John Adams's Presidency

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What inconveniences in "Letter to Her Daughter from the New White House" seem most important to Abigail Adams?

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In November of 1800, Abigail Adams made what she describes as a somewhat circuitous journey to the White House, then known as the President's House. Although she describes her new residence as a "great castle" designed on a "superb and grand scale" and set in a location of rustic beauty, the extensive property was still undergoing construction upon the arrival of the First Couple.

Thus, her letter conveys a sense of the absence of some of the amenities to which she was accustomed. For example, even though the small town of Washington, DC, was then surrounded by wilderness, she mentions the difficulty of maintaining an adequate supply of firewood for the house's numerous fireplaces, because so few men could be found to cut and cart it. But her most frustrating problem seems to have been a bell deficit:

To assist us in this great castle, and render less attendance necessary, bells are wholly wanting, not one single one being hung through the whole house . . . This is so great an inconvenience that I know not what to do or how to do.

Despite these complaints, Adams requests that her daughter "keep all this to yourself, and, when asked how I like it, say that I write you the situation is beautiful, which is true." She does so to remind her daughter to maintain a sense of decorum befitting a member of the First Family.

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Abigail Adams identifies just a few things that are inconvenient in this letter:

The lighting of the apartments, from the kitchen to parlors and chambers, is a tax indeed: and the fires we are obliged to keep to secure us from daily agues is another very cheering comfort. ... not one single (bell) being hung through the whole house, and promises are all you can obtain.

Other than the poor lighting and the lack of bells to indicate a need for service, Adams also says that she needs more wood to "keep fires."

Besides her complaints, though, she comments on some of the pleasantries of the White House's location: the scenery, the river, the view of boats coming and going, and other niceties are also expressed.

You may wish to put your other questions into new posts, as they address different matters.


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