Silence Over Their Tombs: A Microhistory of American Perceptions of Alcoholism in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries Using the Adams Family Papers
College - Author 1
College of Liberal Arts
Department - Author 1
Degree Name - Author 1
BA in History
Kathleen Murphy, College of Liberal Arts, History Department
The perception of alcohol addiction in the United States of America has changed numerous times throughout the nation’s history, with people accepting it as a mere part of life in the colonial era before preachers and thinkers began to denounce it as a vice and a moral failure. The influential writings of respected patriot Dr. Benjamin Rush, however, initiated a fundamental shift in the way that Americans understood alcoholism, as he was the first to make the argument that it was a disease beyond the control of its sufferers. This paper uses the example of the famous Adams family to illustrate this shift in thought, since both of John Adams’s younger sons, Charles and Thomas, died from complications related to alcoholism. By examining the writings of the family left behind in the Adams Family Papers, as well as other relevant primary documents, I argue that the Adams family was influenced by changing societal ideas as they addressed Thomas’s struggles quite differently from the way they had Charles’s decades earlier.