Revolutionary Medicine by Abrams Jeanne E.;

Revolutionary Medicine by Abrams Jeanne E.;

Author:Abrams, Jeanne E.;
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: NYU Press
Published: 2013-05-15T16:00:00+00:00


Engraving of Abigail Adams from an Original Painting by Gilbert Stuart. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Twilight Years and Tragic Illness

After so many years of service to the nation, both John and Abigail looked forward to retirement from public life and their return to Quincy. The Adams landholdings had grown to about six hundred acres and featured three separate farms. John appears to have been genuinely happy to shed his political burdens, but Abigail still harbored resentment toward his political foes. Her husband’s defeat for a second term as president had left the normally optimistic Abigail despondent about the future of the nation under Republican leadership. Abigail’s health had been mixed in Washington. Although she did not suffer much rheumatism, she did experience “Ague and fever,” and she believed she would do better permanently at Quincy. Repeated attacks of intermitting fevers over the years sapped her constitution. “I patch up, but it is hard work,” she confided to her sister in 1801.135 Other than the normal disabilities of aging, John’s health remained remarkably good during his 25-year retirement. This suggests that the stresses of political life produced many of Adams’s ailments. As we will see in the next chapters, Jefferson was also subject to illness when political tensions surfaced.

Back in Quincy, Abigail and John were happy to be surrounded by family and friends and enjoyed the benefits of grandparenthood. Their son Charles’s widow and daughters frequently joined the household for long periods, and Abigail virtually raised her granddaughter Susanna. John Quincy Adams continued his work on behalf of the government, but in the company of his cultured, delicate, English-born wife, Louisa Catherine, and their children, he also joined his parents at Peacefield when his schedule permitted. Thomas Adams was also a frequent guest, and when his law practice failed and he could no longer afford to pay his bills, his family augmented his parents’ household on a more permanent basis.

Following John Adams’s defeat, John Quincy had returned to Massachusetts in 1801 from his diplomatic post in Berlin, accompanied by his wife, Louisa, and their baby son. Like so many women of the era, Louisa had suffered through numerous emotionally and physically draining miscarriages, seven in all, which made the birth of a healthy child even more precious. Louisa gave birth to four living children during her marriage, but only one, future historian Charles Francis Adams, survived to old age. It is interesting to note that before they left Europe, John Quincy and Louisa’s first son, named George Washington Adams in honor of America’s first president, underwent the safer and more effective Jenner type of smallpox vaccination.136 During the same time period, as we learned in the introduction, Jefferson would be instrumental in introducing the Jenner method in America.

The feisty Abigail was in her element as the busy matriarch of the household, but she continued to be plagued by multiple often mysterious illnesses. These were diagnosed vaguely as rheumatism coupled with skin rashes and eye infections, which left her with cripplingly painful joints, swellings, and fevers.



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