Letitia Hall, "Threshold of a Century: the Diary of Louisa Adams Park, 1800-1801"


By February 1801, the difficult election was over and Thomas Jefferson was elected president, with Aaron Burr vice president. Louisa did not mention politics after that month. The peaceful transition of government which occurred in early March was a remarkable event in American history,21 but not in Louisa's diary. Louisa feared revolutionary changes after the election of Thomas Jefferson, but those changes took decades to occur. America was changing as democracy took shape, and power was slipping away from New England. New England's social character was also changing with the development of the middle class.

Louisa's reading suggests that her own opinions were rooted in the values of New England's rising middle class. On January 16, 1801, Louisa read about Major John André, a conspirator with Benedict Arnold who had been captured and executed for treason in 1780. She wrote, "This was too much–he should have lived. Washington once did wrong."22  That comment, criticizing General Washington, is surprising. The people of New England venerated Washington's memory. Following his death in December of 1799 towns and villages made their grief public with memorial parades and rallies–and sent reports to the Boston papers. The Centinel published memorial poetry and essays on its front pages for more than a month after his death, and thanked Heaven that Adams was there to continue in his tradition.23  He was remembered as an ideal man: an officer and a gentleman. Louisa criticized the execution of André because in the years since André's death the popular press had portrayed him as the same kind of ideal man Washington had been.24

21. Weisberger, America Afire, 275.
22. Park, Diary, January 17, 1801.
23. Columbian Centinel, January 8, 1800. A week and a half later, on the day the news of Bonaparte's arrival in Paris was reported, coverage of memorial parades and services in small towns took up all of the front page of the paper. The Centinel broke the news from France on the middle of the second page.
24. Robert E. Cray, Jr., "Major John André and the Three Captors: Class dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831," Journal of the Early Republic 17(3) 1997, 377-379.
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