This website presents page images of John Quincy Adams' diaries, comprised of almost 15,000 pages containing manuscript entries within fifty-one volumes, an important primary source for the early national period of American history. Although there is no searchable transcription of the diary pages, the diary entries can be searched by date. Lists of the diaries are available to facilitate browsing, and a timeline of events in John Quincy Adams' life is available to help locate dates of interest.
About John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, the man who eventually became the sixth president of the United States, began his diary at the age of twelve, an activity
he continued throughout his life. Adams wrote his first diary entry in November 1779 at the start of a second voyage to Europe with his
father, John Adams, who had been appointed commissioner to France during the American Revolution. While still a teenager, John Quincy Adams
served the Revolutionary cause in Europe as secretary to Francis Dana, the American envoy in Russia and later to his father in the Netherlands.
Later, Adams served as minister to the Netherlands, Prussia, and Russia; and as a peace commissioner the negotiated the Treaty of Ghent.
(He also was nominated and confirmed, but never served as a Supreme Court justice). As secretary of state, he was the author of the Monroe
Doctrine, and in one of the most controversial elections in American history, became the sixth president of the United States. As "Old Man
Eloquent" in the U. S. House of Representatives and before the Supreme Court in the Amistad case he fought to abolish slavery--a
struggle he embraced until his death in 1848. Throughout this long and remarkable career, Adams kept a detailed diary of his own activities
and all that he observed.
About John Quincy Adams' diaries
The John Quincy Adams diary dates from 1779 to 1848, a period of more than sixty-eight years, including an unbroken daily record for
more than twenty-five years. The fifty-one manuscript volumes (comprised of 14,921 manuscript pages with diary entries; 16,930 pages
in all--including published almanac pages and blank pages) are a guide not only to Adams' own dramatic career, but a treasure trove of
information on early nineteenth-century America. As a boy, Adams dined with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in Paris. Later,
he knew every American president from Washington through Polk. In Europe he met Czar Alexander I and King George III, but lived long
enough to comment on Ralph Waldo Emerson, dine with Alexis de Tocqueville, and shake the hand of Charles Dickens. Adams taught at
Harvard University briefly, attempted to rationalize the American system of weights and measures, and was a key figure in the founding
of the Smithsonian Institution. All this and more he described day after day in detailed, often caustic and sometimes amusing diary
entries that combine powerful observation and deep self-reflection.
Using John Quincy Adams' diaries online
Getting to entries
Date search tool
The date search tool allows a researcher to search for pages containing specific dates. Since John Quincy Adams often wrote
entries for the same date in more than one diary volume, the search tool will present a search results list for the diary pages
containing entries for a specific date.
Browse by volume
The browse by volume list allows a researcher to select a volume based on summary information including date ranges, an overview
to the types of entries contained in the volume, and the size of a volume. Since John Quincy Adams often was keeping several
different types of diary volumes simultaneously, a researcher may want to browse more than one volume.
The timeline gives an overview to events of John Quincy Adams' life. Some entries on the timeline are informational and not
limited to specific diary entries, while other timeline listings point to diary pages containing entries about particular
events. The timeline also provides specific dates that may be entered into the date search tool.
Selected pages allow web visitors to quickly access diary pages pertaining to themes of potential interest--people John Quincy
Adams met during the course of his life, events in which he participated, topics he wrote about, places he visited, and
highlights from his career.
Types of entries
Long entries for single days are featured in the main diary volumes kept by John Quincy Adams. Some diary pages contain more
than one long entry, but some long entries span several pages. For example: diary 31, page 324,
entry for 1 May 1820.
Short entries are found in some almanac volumes, and other volumes, including the volume that John Quincy Adams called, "Diary
in Abridgement" (diary volume 33). The short entries within the almanacs are on manuscript pages interleaved within each
published volume. A typical manuscript page contains between twelve and fifteen short entries. The short entries in the
"Diary in Abridgement" have been referred to as "abbreviated entries" by some scholars and editors. For example:
diary 18, page 6, entry for 11 January 1792, or
diary 33 page 2, entry for 6 December 1821.
Line-a-day entries are single lines summarizing one day, and one page with these entries covers a whole month. John Quincy
Adams assembled an entire volume of line-a-day entries, that he called, "Epitome" (diary volume 23). John Quincy Adams also
wrote line-a-day entries in some almanac volumes and in one section of one of the main diary volumes. For example:
diary 23, page 300, entry for 1 June 1816.
Summary entries appear in the main diary volumes following the last entry for each month. Many of these entries have the
heading, "Day," and a few of these entries that appear at the end of December have the heading, "Year" and summarize the year.
For example: diary 28, page 307, entry for "Day" (about October 1811) and
diary 39, page 215, entry for "Year" (about 1833).
Draft entries are mainly contained in volumes that John Quincy Adams called, "Rubbish." Many of these entries were re-written
and polished as long entries. For example: diary 50, page 20, entry for 4 January 1827.
Lists of readings, visitors, Congressmen, and various observations appear in some of the almanac volumes and in the "Rubbish"
volumes. For example: diary 49, page 23, entry for 30 December 1819.
Notes, memoranda, dated financial accounts, and various quotations appear in many of the diary volumes. Some of these entries
are dated and some are undated. For example: diary 48, page 112 (undated notes) and
diary 27, page 423 (entry dated 29 April 1829 comprised of a quotation).
Some diaries have placeholders--spaces for entries of a particular date. These are usually datelines without additional entry
text, and, in general, the placeholder entries are not indexed within the date search tool. For example:
diary 23, page 200, entry for 1 February 1808.
Possibility of multiple entries for a single date
Since John Quincy Adams often kept several different types of diary volumes simultaneously, for some dates there will be
several entries. For example, there are four pages within three diary volumes that contain entries for 4 March 1825, the day
John Quincy Adams was sworn in as the sixth President of the United States.
Diary 33, page 103 contains the start of the long entry for this date, and it continues on
diary 33, page 104. Diary 23, page 405,
includes a line-a-day entry with a succinct entry for the same date; and
diary 49, page 815 includes a draft entry.
Occasionally, John Quincy Adams used shorthand notation to indicate months within datelines and dates. Please
refer to the key for some examples.
The images of John Quincy Adams' diaries include parentheses (written on the pages in pencil) that indicate passages that were
transcribed and published in Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of his Diary from 1795 to 1848,
12 volumes, edited by Charles Francis Adams. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1874-1877.
More about John Quincy Adams' diaries and manuscripts
Save America's Treasures grant and conservation work
A 2003 grant from Save America's Treasures, "Conservation of the Diary of President John Quincy Adams," enabled the
Massachusetts Historical Society to clean and deacidify soiled and brittle pages of the original manuscript volumes and to
repair pages with paper loss, tears, or holes. Loose sheets of paper were hinged and tipped-in, and loose signatures were
resewn. A conservation bookbinder repaired broken and damaged spines and covers on twenty-five of the fifty-one volumes.
Because all of the bindings are original to John Quincy Adams, the conservation treatment was minimally invasive, because the
diaries are artifacts worthy of study in their own right. The diary volumes now are stored in microchamber cases.
Adams, Charles Francis, ed. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of his Diary from 1795 to 1848,
12 volumes. Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1874-1877.
In this work, Charles Francis Adams (John Quincy Adams' son) published selections of entries from John Quincy Adams' diaries
as well as selections from his letters and other papers. The editor's selections of diary entries for this work exclude many
of the details of John Quincy Adams' everyday life and much of his religious and moral sentiment, but include information
pertaining to his education and public service from 1795 to 1848. Volume 12 contains an index to important events, people and
places in the diaries. Please note: Some of the images of John Quincy Adams' diaries presented on this website include
visible parentheses (written on the pages in pencil); indicating passages that were transcribed and published in
Memoirs of John Quincy Adams.
Allen, David Grayson, Robert J. Taylor, Marc Friedlander, and Celeste Walker, editors. Diary of John Quincy Adams,
2 volumes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.
These two volumes contain authoritative transcriptions of John Quincy Adams' diaries from November 1779 to December 1788.
They include Adams' monthly summaries and his original compositions, but exclude extended passages copied from other sources --
although these sources are referenced in notes. The entries span a decade of Adams' life, from the age of twelve (when he
accompanies his father, John Adams, to Europe), to twenty-one (when he is a recent-graduate of Harvard College, and studying law).
The entries describe his life, the places he visited, people he met, and also contain his perceptions both of his surroundings
Adams Family Papers and other John Quincy Adams' manuscripts
The Adams Family Papers, an enormous manuscript collection owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, consists of the
papers of John and Abigail Adams and their descendants. John Quincy Adams, the eldest son of John and Abigail Adams, is well
represented in the collection. Although John Quincy Adams' diaries are a key component of his papers, the Adams Family Papers
also include his correspondence, letterbooks, literary manuscripts, speeches and some financial and professional papers. For
additional information see the web pages Adams Family Papers (manuscript collection) and the Microfilm Guide.