th wedding anniversary of john and abigail. this 45 minute event was covered by the massachusetts historical society and the abigail adams historical society. >> and i am thrilled and honored to present our keynote speaker
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edith gelles, she is a stanford university historian and the scholar at clayman institute for gender research. she is the author of numerous articles, reviews, and books among them are "portia: the world of abigail adams," which one the award from the american historical association, also " abigail adams writing life," and also "abigail and john: portrait of a marriage." edith has appeared widely in the media talking about the adamses. among her appearances has been "c-span's" first ladies series. i would like you to welcome edith gelles.
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[applause] >> according to adams family lore, when abigail adams married john adams on october 25, 1764 the reverend smith, abigail's father, preached a sermon from the text of matthew. "for john came, neither drinking bread or eating -- neither drinking wine or eating bread." john records the story in his memoir and explains the choice of text as a response to the congregation. he suggests that a portion of
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the parishioners thought that the son of a small farmer in the middle class of braintree was scarcely good enough to match with the farmer's daughter -- pastor's daughter. the reverend smith's cryptic message may have included his more personal reflections, which charles francis preferred to disregard. for many reasons the reverend smith and his wife elizabeth may have disapproved of the marriage of their daughter. abigail was not yet 20 years old when she married. young for the middle of the 18th century, where on average women married at the age of 22. further, she appears to not have had previous suitors to john adams, when she -- home and she met which he was 16. adams was a full 10 years her
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senior and may have been an advantage, if he had not been a lawyer. but abigail's roots with deep into the colonial area. her mother was the solid bedrock of massachusetts society. the smith family for more recently arrived represented the other respectable strain of new england society. adams's father was a farmer and a shoemaker. it is clear that abigail smith acted on her own will when it came to marriage. she chose to marry john adams because she loved temp and because she believed they were compatible. during their more than three years of court ship, she had measured his character tested
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his own intuition, as he had in return and in the end, abigail believed that she could live her lifetime in partnership from which there was no escape. the adamses's marriage has become historic. it calls forth an image of an ideal marriage, one founded on love loyalty, friendship and courage, and in many respects, it was. but the adams's marriage is his work for other reasons. it appears modern. in fact, it possesses many of the attributes of a modern marriage. it was a love match that endured. it produced at least one famous son and established a dynasty of great citizens. it overcame adversity and tact. it was a match of intellectual
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equals, lending legitimacy to the claim of women's more egalitarian status. above all, the adams -- marriage was idealized because abigail was visible. probably the most visible first lady until the mid-20th century, because her correspondences have survived. no other correspondence of this magnitude by a woman of her era exists, which makes her our best chronicler from a woman's point of view. this is what makes the adams's marriage appear more modern than it was. the deal, as we read it into the letters, survives as a testimony to an ideal correspondence, if not an ideal marriage. in fact, scholarship and history
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and anthropology makes it clear that all human institutions are functions of the culture in which they exist. marriage, as much as anything else. 18th century new england was no exception to this rule, and the prevailing culture of the world into which john and abigail married was that of their puritan forbearers. while puritanism had transformed and modified over time into a more liberalized and secular socialized believe and practices, it conventions were maintained. and these protocols became the foundation upon which all marriage in mid-18th century new england was premised. it's salient characteristic in terms of marriage was patriarchy
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-- its salient characteristic in terms of marriage was patriarchy. when abigail chose to marry john, it was the most spectacular act of will available to her for the remainder of her years. never again would she make a decision of that magnitude to control the direction of her life. there existed no easy exit clause from her decision once the vows were taken. she had little control over the kind of work she performed or her reproductive life. marriage with its obligations became her destiny in that world. the rules that followed from the existing picker -- existing patriarchy also had clear male and female spheres, and these spears were not equally, but were hierarchically organized.
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in her statement requesting john to remember the ladies, she closed her remarks by writing " regarded\thth then as being placed by providence and make use of that power only for our happiness." the lens through which abigail viewed her world revealed a divinely prescribed patriarchy in which hurt -- it which it was her destiny to live in the domestic sphere under the terms of john adams's work and his choice of place, manner, and style. abigail excepted that world. she wrote "i believe nature has assigned each sex its particular duties and spear of actions, and to act well your part."
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at the same time, abigail was neither slave nor servant, and she knew that as well. she had leverage within the marriage bond, both with her character and john's. because the patriarchy existed in new england, it was does lexical. the physical magnetism that charged their early relationship remained and mellowed into tender familiarity and a deep, loving commitment. and rather than contracting under the weight of domestic drudgery, the scope of her knowledge developed over her lifetime so that she became wise and area tight -- erodite. their passions overflowed from life into letters once they were parted.
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in addition to patriarchy, hierarchy, and separate spheres two additional aspects in a puritanism marked the adams's marriage. they were the concepts of contractual as him -- contractualism and duty. all of spiritualism was contractual, and marriage had no easy exit clause. finally, there is the theme of duty, which of all qualities, we can discern as primary to the adams's sense of themselves within the human community. duty refuse -- duty refers to the principles of sacrifice and governing rules of human behavior. in the best sense, then, the adamses with their puritan
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background represent what historic and -- what historians call a companionate marriage. their marriage existed and endured through marriage -- friendship and respect. it is that reason why there are marriage was idealized. at its best, it represents the ideals accommodation and demand of western culture. we know this because they wrote all of this to each other, and one can read quite intimate letters that provide amazing insights into their private lives. as they picked apart for a large portion of their married years letters became their way of maintaining their relationship and sustaining her bond. -- their obond. when they married in 1764, both
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adamses expected their lives to repeat their parents, family and friends. and for a decade, this was more or less the case. after their marriage they moved to their braintree home that john had it had -- had inherited from his father. their first child arrived within the year, and she was followed at approximate two-year intervals by john quincy susanna, who died after a year charles, and thomas and a last child was still born in 1777. all the while, john practiced law and traveled the circuit when courts were in session, and therefore was frequently away from home. abigail remained at home with children and servants. she visited or was visited by her parents, sisters, and friends, but often she was
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lonely. after eight years she wrote to him, "alas, how many snowbanks divide me and thee? my wishes will not melt one of them." they moved twice to boston returning to raintree in 1770 after john -- braintree in 1770 after john apparently had a breakdown. this was the pattern after their first decade of marriage. john built his law practice and his reputation, and he wrote "i had more business at the bar in boston." abigail gave birth and ran her household. all of this occurred within the context of the closely knit extended family, and among many friends, and it was during this time also that abigail met her indomitable friend and mentor,
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the great historian and patriot marci. during the same decade of marriage, however, public events were taking place and taking an increasingly dangerous course. the quarrel with great britain was growing that would lead to breach and war. the contest was begun over taxes and went to rebellion of the tea party and included the intolerable acts. in 1764, john was elected to the congress of philadelphia, and for that occasion abigail sewed him a new vest. he wrote down with thomas cushing for an undetermined amount of time and they did not know what the duration would be or what would be his role in congress.
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it is important to acknowledge at this point he was not famous, and he went off to philadelphia and he wondered how he would measure up to the other delegates, and it was very quickly that he discovered that he could speak and that he could project, and that he was one of the big shakers and movers of the first continental congress. and in the end, congress lasted for more than two months, and john had discovered his power among the delegates. he returned home in november to practice law, but the momentum to hostilities was relentless and he was elected once again to the continental congress in philadelphia. by this time, lexington and concorde had begun -- had occurred in the revolutionary war and it had begun. in 1776, 7077 -- 1777, and 1779,
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and between men the abigail -- the adamses were separated for a decade. at no point during this long. period, abigail and john were not able to predict the duration of their separation. what made me conclude about the -- what may we conclude about the adams during this decade? abigail became the manager of the far and director of family finances, which she did for the rest of her marriage. after two years of wrestling with labor and labor shortages and other responsibilities, she rented out the farm to tenants. with her uncle as advisor at
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first, she purchased property and interested in securities. she also began a business, merchandising items that john had sent to her. she managed her children's lives, including their education, which is very difficult. schools had closed down, she tried to tutor them, and she had reached the limit of her own abilities to teach them, the end of her knowledge, and she had hired various tutors. she also decided to take the smallpox inoculation in 1776. she said she would not have done it for herself but she wanted to do it for her children. she educated herself, reading and john's library. she famously read the great ancient history which he was helping john quincy with his history lessons.
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but the great correspondence between them had begun. the war ended and john did not return from france. so she finally traveled to europe in 1784 with her daughter to join him. it was an immense challenge for her. she was rightly fearful of ocean travel and she was also concerned about her lacking manners and cultures to move in the same circles as john was now accustomed to moving, she wrote "near as american as i am, i do not know how i will fit in." each had hugely different experiences that changed who they were in many ways. john became worldly. moving into the high ranks of european society and fanatic states -- and diplomatic states.
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abigail remained a diplomatic new england matron. however, she was not how she was in 1774, but because of her experience as a single mother in wartime, she had matured strengthened, and became erodite. so she went to europe, and they got together again, and this is the most remarkable thing about their marriage, that marriage came together again when they met after really a decade of separation. with all of the passion interest carrying, sympathy, and the and generosity of their early marriage. separation had altered who they were, but not altered their relationship. so the adamses now became public figures.
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after 10 months in france, they moved to england for two years. and then they returned to america and the constitution had been adopted. john had been mentioned for various offices in government even fleetingly mentioned as president, but that went to george washington. john accepted the vice presidency. abigail would have preferred retirement. she would have preferred it because she wanted it, because it was her style, her personal style, to live in a much more local and personal community. but her health was not good and one of the remarkable things about her life was the declining help -- health and the illness that they all lived in, all of the time. but she wanted also to be with her family and live among her children and her grandchildren.
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but john could not resist the call of duty. and probably ambition. he had expected a role and he settled on the vice presidency. abigail, as always, overcame her reservations and went along. she lived, after all in a patriarchy, where men partial decisions became women's destinies -- men's decisions became women's destinies. she understood him completely and she believed the nation needed him specifically. she had long rationalized his leaving the family as destiny. the war and the new nation would not survive without john's active participation. it was her way of thinking, with her it was an article of faith
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that grew out of her ably religious convictions. it was his duty to serve, and thus it became her duty to sacrifice. john served two terms as fight's president, abigail was with him in new york city, which was the first capital, and then in philadelphia, for three years and then returned home for the following five years of his vice presidency. he served one term as president, she was there as often as health and her home care commitments permitted. and then the presidency ended in 1801, and the retired. -- they retired. we often hear that retirement and old age is not for the fainthearted, and that is certainly the case with the adamses. what would his life be like
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without politics, and he returned he medially to the ground and to farming. she returned to her domestic household and friends. there were always people living with them. family members tom and his family lived there for a while john quincy and his family came and went, the widow of charles francis lived with them, and charles their third son their second son, lived there for long periods of time, they always had grandchildren with them, and they had visitors. they were celebrities, after all, and people liked to drop in to say hello to the ex-president and the first lady. they also had financial problems. the collapse in 1803 wiped out their securities in england that they had purchased in england for john quincy, so they were not like the other founders.
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they had immense family difficulties. charles died in 1801 1800 there was the mastectomy and death of abigail adams smith, their daughter. abigail herself nearly died several times. there was the absence of john quincy, they longed for him, he was in st. petersburg, and then family members began to die. they stayed together for those last 18 years and when people would request that abigail would go and visit, she would say, no i won't leave john. there were no long separations again for the last 18 years of their marriage, until abigail died at the age of 76. so what can we say about the marriage? in the end, they had each other.
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it was a remarkable marriage. what made it work? there's was a love match that grew into deep commitment over their lifetimes. i love speculating about what made marriage work. i was asked this question earlier, which was the better marriage? we all have our ideas and our opinions about it, and here are mine. it was a love match that endured, and they stayed in love. was it as a jim suggested to me earlier, because they were separated? to the separation make the heart grow fonder? there was compatibility, of legacy, of common culture that they came from, of religion, of intellect, they were both immensely religious but abigail especially, abigail's letters throughout quotes from the
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bible, and she particularly would become more religious in times of an emergency, and she almost acted as an original calvinist belief that a disease happened because we had done something sinful or an epidemic or a smallpox epidemic had been caused by something sinful. the shared values. -- they shared values. they knew the difference between right and wrong's, and they shared a belief system about belief systems. humor is a method of relating that de-escalate's potential --
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de-escalates potential hotspots. at critical times, both of them used humor. remember the ladies. a new tribe has arisen to protest. so in the end, the adamses provide us with more than insights about their personal lives and more than a window into an era. they are more than their letters, more than their portraits, more than their artifacts. they're very famous marriage offers us a moral compass -- their there he famous marriage offers us a moral compass. they obeyed a set of values that were biblical, that were tempered by history and philosophy, that said some things are right and some things
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are wrong. the understood that the highest human calling was that of duty. the idea that individual virtue entailed service and sacrifice for the larger community. they were citizens who sacrifice personal happiness for a lifetime for the greater good. on october 23, 1814, abigail summed up her assessment of marriage to her beloved granddaughter caroline, and she wrote "yesterday completed a half-century since i entered into the married state then it just your age. i have a great cause for thankless that i have lived so long and enjoyed such a large portion of happiness that has been my lot.
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the great source of unhappiness that i have known in that. is arisen from the long and cruel separation which was called on in a time of war and with a young family around me to submit to, that you and the rest of why posterity may enjoy -- my posterity may enjoy the fullest city that has befallen to me, is my sincere wish and prayer of your affectionate grandmother." when she was dying, john wrote to a friend "i wish i could lie down and die beside her." he lived for eight more years stunningly dying on july 4 1826, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of independence. their marriage had left it -- had lasted 54 years.
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in most respects, it was an ideal marriage. thank you. [applause] >> thank you, if anyone has questions for edith, we have our mics in action. >> i have the first question, it is specifically [indiscernible] about john's opinion of his own mother, and how that colored his relationship with abigail? we don't know much about that. >> there are references here and there in his diary and so forth and so people read into these very few references, what the
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relationship had been about. if you are a historian you can read into that little evidence and that is what has happened. i'm sure he had a fine relationship with his mother. everyone tends to blame mothers for whatever goes wrong with kids whatsoever. [laughter] and that is an easy route to travel in our post-freudian age. so in deed, i think his relationship with his mother was just fine, and she lived a very long life, to his presidency, and he wrote letters at her death about how much he would miss his mother, that she had been a very kind and warm and generous mother. so that's what. [applause] >> [indiscernible]
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>> that was her son john quincy who had many, many languages. john adams -- no, he was great at english. [laughter] he was really fluid. reading john adams is a real pleasure. i think of all the founders, i think he was the greatest of the -- and i think, of course we don't have recordings, but his spoken language -- when he is responsible for the acceptance of the declaration of independence, he spoke, and they say between 2-4 hours, i don't know, it's just extemporaneous -- he had good english. he learned french when he went to france, and he probably played around with dutch when he was in holland, but i don't think he was a very great linguist. she had a little bit of french,
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but she -- and she studied it when she went to france, she bred moliere, she read the plays, she went to the theater in an attempt to learn french, but i don't think either of them became as fluid as their son did. >> i had a question about happiness. how did abigail make that transition from braintree to europe and to london? did she enjoy herself over there? >> she was very nervous about it. she was extremely anxious about going to europe, and she was concerned about what she wore, she was concerned about the manners, and what kind of a figure she would strike, she was a quick study. she learned quickly. and she adapted very well. and she was soon entertaining
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and being entertained, and did she enjoy it? i suppose so the way one enjoys travel it is work, and it is different, it is not at home. she certainly made a lot of observations, she studied, she went to museums she went to various places and took little side trips and so forth, and always recorded for her sisters back at home and for members of the family. i think she was interested in it, i think she loved being at home, and probably like many of us are very happy to travel and go and see different places, and like being at home. does that answer your question? >> i was wondering, there was a letter and i know you are working closely with the letters
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now, and i cannot remember the date of it, that was abigail to her youngest son thomas, in which she says she is commiserating with him at some level because he is afraid he is going to be an old bachelor, he has not married yet. and in commiserating she says, you know i married too young. now, waste she really meaning that she married too young or was it just trying to make him feel better? >> she possibly was reflecting. that is a good one jim. you know, she was concerned about all of her children's marriages, and she did lots of meddling, and she did lots of meddling, and it is to her credit that she meddled, because she was trying to protect them, and she was looking for ways to ensure that they would have good lives. she knew very well that who you
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married was her destiny, and how your life would unfold, and happiness in life very much depended on what marriage would be like. nevertheless she was always promoting it, so she was always on the lookout for a match for thomas, yes, and he donald in philadelphia for a while, and she was saying, are there single women in philadelphia? she did that also for the other children as well. particularly, with thomas, and eventually he did come back and mary very well -- marry very well. you mentioned thomas and the letters, and i have been reading the letters now very closely, and my impression of thomas has changed so much, the youngest son. first of all, there is a lot of that press with her relation
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with her sons generally. and how thomas's life turned out , thomas was ill a lot of the time, and she identified with that. she said he had inherited the family disease rheumatism and he was apparently very ill a lot of the time. she sent him incredible formulae for medical treatments. how they live with medicines how anyone survived with the kind of therapies that they suggested, bleeding and purgative's, and on and on -- purgatives, and on and on. and thomas was very ill and she cared about him a lot, and he was very happy with nancy, i believe.
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does that answer your question jim? was that more than you asked? yeah? >> how did john handle those last eight years, was he miserable, was he sick, was he well? >> john continued to live an interesting life, and he was very frail, he was probably blind and deaf, and he had many, many relatives all of the time who lives around him and many friends, and he was care for -- cared for by the woman who was abigail's niece who had lived with them for their entire life and she became a housekeeper and so forth. i presume lonely, always, but he interested himself in the world he carried on this incredible correspondence with thomas
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jefferson, benjamin rush, and the old founders began a correspondence about what it was like, and they said, no one will ever know what it was like and once we are gone, they will never understand what it was like. and they were right, we don't, we're struggling on what it was about and what it was like. you know, it was a good old age. with disease and all of the frailties that come along with aging, and he did it magnificently, and to the very end, he was going to boston he was a celebrity, he was a very famous man, people came to him and he went to boston. he was invited to the constitution of massachusetts which was being rewritten, and he was put on the commission to rewrite it but he could not do it, he was not well enough, anyway it was a good last eight
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years, given the constraints. >> you mentioned the puritan church a number of times, and i was just wondering how much of a role did her faith play and center her development? >> central, absolutely central. abigail was a very religious woman, and religion played just an immensely important part in her life. intellectually, she knew the bible, she knew it well, she was the daughter of a minister and she quotes it all the time, and one imagine that she just spoke extemporaneously quoting from the bible and understood it. but her belief system was a very, very deep, and it sustained her absolutely, particularly through the deaths of her children, she lived through the deaths of two of her
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children, charles and abby. religion was of great solace to her. [applause] >> you made a glancing reference to her closeness to her family and circle of friends, could you comment on how her relationship with her two sisters was central throughout her life? >> well, it was, she was very close to her two sisters, she was probably closer to mary and spent more time with mary, they had shared a room together as girls and live together, and then mary was two years older than she. and she was i think six years older than elizabeth, her younger sister. she and mary were particularly close, but she trusted her sisters, they were her best friends, they were the people
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whom she trusted more on this planet, other than john, and whom she shared background and experiences. when she was concerned during the war, the revolutionary war about how to educate the children she had at home, she decided she would send them to elizabeth, whose husband was running a private school. when john quincy's children live with her in the later years, she sent them to marry to be educated -- to mary to be educated. the letters that someone was talking about that came later during the presidential years with mary, especially, are very revealing about their intimate lives. they could talk to each other. i called my chapter in "portia"
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the three-fold cord, and that was the price that abigail paid to her sisters and to herself. thank you. [applause] >> thank you. thank you again to the first church for letting us hold this symposium here, take you to our amazing speakers, and thank you to you all for coming. thank you very much. [applause] >> every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern, you can learn from leading historians about the presidents and the first lady's, their policies, and their legacies, here on "the presidency." to check on her schedule, visit c-span.org/history. >> you're watching american
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history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. >> up next on "american history tv," the correspondence between john and abigail adams and the correspondence between john quincy adams and his wife louisa adams. john adams and his son were some of the first to serve as terms of presidencies of the united states. the 45 minute program was cohosted by the massachusetts historical society and the abigail adams historical society . >> i will start by inter-and -- by introducing our first speaker, if in bullock is the author of "revolutionary brotherhood: freemasonry

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