Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

James Truslow Adams papers, 1918-1949. 

Creator: 
Adams, James Truslow, 1878-1949.
Phys. Desc: 
15 linear ft. ( 24 document boxes; 1 oversize folder; 1 tube box)
Call Number: 
MS#0008
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

James Truslow Adams was successful businessman who became a celebrated historian, writing chiefly about the history of early New England. In 1912, having worked for twelve years as a businessman in a New York brokerage house, Adams moved to Bridgehampton, L.I., and began writing. His first books--"Memorials of Old Bridgehampton" (1916) and "History of the Town of Southampton" (1918)--established him as a credible historian. During World War I he was appointed the Paris Peace Conference as part of the American delegation. After the war Adams began researching and writing on the history of New England, which resulted in his epic three-volume series comprising "The Founding of New England", which was published in 1921, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922; "Revolutionary New England", 1691-1776, which was published in 1923 and became a bestseller; and "New England in the Republic, 1776-1850", which was published in 1926. Adams wrote biographical sketches of famous historians for the "Dictionary of American Biography". In 1929 Adams moved to London and began working for magazines. While in London he published two collections of essays: "Our Business Civilization: Some Aspects of American Culture" and "The Tempo of Modern Life", as well as his history of the Adams family, "The Adams Family", was a financial success. In his "The Epic of America", published in 1933, Adams attempted to address the historic development and philosophic vision of America. It was in this book that Adams coined the term "The American Dream" which he defined as, "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." In due course, Adams gave up writing in favor of editing, working on such titles as the "Dictionary of American History", the "Atlas of American History", and the "Album of American History". In 1968, Allan Nevins published his biography of Adams: "James Truslow Adams: Historian of the American Dream".

Scope and Contents

The collection is composed of the correspondence files of the James Truslow Adams. The majority of the letters were written to Adams by various contemporary historians, educators, public figures, business associates, friends and family. The material ranges in date from 1918-1949. The letters are concerned with the following: Adams' literary activities and the publication of his writings; contemporary politics; personal and business affairs; requests and solicitations from individuals and groups for support, etc.; scholarly and academic activities. While very few original letters sent by Adams are present, there exist margin notes in his own hand on incoming letters indicating the nature of his reply. Of special note are six volumes of mounted letters and clippings relating to President Roosevelt's plan to reorganize the United States Supreme Court. Adams was an opponent of the plan. Included are a series of three hundred letters (photostat, carbon, typescript, etc.) written by Adams to friends and family during his service in World War I; also included are a carbon copy of Adams' "American Tragedy"; carbon and typescript of Adams' "American Family". Among his miscellaneous family documents is an extract from the Hearings before un-American Activities Committee, February 1948. 1,235 letters between himself and his publisher, Little Brown & Co., pertaining mainly to the publication of Adams' historical writings. Of special interest are the letters of Mr. Adams dated Feb. 5, 1932, Jan. 20, 1932, Nov. 4, 1931, Oct. 21, 1931, Oct. 11, 1931, Sept. 8, 1931, Dec. 10, 1929, May 11, 1929, Sept. 4, 1928, May 28, 1928, Oct. 2, 1927, July 13, 1927, May 12, 1926, and May 8, 1927 (in the 1926 file), which contain Mr. Adams' comments on British political affairs and the economic crisis. Of interest is a letter dated June 10, 1923 on the teaching of history in secondary schools and the texts used. There is also one volume "Memorials of Old Bridgehampton" (1916), privately printed at Bridgehampton, Long Island.