John Adams

[John Adams by Samuel Morse -- editted by KMG]
John Adams, by Samuel Morse (1816).
Adams arrived in France for the first time in April of 1778.

John Adams was sent to Europe during the Revolutionary War to solicit help from European powers. In 1778 & 1779, along with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, he negotiated and signed the Treaty of Paris, in which Britain recognized the US as independent.

Adams kept a journal during his stays [1]. It’s obviously important from a historical perspective, but as someone living in France, who often struggles with the language, I think some of the most interesting passages are about him learning French.

For example, on April 16, he critiques Benjamin Franklin’s French:

Dr. F. [Benjamin Franklin] is reported to speak French very well, but I find upon attending to him that he does not speak it Grammatically, and indeed upon enquiring, he confesses that he is wholly inattentive to the Grammar. His Pronunciation too, upon which the French Gentlemen and Ladies compliment him, and which he seems to think is pretty well, I am sure is very far from being exact.

Catty ever?

In any event, I’m not really sure he should be talking. I also liked this series of entries a couple of weeks later:

MONDAY. 27. [April 1778]


I will attempt to keep my journal in French, in order to familiarise myself to that Language.

He dutifully wrote a few lines in French the next day. And the next. But the entry after that was once again in English — he made it two full days!!

On the other hand, I liked this one, messing with French people trying to pronounce English:

1778 July 25.

It is an Amusement among some People, here, who understand a little English, to give Samples of English Sentences, hard to be pronounced. — “What think the chosen judges? Thrust this Thistle through this Thumb. An Apple in each Hand and a third in my Mouth.”– &c.

This works as well today as it did then.

But by the end of his stay he seemed to be doing better, and even may have secretly started enjoying himself!

1779. April 22nd. Thursday.


The Pleasure of returning home is very great, but I confess it is a Mortification to leave France. I have just acquired enough of the Language to understand a Conversation, as it runs at a Table at Dinner, or Supper, to conduct all my Affairs myself, in making journeys through the Country, with the Port Masters, Postillions, Tavern keepers, &c. &c. I can go to a Shop, and examine the Goods, and understand all the Prattle of the Shop keeper — or I can sit down with a Gentleman, who will have a little Patience to speak a little more distinctly than common, and to wait a little longer for my Sentences than common, and maintain a Conversation pretty well