The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Did John Quincy Adams Have a Sense of Humor?

Did John Quincy Adams (JQA) have a sense of humor? Would he, had it been practiced at the time, conducted April Fool’s hijinks?  Editors and staff of the Adams Papers admit to me that JQA might not have displayed much interest in performing jokes, but that he certainly could enjoy one if it were played in his presence. (If JQA were a conductor of practical jokes, however, I envision he would, if around today and in the current building of the MHS, arrive early on 1 April and place signs on all the bathroom doors saying “Out of order.”)

Since August 2009, MHS staff members have been tweeting JQA’s own line-a-day diary entries that summarize his life and work as a diplomat in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Each tweet contains JQA’s succinct words describing his day exactly 200 years ago.  (The link to JQA’s Twitter account is here:!/JQAdams_MHS and a link to a page describing MHS’s approach to tweeting JQA’s words is here:

JQA’s tweets are interesting nuggets of information on their own, but I can’t help but yearn for something out of the ordinary: for something to reach out and slap me in the face.  There was one entry last year (tweet from 12 August 2011 that featured JQA’s summary of events on 12 August 1811) that was so matter of fact that I did LOL given a degree of plainness of JQA’s delivery and the momentous occasion recorded: “My wife gave me a daughter. Galloway came. Montreal here, and Hall. Patterson. Plummer, Ashton, Marks &c.”  It is so matter of fact as to be funny.

And then there is this, from 3 January 1812, which struck me as funny: “VII. Read, wrote and walked before Breakfast. Fruitman here again. Fraud of the Butter woman. Lange here.”  (MHS sent an extra tweet on January 3 to provide a bit of the backstory about the “Butter woman”:!/JQAdams_MHS/status/154193299073277953 )

Wanting some humor, we have come up with a few summaries that, irrespective of the contemporaneity of time, would have made good tweets as well…

Wednesday. Woodward and Montreal here. Eve at Betancourt's: Rosenzweig, Brandel, and Strogonoff got the moves like Jagger. 

Saturday. Paid several visits. Fisher dined and spent the Eve here. I took a hot water and Russian vapour bath. Life in the big city.

Tuesday. Montreal here. Explains the affair of the Store-ships. I called on Meyer and Harris. Walk home. Jones here at Eve. Can’t keep up.

Friday. VIII. Löwenhielm here. Read 2. Sermons. de Bray & Emperor at Mrs. Colombi’s at eve: party rockers in the house tonight.

permalink | Published: Sunday, 1 April, 2012, 1:00 AM


Apr 1, 2012, 7:05 am


I also laughed when I read about the fraud of the Butter woman. It just seemed so out of place. I also really like party rockers in the house tonight. I now have the image of JQA partying with LMFAO.

Apr 1, 2012, 4:03 pm

Karen Rhodes

Moves like Jagger? I can just see JQA rockin' out with the Stones! And "the fraud of the butter woman" sounds like a great title!

Apr 3, 2012, 3:53 pm

Jim Cooke

In his Diary for June 17, 1843 JQA gives reasons for not attending the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument - "this pyramid of Quincy granite . . . with Daniel Webster spouting, and John Tyler’s nose, with a shadow outstretching that of the monumental column—how could I have witnessed all this without an unbecoming burst of indignation, or of laughter?"

Now, that's funny!

Apr 4, 2012, 11:09 am


How about:

Charles unwell. Catherine took ill in afternoon. A seeming epidemic. Am I to play father husband nurse? This is not what I signed up for.

Apr 5, 2012, 6:40 am

Peter K Steinberg

A faux tweet was left off the list somehow. This might resonate with MHS staffers moreso than the general public...

Letter to my Mother. My wife looked at a house in the City. Dined at Lauriston's in the City. Another day another ruble.

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