In a Law and Liberty book review, JMC fellow Diana Schaub explores the fascinating history of John Quincy Adams’ diary, a book unprecedented in its detail and frequency of entries.
J.Q. Adams, Diarist
By Diana Schaub
From the Online Library of Law and Liberty
We live in an age of “journaling,” with planners and organizers galore, but it was John Quincy Adams who devised the mother of all systems. He had spots for long entries (some upwards of 5,000 words), short entries, line-a-day entries, year-end summaries, drafts (filed under the heading “Rubbish”), memoranda, and lists. And he kept it up for almost 70 years, including a peak period of more than a quarter-century without a missed day.
This Iron Man among diarists could not have been aware of the historical significance of his project when he began to “journalize” at the ripe age of 12, as he departed on his second trip to the Continent in the company of his father. Nonetheless, the boy’s title page gives evidence of a healthy ago and high aspirations:
JOURNAL BY ME
J Q A
At the end of his life, Adams knew how remarkable the endeavor had been: “There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race,” he writes in Volume 46, “whose daily existence from early childhood to fourscore years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine.”
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