Editorial Statement

The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is a publication of the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The Adams Papers project was founded in 1954 to prepare a comprehensive published edition of the manuscripts written and received by the family of Abigail Smith Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts. For more information on the project, including access to the multigenerational family archive and other aspects of its publication, visit Adams Papers editorial project | Massachusetts Historical Society (masshist.org).

Work on the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary began in 2016 to make Adams’s diary more broadly accessible by presenting a verified and searchable transcription of each diary entry alongside manuscript page images. Adams often recorded more than one version of his diary for the same date. He created complete entries that varied in length, “line-a-day” placeholder entries, and notes or draft-like entries he called “Rubbish.” The digital publication of his diary was thus conceived in two parts. Editors selected the most complete entry for a given date, verified the entry, and reviewed the content to identify the individuals mentioned and note the relevant topics. These encoded names and topics are searchable within the digital edition. This work encompassed more than 75 percent of the total diary. Next, dates with alternative entries were transcribed and verified.

Materials Included and Their Arrangement

The Diaries of John Quincy Adams are published here in their entirety in keeping with the requirements of the Adams Manuscript Trust, which donated the papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society and created the Adams Papers editorial project.

John Quincy Adams penned his first diary entry on 12 November 1779 when he was 12 years old. He dictated his final entry a little more than 68 years later, on 20 February 1848. The cumulative diary contains over 15,000 pages of handwritten entries by Adams within 51 manuscript volumes that are part of the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society. “There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race of whose daily existence from early childhood to four score years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine,” Adams wrote of his endeavor on 31 October 1846.

Of the 51 volumes, ten are gatherings of stitched, pinned, or loose sheets, some with covers; ten are printed almanacs in which diary entries were written on blank pages; and thirty are volumes of varying size bound in calf or vellum. Volume 51, which includes diary entries for 3 February – 14 November 1803, is now part of his son Charles Francis Adams’s Miscellany 15, in which the latter added notes about properties and family history. Only the volume 51 pages containing John Quincy Adams’s diary entries are presented in the Digital Diary.

While John Quincy Adams remained a dedicated diarist throughout his youth and adulthood, the types of entries he penned varied. The diary consists of a combination of complete entries, draft entries, and line-a-day entries. From 1 January 1795 to 6 May 1821 there is a complete entry for each day. For briefer periods, each of more than a year’s duration, complete entries were also made: 1 January 1785 – 23 August 1788, 1 February 1827 – 24 June 1828, 1 January 1829 – 24 March 1832, 5 July 1832 – 26 December 1834, 17 March 1839 – 30 September 1845. These periods of unbroken complete entries add up to 43 years and six months. As a young diarist, a complete entry for Adams was often only a few sentences or a short paragraph. As he got older, his daily entries frequently filled or exceeded a page.

Of the days and months lacking complete entries, by far the largest portion are represented by draft entries clearly intended for expansion. Adams resorted to draft entries as substitutes for complete entries in the earlier years before he had grown accustomed to the habit of diary keeping. Later draft entries occur mainly during his busiest periods of public service, in 1821, 1823-25, and 1835, when he was serving as secretary of state, president, and in the US House of Representatives, respectively.

Adams kept one line-a-day diary and four diaries that he referred to as “Rubbish” volumes. Entries in the line-a-day diary (volume 23) span two ranges of dates: 1 January 1795 – 12 May 1801 and 5 August 1809 – 30 April 1836. In addition to diary entries, the “Rubbish” diaries (volumes 47-50) contain various notes and memoranda covering dates between 1803 and 1848. Included in these volumes are lists of: dinner guests, members of Congress, artists for whom he sat, lands to be surveyed, election returns, population statistics, and meteorological observations. These volumes also include Adams’s commentary on Bible passages, notes on his reading, and his poetry. 

Thus, on any given date, multiple diary entries may be available to users. The editors selected for contextual analysis the most complete entry for each date and then identified and encoded personal names and topical subjects within those entries. Alternative entries are accessible through the manuscript image and verified transcription.

Treatment of the Text

The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is both part of the long-running Series I: Diaries published by the Adams Papers and the project’s first born-digital edition. As such, the Digital Diary adheres to the editorial policy employed across the Adams Papers edition and also includes necessary and practical adjustments for the digital environment.

The Adams Papers revised its editorial policy to be consistent with current standards for documentary editing with volume 8 of the Adams Family Correspondence (xxxv-xliii). Readers may also wish to reference the statements of editorial policy in previous Adams Papers letterpress volumes, especially the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:lii-lxii, and the Adams Family Correspondence, 1:xli-xlviii. These statements document the original conception of the Adams Papers project, though parts of them have now been superseded.

Adams Papers texts are rendered as literally as possible given the limitations of modern typography and the ability to translate handwritten manuscripts into printed and digital documents. This preserves more of the original document and allows the reader to determine the significance of the author’s spelling, grammar, capitalization, and other mechanical aspects of their writing. In that spirit, the following is a summary of the specifics of the project’s policy.

Spelling is preserved as found in the diary. Irregular spellings and spelling mistakes, even when they are obviously simple slips of the pen, are retained. The encoded personal names will offer corrected spellings of proper names, but no such corrections are made in the text itself.

Grammar and syntax are preserved as found in the diary. Inadvertent repetition of words, however, is silently corrected. The exception to this policy in the Digital Diary is when a word is repeated over a page break, as both the transcription and diary manuscript image will be displayed side-by-side.

Capitalization is preserved as found in the diary, even when it violates conventional standards, such as lowercase letters used for proper nouns or at the beginnings of sentences. In indeterminate cases, where the editors cannot be certain whether Adams intended for a letter to be capital or lowercase, the editors will follow modern usage.

Punctuation is preserved as found in the diary. As Adams used periods and dashes relatively interchangeably, the editors have retained some license to interpret those marks as makes sense grammatically, relying less on the structure of the character (Adams tended to use a single mark that might be either an elongated period or an abbreviated dash) than on the context of the sentence. The punctuation around abbreviations and contractions has been standardized in a limited fashion: (1) Underlining below a superscript is rendered as a period following the superscript. Similarly, two periods or commas under a superscript is rendered as a colon following the superscript. (2) Marks over letters used to indicate contractions or abbreviations have all been rendered as tildes. If such a mark appears over multiple letters within a word, the tilde is placed over the first letter.

Abbreviations and contractions, in general, are preserved as found in the diary. Ampersands are retained in all instances, as are superscripts.

Missing and illegible matter is indicated by square brackets enclosing the editors’ conjectural readings (with a question mark appended if the reading is uncertain) or suspension points if no reading can be given. Three points are used to indicate a single missing word and four to indicate two missing words. If a single letter of a word is missing, the editors may silently supply it.

Canceled matter in the diary (whether scored out or erased) is disregarded unless the editors deem it to be of some significance. In those instances, the text is included but crossed out typographically.

Interlineations are included within the body of the text at the point of insertion.


While the most important function of the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is to provide an accurate and authoritative text, the editors also strive to offer additional information to help readers better understand the nature of the diary and the moment in which it was written. Editorial work was informed by the theories and practices of the documentary editing community, the purpose of which is to facilitate engagement with the text by providing context through the editorial apparatus of annotations and an index. This project serves that overarching purpose within a digital environment.

While the primary audience for documentary editions remains the scholarly researcher, project editors collaborated with educators and the MHS Education Department to specifically improve access for the K-12 community.

The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary centers access for a broad public through narrative essays and encoded metadata for people and historical topics. Essays included in the Chronology section of the website provide synopses of the national and world events that informed John Quincy Adams’s personal experiences for seven distinct periods of his life. Editors selected the most complete diary entry for each date and analyzed the content to identify the individuals mentioned and to assign relevant topics. Each identified person named in the diary was given a unique identification tag and is recorded in the Cooperative’s names database. Individual records include a person’s full name, birth and death dates, and a brief biography, where known. An individual’s name is encoded where they are first mentioned within the body of a diary entry. Individuals recorded only in the list of names that Adams included for a date and not within the body of an entry are instead encoded within that list.

Editors also reviewed each complete entry to assign topical headings. This subject analysis was based on approximately 150 historical themes related to American history to 1848 and aligned with K-12 history curricula standards. All the relevant topics for a diary entry were then encoded within the metadata for that date.

Guide to Editorial Apparatus

This guide lists the arbitrary devices used for clarifying the text in the diary. It is considered best practice to prioritize the meaning of text over its visual look on the page when encoding; doing so enables better search and discoverability. Because of this, in some instances, the layout of the transcribed text does not precisely replicate John Quincy Adams’s layout on the manuscript page of the diary. For example, while page breaks are noted, line breaks are not preserved.


The following devices will be used throughout The Adams Papers, including the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, to clarify the presentation of the text.

[. . .]One word is missing or illegible.
[. . . .]Two or more words are missing or illegible.
[  ]A number or part of a number is missing or illegible. The amount of blank space inside brackets approximates the number of missing or illegible digits.
[roman]Words that were difficult to decipher in the diary or that have been conjectured by the editors. A question mark is inserted before the closing bracket if the conjectural reading is seriously doubtful.
romanMaterial struck out in the diary.
[symbols]Denotes shorthand used by John Quincy Adams in the diary. For background on Adams’ use of John Byrom’s method of shorthand, see this blog post.
italicsUnderlined words in the diary are rendered in italics per Adams Papers style.
sᴍᴀʟʟ ᴄᴀᴘsWords twice underlined in the diary are rendered in small caps per Adams Papers style.


Dates: John Quincy Adams often began diary entries with the day of the month in Arabic numerals followed by the time he awoke in Roman numerals. Thus, 1. VI: means on 1 September 1817 he awoke at 6:00 in the morning.

Dominical letters: In his line-a-day diary, volume 23, Adams often denoted Sundays with the corresponding Dominical letter (A through G) in the viewer’s left margin. Adams utilized this device as an aid to finding the day of the week corresponding to any given date within a month. More information on Dominical letters can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Visitor lists: Starting in 1825, Adams often began his diary entries with a list of individuals’ names, sometimes drawing a box around the list, before starting his diary entry for that date. He explicitly mentions his “lists of visitors in the margin” in his diary entry for 9 August 1827.

Image quality: Occasionally, diary manuscript page images appear quite faded or have portions that are illegible on the microfilm. In those instances, the text lost on the microfilm image was supplied from the original diary manuscript page and is included in brackets. See, for example, the entries for 1 September 1826, 14 July 1835, and 17 November 1845. This supplied text will be indicated with future Editor’s Notes: “Illegible text has been supplied from the original diary manuscript page.”

Previous Publication of the Diary

The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is part of Series I: Diaries within the Adams Papers plan of publication. In 1981 project editors published the earliest years of Adams’s diary (1779-1788) in two print volumes, thus commencing the Diary of John Quincy Adams series. The Digital Diary is both a revision and continuation of that series and includes this earliest material. While the original annotation has been retained, the treatment of the text has been brought in line with the current Adams Papers editorial policy, including the retention of superscripts, ampersands, original spelling, paragraphing, and punctuation. Subject and personal name encoding have also been applied as with the rest of the diary.

Readers interested in publication of Adams’ diary prior to the 1981 Adams Papers letterpress volumes should consult the introduction to those volumes (1:xvii–lii).

The Massachusetts Historical Society made digital facsimiles of the diary available online as the Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection. This website, made possible by a matching grant from Save America’s Treasures in 2003, presents the entire 51-volume diary, searchable by date or diary volume. For a comprehensive description of each of the 51 volumes, including the ability to scroll page by page, consult the Browse by Volume section of the Digital Collection. The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary integrates and builds on this earlier effort.

Related Digital Resources

The Massachusetts Historical Society is committed to making Adams family materials available to scholars and the public online. Readers are encouraged to explore the Adams Family Resources section of the MHS website for more information and to access research tools, including biographical sketches, a family tree, and a searchable timeline.

Two digital resources in particular complement the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary: The Adams Papers Digital Edition and the Online Adams Catalog, both of which are available through the Society’s website at www.masshist.org.

The Adams Papers Digital Edition, a project originally cosponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard University Press, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, offers searchable text for 51 of the Adams Papers volumes published prior to 2020. There is a single consolidated index for volumes published through 2006, while the indexes for more recent volumes appear separately. This digital edition is designed as a complement to the letterpress edition by providing greater access to a wealth of Adams material, including John Quincy Adams’s correspondence as printed in the Adams Family Correspondence and Papers of John Adams.

The Online Adams Catalog represents a fully searchable electronic database of all known Adams documents, dating primarily from the 1760s to 1889, at the Massachusetts Historical Society and other public and private repositories. The digital conversion—based on the original Adams Papers control file begun in the 1950s and steadily updated since that time—was supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Massachusetts Historical Society and was initiated with Packard Humanities Institute funds in 2009. The catalog allows public online access to a database of nearly 110,000 records, with some 30,000 cross-referenced links to online, printed, and microfilm editions of the items, or to websites of the holding repositories. Each record contains information on a document’s author, recipient, date, and the location of the original, if known.

Readers may gain additional perspective on material in the John Quincy Adams diary by consulting Adams’s private correspondence from the same time period as included in the letterpress volumes of Adams Family Correspondence and Papers of John Adams. While a future Adams Papers series will present John Quincy Adams’s public correspondence, a selection of letters for the period 1779 to 1823 are included in Writings of John Quincy Adams, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, 7 vols., New York, 1913-17. Also of interest may be the Adams Papers publications Diary and Autobiographical Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams, edited by Judith S. Graham and Beth Luey, and the Diary of Charles Francis Adams, edited by Aïda DiPace Donald and David Donald.