Chapter Seven of David McCullough’s John Adams has the Adams family on the road to London. John Adams has been elected to be the first American minister to England after winning the Revolution. The Brits don’t know what to make of the boisterous little Adams and his family, so they give him the cold shoulder and stare. Abigail’s letter describing the awkwardness of the Queen’s Circle (where the Adamses stand around for four hours just to get to small talk with royalty) was hilarious. I would so have been out of there after about 15 minutes. And worse…it sounds like they had to do this more than once, AND the king asked the same questions every time. How fast would that have gotten old??
Luckily, Jefferson pays many visits to the lonely Adamses, and asks them to look after his small daughter Polly, who will be arriving from Virginia. Understandably, Polly’s not real keen on adults, after being tricked by her aunt and cousins onto the ship in Virginia and hardly knowing her father, who has been noticeably absent since her mother’s death. Upon arriving in London, Polly and Abigail bond immediately, but are together just long enough for Jefferson to send a slave (and complete stranger) to bring Polly to France. I was so horrified by this. I was also horrified that parents didn’t seem to have a problem sending their children on long ocean voyages alone. Charles and John Quincy traveled alone by boat too. They apparently had a lot of faith in ship captains. In other Adams family news, Nabby gets married in this chapter, and now both John Quincy and Charles are now at Harvard.
Unfortunately, Adams and Jefferson are unable to overcome the political frosty-freeze of the British and aren’t able to come to any agreements about such important issues as whether or not the Loyalists should be compensated for their lost property and if the Americans should keep their fishing rights. Adams is able to strike a deal with the Barbary Pirates, whose specialty is capturing ships at sea and confiscating property, in the time-honored way of bribing them not to do it. Jefferson and Adams decide to take a ‘guys’ getaway’ and rather than hitting some 18th century bars and strip clubs, go look at…..gardens…and soil….and crops. Oh, and get their portraits painted. Huh. The fun standard has definitely changed since those times! I loved the visual of Jefferson kissing the ground in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-on-Avon. By the end of the chapter, Jefferson is messing around with some married women, and quite possibly messing around with the famous Sally Hemings, who arrived with Polly earlier. The Adamses decide to head home to America once they realize they are at a standstill with the British.
Looks like the new nation is all set for its first Presidential election in the next chapter. At least they didn’t have to deal with all the political commercials like we do!