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John Quincy Adams, enmeshed in law studies, touches base with a Harvard College chum
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“Surrounded by the learning and ingenuity of three thousand years, a mind in the least stimulated by curiosity or ambition cannot complain of the tediousness of time; yet I often wish, I could more effectually … mingle the pleasures of an intercourse with my living friends, to those of a participation in the speculations of the ‘mighty dead.’”

While a student at Harvard College, John Quincy Adams spent the break between semesters in December 1786 and January 1787 at the college to work on his graduation address for the commencement in July 1787. James Bridge, “whose character as a scholar and a gentleman is inferior to none,” according to Adams, remained there as well, and “we agreed to chum together during the vacation.” They lived at the College and boarded at Divinity Professor Edward Wigglesworth’s home.

After they graduated from Harvard College in 1787, both John Quincy Adams and James Bridge studied law with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts, from 1787 to 1790. There, they were good friends and roommates.

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. Autograph Letter Signed, to James Bridge, November 21, 1788, Braintree, Massachusetts. 2 pp.

Inventory #25370       Price: $6,000

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Braintree Novr 21st 1788.

My dear Friend.

            Indeed you were not mistaken when you judg’d what my feelings would be upon the perusal of your animated descriptions of the social enjoyments in which I have often shared. Your observation was anticipated by an involuntary sigh which came from my heart, and which I am sure you will not attribute to envy. It was the tribute of friendship, and has just now been repeated, upon the recollection, that at this instant you are probably renewing the festive scene. Those hours which you are enlivening with the charms of unrestrained conversation, I am passing in the solitary dignity of silence. Surrounded by the learning and ingenuity of three thousand years, a mind in the least stimulated by curiosity or ambition cannot complain of the tediousness of time; yet I often wish, I could more effectually vary the sources of enjoyment, and mingle the pleasures of an intercourse with my living friends, to those of a participation in the speculations of the “mighty dead.”

            In my transactions for a month or six weeks past I have been mechanically regular. My Health is in a great measure restored; but I religiously allot three hours every day to exercise: eight or nine to sleep, which I generally obtain; and the remainder in part to idleness and in part to study, chiefly reading: but I have almost wholly confined my reading to amusing and entertaining subjects. Foster’s Crown Law,[1] and about 100 pages in Harris’s Justinian,[2] are all <2> the fruit of my professional studies that I can boast of hitherto; but I hope to be able henceforward to allow a considerable portion of my time to the occupation the most important to me, since my future support is to depend upon it.

            I shall endeavor to pay you a visit at the ordination; and hope you will take care to secure us a dance or two. I am apprehensive no good room will be found; and the company would be very numerous; this however is your affair. Upon such occasions Mr Cutler[3] is the best man in the world.

            You mention a bundle of Letters which are in my desk exposed to the temptation of curiosity. I know not what papers I have left there, but I know I have no secret to withhold from you, and you may freely peruse whatever you find: I am well persuaded that if you should meet with any thing, which I could wish to go no further, it will be as safe in your breast as in my own.

            I have not yet been able to pick up a Cornelius Nepos;[4] but I hope to bring one with me; you will not want it I hope, within a fortnight. Remember me wherever my remembrance may be acceptable, and believe me still your affectionate friend.

                                                                        J. Q. Adams.

<3><4>

[Address:] Mr James Bridge / Newbury-Port. / Mr Andrews.[5]

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was born in Massachusetts, the son of future President John Adams. He accompanied his father on several diplomatic missions in the 1770s and 1780s and graduated from Harvard College in 1787. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1791. Adams served successively as minister to The Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Britain, from 1794 to 1801 and from 1809 to 1817. In 1797, he married Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775-1852), the daughter of a poor American merchant and consul, in London. They had four children, but only Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886) lived past the death of his parents. He began his career a moderate Federalist but switched to the Jeffersonian Republican Party around the year 1807. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, and was a brilliant Secretary of State (1817-1825), taking the lead role in formulating the Monroe Doctrine. He won the election of 1824, which was decided in the House of Representatives because no candidate won a majority in the Electoral College. Adams’s “deal” with House Speaker Henry Clay, whom he named Secretary of State, helped spark the formation of an opposition party around Andrew Jackson. John Quincy Adams served one largely frustrating term as president and lost in the election of 1828 to Andrew Jackson. Surprising most observers, Adams stood for election to the House of Representatives in 1831 and served seventeen memorable years, becoming a bulwark for civil liberties and a voice in the emerging anti-slavery movement. He defended the Amistad slaves before the Supreme Court in 1841, and died of a stroke on the floor of the House in 1848.

James Bridge (1765-1834) was born in Maine (then a part of Massachusetts) and graduated from Harvard College in 1787, along with John Quincy Adams. Like Adams, he studied law with Theophilus Parsons at Newburyport, but left in May 1790 to return to Pownalborough, Maine, where he established a law practice. He soon moved to Augusta and gained a strong reputation as a lawyer. He had much business in clarifying land titles in the area. As he gained wealth, he turned over much of the business to a junior partner and did little legal work after 1810. He married Hannah North (1774-1842) in 1797, and they had seven children. In 1799, he represented Augusta in the legislature and was a member of the Executive Council of Massachusetts in 1818. In 1819, he was a delegate to the Maine Constitutional Convention and served on the committee to draft the new state’s constitution.

Condition

In fine condition, with partial separation along the hinge with its integral address leaf.


[1] Sir Michael Foster, A Report of Some Proceedings on the Commission for the Trial of the Rebels in the Year 1746, in the County of Surry; And of Other Crown Cases: to which are Added Discourses Upon a Few Branches of the Crown Law (Oxford, 1762).

[2] George Harris, The Institutes of Justinian (London, 1756).

[3] Possibly Rev. Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), pastor of the Congregational church in Ipswich, Massachusetts and director of a private boarding school.

[4] Cornelius Nepos (110-25 BC) was a Roman biographer. His only surviving work is Excellentium Imperatorum Vitae, a part of a larger work of biographies of kings, generals, lawyers, orators, poets, historians, and philosophers.

[5] Possibly John Andrews, who was ordained on December 10, 1788, as an associate pastor of the Congregational church in Newburyport, Massachusetts.


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