Narrator: In 1802, shortly after he had been defeated for a second term as president, John Adams sat at his desk to write his autobiography. He desperately wanted to be remembered as a founder of a new nation, yet he feared he would be forgotten.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Statues and monuments will never be erected to me, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in brilliant colors.
Narrator: He had been the prime mover in the Continental Congress, the premier political thinker of the American Revolution.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The decree has gone forth, and cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America.
Narrator: Adams moved a reluctant Congress to declare America's independence from England. And when the revolution seemed nearly lost, he single-handedly secured millions of dollars in loans to keep the American army from collapse. He'd written the constitution of the state of Massachusetts, which became the foundation for the national constitution.
He had helped negotiate peace with Britain; been the first vice president of the United States, and its second president. And through it all, he had had by his side an extraordinary woman, who became his most valued political advisor and confidante.
David McCullough, Historian: Abigail Adams was one of the most remarkable, admirable, wise Americans of all time. She was phenomenal. She was a better judge of people than he was. She was a much more insightful politician, if you will. And she adored him. And he adored her. It's a great love story. And it's all in their letters.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): My dear girl, there is in Congress a collection of the greatest men upon this continent...
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): The constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we cannot eat, drink, or sleep...
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Vanity suffers. Cold feelings of unpopularity, humiliation. I can pronounce Thomas Jefferson...
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Dearest Friend, I set down with a heavy heart to write to you. Woe follows woe, and one affliction treads upon the heels of another...
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Dear Miss Saucy, I hereby order you, to give me as many kisses and as many hours of your company as I shall please to demand...
Narrator: Sustained by one of the greatest partnerships in American history, John Adams had earned a place of honor among the Founding Fathers.
But the aging, angry former president had good reason to believe that history would not rightly remember his role in the birth of the American nation.
In 1774, the British army shut down the port of Boston, strangling trade. Punishing colonists who'd thrown British tea into the harbor to protest high taxes.
Four regiments of British soldiers poured into the city, joining the hated two thousand redcoats already patrolling the unruly streets.
Ten miles south of Boston, in Braintree, John Adams prepared for a momentous journey. He had been chosen to join a Continental Congress in Philadelphia, a meeting of the colonies' leading statesmen, to seek a solution to the increasingly violent conflict with Britain.
Adams, the son of a farmer, was 38 years old. He had a passion for history and philosophy, had studied at Harvard, and built up the biggest law practice in Boston, taking on some of the most controversial cases of the day.
Twenty-nine year old Abigail Adams faced the bleak prospect of months without her husband. But she believed he had an important role to play in shaping America's future.
David McCullough, Historian: She spotted him before anybody. She saw the talent. And she wasn't afraid to speak her mind.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): You cannot be, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator. We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.
Narrator: Promising Abigail he would soon return to private life, John Adams joined three other members of the Massachusetts delegation for the trip to Philadelphia.
David McCullough, Historian: He goes off to Pennsylvania, nearly 400 miles, to get to Congress. And he was participating in something that could very well be considered treasonous; he leaves her with four children and the farm. And she's got to make ends meet.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): The great anxiety I feel for my country, for you, and for our family renders the day tedious and the night unpleasant. And the great distance between us makes the time appear very long to me. The rocks and quicksands appear upon every side.
Narrator: Colonial militia units, the seeds of an American army, were beginning to drill in the towns around Boston.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror.
Narrator: John Adams had always been a man at war with himself. A man of restless ambition, and deep self-doubt. Now, in Philadelphia, it was self-doubt that consumed him.
John Ferling, Historian: He has virtually no political experience. He was overweight. He was already balding. He just didn't see himself as somebody who would become a leader.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I muse, I mope, I ruminate. I feel unutterable anxiety, unequal to this business.
Narrator: As delegates convened in Carpenters Hall that September day, the American colonies were on the brink of war with the most powerful nation on earth.
Struggles with Parliament had dragged on for years. Adams knew this was the decisive moment, but he feared he was not up to the task.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Do you have what it takes? Are you learned enough? And he's worried about that. He's pushing himself, asking himself that question.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): There is in Congress a collection of the greatest men upon this continent, in abilities, virtues and fortunes. It makes me blush for the sordid venal herd which I have seen in my own province.
Narrator: He was awed by them at first, but it didn't take long for him to become impatient with some of his fellow delegates.
David McCullough, Historian: He had a great mind. And it was a mind capable of seeing ahead, to a degree not found in most of us mortals.
Narrator: Adams saw, long before many of the other delegates, that there had to be a break with Britain.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Gentlemen, the object is great which we have in view, and we must expect a great expense of blood to obtain it, but it cannot be purchased at too dear a rate, as there is nothing on this side of Jerusalem of equal importance to mankind.
John Ferling, Historian: His confidence in what is possible for America and also his confidence in what's possible for John Adams begins to grow. And I think he begins to see that the sky is the limit.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): About eight o'clock Sunday evening there passed by here about 200 of our men, and marched down to the powder house.
Narrator: Abigail became the home-front reporter for her husband.
Narrator: The British were fortifying Boston, she wrote, and seizing arms from the Americans. Local militias began hiding their ammunition. Soon, they would occupy the highest of the three hills opposite the city: Bunker Hill.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): The militia passed without any noise, not a word among them till they came against this house. They asked me if I wanted any powder and I replied not, since it was in good hands.
Narrator: It was an active political role she would continue for much of her life. And there were other letters, more personal, which John described as an "inexhaustible dowry," enriching his life.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I have taken a great fondness for reading ancient history since you left me and I have persuaded Johnny to read me a page or two every day.
John Quincy Adams(Noah Pimentel): Alexander's first care...
Narrator: Seven-year-old John Quincy was the second of the Adamses' four children. Young Abigail, called Nabby, was nine, and there were two small boys, Charles and Thomas.
With war looming, most schools were closed. Abigail had to see to their education herself. She also ran the household and the farm, and managed their meager finances.
David McCullough, Historian: At the end of a long day, which would begin for her at about five o'clock in the morning, in a house that upstairs is so cold that water freezes in the little wash basin, she sits down at her kitchen table with a quill pen and a candle, and writes some of the greatest letters ever written by an American.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I dare not express to you at 300 miles how ardently I long for your return. The idea plays about my heart and awakens all the tender sentiments that years have increased and matured.
Edith Gelles, Historian: She didn't ask him to come home. But she did tell him, time and again, how lonely she was without him.
Narrator: Abigail urged John to burn her letters. He never did.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Your most affectionate friend, Abigail Adams.
Narrator: Early on the morning of June 17th, 1775, Abigail and the children, asleep in Braintree, were awakened by the thunder of cannon from across Boston harbor.
American militia on Bunker Hill had been attacked by British troops. There had been skirmishes with the British at Lexington and Concord in April, but this was the first all-out battle.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): How many have fallen we know not. The constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we cannot eat, drink, or sleep. Perhaps the decisive day is come on which the fate of America depends.
Narrator: In Philadelphia, Abigail's reports from the front kept John supplied with the most up-to-date information, and heightened his belief that a formal break with Britain was essential. The colonies should prepare for full-scale war.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Adams is engaged in debate and in committee meetings in an extraordinarily intensive way. He is essentially the major legislator and the one-man Secretary of War, maddeningly telling people that there's not going to be a middle position here, folks. It's going to go one way or the other.
And it is something that is called out of him- his own latent talent, his own latent energies-is called out of him by the urgency of the moment. These really were the times that try men's souls.
Narrator: Adams was the first to support George Washington as commander of the American forces. He was pushing for new governments for each colony and even drafted a guide for constitution-writers.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: The two most important people in moving the American Revolution forward are George Washington and John Adams. Washington because he's appointed as head of what will soon come to be called the Continental Army. And Adams is the major figure in the Congress.
Narrator: But the Congress was sharply divided. Adams led a small radical faction; most delegates still favored reconciliation with Britain.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: There were no unanimous votes; there were divided votes on almost every question. They were essentially improvising on the edge of catastrophe.
Narrator: John Dickinson of Pennsylvania believed that independence was suicidal folly. He pushed for reconciliation with the British Crown. Adams would not hear of it.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I am as fond of reconciliation as any man. But the cancer is too far spread to be cured by any thing short of cutting it out entirely.
Narrator: "The cancer" was British corruption, British arrogance. Adams believed that London cared nothing for American rights. He saw a once-great nation now obsessed with luxury and wealth, hungry for ever-higher taxes from its colonies.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): They are taskmasters bent on reducing the colonists to desolation, poverty and servitude. There is no more justice left in Britain than there is in Hell.
Narrator: In a private letter to a friend, Adams viciously mocked John Dickinson.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): He is a man of great fortune and piddling genius whose fame has been trumpeted so loudly, but who has given a silly cast to our whole doings.
Narrator: The letter was intercepted by British agents, and quickly made its way into Tory newspapers.
Adams had managed to insult one of the Congress's most respected men. For weeks, he was ostracized.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I was avoided like a man infected with leprosy.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: Adams has this perpetual habit of saying what he thinks, bluntly, and then getting in trouble for it, and being shocked that he's getting in trouble for saying what he thinks bluntly. So he says -- announces things about people. "Well, that's stupid." "Well, that's ridiculous." "I can't believe he did that." And then people report that he said that, and he gets in trouble. And he's continually outraged.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Will our ambassador be received or so much as heard or seen by any man or woman in power? He might possibly... if well skilled in intrigue and his purse well filled with money and his person elegant enough to be introduced to some of the courtesans but would that not be all...
Narrator: Later, Adams would call his behavior in the Continental Congress "obnoxious."
Joseph Ellis, Historian: "Obnoxious" is a strong term. Notice, Adams is using the term about himself. He is unpopular in the sense that he has been the major and the most fierce advocate for ultimate American independence, with a group of people that need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to that particular cause.
David McCullough, Historian: He was very much like a character out of Dickens. You would know him in a minute if he walked into the room.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Suppose we send ambassadors now to foreign courts, what nations shall we court? Shall we go to the court of Prussia or Russia or Turkey or Denmark...
David McCullough, Historian: He could be very abrasive and tactless and disputatious and opinionated and pugnacious. He was so honest, he expected other people to be honest too.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Blockheads.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I set down with a heavy heart to write to you. Woe follows woe and one affliction treads upon the heel of another.
Narrator: After a visit from her husband in the summer of 1775, too brief to be consoling, Abigail Adams faced a crisis. Alone.
Epidemic dysentery had struck Braintree, leaving a trail of death in its wake.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Such is the distress of the neighborhood that I can scarcely find a well person to assist me in looking after the sick. So mortal a time the oldest man does not remember.
As to politics I know nothing about them. I have wrote as much as I am able to, being very weak.
Our little Tommy lies very ill now. Were you to look upon him you would not know him. A general putrefaction seems to have taken place, and we cannot bear the house only as we are constantly cleansing it with hot vinegar.
Narrator: Abigail's mother too was infected, and in early October, she died.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, o! thou my beloved, for the hand of God presseth me sore. How can I tell you (o my bursting heart) that my dear mother has left me. This day about five o'clock she left this world for an infinitely better.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I know I wound your heart. Ought I to give relief to my own by paining yours?
Narrator: Three-year-old Tommy survived. John came home in December, but by January of 1776 he was on his way back to Philadelphia. The Congress needed someone to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): That is satisfactory, gentlemen...any further questions? Good, we will meet again tomorrow.
Narrator: Some members thought that Adams should be the writer. But he felt that Thomas Jefferson, a 33-year-old planter from Virginia, was a better choice.
Adams: Reasons enough.
Jefferson: What can be your reasons?
Adams: Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.
John Ferling, Historian: John Adams declined, mostly, I think, because he felt that no one would ever remember the Declaration of Independence. Congress had already adopted a number of declarations. And nobody remembers them today. And Adams was certain that no one would remember the Declaration of Independence.
Narrator: Jefferson was a Southerner, an aristocrat, a slaveholder- everything that Adams was not.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: John Adams' favorite form of conversation was an argument. He thought that arguments were the only form of conversation that really forced you into truth and into grappling in a struggling way. He's the exact opposite of Jefferson.
Jefferson regards argument as dissonant noise. It is almost like bad notes in a song. Whereas for Adams, it is the song.
Narrator: Thomas Jefferson, writing with a simple eloquence that John Adams could never have achieved, crafted what would become the most memorable document in American history.
In Braintree, Abigail and the children were enjoying a brief respite from war and illness. Tommy, now 4, had fully recovered. His 11-year-old sister Nabby had escaped infection.
Washington's troops had managed to drive the British out of Boston. The farm was quiet. But Abigail was impatient for news from John, and concerned about how women would be treated in the new American republic.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): And by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors have been. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.
Edith Gelles, Historian: It was the most bold statement by any woman of her time. She was aware that women had rights. She thought that women's role in the household was equally important with men's role in the greater world. And in fact John wrote back and he teased her.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): We know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We are obliged to go softly. And in practice you know we are the subjects. We only have the names of masters.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: This is banter. It's serious banter, however. What really comes through is that this is a political partnership as well as a marriage partnership, and that Abigail knows what is going on inside the Congress in Philadelphia, and understands those arguments as well as any delegate does.
Narrator: On July 1, 1776, the Continental Congress faced the great question of the day: Should the colonies declare independence, and abandon any hope for peace and reconciliation with Britain.
Narrator: With the doors locked against spies, the opposition spoke first. John Dickinson pleaded with the delegates not to make a terrible mistake.
David McCullough, Historian: Dickinson said, "To declare independence now, would be to launch our fortunes into the storm in a skiff made of paper." Point being -- this is just a piece of paper, this declaration, and don't do it now, it's too dangerous. Let's find out first whether we can win, or let's find out if they're willing to have a reconciliation. We don't have to go through the bloodbath.
Narrator: A long silence followed Dickinson's address. Finally, John Adams took the floor.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Objects of the most stupendous magnitude are now before us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.
Narrator: Outside, the sky darkened; the clouds unleashed a summer downpour. Adams had once written that such storms "unstrung" him. Now, he pressed on, making the case for independence.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): From England we hear nothing but war and revenge. What pains and expense, and misery that stupid people will endure, for the sake of driving the colonies to the necessity of separation.
Narrator: The majority must govern, he argued, and the "insolent domination" of the high-born in London be thrown off.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The decree is gone forth, and cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty, than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America.
Narrator: Independence was a military necessity. America could not win without foreign assistance, and it could not get foreign assistance without first declaring independence.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): If you imagine that I expect this Declaration to ward off calamities from this country, you are much mistaken. A bloody conflict we are destined to endure. That has been my opinion from the beginning.
It is your hard lot and mine to have been called into life at such a time. But even these times have their pleasures. May heaven prosper the newborn republic and make it more glorious than any former republic has been.
Narrator: "The man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency is Mr. John Adams of Boston," one delegate wrote. "I call him the Atlas of American Independence."
With this speech, Adams put his life on the line. Agents of the Crown were drawing up a list of those rebels to be pardoned. John Adams was not on it. He was to hang.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): My dear: I am anxious to hear how you do. I have in my mind a source of anxiety, which I have never had before. You know what it is.
Narrator: During the harsh winter of 1777, the American army struggled to survive. The British now occupied New York City and threatened New England. And Abigail was pregnant once again.
Servant: You must rest, madam.
Narrator: John was eager for word of his wife's condition, but wary that yet another letter would be intercepted by the British.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Can't you convey to me, in hieroglyphics, which no other person can comprehend, information which will relieve me. Tell me you are as well as can be expected.
Narrator: Abigail wrote at first of a normal pregnancy, but by the spring she was becoming increasingly apprehensive.
Edith Gelles, Historian: It was a great struggle for her, being pregnant at a time when there was danger of British troops invading the very area where she lived. She was frightened. I think it's the only time in her letters that she expresses such vulnerability.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I lose my rest at nights. I look forward to July with more anxiety than I can describe.
Narrator: As the birth approached, Abigail wrote of a nighttime shaking fit, and fears that "a life had been lost" within her. A short time later, she went into labor.
Edith Gelles, Historian: She suspected that something had gone wrong. And she spent the evening writing a letter to John Adams.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Tis now 48 hours since I can say I really enjoyed any ease. Slow, lingering, and troublesome is the present situation. The Dr. encourages me to hope that my apprehensions are groundless. I pray heaven that it may be soon or it seems to me I shall be worn out.
Edith Gelles, Historian: And the most remarkable thing happens. She writes while she was in labor.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I must lay my pen down this moment to bear what I cannot fly from -- and now I have endured it, I reassume my pen.
Narrator: Abigail had been right. The child, a girl, was stillborn. A week later, she wrote again to John. She pointed out that in the fourteen years that they had been married, they had been together not more than half that time.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): The unfeeling world may consider it in what light they please. I consider it a sacrifice to my country, and one of my greatest misfortunes.
Narrator: In September, the advancing British army closed on Washington's forces on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Adams and the others were forced to flee the city. Congress was booted from town to town, staying just ahead of the redcoats.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The prospect is chilling on every side. When will the light spring up?
Narrator: In October, the Americans saw a glimmer of light at Saratoga, New York. The Continental army defeated a British force that had marched south from Canada. Now, after ten months, John Adams could take the time to come home to his family.
John Ferling, Historian: I think Abigail thought that they had worked out an agreement that John would come home to stay once independence was declared. And he hadn't done that. He had gone back to Congress. And now he had come home, presumably to practice law.
Narrator: In December, while John was away on legal business, an official packet arrived at the farm. It was from Congress.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Adams is chosen for what they think is the most important single diplomatic mission possible, namely, to negotiate an alliance with the French.
Narrator: The revolution could not survive without money and military support from the French. Adams was to leave for Paris as soon as possible.
John Ferling, Historian: It was just a devastating moment for Abigail. I think she felt her world collapse around her when she saw that letter.
And so an enormous clash develops, I think, between a wife who wants her husband at home, and a husband who wants to continue the public role that he has set out for himself, and which he sees as his future.
Narrator: On the frigid evening of February 13th, 1778, John Adams secretly boarded a frigate bound for France. With him went ten-year-old John Quincy.
Abigail had let him go, despite what she called her "thousand fears." The experience would make her son an "honor to his country," she wrote. But she could not bring herself to see them off.
David McCullough, Historian: Now nobody went to sea in the wintertime off the coast of New England, in the North Atlantic, even in peacetime. And they're sailing not only in the midst of winter, but they're sailing in the midst of war. And there were British cruisers right off the shore, just waiting to catch somebody like John Adams trying to make a run for France, and take him to England, take him to the Tower of London, and hang him.
Narrator: Adams and John Quincy endured a grueling six-week voyage, fraught with fierce winter storms and a harrowing encounter with a British warship. Finally, they reached Paris. Before he could unpack, John received jolting news.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: : By the time Adams gets there, the French have already signed a treaty. So it was a totally unnecessary trip.
Narrator: Even before Adams left Boston, Benjamin Franklin, already in Paris, had moved ahead without him.
John Ferling, Historian: : And it must have been an enormous letdown. He had seen this as an opportunity to score a huge success and the success had already been accomplished.
Narrator: There was little for him to do in Paris -- excruciating for a man with his ambition. He found a good boarding school for John Quincy. Practiced his French. Kept the books for the delegation. Six months earlier, he had been the most important member of Congress. Now he served as a virtual clerk.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I am now a man of whom nobody had ever heard before. A man who did not understand a word of French -- awkward in his figure -- awkward in his dress -- a perfect cipher.
Narrator: If Adams was a cipher in Paris, Franklin was a star.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: If you asked a Frenchman who is an American, it is Benjamin Franklin. He is a world-class scientist. He is a famous writer. Adams is entering a kind of Franklin electromagnetic field. And he's jealous of him.
Narrator: Adams was contemptuous of the alliance that Franklin had negotiated. The Americans needed the help of the French navy. He urged Franklin to push the French much harder. Franklin refused.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Franklin recognizes that in order to get what we want from France, which is both money and military support, you've got to be deft and you've got to be indirect. And Adams just thinks, "Look. We got -- need the God damn navy over there. Let's get them over there."
Narrator: Adams fired off a torrent of letters back to Congress, critical of Franklin. Franklin, too, took up his pen -- and deftly disposed of John Adams.
"Adams," he wrote in a widely circulated letter, "is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses."
Adams languished in Paris. After ten months, Congress named Franklin the sole American representative to the French court. Adams was pushed aside.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): How lonely are my days? How solitary are my nights? Secluded from all society but my two little boys, and my domestics.
John Quincy Adams (David Mokrisky): Mother!
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Abigail!
Narrator: Fed up with France, John Adams had decided to come home. He and John Quincy arrived on August 2, 1779. It had been a year and a half since Abigail had seen them.
Narrator: Abigail proudly showed John how well the farm had done under her care, despite wartime scarcities and inflation. New England was no longer the main battleground; most of the fighting had shifted to the South. And though the outcome of the war was still very much in doubt, many of the states were holding constitutional conventions, preparing for self-government, much as John had urged a few years before.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: And as soon as he gets back, the Massachusetts constitutional convention says, "By the way, would you like to write the constitution?" And he said, "I think I'll give it a go."
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Abigail, hear this: This is the preamble. The aim of government is to furnish the individuals who compose the body politic with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights - and the blessings of life...
David McCullough, Historian: He has no staff. He doesn't have a group of people doing research. It comes out of a mind that I think probably never forgot anything he read. It comes from talent, God-given gift. And it comes from a tremendous capacity to use the language and to cut through to the essence of things.
Narrator: Adams knew from struggling with his own inner conflicts that there were powerful passions deep in the human soul, and that part of the role of government was to restrain those passions, to keep them in check.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: It's an attempt to say: You've got to balance and separate and balance and separate power. You can't allow it to be just power that flows forward in its own ferocious way.
Narrator: The power Adams feared most was that of an American aristocracy.
John Ferling, Historian: He was attempting to devise a structure of government that would prevent the wealthiest, the most elite in American society, from gaining control.
Narrator: Adams called for a strong executive in the form of a governor with veto power; for two branches of the legislature, and an independent judiciary.
David McCullough, Historian: Adams was the driving champion of that. You musthave an independent judiciary. The judiciary must be able to come to its decisions without the influence of politics or the power of the other segments of government.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: And by late summer and early fall, he has written this document, which still is the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and is generally regarded as the model state constitution, the one that became the closest approximation of what the federal Constitution is going to be.
Narrator: Abigail rejoiced in having the family back together. But in October, Congress called on Adams once again. He was asked to return to Paris to lay the groundwork for a peace treaty with Britain. And once again, he said yes.
Abigail steeled herself for another separation.
Her husband, and, they had decided, their two older sons, John Quincy and Charles, would be gone for God knows how long. Concealing her own anxiety, she encouraged a reluctant John Quincy to make the most of a difficult moment.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.
Narrator: Adams knew the British were not yet ready to talk. The mission could take years. He had agreed to go without consulting Abigail.
John Ferling, Historian: Adams made the decision to go back to France because he was John Adams. I mean he was an ambitious man and what could be more outstanding than to be the sole negotiator of the peace treaty that would recognize American independence.
Narrator: After John left, Abigail was in despair... At the age of 34, she felt as if she were widowed or divorced.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): My habitation, how disconsolate it looks! My table, I set down to it but cannot swallow my food.
Narrator: John had spent only 71 days with his family. Back in Paris, Adams found his hands were tied once again. America's ally, France, was not willing to help him start peace talks with its age-old enemy, Britain. And the British rebuffed him completely. John Adams was beginning to see the limits of European alliances. He wrote to Congress:
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I am convinced that all the powers of Europe rejoice in the American Revolution, yet I think that not one of them wishes to see America rise very fast to power.
Narrator: But in 1780, a fast rise to power seemed unlikely. The war had dragged on for five years; America was broke. There had been talk in Congress of seeking loans from Holland.
Acting on his own, Adams packed up the boys and left for Amsterdam. Wealthy Dutch bankers, he hoped, could lend enough money to keep the American war effort alive.
David McCullough, Historian: He didn't speak a word of Dutch. He didn't know anyone in the Netherlands. He's going in there as cold as one could be.
John Ferling, Historian: And he worked, and he worked, and he tried to open every door. He courted people in Holland. He did everything that he could possibly do.
Narrator: Adams drove himself to exhaustion, but had little success. After more than a year, he wrote that his life in Holland had become "gloomy and melancholy," his work "useless."
Then, in the fall of 1781, Washington's army rallied, delivering a crippling blow to the mighty forces of the British king at Yorktown, Virginia.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): My dearest friend, America may boast that she has accomplished what no power before her ever did -- captured two of their celebrated generals and each with an army of thousands of veteran troops to support them. This event must fill Britain with despondency.
Narrator: A fleet of French ships had made the decisive difference, helping the Americans to surround the British. It was sweet vindication for John Adams, who had battled for years to get the French navy into the fight.
Narrator: The victory gave Adams new leverage in Amsterdam. If the Dutch wanted to be aligned with the winning side, the time to loan money to the Americans was now.
David McCullough, Historian: He gets the Dutch government to loan our country millions of dollars, one of the most important diplomatic coups of all time. And he did it on his own.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): If this were to be the only action of my life, it would have been well spent. I hope however you will pardon the vanity.
Narrator: With support from the Dutch, the American military could keep the pressure on the British. Soon, there were signs that London might be ready to negotiate.
Adams returned to France, where preliminary British-American peace talks were under way.
After months of delicate negotiations, John Adams, along with Benjamin Franklin, put his signature on a treaty that was a diplomatic triumph for the United States. The American Revolution was over. A new nation was born.
Adams stayed in Europe to firm up relations with other countries, including England. He had never before set foot in the land of his former enemies, and found himself enthralled by the wonders of London.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I have this day seen an inestimable collection of paintings by the greatest masters -- Raphael, Rubens, Van Dyke. The library is the most elegant thing I ever saw. Come to Europe with Nabby as soon as possible, and view these magnificent scenes.
Narrator: But there was a farm to run. Europe was too expensive. She would feel awkward, an embarrassment to John.
Edith Gelles, Historian: She was nervous about going to Europe because she was a mere American going onto the stage of dignitaries. She was going to be dealing with statesmen. I think it's the only time that she expresses such a lack of self-confidence.
Narrator: Reluctantly, Abigail said yes.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): My dear sister, Mr. Adams professes himself so much happier for having his family with him that I feel amply gratified in having ventured across the ocean.
Narrator: John had found a villa for his family in Auteuil, a country town not far from Paris.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): We are indeed a very very happy family once more, after a separation of four years.
David McCullough, Historian: Imagine. Here's a woman who had scarcely ever been 60 miles from home, had maybe slept in- overnight in someone else's house twice in her life, who suddenly is plunked down in the Paris, the France of Louis XVI, with all of these superbly educated, cultivated, elegantly dressed men and women. And at first she's stunned.
Well, she picks up the dance step very fast, and pretty soon she not only is holding her own, she loves it.
Narrator: She fell in love with the theater, the opera.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): There is the grandest scenery, and the passions all excited until you imagine yourself living at the very period.
David McCullough, Historian: She had read plays all of her life. She'd never seen one. There was no theater in Boston. Imagine going to the opera in Paris. You couldn't have even conceived of what an experience of going to the opera was like, just to go into the building at that time. And she was thrilled.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Youth, beauty, grace, ease clad in all the most pleasing ornaments of dress and singing like cherubs! O! It has a soft persuasive power and a dying, dying sound!
Narrator: But Abigail struggled with the language. She grew homesick. She had never before wanted a pet, but now she bought a tiny songbird, and found comfort in its delicate, cheerful company. The whole family enjoyed the visits of an American friend who had come to Paris to work with Adams and Franklin.
Edith Gelles, Historian: John and Jefferson knew each other. They'd served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence together. So that they were long-time friends and colleagues. But this was the first time he had met the Adams family, and Jefferson liked the Adams family.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: I think that this time in Paris in '84, '85, is the time when Adams and Jefferson really bond, when the relationship becomes an emotional relationship as well as a collegial relationship. Abigail says at the time that Jefferson is the only man that her husband can speak to in confidence without any concern or any restriction. There's a coming together of these two personalities here in a way that is fateful for American history.
Narrator: "Jefferson," Adams wrote to a friend in Congress, "is an excellent hand. You could not have sent a better."
David McCullough, Historian: John Quincy Adams looked upon Thomas Jefferson as kind of an uncle, a beloved uncle, and spent as much time as he possibly could with Jefferson. And it's a wonderful time in their lives. The war is over. Their new nation is launched. The possibilities seem limitless. And it's a lovely interlude.
Narrator: Jefferson had never met a woman quite like Abigail Adams.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: She can move elegantly from a conversation about silk and gloves to a discussion about the tariff policy of the French. He's not used to that. She threads these different pieces together, and that confounds him.
Narrator: Abigail was charmed. Thomas Jefferson, she wrote, was "one of the choice ones of the earth." Jefferson and the Adamses parted with great regret when John was named the first American minister to London. On June 1, 1785, Adams was to be presented to King George III. He worked and re-worked what he would say to the King.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): "I shall esteem my self the happiest of men if I can restore the old good humor between people who, though separated by an ocean and under different governments, have the same language, and kindred blood."
David McCullough, Historian: What a scene. What a moment. Here's a farmer's son from New England, standing before His Majesty the King, who would have hanged John Adams had John Adams been caught, only a few years before.
Narrator: But the old good humor between Britain and America was not so easily restored. Adams had little success in encouraging trade with the British, and he was mocked and condescended to in the press.
David McCullough, Historian: John Adams was the representative of this small, untried, distant, little cluster of population at the edge of a huge wilderness, with no guarantee whatsoever that their new dream nation was going to succeed.
In fact, most of the wise heads of Europe were quite confident that it would not succeed, that it would fail.
Narrator: On a bright June day in 1788, a ship bringing John and Abigail Adams back from Europe approached Boston harbor. Through his long years of public service, Adams had often felt pushed aside by other more charismatic figures. Now, church bells rang throughout the city. Cannon thundered a welcome.
A crowd of several thousand waited at the dock to greet him. To his great surprise, John Adams had returned a hero.
The Adamses were glad to be home, but John found the pull of politics irresistible, and let his name be put forward in the first presidential election that fall.
By the following spring, he was in New York, the temporary capital of the new nation.
George Washington had been elected president. Adams had received the second-highest number of votes, which under the new Constitution made him vice president.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: I think what that vote suggests is that he ranks second only to Washington as a kind of revolutionary hero because that's what really was being voted on.
Narrator: Stepping into a new, untried government, John Adams was anxious -- and with good reason.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: People aren't sure if this whole experiment is even going to survive more than a few years. There's every chance that it'll be a failed experiment.
Narrator: There was no army to speak of. No national currency. No permanent capital.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: I think a lot of people were probably standing two steps back and watching to see what happened.
Narrator: During the war, Adams had been called the Atlas of Independence. Now he held the second-highest office in the land, and would preside over the inaugural session of the Senate.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He liked the idea of being the second most significant figure, but he is also the originator of all of the jokes that will eventually be made about the office of the vice presidency (you know), which in the 20th century has been described as not worth a bucketful of warm spit.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Dearest Friend, I procured a load of salt hay for the stock, but the hill is trod down so hard by the cattle that it will provide no grass this year. ...
Narrator: Abigail had stayed at their farm. They had finally been able to buy a bigger house near their old one, and there was much to be done. She was no longer deeply lonely when John was away, but he was desperate to have her by his side.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I pray you to come, as soon as possible. As to money you must if you can borrow enough to bring you here. If you cannot borrow enough, you must sell horses, oxen, sheep, cows, anything. If no one will take the place, leave it to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.
JOSEPH ELLIS: He doesn't feel that he can conduct himself as vice-president with the degree of intelligence and success that he wishes, if she's not with him.
Narrator: Abigail packed up the household and moved to New York. John had found them a house at Richmond Hill, in what is now Greenwich Village.
Abigail grew to love Richmond Hill, with its views reaching down to the Hudson River. She began to worry, she wrote, about being "too happy in the situation to have it lasting." She asked her sister and friends to set her straight if she started putting on airs.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Watch over my conduct and if at any time you perceive any alteration in me arising from my situation in life, I beg you would acquaint me with it. I know mankind are prone to deceive themselves.
Narrator: John Adams had very definite ideas about his role in the new government, but his experience as a leader during the Revolution did not serve him well in the Senate.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: Poor John Adams. He clearly assumed that he would be presiding over the Senate. So he would be giving advice, suggesting things from the past, sort of lecturing to the Senate- which did not go over very well.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Adams has a genius for putting things in a way that will almost certainly be misconstrued. In one of the early debates in the Senate, the question was what do we call the president of the United States? Adams believed the office of president needed to be given stature, lest it be overwhelmed by the Congress. So therefore you needed to give the president a title.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I propose -- I propose: "His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of the Rights of the Same."
Joanne Freeman, Historian: Which of course is harkening back to a monarch, which in his mind makes perfect sense because it makes him an equal to all of these other monarchs on the world stage. He's horrified when someone suggests "Mr. President" or "President of the United States," because he says at the time, "There are presidents of cricket clubs. What does that mean, president?"
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): It was common -- it was common-- while he commanded the army to call General Washington "His Excellency," but it would appear to me better to give him no title than to put him on a level with the governor of Bermuda.
John Ferling, Historian: There was enormous concern in the United States about monarchy. Many people misinterpreted him and believed that what he was actually calling for was the creation of an American monarchy.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Adams doesn't worry that he's going to be accused of being a monarchist because he's got impeccable revolutionary credentials. He's the guy that overthrew the monarch. Right?
Narrator: The Senate voted to rein in Adams, officially changing the role of vice president for all time. America's leading political thinker would not be permitted to join in as they debated vital questions about the future of the new United States.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): It is to be sure a punishment to hear other men talk for five hours every day and not to be at liberty to talk myself. Especially as more than half I hear appears to me very young, inconsiderate and inexperienced.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: Clearly, he must have thought to himself: Nonsense. Utter nonsense. Utter nonsense. But he can't say, "Stop." "You don't know what you're talking about." He just has to sit there.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: This is like muzzling one of the great oratorical forces in the American Revolution. And he's very despondent. The great talker has to listen.
Narrator: In the rainy spring of 1790, Benjamin Franklin died. The press hailed him as a grand old man of the revolution, almost a god. Adams was furious.
Franklin was being lionized, while he, Adams, sat muzzled in the senate, his own role in the revolution pushed into the shadows.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The history of our revolution will be one continued lie. The essence will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical rod smote the earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod and thence forward these two conducted all the policy, negotiation, legislation, and war.
Narrator: This anguish over his rightful place in history would torment Adams for the rest of his life.
In the fall, the Adamses had to leave Richmond Hill. Congress had voted to move the capital to Philadelphia while they sought a permanent location on the Potomac River. Abigail was miserable.
It was the fifth time in six years she had had to pack and move, and they were barely getting by on the meager income from the farm and John's modest salary.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Public business must be done by somebody. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.
Narrator: Adams had become more comfortable with his role in the Senate, no longer presiding like a volcano about to erupt.
In 1792, Washington and Adams were easily re-elected. But events unfolding across the Atlantic would make the next four years as wrenching as any they would endure.
In France, with cries of liberty, equality, and brotherhood, the people had risen up against the king, vowing to crush the old regime.
Many Americans believed that the spark of liberty they had kindled at Lexington and Concord was now alive in Europe.
Across the United States, people flew the French flag and gave money to the cause.
Adams would have no part of it. The Founding Fathers had sought to preserve order even while fighting for independence. But the French seemed bent on the total destruction of the existing system of law and government.
As a young lawyer in Boston two decades earlier, John Adams had passionately condemned mob violence. In 1770, when British soldiers were on trial for murder after shooting into an angry crowd -- the so-called Boston Massacre -- it was John Adams who had taken their case, arguing they had a right to defend themselves.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The mob whistling, screaming and crying "kill them! kill them!....
Narrator: Adams felt deeply that the mob in Boston that night had been a serious threat to the rule of law. And so too was the bloody revolution in France.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He says on many occasions that this is going to be the classical pattern: a mob rule, violence and terror, and eventually the establishment of a despotic government, ruled by a single person.
Narrator: He wrote in great agitation to his old friend Thomas Jefferson:
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Reasoning has all been lost. Passion and prejudice will govern.
Narrator: But Jefferson was enthralled with the unfolding drama in France.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: Jefferson starts out with this idea that the French Revolution is the spark of liberty moving around the world, and doesn't really let go of that horse. He just hangs onto that horse. He really thinks, even when things get bloody and violent, that, well, (you know) you need a little bloodshed in the greater cause of liberty across the world.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He's absolutely sincere. He really does think that the principles in the Declaration of Independence and the principles of the French Revolution are synonymous. If the last king can be strangled with the entrails of the last priest, we will have destroyed the institutions that have stood in the way of human freedom.
Narrator: But John Adams held a starkly different view of the events in France.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: He thinks they're in this bloody, anarchic chaos over there. And what would prevent some of that chaos and confusion from working its way to America?
Joseph Ellis, Historian: These are big issues that they're disagreeing on. It's not just a single event. It's the meaning of western history, and what direction it's headed in. and how we should lead it, and how we should join it.
Narrator: By late 1793, only faint traces of John and Abigail's old friendship with Jefferson remained.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I have so long been in the habit of thinking well of his abilities and general good dispositions that I cannot but feel some regret. But his mind is now poisoned with passion and prejudice...and I will not weep.
Narrator: In the summer of 1796, as his second term as vice president drew to a close, Adams, now sixty, returned to the farm and threw himself into work in the fields, acting as if the coming presidential election were the furthest thing from his mind.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): My men are hilling the corn over the road. A soft fine rain is falling as sweetly as I ever saw. It will refresh the gardens, revive the corn, make the fruit grow rapidly.
Narrator: He even ventured to give his rocky little acreage, now part of the town of Quincy, a grand name.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I think to christen my place Peacefield, in commemoration of the peace which I assisted in making, and of the peace I have enjoyed here.
Narrator: John's sons, too, seemed to be thriving. Charles had graduated from Harvard and was starting a career as a lawyer. John Quincy, now 29, had been named Minister to the Netherlands and had taken his younger brother Thomas with him as an aide.
By September, Adams knew for certain that George Washington would not be running for president again. But he appeared to be indifferent.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: This is part of a pose. I mean, it's clear that Adams intends fully to be president of the United States; this is a way of controlling his ambitions by sort of soothing himself, getting into the bucolic rhythms. All the while, this little engine of Adams' ambitions is just beating away inside. And it is unquestionably the case that he believes that the presidency is almost his by revolutionary right.
Narrator: Adams would be opposed by his former friend, Thomas Jefferson, each now linked to an emerging political party. It would be the first partisan election, and newspapers were stridently taking sides.
David McCullough, Historian: The Jeffersonians (or the Republicans, as they became known) believed that the danger was in a chief executive who was too powerful. Too much power in one place was a dangerous thing.
And the Federalists (as they became known) were for a strong national government, a strong executive. Adams felt you had to have a strong executive and could not rest power with the legislature.
Narrator: Both John and Abigail knew it would be a hard fight. Mischief was brewing in a cauldron, Abigail wrote, "as venomous as Macbeth's hell broth."
Joanne Freeman, Historian: They're not thinking, "Oh, you have one opinion, I have another. We'll fight it out and someone will win." They're thinking, "I'm intending something for the general good. And if you disagree with me, then you're out to destroy the general good.
Narrator: Reluctantly, Adams returned to Philadelphia in the fall -- alone. Abigail stayed at the farm. Money was tight, and she'd missed her friends and family.
Brooding by his fire that December, Adams confronted the possibility that he might lose to Jefferson. Once, the Founding Fathers had been of one mind. Now the divisions were stark, and deeply personal.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I laugh at myself twenty times a day for the speculations in which I find myself engaged: Vanity suffers. Cold feelings of unpopularity. Humiliation. I can pronounce Thomas Jefferson to be chosen President with a grace that I don't fear...
Narrator: But his letter to Abigail betrayed his feelings of hopelessness. The name of Thomas Jefferson loomed over the page.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Nobody to speak to, poring upon my disgrace and future prospects -- this is ugly.
Narrator: Adams eked out a narrow victory, in large part because many saw him as a statesman, above party. But he had little to celebrate. As the successor to the great George Washington, Adams faced a daunting task.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Washington has been present as the center of gravity, from 1775 all the way up to 1796. And what happens when Washington goes? People are terrified -- that we are being held together by a single person, not by a system of laws, because the laws haven't had a chance to earn and to dig their roots into this country. This is still a government of men. And Adams is now the man.
Narrator: In the spring of 1797, John Adams came to inspect the house he would soon occupy: the president's official residence in Philadelphia. George Washington's servants had left a mess.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The furniture is in the most deplorable condition. The beds are in a woeful pickle. This house has been a scene of the most scandalous drinking and disorder among the servants that I ever heard of.
Narrator: International affairs were a mess as well. Napoleon now led the French army in a bitter war with England. Both European powers pressed for American support.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: America's this little fly speck of a nation, and it's smack in the middle of this generational dispute between England and France. And if America does something friendly towards one of them, the other one's bound to get upset, and vice versa.
Narrator: Trying to avoid war, George Washington had signed a treaty with Britain. In retaliation, France had begun to attack American ships. All America's good will toward its former ally had vanished.
David McCullough, Historian: The sentiment for war with France, particularly with John Adams' own political party, the Federalists, was overwhelming. But Adams saw quite clearly we couldn't afford a war, we didn't have an army, and furthermore, if we were going to go to war, we were going to war with Napoleon. This was no cakewalk.
Narrator: Adams chose to steer his own course, at enormous political risk. He would go to Thomas Jefferson, now his bitter Republican rival, and ask him to put partisanship aside and work with him as a kind of co-president, in an effort to make peace with France.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: It was his affinity for Jefferson, their friendship, that he thought could override whatever ideological differences they had.
Narrator: For weeks, Adams waited for Jefferson's decision. One evening in March, they left a dinner party together.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I would appreciate an answer to my offer...
Narrator: They were only two blocks from the room where Jefferson had drafted the Declaration of Independence at Adams' request.
This time, Jefferson said no.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Jefferson chooses party over friendship, partisanship over Adams' offer of reconciliation. Why should he join Adams as Adams faces hostile fire?
The fact is, Jefferson wants to have some sort of peace negotiation with France. But Jefferson wants the Federalists to fail, and for the Federalists to fail, Adams has to fail.
Narrator: With Jefferson's refusal, Adams felt very much alone. He had unwisely retained most of George Washington's cabinet, and they had little loyalty to the new president.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: It never occurs to Adams to try to develop a political constituency or to massage the egos of people in the national government. Those political skills, he thinks, are unbecoming a president. The president's job is to divine the public interest and act in its behalf, regardless of the consequences.
Narrator: John's letters to Abigail became more and more urgent.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I must go to you or you must come to me. I cannot live without you till October.
Edith Gelles, Historian: He felt lonely like he couldn't have imagined at any other time in his life. And he kept writing to her, inviting her to come, telling her he needed her, he needed her.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: When he cries out for Abigail to come join him, he is realistically assessing the national situation and the situation of his presidency. Both are at risk. Jefferson is gone to the other side. He's got no confidants.
Edith Gelles, Historian: She was the one person in this world whom he trusted. He never knew that he was hearing the truth from other people. From Abigail, he knew he would hear the truth.
Narrator: By May, 1797, Abigail was on her way back to Philadelphia. She slipped effortlessly into her old role, gathering information for her husband.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: Not only does she manage, in chatting with people, to sort of pull in this information which she can then deploy and give to her husband, but she even writes it down. She's amazing. In one case (one great case) with Jefferson, in which they're seated next to each other at dinner, she writes down everything that happens.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): A curious conversation on Thursday of this week between Mrs. A and Mr. Jefferson:
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): That gentleman who sits at the left of the president -- I've not seen him before.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): Mr. Holmes. You surely know him.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: And it's clear that what she's doing is, she's trying to get from him information: Who does he like? Who does he not like? What does he know? What does he not know? What kind of a stance is he taking? What does he think's going to happen?
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I pray sir what do your Senate design to do with the treaty?
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): Upon my soul I believe they will reject it.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): I am surprised at that. I know the mercantile interest in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania are in favor of it.
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): Well I have the same information from the South.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: She's really very effectively and in a very non-confrontational, (sort of) charming manner, and yet in a pretty straightforward manner, trying to push Jefferson up against the wall to get him to say something.
Jefferson doesn't. Jefferson's good at doing that. So he hedges around, and then he tries to turn the conversation around to get something out of her.
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): I wonder what they mean to do? They have some daring projects afoot...
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): As I supposed this referred to the coming election, I replied: I do not know. That is a subject which I do not choose to converse upon.
At this we laughed out, and here ended the conversation.
Narrator: But neither John nor Abigail fully understood what was going on in the shadows, away from the dinner table. Adams' presidency was under attack from all sides -- even from within his own administration.
Thomas Jefferson, the vice president of the United States, had concealed from Adams the fact that his own cabinet had repeatedly betrayed him, dangerously weakening his presidency. And worse.
David McCullough, Historian: Jefferson was paying a professional scandal monger named Callender to attack Adams. He was providing this man with money.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: And when he's asked about it, he says: Of course there's no truth to this. I didn't pay Callender to libel Adams.
Narrator: Furious at Jefferson's repeated denials, Callender eventually sent the evidence to the press.
David McCullough, Historian: It wasn't until later that Adams found out that lo and behold, this man who had been calling him everything imaginable, smearing him, was being paid by Jefferson, secretly. And it broke Adams' heart. Truly broke his heart. And Abigail never got over it. And there was a period of almost ten years when they didn't speak to each other.
Narrator: The summer of 1798 brought week after week of brutal heat-- and one of the darkest moments of the Adams presidency.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond): The weather is so hot and close, and the flies so tormenting. Not a leaf stirs till nine or ten o'clock. It grows sickly here, the city noisome.
Narrator: The political atmosphere in the city was even more poisonous. John had sent a peace mission to France but urged building up the military as a precaution. He was attacked from all sides. Many in his own Federalist party wanted a declaration of war and called Adams a traitor.
The Aurora, a Republican paper edited by Benjamin Franklin Bache, Franklin's grandson, mocked Adams as "a toady of the war hawks... a man unfit to be trusted."
Edith Gelles, Historian: Abigail became very angry with the press. The press are maligning the government, and she thought that was corrupt.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond) : Scarcely a day passes without some scurrility in the paper from that lying wretch Bache. He is trying to force Mr. A to resign so that Jefferson may take over.
Edith Gelles, Historian: She thought that the press would incite riots. That people would become so motivated by the articles they were reading, that there would be physical attacks on John.
Narrator: When Federalists in Congress pushed through legislation to clamp down on the press and anybody else who criticized the government, Abigail supported them.
The Sedition Act made it illegal to depict the government in any way that might seem "false, scandalous, and malicious," or that would bring the government "into contempt or disrepute."
Immediately, the Federalists moved to silence dissent and settle old scores. James Callender, and 16 others, including Benjamin Franklin Bache, the editor of the Aurora, were arrested for "seditious libel;" some were imprisoned. Instantly they became symbols of free speech under attack; victims of a president willing to stifle the press in the interest of his own political goals.
Adams also signed the Alien Acts, aimed in part at French immigrants suspected of collusion with France. The Acts gave him the power to expel any foreign-born residents deemed "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States."
David McCullough, Historian: The Alien and Sedition Acts seem to contradict everything that he stood for. But it was a very scary time.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: To Federalists, to Adams, to Abigail, it makes perfect sense. They think they're doing what they need to do to uphold the government in a time of crisis.
Narrator: But the Alien and Sedition Acts would leave an indelible stain on John Adams' reputation, forever linking him with the suppression of the very liberties he had fought so hard to gain.
The Adamses finally left for the farm in late July for a few weeks' rest. It was not to be.
By the time they arrived home, Abigail was seriously ill. The illness -- probably malaria -- was accompanied by unrelenting depression, deepened by troubles within the family.
Edith Gelles, Historian: Her daughter was married to a man who was a ne'er do well. So Abigail was just miserable about her daughter. Younger son Charles during this time, who had been an attorney, was married, had two young children, was beset by alcoholism and his health began to decline.
Narrator: Abigail was deeply pained by her children's troubles. John was in despair.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): My daughter and Charles bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. The daughter, without a fault. Unfortunate daughter! Unhappy child!
Narrator: In November, he returned alone to Philadelphia. Abigail would stay at the farm. She was "wrecked and exhausted," John said, and he was terrified of her making the trip,
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): ...lest it should prove fatal to a life that is dear to me beyond all expression.
Narrator: Without his most trusted advisor by his side, Adams guarded himself for a major crisis. The French had coldly rebuffed his offer of peace, and the pressure to go to war was relentless.
On February 18, 1799, John Adams fired a broadside at his critics. He dispatched a courier with a message for the Senate announcing he would send a second peace mission to France.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Adams is essentially and self-consciously committing political suicide. His own party is opposed to this. And the Republicans under Jefferson are overjoyed to see him in such predicaments.
Narrator: The newspapers boiled with venomous attacks. But Adams rode the wave of abuse undeterred. He found encouragement in secret reports from his son John Quincy, now Minister to Prussia, that the French might be ready to negotiate.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: It is clear what drives Adams is an almost otherworldly sense, and at times almost a perverse sense, of what is in the public interest. That's the way the old boy's mind works.
Narrator: Had he declared war on France, his popularity would likely have skyrocketed; his election to a second term would have been all but assured.
In March, he retreated to the farm and Abigail. The public cry for war grew louder; the president kept quiet.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He knows that if he is under the glare of public scrutiny, he's probably going to erupt. There's going to be an Adams eruption here. And so one way to calm him down is to take him back to Quincy.
Narrator: In the fall of 1800, a swampy patch of land on the banks of the Potomac River became the official capital of the United States, and the new home of President John Adams.
What is now called the White House was still under construction, standing in a rutted field full of rubble. The smell of plaster and wet paint was overwhelming. On his first night in the house, John wrote to Abigail.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.
Narrator: But Adams' time in the house would bring much unhappiness and grief. It was an election year. Once again, he would run against Thomas Jefferson, president against vice president.
And once again, scandalmonger James Callender, now out of jail, went to work for Jefferson. The vice president approved a draft of "The Prospect Before Us," in which Callender described the "deformities" of John Adams' character.
Adams was one of the most egregious fools upon the continent. He was a "gross hypocrite", an "unprincipled oppressor". Only the election of Jefferson could save the country from catastrophe.
Attacks came from within Adams' own party as well. Alexander Hamilton, the influential former secretary of the treasury, wrote a public letter criticizing Adams just weeks before the election.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Hamilton writes this pamphlet, essentially arguing that John Adams is a lunatic, or is mentally deranged.
This is also a blow not just to his election, but to his place in the American pantheon. I mean, that he's not like these other founding father kind of figures. There's truth in that. Adams was a more ambitious and argumentative, at times nervous man, who had temper. Now Washington had a temper too. It's just that he had it in private. Periodically, Adams would jump up on top of the table and throw his wig at one of the members of his Cabinet.
Narrator: Abigail arrived in November. She ordered the laundry hung to dry in the unfinished East Room, and kept thirteen fires going to fend off the damp.
The election loomed in a few weeks. John had confidential reports that the new talks in France were going well, but he felt he could say nothing until a treaty was signed. If official word of peace came in time, his critics would be silenced.
News from Paris took months to reach America. A treaty had been signed weeks before, but no one on the other side of the Atlantic knew it.
In the most venomous election in American history, the winner was Thomas Jefferson. Voters had gone to the polls unaware that Adams had succeeded in his bold quest for peace.
Joanne Freeman, Historian: He was the person who stood up under enormous pressure to go to war, and said no, and it cost him a second term.
Narrator: Before dawn on the morning of March 4th, 1801, John Adams, age sixty-five, waited in the wintry chill of the president's house for the stagecoach that would take him back to Quincy, and out of public life.
Servant: Mr. President -- some provisions for your journey.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Oh, thank you. I feel my shoulders relieved from a burden. The short remainder of my days will be the happiest of my life.
John Ferling, Historian: He was just mortified at having lost the election. He saw it as a personal repudiation by the people.
Narrator: The election had been bitterly contested. But the nation's first transfer of power between parties was orderly and peaceful.
David McCullough, Historian: That's one of the supreme moments in the history of the country, and in many ways in the history of the world, because it's at that stage where the rivals, the enemy (politically) is taking over. And they do so without a gun being shouldered or shot, or without any strife whatsoever. Adams retired, he stepped down from power, turned over the presidency to his opponent. It's a great triumph. It's a great moment.
Narrator: For Abigail, age 56, retirement from politics had come as a welcome change.
Abigail Adams (Linda Emond) : Our desires are moderate, our economy strict, our income, though moderate, will furnish us with all the necessaries and many of the comforts of life.
Narrator: Her husband loudly declared good riddance to the world he had left behind.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Far removed from all the intrigues, I hope to enjoy more tranquility than has ever before been my lot. I call for my chisels, drills, and wedges to split rocks, and for my wagons to cart seaweed for manure. I mount my horse and ride on the seashore.
Narrator: Yet for all his protests that he reveled in the simple life of a gentleman farmer, the old resentments from his days in politics still rankled. One July day, Abigail came upon John in the field, working alongside the hired hands. She could hear him muttering something.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Quack. (further muttering)
Narrator: She realized he was murmuring obscenities at his old political opponents.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He's mad. He feels like his own contribution is being relegated to secondary status, and other people's contribution to the revolution is in ascendance. And in some sense he feels like they're putting the statues into the American pantheon, and his is not going to be one of them.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Statues, and monuments will never be erected to me, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in brilliant colors.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: And as he sees other people, especially Jefferson, being elevated at his expense, he is just ripping.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): How is it that I, poor ignorant I, must stand before Posterity as differing from all the other great men of the age?
Narrator: He railed against the grand estates the Virginians had -- Washington at Mt. Vernon, Jefferson at Monticello. And then he'd turn it into a joke about his own comfortable but humble farm.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): You may call me the monarch of Stoney Field, Count of Gull Island, Baron of Rocky Run..
Narrator: Finally he settled on "Montezillo" as his favorite.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Montezillo is a little hill... Monticello is a lofty mountain.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He's recognizing that the 4th of July celebration makes Jefferson the star of the drama. And it's like: Wait. This was just one little moment, and all he did was draft this thing. And it's being made into some kind of central moment in the revolution, whereas, Adams knows he, Adams, is the major figure in the Continental Congress, not Jefferson. But it's not being remembered that way.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: For five or six years, I think he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He's so obsessed with the way history treated him and the way it's likely to treat him. He writes this endless series of columns in the Massachusetts newspaper.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Mr. Hamilton maintains, with so much fanaticism and so much folly, but a point of honor...it appeared to me so mean, servile and timorous...in a strain of flimsy rant, as silly as it is indecent...his total ignorance or oblivion of the practice of our own government...
Joseph Ellis, Historian : And eventually he has purged himself. This is a kind of therapeutic exercise for him, and there is no more to be said.
Narrator: In 1812, encouraged by an old friend, John Adams took a step he never could have imagined a few years earlier. He wrote a brief but cordial note to Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): You and I ought not to die, before we have explained ourselves to each other.
David McCullough, Historian: And Jefferson immediately wrote back, and then commenced, one of the great correspondences in our country's history or in the English language.
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): A letter from you carries me back to the times when beset with dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man...
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The Union is still to me an object of as much anxiety as ever independence was... I think a free government is ... a complicated piece of machinery...
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): As for France and England for all their pre-eminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, the other of pirates... And if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder and destitution...
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Checks and balances, Jefferson, however you and your party may have ridiculed them, are our only security for the progress of mind as well as the security of body...
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): Another of our friends of '76 is gone, my dear sir. We too must go and that ere long ...
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): If, one hundred years hence, your letters and mine should see the light, I hope the reader will read it all ...
Narrator: After several years of correspondence, Jefferson finally addressed the issue that had driven them apart -- the revolution in France.
Thomas Jefferson (James Barbour): Your prophecies proved truer than mine; and yet fell short of the fact, for instead of a million, the destruction of eight or ten millions of human beings has probably been the effect of these convulsions. I did not, in '89, believe they would have lasted so long, nor have cost so much blood.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: This is an apology. This is 20 years later, saying: I really am sorry.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): Dear Sir: I know not what to say of your letter of the 11th but that it is the one of the most consoling I have ever received.
Narrator: In 1818, Abigail fell ill with typhoid fever. A despondent John Adams wrote to Jefferson.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): The dear partner of my life for fifty-four years as a wife, and for many years more as a lover, now lies in extremis, forbidden to speak or be spoken to.
Narrator: John and Abigail had already lost two of their children. Charles had finally succumbed to alcoholism. Daughter Nabby had died of breast cancer.
Abigail would not live to see her adored son John Quincy become president of the United States.
She died on October 28th, 1818, just shy of her 74th birthday.
David McCullough, Historian: And when she died, he said something so touching. He said, "This is easier for me than when we separated and I would go off to Europe, because I know I'm going to see her sooner than when I sailed on those voyages."
Narrator: Among the many condolence notes was one from Thomas Jefferson, himself now gravely ill.
God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction, he wrote.
John Adams (Simon Russell Beale): While you live, I seem to have a bank at Monticello on which I can draw for a letter of friendship when I please.
Narrator: The 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence dawned warm and dry up and down the Eastern seaboard.
What happened that day seemed more like poetry than history.
David McCullough, Historian: It was far beyond anything anyone could conceive of. And people at that time, very understandably, took it to mean that the hand of God was truly involved with the destinies of the United States of America.
Narrator: At Monticello that morning, Thomas Jefferson, age eighty-three, willed himself to stay alive.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: He's murmuring things that nobody can understand, and then his slave, Burwell, understands that he means: shift my pillow. And then he mutters, "Is it the fourth?"-- meaning: Is it the fourth of July? Jefferson wants to die on schedule.
Narrator: Thomas Jefferson died at about one in the afternoon while, in the valley below, church bells rang in celebration of Independence Day.
At Quincy, the roar of cannon had begun early that morning.
Joseph Ellis, Historian: Adams has gotten up fit as a fiddle, no long, lingering illnesses. But he starts to fail just about the time that Jefferson dies.
Narrator: In the afternoon, a brief thunderstorm rolled in across the neighboring marshes.
Adams was having difficulty breathing. But even at 91, his mind was clear. "It is a great day," he said. "It is a good day."
Joseph Ellis, Historian: They take him downstairs, and he dies about 4:30 in the afternoon. And his last words are, "Thomas Jefferson still lives," which in fact was not correct. But it's poignant. His last thoughts were of Jefferson. He was a good friend.
David McCullough, Historian: When he was lying there dying, thinking of Jefferson, the cannon and rifle fire and firecrackers were all booming in the distance, celebrating the Declaration of Independence. Now, if you -- If you did that in a movie, somebody would say, "Oh, that's too much. You know. Things like that don't happen in real life." It did happen in real life, again and again, through that whole amazing life.
A friend once said to me, she said, "Real love isn't just gazing into each other's eyes. It's looking out together in the same direction." And if ever there was a man and woman who were truly in love and truly looking out in the same direction, it was John and Abigail Adams.