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The Adams Papers Digital Edition

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2009)

  • C. James Taylor, Editor in Chief

One of the outstanding documentary editions in American scholarship, The Adams Papers collects the correspondence and other significant papers of our nation's first great political family. At the center, of course, is John Adams. Beginning with his early diaries and three volumes selected from his legal papers--documenting, among other cases, the Boston Massacre trials--this edition covers Adams’s ascent from young Boston lawyer to passionate advocate for American independence, including his time in the Continental Congress and his drafting of the Massachusetts state constitution (the oldest of the world’s active constitutions). As one of the great diplomats of the era, Adams spent eight years in Europe, called upon by his young country to negotiate treaties with France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Prussia, and the Barbary States.

Upon his return to America he served as vice president under George Washington and, eventually, second president of the United States. An embattled nonpartisan in an age of emerging party alliance, his popularity and influence fluctuated dramatically with the controversy over the XYZ Affair, Quasi-War with France, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and conflicts with his own cabinet. During this period in the Executive branch, he saw the movement of the federal government from New York to Philadelphia to the District of Columbia. The vice presidential and presidential years or executive period of Adams’s public career will be dealt with in the future as new print volumes are added to the digital edition shortly after their publication.

Adams’s importance lay not only in his insistence on freedom for America, but in his ability to show the emerging republic what this freedom meant. To Thomas Jefferson, both friend and rival, Adams was the "colossus of independence."

The Papers also contains John’s frequent correspondence with his wife Abigail, allowing the reader an uncommonly candid view on the workings of the state, as well as Abigail’s own observant, spirited writings. Her letters offer an invaluable view on eighteenth-century life, from the farm and family she often managed by herself to the war being played out on her doorstep. Also featured are the writings of the four Adams children, including eldest son--and sixth president--John Quincy Adams.

This digital edition brings together all 30 volumes of The Adams Papers from the founding generation that have so far appeared in print, comprising the completed series of John Adams’s diary and the ongoing series of family correspondence and state papers, including three volumes carefully selected from John Adams’s legal papers. Users may access the contents by date, series, author, or recipient, as well as through linked cross-references. XML technology provides the most advanced searching, including the ability to search across all titles in Rotunda’s American Founding Era Collection.

David McCullough, author of the acclaimed biography John Adams (2001), acknowledged his primary resource thus: "The Adams Papers, from which much of this book is drawn, may be rightly described as a national treasure. There is no comparable record of a prominent American family." The Massachusetts Historical Society initiated the Adams Papers documentary edition in 1954 when ownership of the papers was transferred from the Adams family estate. The archive is massive and includes the papers not only of John and Abigail Adams, but also of John Quincy Adams and Charles Francis Adams, as well as their spouses and family members. The Adams Papers project represents a significant accomplishment in historical and scholarly editing. Now the University of Virginia Press, under its Rotunda imprint, has issued an electronic full-text, fully searchable edition. Under editor in chief C. James Taylor, the Adams Papers Digital Edition (APDE) represents an online version of all 30 print volumes from the "founding generation" that have thus far appeared in print, with future volumes continuing to be published in installments by Harvard University Press. Lyman Butterfield, the founding editor in chief, devised the organizational structure in place, that is, Diaries and Autobiographical Writings, the Adams Family Correspondence, Legal Papers of John Adams, and finally the Statesmen's Papers and Public Correspondence of John Adams.

APDE comprises one component of a series of complementary collections of documentary records titled the "American Founding Era Collection"--all in Rotunda editions. Others include the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, the latter two of which are forthcoming. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Digital Edition and The Papers of George Washington: Digital Edition (PGWDE) (CH, Aug'07, 44-6604) are fully in place. Like these collections, APDE uses a navigational "compass" tool that enables researchers to toggle between hierarchical and chronological access levels, along with a general keyword/name search feature. The contents include a good deal of explanatory material with frequent annotations, numerous links, and cross-referencing. In this way, the editorial work translates into a synergistic, contextual aid to understanding the significance of the documents. The wealth of topics and characters included here offers a particularity and historical framework that allow a deeper understanding of the Colonial and early national periods of American history. This is especially the case with the Adamses, who were remarkably articulate and expressive in their correspondences. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general audience.

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