tv First Ladies Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Catherine Adams CSPAN May 10, 2015 8:01pm-9:35pm EDT
join the conversation, luck us on face. american history tv is featuring america's first ladies. c-span produced the series in cooperation with the white house historical association. through conversations with experts, video tours of historic sites, and questions from c-span's audience, we tell the story of america's 45 first ladies. next, elizabeth munro and lisa catherine adams. this is about 90 minutes. >> elizabeth monroe was a true partner in her husband's career. they were a love story and absolutely devoted to each other. elizabeth monroe had a well-developed sense of style and image. this is a woman who knew how to
carry herself with great elegance. she always warranted your respect. >> it was one of the most splendid white houses that ever existed. it is called the era of good feeling. >> this is a woman who spoke french. my goodness, what she could talk about. >> elizabeth was a beauty. she received is seldom anything in the white house. she hated it. >> dignity, civility. those are the words that come to mind. >> elizabeth monroe served as first lady from 1817 to 1825 as a time known as the era of good feeling. coming up, we will explore her life and what were not always happy times inside the white house for this woman born into a well-to-do new york family.
she married james monroe at the age of 17 and traveled new york extensively with him. she brought with her to the white house a certain french sensibility. welcome to c-span and the white house historical association's "first ladies." we will look at the life of elizabeth monroe. let me introduce two guests. daniel preston and richard norton smith. gentlemen, welcome. the last program was dolley madison. she really used the social forum to advance her husband's political agenda. what was elizabeth monroe's approach to the white house? >> she and dolley madison were great friends. they were at a very different temperaments. dolley madison was social by nature and was happy to get in
her carriage and go visit all day long. elizabeth monroe wanted to stay home with her family. she was devoted to her daughter, her grandchildren, and, at the white house, that is what she really enjoyed and that is what she wanted to do. she wanted to be with her family. she did not like large crowds. she was very uncomfortable at the large receptions the president had. she was very charming in smaller groups. when there was a small circle of friends together, everyone praised her charm, her affability, her conversation said she sparkled. just a very different type of person. >> explain washington in this time and how important social was to political. >> it is interesting.
these years were known as the era of good feelings. you could probably take issue with that in the second term. by that point, we were as close to being a one-party state as any time in american history. the old federalist party had died off. there was a standoff that most americans were willing to consider a victory. we had established once and for all our independence, and it was a time of actually great boom in the country, a physical expansion, and a number of states came into the union during monroe's day. washington city remained a very raw, incomplete place with dirt roads. in some ways, elizabeth monroe suffers for her strength. they are both seen as somehow alien.
she was born in this country. see had her blossoming overseas, and france especially. the monroes became famous for the frenchness in which they approached life in the white house. and you can see it in the furniture they bought and the food they serve. there was also an element that took exception to a first lady who somehow did not seem quite american enough. >> let's take a look at statistics about america in 1820. it is a booming country, with a population of 9.6 million. 23 states. that is a 33% growth since the 1810 census. slaves in the population numbered 16%.
the largest cities, new york city, philadelphia, and baltimore. boston fell off the list. >> there were only three roads in 1800 over the appalachian mountains. during the monroe years, you have the canal being dug in new york that will transform the economy. you have the road under construction from the capital to what is now west virginia. we had a whole debate going on about internal improvements and what the role of the federal government should be and all that. this is a country poised for economic take off. he presided much like eisenhower presided over a period of peace and prosperity. >> as you work your way, how much evidence is there about elizabeth monroe? >> there is not a lot. based upon what her elder daughter reported, at some point
after he left the presidency monroe burned all personal correspondence. there is one letter that survives that is written by elisabeth. there is one letter from james to her that survived. what baffles me and drives me nuts is there is only one letter she wrote to somebody else. she had extensive correspondence with her sister and friends and these letters do not seem to be anywhere. i do not understand why not. it seems like somebody would have kept some of these. consequently, having firsthand evidence of what she thought about things, we do not have. there are letters monroe wrote to his daughters, to his two sons and laws, to his political advisers, that talk about family matters.
he wrote letters home talking about meeting mrs. monroe, other women in washington recorded in their diaries. there is a fair amount about her. we do not have really anything from her point of view, which is very maddening. >> what we know from what we have about her relationship with her husband? >> they were devoted. they were apart for a couple of months here and there. throughout their 44-year marriage. usually, they were together. there is a wonderful letter. samuel from new york wrote his wife. he had been at a dinner at the white house when jefferson was president and it was right before monroe left to go to france to negotiate what became the louisiana purchase.
he wrote, monroe has a fine feeling. he cannot stand to be from his wife, so he is taking her with him. that was pretty much their attitude. he was devoted to family, as well. that is really what they wanted to do. if they had their choice of how they would spend their time, it would be with their family. >> this program is interactive. we invite your phone calls. you can reach us at -- let me turn to a facebook poster.
"we have heard elizabeth monroe did not like being first lady." >> she did not like the public parts of it. she married james monroe when she was a member of the continental congress. through their entire adult life, he was in one public office or the other. she was very much used to him being a public figure, being the governor of virginia, being abroad as a minister of the united states serving as secretary of state. to go to the white house was not anything that unusual. it was not anything unexpected. people had talked about monroe being president for years. it was assumed sooner or later it would happen. as far as what the public thought about her, i do not know. we know what people in
washington thought about her and people who visited washington. and that is a very small universe. there were 200 members of the house of representatives, about 50 senators. there were at a handful of cabinet members, a few foreign dignitaries, local people. the washington social circle was maybe 500 people. that was the world of social washington. it is a very small group of people. that is who met her and reflected on her. people did not know her. when monroe was president, he did two tours around the country and they were phenomenal because no one ever saw the president. no one ever heard the president talk. we cannot go through a day hardly.
you have to be sealed up to go through a day without hearing the president's voice or to see an image of him. a man in massachusetts wrote in 1870 that for the first time, he had seen a picture, an image of president monroe. james madison gave three speeches during his presidency. thomas jefferson gave two. people never saw the president or heard the president. there really is not a public perception. it is a good question. but it is a different time. >> the white house was burned by the british and the madisons had to leave while it was being constructed. the monroes moved back in. how important was this symbolically? >> even by then, the white house had become america's house.
one of the reasons why its occupants have been targeted often for criticism, much of it not fair, it is because we all think it is our house. mrs. monroe would be criticized for an alleged obsession for fashion. she paid up to $1,500 for her gown. it was alledged she painted her face, applying ruche. as silly as it sounds now, it takes us back almost to a debate at the very beginning about what kind of nation this would be. >> it really reflects to this day the monroe administration, the blue room at the white house. we will show you this clip next. [video clip]
♪ >> the blue room is the monroe's. it is the most authentic in the house. if i could go back to one time in the white house, i would probably go back to the monroe period. the united states began to come to life. monroe thought the era of good feeling would last forever. and political parties would dissolve. i think that would be the period i would like to listen to what was going on. in furnishing the house, james monroe and his wife were into french everything. he spent a lot of money bringing these things, such as these clocks, from france.
many of the things he acquired are still in use. >> when you see our earliest things, many of them are in the blue room. we have the wonderful chairs and sofas in the room. they were acquired by president monroe from france. congress in 1826 passed a law saying the furniture in the white house must be american manufactured if applicable. this room is much more of a period room. it is really a place where the monroe's would feel the most comfortable. they would walk in and say, i understand this room, a furniture we brought.
this is wallpaper of our vintage. >> it sounds like speaking french might have been as controversial then as today. >> yes. it goes back to the beginning of washington and the first presidency of trying to balance the new republican standards simplicity and openness, but at the same time somehow maintaining a dignity and a majesty for the national government. how do you be open but at the same time present the country as being something special, particularly for visitors?
for them, the white house became the tool for doing that. monroe was praised. people who met him always commented on what a plain, straightforward person he was. then you look at how he furnished the white house. it is very different. monroe very much understood the importance of symbolism. it was to present the united states in a fashion that majesty is the best word. you do it in the president's house. >> not only majestic. the monroes actually befriended
napoleon when they lived in paris. the president originally ordered 50 pieces of mahogany furniture. he was told by the french that mahogany was not appropriate. this is what he got in its place. >> here is a tweet. "did the monroes face any lingering problems in the white house due to the burning?" what state of repair was it in when they got there? >> it was not ready in march of 1870 when monroe became president. they lived in another house for several months. on june, monroe left washington and went on a four-month tour and his family went back to virginia. he returned to the president's house and at that point, it was ready for occupancy.
they began moving furniture in. the furniture they ordered was not ready. he used his own personal furniture. they borrowed furniture from elsewhere. it was a haphazard way to furnish the house. some of the rooms were still empty. the house was in pretty good shape. it was not like it was when the adams moved in. it was in fairly good shape. there was not furniture for it. >> i will take a call. watching us in virginia, you are on. >> hi. i had understood that elizabeth monroe suffered from poor health. i do not know if it is true or
what she had. i was wondering if that affected her ability to be so public and social when that was so much a part of the politics vs. dolley madison. is there any information about how she was able to function socially with poor health? >> that is a great question. that is part of why she was an almost invisible first lady. she had serious health problems. she had excruciating headaches. it was thought she suffered from arthritis. there were a number of people who believed she may have had a late onset epilepsy, known as the falling disease, at that point. that is something that would have been kept a secret from the public. one of the byproducts of her poor health, she also had stand
in her place her daughter, eliza. it is her daughter who is responsible for a number of these actions blamed on her mother. it gave off an aura of snobbery. the first white house wedding of the president's daughter took place. eliza took over preparations. it was she who said, this is a family affair. you talk about those 500 or 600 people. and number of them thought they should have been invited to the wedding. for the historical reputation, we have access to that, but we do not have her side of the story. >> to make connections, during
her second term, somebody was beginning to fill in the social gap of washington and that was adams. she used the network to campaign for presidency. >> the adams were much more socially oriented. they had weekly suarez of various sizes. the monroes did not go. they felt it was improper for the president to attend these sorts of private functions particularly in his second term, when there was a scramble for the presidency, including his cabinet members. he wrote a letter to his attorney general about something and at the end, he said, i hope you will come visit us in virginia. you are always welcome.
>> it feels very modern. >> what happens is we have a one-party state. we now have the politics -- a second term was be set from the beginning with this jockeying for 1824. >> up next in texas, what is your question? >> going back to a former series, what was president monroe's relationship with his vice president and who was the vice president? >> it was the most obscure vice president in american history. that says something. >> tompkins had been a wartime governor of new york and was chosen as a running mate because he had been a strong supporter of the madison administration during the war. also, the new yorkers were unhappy with the luck that virginia had on the presidency and the vice president was chosen for political reasons.
tompkins was horribly in debt as governor. he was responsible for borrowing a lot of money. it literally drove him to drink. he became heavily alcoholic to the point he could not preside over the senate. they were friends. by 1821, he was totally incapacitated and he died shortly after his term as vice president. he may have been more prominent on the national scene had he lived longer. >> on twitter --
>> it is a great question. there are a lot of americans who are french sympathizers in their politics. from the early days, europe was at war, and there were lots of americans remembering the assistance during the revolution who sympathize with the french revolution. one of the great stories, we should probably ground the time they spent in france. >> we will do that next. >> then i will save this story. >> why do we not move on to that? after a call from mark in los angeles. you are on the air. >> please tell us about her relationship with the lafayettes. and how she saved mrs. lafayette from the guillotine.
>> be careful with this. >> why were they in france? >> they were in france in the mid 1790's. james had been appointed the u.s. minister to france. they arrived to paris a week after pierre had been guillotined. it was the height of the reign of terror. lafayette had been forced to flee france for not supporting the more radical elements of the revolution. his wife was not able to leave. she and her mother and other family members were arrested and imprisoned. her mother was executed. morris, who had been minister before monroe, had tried to get her out of prison. morris was not popular with the french government at all, since he had condemned the revolution and said he supported the monarchy.
when the monroes came, they staged a very dramatic event to draw attention to elizabeth monroe. excuse me, to madame lafayette. they hired a very expensive carriage. elizabeth monroe dressed herself in her best and went to prison asked to see her. they did not know what to do. they wanted to see who this person was coming in this carriage. it was the wife of the american minister. she met with madame lafayette. she basically made her case a public one. she was released a couple of months later. it pretty much kept her from going to the guillotine and did lead to her release.
the monroes enabled her to go to austria and join her husband. her husband was in prison in austria. she got out of prison in paris and went to austria and voluntarily went to prison in austria so she could be with her husband. >> what were americans' views of this rescue? >> i do not know if they knew about it at the time. the story does not get told until much later. what we know most about it is what monroe wrote in his autobiography. it was not published until years later. this story did not become current until well after the event. >> james monroe met eliza in new
york city when she was just a teenager, 17 years of age. virginia became an important part of their lives in between their various political postings. we will show you two places important to them next. >> the james monroe museum has been in existence since 1927 when his great granddaughter had an effort of preserving his law office that existed here in the city of fredericksburg in the 1780's. we had the largest assemblage of artifacts and other information related to the family that you will find anywhere in the country. elizabeth monroe was a true partner in her husband's career and a good sounding board for many of the decisions he had. she was a literate and articulate person and someone to whom her husband could go for very valuable advice. with the items on the table
here, we go through an arc of elizabeth monroe's life. she had the heritage of a very well-developed sense of style. she had shoes she employed we believe were her mother's, very fine construction from london that she continue to use in her lifetime. as the mistress of oakville, she was responsible for maintaining the household accounts. she did it on a small, ivory pad. they are ivory pieces with days of the week. your to-do list could be listed on her with a charcoal pencil and they were done. it reflects someone who was organized, busy and making use of a very practical item in her life. the relationship that mrs. monroe had with her sisters was a strong bond in very much the style of the time and giving a gift of sisterly love, she presented to one of her sisters in the 17 the 0's jewelry made
from her own hair. jewelry made of human hair became very common place in the 18th and 19th centuries. later in the 19th century, it's often associated with mourning in memorializing dead loved ones. it also can be an express of a very personal sign of affection. really the essence of a personal gift. music was an important part of elizabeth monroe's upbringing and life. she appreciated music throughout her life and was trained in playing the piano. we have an astor piano forte 1790, a british product. we believe it was used at the white house during their residency there. elizabeth monroe had a well developed sense of style and image.
she did not have as well developed a budget due to the long years of public service that james monroe put in, but they were particularly on their european postings able to make some pretty good deals on a variety of items. her jewelry is a reflection of that. mrs. monroe had elements of high quality with versatility. we have here necklaces and their associated other jewelry that are in aqua marine and citrine each can be worn with or without a pendant. you have a couple of different uses there. a broach, a bracelet or a choker is possible with the amethyst jewelry. she had several options in her combinations. >> the monroes came up here after purchasing this property some 3,500 acres and made this their permanent home from 1789 until 1823. mrs. monroe, a sophisticated "new yorker" and moved south to this farm had to adjust to plantation life here.
so far as we know, she adjusted to it very nicely and her gay would frequently begin down here. she would make sure that all the preparations that needed to be made for the meals of the day took place in a correct and fastidious fashion and she was in charge of that, in charge of the, what they called the servants. they were house slaves in making sure the house slaves made all of the preparations and then she in turn would make sure that some meals were put together. sometimes some of those meals were quite sophisticated meals. for while the meals here were much simpler than what she would find at monticello, and they liked to go there for the extraordinary meals. nevertheless, mrs. monroe was capable of putting together extraordinary dishes here. here we are in the dining room.
the meal would begin after 2:00, sometimes at late as 3:00. it would be earlier depending on the season and the light available. the table, it can be opened up so that 12 people could sit at this table. now the monroes had a corner cabinet very much like this one. the nice thing about this is that this piece was made in the shenandoha valley just 70 miles to the west of us. inside what is particularly significant is you see the monroe white house chinaware the monroes established that each president would have china of his own. before that, the presidents would bring their own china from home. the monroes brought this china to the white house during monroe's administration between 1817 and 1825. we count ourselves very lucky that we have what we do. >> how important was virginia in understanding elizabeth monroe?
>> monroe made a joke later in life. a friend who was a member of congress from tennessee married a woman from pennsylvania and took her home to tennessee and there was a little bit of trepidation about whether she would adapt or not. and monroe wrote to him and said, i'm sure mrs. campbell will do ok. mrs. monroe was a little uneasy about leaving new york, but she has become a good virginian. so she teamed to have fit in the life very easily. something along those lines that really said a lot about her character from very young is, as we mentioned, she was very young. she was 17 when she married monroe. he was 28. she was from new york. he was a member of the continental congress. in october of 1786 he finished his term in congress. they went to virginia. she left her family with whom she was very close, all of her friends. went to fredricksburg, virginia, went from new york city to
little dinky fredricksburg didn't know anybody. they bounced along the bad roads from new york to fredricksburg not knowing where she was going, what was going to happen when she got there. she was seven months shy -- months shy of 18, seven months pregnant. the grueling trip and the stamina that she had to make the trip and she could do it. >> the monroes had three children, a son who died in infancy and two daughters, we talked about them in particular. the question comes from someone who calls themselves president pondering. this will wrap up our understanding. how involved in politics was elizabeth monroe, how might they have viewed the monroe doctrine?
>> i don't mean to, for years there was people that suspected john quincy adams wrote it. elizabeth didn't write it. just about everybody else got credit for it. it's interesting. there is one point where he refers to her as his partner in all things. one senses, although, there is an unfortunate lack of documentation that that would include sharing his political secrets with her. i don't think of her, certainly in the modern sense as a political figure. she was certainly aware of what he was doing. we only have one letter that she wrote, but there are letters of her handwriting that she copied for him to either make copies to send to others or to keep. she was certainly aware of what was happening.
they were together for so long and they were so close that it's inconceivable that they did not discuss public matters. she was certainly very much well aware of what was happening. >> and having lived through the french revolution, the reign of terror, she certainly would have had strong opinions about the approach to europe, you would imagine. >> yes. >> rachel from pensacola. >> hi, yes, i was wondering, back to the blue room, did president or mrs. monroe actually make a list of furniture? does anyone know that? >> thank you. >> i don't think he stipulated, it was president monroe who sent off this order. i don't think he stipulated specific pieces of furniture.
>> he wrote to contacts, to merchants that he dealt with in france and we need chandeliers we need design. he wanted the american symbols the eagles and those sort of things. they undoubtedly talked about this. when they were abroad in europe and friends would write and ask for them to buy things for them, it was usually elizabeth who did the purchasing. >> general of sherman offers -- jennifer sherman offers this view on twitter. the monroe china was beautiful simple and classic. it's the first presidential china and at least one person in the audience who gives it a thumb's up. our time has evaporated on elizabeth monroe. in 20 seconds or less, can you tell us what people should know about this woman's tenure as first lady, what did she contribute? >> elegance.
she brought a sense of style. she was known for her beauty for her sense of fashion, but mostly for her elegance, bringing a sense of real style. if i was going to compare her to a modern modern first lady, not so modern, 50 years ago, i would think of jacquelyn kennedy with that sense of fashion and style and elegance that she brought to the white house. >> daniel preston, thank you so much for being here. >> thank you for having me here. >> we will move on to our next first lady profile, that of louisa catherine adams. we'll be right back. >> she was the only first lady born outside the u.s. louisa catherine adams, writing in her diary in 1812 about the loss of her 1-year-old daughter, my heart is almost broken, and my temper which was never good
suffers in proportion to my grief. my heart is buried in my louisa's grave and my greatest longing is to be laid beside her. a letter entry, it is the first tuesday and opens my campaign having given a general invitation for every tuesday during the winter. this plan makes some noise and creates some jealousy but it makes our congress less dependent on the foreign ministers for their amusement. i wish they may prove so. and to her son, the situation in which we found the house made it necessary to fur finish almost entirely anew a large portion of the apartments. i respect my masters the sovereign people with great sincerity but i am not so much alarmed at the idea of going out at the end of four years as to desire to make any sacrifice of actual comfort for the sake of prolonging my so journey in this would be magnificent habitation which after all like every thing else in this desolate city is but an half finished barn.
>> louisa catherine adams almost disappeared. >> she is sort of an unsung first lady who deserves much more exploration than she has received. >> the relationship between louisa and john quincy is elusive and in many ways distressing. i don't think he realizes what a treasure he had. it's interesting because his father did. old john adams took to her. abigail never really did, but john did. >> she was born in england and educated in france and she remained a phone personality to many of the adams, but not to henry as a world traveler herself.
she was very well educated, very sophisticated socially i would say. she sort of entertained john quincy's road to the white house. >> she was not happy about returning to washington as the wife of a congressman. >> louisa catherine adams essentially became the campaign manager for her husband, john quincy adams' run for the presidency in 1824 by dominating the capital city's social circuit. following a contested election the adams' four years in the white house were a turbulent period in american politics and washington society. we'll look at louisa adams' relationship with her husband john quincy adams and john and abigail on the road to 1600 pennsylvania avenue. good evening and welcome to our continuing series on first ladies influence and image in partnership with the white house historical association.
the next installment is on louisa catherine adams, the wife of john quincy adams. we have two guests at the table, richard norton smith and meet amanda matthews. she is at the massachusetts historical society where she is a research associate for the adams papers. ms. matthews, we learned there was not much documentary evidence about elizabeth monroe. how about louisa catherine adams, what exists? >> quite a wealth. she kept diaries intermittently. she wrote autobiographies and memoirs. there are hundreds and hundreds of letters of hers. we have her thoughts and feelings from her point of view, both reflective and contemporary as the events were taking place. >> another suggested that in her research she saw louisa adams as the first modern first lady. do you agree with that contention that she developed a sense of self? >> in some ways she has her own cause. she works with the washington female orphan asylum, so in that
way it's somewhat modern having this cause that she was involved in and she does work politics in her parlor in such a way as to help win the presidency for her husband in her own way. >> well, richard norton smith, explain to people how the presidency was won in 1820's, it was a very different system than we have today? >> it was. as we said earlier, everyone in monroe's cabinet seemed among others that wanted to succeed him including john quincy adams, secretary of state. the great popular hero was andrew jackson, a controversial figure in his own right. there was a multicandidate field. no one got a majority, either of the popular or electoral vote. in both cases jackson came in first, adams came in second. so the election went to the house of representatives. the man eliminated by the constitution, the fourth place
finishing, henry clay ultimately threw his support to adams. it was enough to win him the presidency which turned out in many ways to be a poisoned chalice. from day one there were charges of corruption. they hung over the adams presidency, i think it's safe to say. adams sent an apologetic note in his inaugural address. it was the election of 1828 began almost before he took the oath of office. >> you mentioned in her own way, she helped him win the presidency. she actually began to refer to it as my campaign. it was the second half of the -- second half of the monroe administration where the social etiquette wars were in full force. the adams saw an opportunity as seeing social washington as a pathway to the white house. how did they do it?
>> when they get back in 1817 to washington, they have been gone from washington for quite a while. john quincy has served in st. petersburg and washington and he is back. a lot of people in washington don't know him. the way the etiquette situation works in washington right now, it really favors people who have been there for a while. so they want to shake things up. one of the ways they do that is we're not going to call on all of the senators' families first which is how you make a social connection. on the other hand, let's invite you, we are going have these parties. you can come, even if we haven't connected in these formal visits. that kind of put them in a position of power as a social leader because they were making the rules now, kind of trying to take back a little bit of power that congress had, louisa said that congress makes and unmakes presidents at their with him. they wanted to pull a little bit of that back to the executive.
they start throwing these parties. she has her sociable it's in 1819, some seasons weekly, and other seasons every two weeks where hundreds of people would come. it was a subscription series. they kind of become the center of entertainment in washington. >> one of these balls that she threw was for a contender for the white house, andrew jackson. what was her thinking in involving her husband's rival? >> it's simple. so many people came to the house that night on f street that they had to show up the floors for something like 900 people who attended. i wish i would have loved to have been a fly on the wall. louisa must have been a remarkable hostess. she had attracted attention. she had been a favorite in the prussian court when her husband was u.s. envoy there. czar alexander of russia made her one of his favorite dancing partners.
there clearly was a charisma about this woman that had set her apart in the courts of europe. and tragically, it very rarely comes through in the american setting. you would know much more about that. >> i think it certainly does in the socioables. she complains that even though she had no political power everybody seems to want to know her and spend time with them. she claims to be quite put out by the imposition. i think that the same charm that she exhibits in europe is still exhibited in the united states as this wonderful newspaper account of an englishman observing louisa, this is during the white house years. she is taking the bowl back to quincy and people are just coming up to her and talking to her as though she is the first lady, oh, we're dressed as well
as she is and talking to her as if they had known her for 10 years. she must have been very affable and made people comfortable in her presence. >> you have read her diaries of these events. like her mother-in-law, she had candid views of the people she was meeting. we have one of them. tell us the context. she wrote, "i have the happiness of meeting with a variety of these misleaders who are either not gifted with common sense or have a sort of mind when which i have often met with utterly incapable of comprehending anything in a plain way, whether that's a natural defect in the formation of the brain, i will leave philosophers and metta physicians to decide." >> because campaigning is not allowed, john quincy can't come out and say i would like you to vote for me as president, the candidates can't do that and you can't ask for office directly, you have to kind of use these
subtle back channels. women were a good conduit for that. and so people had louisa to spread their gossip, to ask for favors. she doesn't always -- she knows that she can't trust these people. she is not naive. a lot of them are spreading false gossip or false information. they're misleading. they all have their own agendas. she is aware of the political game that is going on. she is not terribly a fan of it. >> we welcome your questions on louisa and john quincy adams on the program. you can post on c-span's facebook page or send a tweet with #firstladies. >> you read that quote and you realize instantly why there was an instant bond formed between louisa and her father-in-law old john adams. >> why is that? >> john adams was a man of
strong opinions, very few, great reluctance to share them with anyone that would listen, a stern new england conscience, a profound sense of right and wrong and he and his exotic european daughter-in-law seemed to have hit it off from the first. abigail was a little bit harder sell. >> is it fair to say that john quincy adams was not the most sociable man? >> john quincy adams, even the people who admire j.q.a., i'm among them, would not suggest that he was a modern figure in terms of outreach to people generally, but more in terms of tonight's context, he would not have been an easy man to be married to. this is a stormy relationship. yet the adams argued over the same thing that couples argued over since there was marriage.
they argued over money and their children. there were small tragedies in louisa catherine's life, a life that was filled with tragedy as far as her children were concerned. her husband was appointed minister to russia and at the last minute, her older sons, george washington adams and john adams ii are going to stay behind. she can't take her children with her to russia. they're going to stay behind with john and abigail to be raised as americans on american soil. you often get the sense of a woman who is powerless within her marriage to be making fundamental parental decisions that they were reserved as most decisions were for john quincy. >> but she must have had the innate desire, she worked her
heart out to get her husband to the white house. then she gets there and how does she enjoy her tenure? >> not very. not very much. the white house years are very unpleasant years for the adams and was readily apparently to everyone in the family, charles francis adams, their son, talks about it in his own diary of how sad the household seemed at the time. >> what made it that way? >> i think the cloud under which the presidency began, it never lifts. because this campaigning for 1828 begins almost instantly louisa feels very personally the attacks on her husband, on his character, some attacks on her character, is she not american enough? i think that that situation really did not -- they finally reached the pinnacle and it's not a happy pinnacle.
it's very, it's a very stormy four years for them. and the white house is not a very comfortable place to live. people coming in all the time and -- >> and here is one quote that really captures this had. she wrote, "there is something in this great unsocial house which depresses me beyond expression." >> well, she was accused of, bizarrely, of extravagance in the house. one was a billiard table which the first lady had purchased using the tax dollars of honest working men. somehow this very un-american quality that people wanted to read into her. on the other hand, there are these wonderful bizarre letters confirming her addiction to chocolate of louisa catherine adams was a chocoholic.
i say being married to the sourest man in washington, she took her sweets where she could find them. apparently she had her sons and others buy chocolate shells by the barrelful and she writes about the medicinal qualities of fudge. i mean it was as if she took it where she could find them. that's pretty pathetic. >> i would say that the shells are probably not bon-bons. she is not sitting on her sofa munching. they're the cocoa bean shell. you would steep them in had water. it would be like coffee and you would add milk. she was interested in the medicinal qualities of it. i
wouldn't go too far on john quincy's sourness. there is affection between the two of them and great love. otherwise she could have stayed in quincy. >> after they lost, i think, the daughter, is it true he gave her a book on the diseases of the mind? >> some months later, yes. >> it's the modernize, the insensitivity. he is certainly not a modern husband. louisa had by one count nine miscarriages. >> minimum five and a stiff birth, officially more. they are sometimes hard to read into it because of how discreet they are with their language. at least five with a still birth. she had a lot of tragedy. >> and three sons who lived to maturity. >> if you can call it maturity. >> speaking of their family, brian watkins asked on twitter did having a former first lady as a mother-in-law help or hinder louisa? >> of course, abigail had passed by the time john quincy attained
the presidency, so she can't ask her mother-in-law about handling the role and the role had somewhat shifted. louisa generally follows the presence that monroe set, not attending public functions. it did help. she was familiar with her mother-in-law's opinions and the way she had carried herself. i think that she wanted in some ways to keep that in mind and honor that. >> did she continue the entertaining that she had done to get him to the white house once they were in the white house? >> no, not to that degree. the sociables were informal. there was music, there was often dancing. once they get into the white house, the entertainments are much more restricted. they're open to a lot of people especially the drawing rooms but they're not, there is not that kind of dancing until actually the end of their term.
as their on their way out, the last great drawing room, they as their on their way out, the last great drawing room, they actually have music and dancing and people stay until 2:00 in the morning and talk about how gracious the adams are knowing that they are, that they have failed in re-election and it's probably one of the greatest entertainments that they had in the four years. susan: next is a question from leroy from kentucky. caller: yes, ma'am. i am really enjoying this, this is great. susan: thank you. caller: were the adams family, john quincy and his wife, were they god fearing people, did they attend church and teach their children things of the lord? i'm a minister so i'm concerned about this. susan: thank you.
amanda: yes. louisa's religious views evolve over time. it's very interesting. her father was unitarian. she was raised in england where that was not an acceptable in england. she was raised in france so she was exposed to catholicism. the early years of her life with john quincy, they attend numerous types of churches especially whoever the rotating preacher was in the capital during the secretary of state and presidency years could be presbyterian or unitarian. she ends up very much an episcopal thinker, high church and is very, in her later years, she spends a lot of time reminiscing and reflecting on the role of religion and it's very much an important piece for her. susan: next up is nick in prince frederick, maryland, hi, nick. caller: first of all, thank you
for this great program. i'm glad you are part of it. we have links to louisa catherine here. her uncle was one of maryland's first governors. the most we have is what of our town centers, we have a plaque. and a book where you get an impression of louisa catherine that she is very involved in the politics of washington. you don't get the sense of whether it is just a surface or whether her words are contributing to the compromises that are made during that time. would you mind commenting on those two things? susan: that is louisa catherine's birth family.
connections in maryland? do you know of them? amanda: her family was from maryland. her father was born in maryland. that is very important because that is how she makes her claim that she is an american. i might have been born in london, but my father is an american. her uncle was the first governor of maryland. so, she has an important connection with maryland. she was able to use those when campaigning to get maryland to vote for john quincy adams the 1824 election. susan: how about the second question, how involved was she in the politics of the time? richard: it has always been murky. there is no clear why between social politicking and the process leading to x number of votes being cast.
one of the great skills begin with dolly madison, who understood that more could be achieved out of the committee room, off the floor of the house, in a social setting. louisa catherine is politically an attuned figure. i don't think you would find her dictating a platform. susan: what was the quincy adams presidency about? richard: john quincy was 100 years ahead of his time. famously, in his first message to congress, -- remember this is a man whose legitimacy had been questioned. and yet, he introduced this breathtaking program that anticipates the new deal by 100 years. saying the federal government
should be in the road building business. there should be a national university and washington. he proposed a national astronomical observatory. a white house of the sky. for this, he was ridiculed by the jeffersonian small government crowd. it did nothing to enhance his popularity at the time. it may have contributed to his defeat for reelection. 100 years later, it looks prophetic. susan: jennifer is in utah. hi, jennifer. caller: i am enjoying this series, i watch every week. susan: thank you. caller: my question is, and it may have been shown during the program, i am sorry if i have not noticed, but the portraits you have been showing of the two of them, louisa catherine and john quincy adams, was there a big age difference between them?
susan: thank you for asking. why don't we explain how they met and with the age difference was. amanda: there is an eight year age difference. john quincy was born in 1767, louisa in 1775. they meet in london. john quincy adams is the resident minister of the hague in the netherlands. he is sent from there to london to exchange the ratification for the jay treaty. by the times he gets to london the business is concluded so he does not have a lot to do. what he spends his time doing is visiting the house of the johnsons, joshua johnson, her father, was the u.s. consul at london. he entertained all the americans who came through to london. a prominent merchant in london and americans would come and socialize and enjoy evenings of entertainment with as many doctors, who are all talented.
louisa play the harp. he would come and enjoy the company. after a little bit of time, made his intentions known that it was louisa and not her older sister, nancy, that he was interested in. they begin their courtship and engagement. susan: after they married, did they return to the united states? amanda: not immediately. john quincy is appointed from the netherlands of the minister to prussia in berlin. this been the first four years of their marriage in berlin. she does not see the united states until 1801. the first four years are somewhat difficult. she has four miscarriages in the time before finally giving birth to her first son, george washington adams. that cause controversy, naming the first son after george
washington and not john. susan when she arrived to the : united states, it was the first time she had seen the country of your nationality. she went to the adams' home outside of boston. the place was known as peace field. we will show you that. >> when louisa and john quincy first came to the old house, they had just journeyed back from europe, landed in washington d.c. and made the journey up to hear. the journey was arduous for louisa. her health was not good at the time, and the journey was very difficult. she was brought to this has to to meet her father and mother in law. of that moment she would write had i stepped onto noah's ark, i could not have been more utterly astonished. louisa catherine had a challenge in winning over abigail adams. john adams was easy, he took to her right away.
she always a very comfortable and well liked by him. abigail is more skeptical. perhaps due to john quincy's teasing. he only gave abigail a little bit of information about louisa catherine. he was not forthright in his intentions. it was a surprise that he married louisa catherine so quickly. abigail did not get a chance to know her. she was quite concerned, although she was an american citizen, she had never been on american soil. this was not what she intended for her son. through time, she learned to grow and love and understand louisa catherine. through the years, they forged a very strong relationship. louisa catherine describing abigail adams as the planet around which all revolved. louisa catherine and john quincy, unlike john adams, if not live at peace field year-round. they only returned in the summer to get a relief from the politics of washington.
her grandson, henry adams, remembered louisa catherine fondly. in his works, the education of henry adams, he described louisa catherine and her role in this house and relationship with the family. he felt that she was the odd man out, because she was born in england and educated in france. she remained a foreign personality to many of the adams's. but not to henry as a world traveler himself. he recollects her sitting in her paneled room, using her silver tea pot that that she brought with her from her home in england to the old house. she would entertain both herself and many guest in this room. john quincy adams and louisa would inherit this home from john adams. john quincy thought about selling it, but then decided that it was important to the family story to hold onto the
house for future generations. susan: you can visit there today. where the papers? amanda: they are at the massachusetts historical society in boston. they used to be at the old house would distill my very, but they were transferred to the historical society for safekeeping. susan: a question on facebook from genie webber. i have read excerpts from her autobiography, it said the massachusetts historical society was going to publish the papers. is that true? amanda: yes. a two volume of her autobiographical writings, which includes a record of my life adventures of a nobody, and her narrative of a journey from st. petersburg, france, and all her diaries have already been published in a scholarly edition. next year, a trade edition of these writings will be
available. it has a forward by former first lady, laura bush. susan: we must talk a little about st. petersburg and her incredible journey back to meet her husband. can you tell was important about that story? amanda: the years in st. petersburg are difficult in some ways. st. petersburg is harsh. it is cold, it is forbidding. there are not a lot of other women there. most of the other diplomats' wives do not travel with her husband when they get sent there. i have a baby girl, louisa catherine adams, and the child dies after about a year. that really devastates her mother. it is very painful. john quincy is also very much torn apart by the death.
the war of 1812 has broken out here. john quincy is sent to negotiated treaty and leaves louisa with her youngest son charles francis, in st. petersburg. when peace is resolved and he is sure he will be returning home or sent to london, he asks her to join him. she makes this arduous journey from st. petersburg in the winter to paris with a son who is only seven of the time. and a couple servants that she only met that day. she does not know she can trust them. as she is crossing europe, she encounters dangerous travel conditions, and napoleon has escaped from elba and is coming back to france. she encounters the armies to
greet him. she is crossing some very perilous territory in europe at this time. richard: her life was in danger throughout this trip. susan: here is another quote from her diaries -- it was 4:00 in the evening and the ice was in so critical a state, i could with difficulty procured men and horses to go over. richard: absolutely. she went through the alps. susan: a carriage in the wintertime. richard: again, the resourcefulness of this woman is extraordinary. susan: why don't we know more about her interesting life story? why is she not better known among the first ladies? amanda: because john quincy's presidency has been obscured for so long, that diminished
interest in her. what makes john quincy interesting to historians today is his post-white house years, for which people did not seem to think that louisa was a part of. somewhat mistakenly. i think that has really kept her from being the prominent -- and abigail kind of outshines when you are talking about the adams'. susan: carol is watching in santa fe. caller: this is a fantastic series, i love it. you keep referring to the white house and i understand it was called the presidents house for some time. do you know when it changed its name to the white house? richard: teddy roosevelt. the beginning of the 20th century. he formally changed the main to the more informal white house.
at the same time that his wife is taking the house back to its more formal style and side. susan: is it true that some of the exterior was painted white after the fire from the british, to cover scorch marks? that is when it began. richard: it was informally referred to -- the man on the street did not refer to it as the executive mansion. teddy roosevelt made it official. susan: a call from catherine in rockville, maryland. caller: just wondering, was louisa ever, worker rights ever violated and wanted to do about it? susan: what are you thinking of? caller: social or things like her speaking out for what she believed in.
susan: this is a quick -- a great question to talk about what role women really had in society at this point in time in america. amanda: she is not political she is not speaking out politically the way that abigail did with her husband. she is not a public political figure speaking out on these things. she has her own private views on some things. her views on politics are more about how people behaved. she is much more interested in everyone conducting themselves properly. even people on her own side. she doesn't like it when people who support the policies that her husband supported have crossed a line in terms of decorum. she is not trying to get out -- she's not an activist.
i would not want to say that. susan: nearly 100 years until women have the right to vote, we should point out for our younger viewers. what role they play? where did their power come from? richard: there is a coda to this story. justice john quincy became more and more outspoken in his opposition to slavery and famously played a role in the amistad case. there was a wonderful correspondence between louisa and the green key sisters, who were pioneering activists and abolitionists of their day. i think she comes as close there as anywhere else to spelling out a sense of women's roles. >> this is an interesting time.
her mother in law has passed. we think about gil adams and her famous words to john, remember the ladies. abigail's letters were becoming more published, and louisa saw an affinity between her mother-in-law and herself on women's issues. amanda: towards the end of louisa's life, there is the sense that she seeks an equality of the mind for women, but not so that women can run for office. it is not that kind of feminism. it is that women can better fulfill their primary functions as mother, wife, and daughter. they had this god-given, this is where her religion comes in, but god had created man and woman equal in this way. that was how she could -- in
their mind, they could be equals and partners, complementary partners, not for women to become more like men. abigail's feminism as it were is somewhat along the same vent -- bent of allowing women to become better republican mothers and wives to allow men to fulfill their calling with honor and dignity. susan: we should get a little presidential history. does john quincy seek reelection? richard: he did. a lot of people think i'm a it was the most scurrilous campaign in history. it was not close at the end. andrew jackson denied the presidency four years earlier, overwhelmed john quincy adams. like his father, he did not stick around for his successors
inauguration. he did come back to washington a couple of years later in a unique role. the only american president to this day who came back as a member of the house of representatives. susan: there are a couple of first year, the first father and son to serve in the white house. the only foreign-born first lady, and the only president to come back and an elective role in the legislature. richard: history repeated itself in a tragic way. john and abigail lost a son in the time between his defeat and inauguration. susan: and he committed suicide? richard: george washington adams, who i suspect the pressure of that name would drive anyone off the wall, he almost definitely committed suicide. susan: just when his father was losing the election?
amanda: yes. it was may, 1829. the power had already shifted to andrew jackson. they asked george to come back to washington to escort family to quincy. he either fell or jumped off the boat. devastating personal tragedy. richard: two years later, his brother died of alcoholism. amanda: 1834, it was a little bit later. susan: one child survived. what about their grandchildren and heirs? amanda: there are a number of grandchildren. john adams the second, he had married his cousin and had two children. john quincy and louisa became
the guardians to those children. the younger one died in another tragedy. charles francis adams married abigail brook, and they had a number of children. they are in boston. so john quincy and louisa only see them during their summer breaks, because they spend pretty much all their time in washington. susan: cheryl from santa barbara. caller: thank you so much for doing this. i really enjoy it. i was wondering if you know what louisa catherine's size was. she looks very petite in her pictures. susan: do we know? amanda: she was definitely slender. i cannot tell you how tall she was. she remained slender throughout her life. richard: i heard somewhere about 5'6".
susan: after the defeat for reelection, they go back to boston and stay there for how long? richard: not very long. in 1830, there was an election from another district, and john quincy accepts the nomination and spent the rest of his life literally will die with his boots on, suffering a stroke on the floor of the house of representatives. susan: they come back to the house on f street that they built for all of the social entertaining that got him to the white house. what were their congressional years like here and especially for her? amanda they don't come back to f : street initially. the house had been rented out during the presidency. they don't get back until the end of the 1830's. these years are much better after about 1834. the first few years are filled with tragedy.
things really improved. they are able to socialize and entertain and have these dinner parties, but there is number striving. they have reached all that can happen. i think that these are years more of peace. there is a lot of political struggle certainly. between her and john quincy there is something of an understanding. she knew that he needed politics in order to live. even though she had been very angry at his insistence and going back to washington, she even threatened not to come to washington. eventually she cooled off and decided she would follow him after all. between them, mostly good years, even with all the political fights over the gag rule. susan: it was a 50 year
marriage. richard: they had been through the worst. the white house was a thing of the past. i think she was more politically aligned with him in his congressional career. in some ways, they grew closer in the last years. susan: did she begin to influence him on issues like slavery and women's rights? amanda: i wouldn't use influence in that way. on women's rights, i don't think that is something that they would have really discussed in that way. it was not something being put forward in congress. slavery, they saw pretty near eye to eye. it is hard to say who influence to where they both got there on their own. he felt freer in congress to be active about it.
her experience was a little more complicated. she had family members who were slaveholders, being from maryland. both of them, they don't like slavery. that they are gradual abolitionists. susan: jennifer sherman offers “the adams women offered a different type of feminism.” let's take a call from jeffrey in sarasota. caller: thank you for taking my call. i enjoy the show. i am a history teacher who grew up in connecticut, but now lives in florida. i am very interested in the adams family. you just brought up the question i had, whether or not louisa had difficulty with her father's family being from slaveholding maryland. you sort of alluded to it. that was one question -- how difficult was that or her on a personal level?
the other one is just a curiosity, did she live long enough to get her photograph taken? do you have a photograph of her? susan: thanks for the question. are there any portraits of her? amanda: i don't know. john quincy had a photograph taken. there might be. i'm not 100% sure on that. you should check the portraits volume of the adams papers. susan: our producer is telling me no photos. they spent a long time looking. we have about three minutes left. john quincy dies a dramatic death. richard: first of all, one reason why life was him i think, better for them at the end, the public attitude toward them have changed. admirers call him old man eloquent.
south carolinians called him the madman from massachusetts. his career in congress was an expression of that dogged commitment to principle, even at the risk of unpopularity. at the end, it he won some of his battles. he won repealing the gag rule that slavery had imposed on congress. he became an immensely respect to elder statesman. in february 1848, on the floor of the house, one member of congress looked over in his direction and said, mr. adams is dying. his forehead had flushed, he tried to stand and fell over. he was carried to the speaker's office, just off the floor of the house. henry clay came to visit. louisa came, and he did not recognize her.
supposedly, his last words were, this is the last but i am content. which i don't believe, i don't think he was content for a moment. he died doing his duty. susan: do we think it was a stroke? richard: yes. susan: how old was he? and how long did she live after his death? amanda: 81. she lived another four years. she stayed in washington, and by her son's wife. she lived quietly. her health is fading. she had a stroke the following year and is somewhat invalid for the rest of her life. charles francis adams actually meets with her about a year before she dies and records in his diary how content she seemed.
not that she was looking forward to death, but that she had truly resigned herself and would face the end with great courage and faith. susan: you are looking at some footage of the presidential burial place, if you ever get to massachusetts, it is quite a resting spot of of presidential couples, buried side-by-side in a church. richard: the church of the presidents. susan: the two memorials with flags are the two graves of the presidents themselves. we invite you to put that on your list as you do historical touring. something you have done a lot of. we have one more call left, this is william from winston-salem, north carolina. caller: yes, i remember seeing a few years ago, believe it was david mccullough, talking about the adams women and the strength of them. their inner strength. he mentioned something about one
of them having had the breast cancer and had surgery in the days before anesthesia. susan: i am going to jump in because our time is short. that is abigail adams daughter who had breast cancer and a mastectomy in the days before anesthesia. she eventually succumbed to the disease. amanda: yes. susan: we really want to bring all of these conversations back. what should louisa catherine adams be remembered for in her tenure as first lady? amanda: she is a fascinating figure, the interest in her should be every bit as much as for her mother-in-law. she is a woman who saw more of the governments of the world than most women of that day. in london, berlin, st.
petersburg, washington. she truly experiences and reflects on these experiences through her letters and diaries and memoirs in a way that ring a richness to our understanding of the period she lived in. susan: really a dramatic life. richard: and a life of tragedy. she lived through extraordinary events. crossed paths with remarkable historical figures. it was in the domestic life where she suffered loss after loss. even the apparent triumph the presidency turned out to be, in many ways, disappointing. that is not the note on which the story ends. there is real inspiration there for all of us. susan: thank you, as always for your expertise. amanda, nice to meet you and thank you for helping us learn more about louisa catherine adams through your extensive work on her papers. thanks to you for being with us