Henry Brooks Adams, who dropped his middle name at age thirty-two, was born in Boston on February 16, 1838, the child of the writer and politician Charles Francis Adams and the homemaker Abigail Brooks Adams. The fourth of seven children, Henry came from an impressive New England family: He was grandson to John Quincy Adams, who was still alive during his childhood, and great grandson to John Adams; both men had been American presidents. This legacy of achievement bestowed a lifelong, influential sense of familial obligation on Adams at a very early age.
While young, Henry Adams, like his siblings, profited immensely from the liberal and intellectual atmosphere at home. By opening his huge library to him, his father gave Henry early access to works of literature and history. Soon, the quiet and observant boy watched his father work and converse with his political friends. Adams entered Harvard College in 1854 and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1858. Looking back later, Adams did not think Harvard worthwhile; however, it gave him the intellectual background common to the elite of his time. The new Harvard Magazine also offered him an outlet for his first writing and awarded him with its editorship.
Following graduation, Adams went to Europe, where, while writing for the Boston Daily Courier in 1860, he scored a minor coup with an interview of Italian rebel leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. After his move to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1860, Adams matched his writing powers with his interest in politics. As private secretary to his father, a congressman, he combined access to information and journalistic skill in his work for the Bostonian Daily Advertiser. “The Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861,” was his dramatic summary of the secession of the South.
The appointment of his father as minister to the English court in 1861 gave Adams an inside view of global politics and a larger share of responsibility. Working for a while as an anonymous correspondent for The New York Times, Adams soon began to broaden the scope of his pen to move beyond politics to science, history, and economics. Combining a journalist’s eye for the topical with a scholar’s emphasis on knowledge and intellectual...
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Henry Brooks Adams’s father was Charles Francis Adams, American statesman and minister to Great Britain; his grandfather was John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States; and his great-grandfather was John Adams, the second president of the United States. Henry Adams himself did very well. Despite the burden of family fame, he established himself in literature as a historian and philosopher of history. He became an enigmatic success on his own terms at least partly through branding himself a failure and writing an autobiography that attempted to show the force common to the Virgin Mary and the dynamo. Consequently, he was more than a mere recorder of events and relic of a great political past: He was a creator of literature and ideas. Because of his outstanding performances as a historian and philosopher of history he is now as eminent in his own way as his forebears are eminent in political history.
Henry Adams was born in Boston in 1838. As a boy he profited from a close and friendly relationship with his grandfather, John Quincy Adams. It was primarily through him that Adams developed a moral consciousness of the seriousness and importance of education and of the use of books in the process of becoming educated. The inquisitive mind and the dissatisfied one developed together in him as they had in his grandfather, so that he became no passive scholar but an active critic of events and ideas. When his grandfather died, Henry Adams was only ten years old, but he was to show the effect of John Quincy Adams’s influence for the rest of his life.
He attended Harvard University (1854-1858) after a...
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