Abigail and John AdamsThe Americanization of Sensibility

Abigail and John AdamsThe Americanization of Sensibility

G. J. Barker-Benfield

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226037431

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

During the many years that they were separated by the perils of the American Revolution, John and Abigail Adams exchanged hundreds of letters. Writing to each other of public events and private feelings, loyalty and love, revolution and parenting, they wove a tapestry of correspondence that has become a cherished part of American history and literature. With Abigail and John Adams, this book mines those familiar letters to a new purpose: teasing out the ways in which they reflected—and helped transform—a language of sensibility, inherited from Britain but, amid the revolutionary fervor, becoming Americanized. Sensibility—a heightened moral consciousness of feeling, rooted in the theories of such thinkers as Descartes, Locke, and Adam Smith, and including a “moral sense” akin to the physical senses—threads throughout these letters. As the book makes clear, sensibility was the fertile, humanizing ground on which the Adamses not only founded their marriage, but also the “abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity” they and their contemporaries hoped to plant at the heart of the new nation. Bringing together their correspondence with a wealth of fascinating detail about life and thought, courtship and sex, gender and parenting, and class and politics in the revolutionary generation and beyond, the book draws a portrait of a marriage endangered by separation, yet surviving by the same ideas and idealism that drove the revolution itself.