John Adams "Virtue and Happiness...neither can exist without the other." Signed Instructions to Live By, Dedicated to His Granddaughter.

A 1p letter signed by former 2nd U.S. President John Adams (1735-1826) as "John Adams" near the center recto. N.d., n.p. but ca. 1822. [Quincy, Massachusetts.] Secretarially inscribed above Adams's signature, consisting of didactic instructions addressed to Adams's teenaged granddaughter Elizabeth Coombs Adams (1809-1903). The reverse of the page is entitled "Miss Elizabeth C. Adams. Quincy. Presented by the generosity of her Grand Father,, 1822" at top above an anonymous 16-line poem about advice offered "with kind device & loving love." Expected wear commensurate with age including even toning, wrinkles, isolated edge darkening, and slightly chipped edges. Several areas of paper loss (not affecting the John Adams-related text recto, and just touching the periphery of the text verso) have been discretely professionally repaired. The page was previously removed from a friendship album made for Elizabeth Coombs Adams, ca. 1822-1823. 8.125" x 9.875." Provenance: Property of a New York Collector; Sotheby's New York, June 21, 2007.

*This letter signed by John Adams was once contained in a friendship album signed by other Adams and Quincy relatives, which is Lot 5 of our current sale.

87-year-old former president John Adams offered the following advice to his granddaughter Elizabeth Coombs Adams, the second child of Thomas Boylston Adams (1772-1832), Adams's fifth of six children and youngest son. The elderly Adams's recommendations for how to live a good and prosperous life is anchored in Christian Humanism.

Adams singled out Virtue and Happiness as the two principal ingredients of a fulfilling life, and by so doing alludes to Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics," which states that the ultimate objective of human experience is eudaimonia, or happiness; and that this state can best be achieved through living a virtuous life. Aristotle advises us: "He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue…" (Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics," 1101a10). These Classical ideas were not incompatible with Christianity; on the contrary, they reinforced the same message, differently packaged. Adams thus invoked his granddaughter to live by the "Decalogue," that is, the Ten Commandments, and to closely follow Christ's early teachings as pronounced on the Sermon on the Mount and described in chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Living in accordance with these Classical and Christian ideals guaranteed happiness in life and in the afterlife, Adams believed.

"To My Grand daughter E C Adams

Virtue and Happiness are so intimately connected and so mutually dependant [sic], that neither can exist without the other. Study therefore and practice the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, and you can never be unhappy in this world or the other.

From your affectionate Grandfather

[signed] John Adams."

Elizabeth Coombs Adams may have relied on this wisdom during the illness and drug addiction of her father, Thomas Boylston Adams. A Harvard graduate, and capable scholar, secretary, lawyer, and chief justice of Massachusetts, Thomas became an alcoholic and prone to depressive episodes in later life. Happily, Elizabeth Coombs Adams had a more stable influence in her life: her paternal uncle, John Quincy Adams (1867-1848). Elizabeth has been described as living the life of a Washington, D.C. belle during her uncle's presidency, though she never married. She was the oldest living resident of Quincy, Massachusetts when she died at the age of 95 in 1903.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.



Accepted Forms of Payment:

American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Money Order / Cashiers Check, Paypal, Personal Check, Visa, Wire Transfer


Unless otherwise indicated, we do our own in-house worldwide shipping!

Applicable shipping and handling charges will be added to the invoice. We offer several shipping options, and remain one of the few auction houses who proudly provides professional in-house shipping as an option to our clients. All items will ship with signature required, and full insurance. Most items are sent via Federal Express, with P. O. Box addresses being sent through USPS. We insure through Berkley Asset Protection with rates of $.70 per $100 of value, among the lowest insurance rates in the industry. Our shipping department cameras document every package, both outgoing and incoming, for maximum security. In addition, we compare our shipping and handling rates against those of other auction houses, to ensure that our charges are among the lowest in the trade.

Upon winning your item(s), you will receive an invoice with our in-house shipping and handling fees included. ***We will ship to the address as it appears on your invoice. If any changes to the shipping address need to be made, you must inform us immediately.***

International shipments: In order to comply with our insurance provider, all international shipments will be sent via Fed Ex and customs paperwork will show a value of $1.00. International buyers should contact our office directly with any questions regarding this policy.

Third Party Shipping Option: If a third party shipper is preferred, the buyer is responsible for contacting them directly to make shipping arrangements. For your convenience, we have provided some recommended shippers. For your protection, we will require a signed release from you, confirming your authorization for us to release your lots to your specified third party Please copy and paste this following link into your browser: At that point, our responsibility and insurance coverage for your item(s) ceases. Items picked up by third party shippers are required to pay Connecticut sales tax. Items requiring third party shipping due to being oversized, fragile or bulky will be denoted in the item description.

Please see our full terms and conditions for names of suggested third party shippers.

After payment has been made in full, University Archives will ship your purchase within 10 business days following receipt of full payment for item.

Please remember that the buyer is responsible for all shipping costs from University Archives' offices in Wilton, CT to the buyer's door. Please see full Terms and Conditions of Sale.

November 29, 2023 10:30 AM EST
Wilton, CT, US

University Archives

You agree to pay a buyer's premium of up to 25% and any applicable taxes and shipping.

View full terms and conditions

Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $99 $10
$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000