Oh, the Brimborions

John AdamsJohn Adams is one of my heroes. He was prickly, irascible, brilliant  and a letter writer extraordinaire, especially with his beloved wife Abigail, whom he addressed as My Dearest Friend. During the American Revolution, Adams walked the walk and talked the talk, and then campaigned for the presidency during the first election held in the fledgling United States.

At that time, the constitution called only for the election of a president and awarded the vice-presidency to whomever earned the second highest number of votes from the electoral college. As the runner up to George Washington, Adams held that office for two terms. He complained in a 1793 letter to Abigail, “But my Country has in its Wisdom contrived for me, the most insignificant Office that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Imagination conceived.”

Of course, Adams was himself elected president in 1797. Adams remained feisty throughout his life as a letter he wrote to Benjamin Waterhouse at age 78 attests:

“Since there is Nothing in human Life but Brimborions, that is magnificent Nothings, pompous Bubbles, Sounding Brass tinkling Cymballs, phantastic Non Entities, airy Gossamours, idle dreams delirious Visions &c &c &c…”

Jim Connolly, who once worked as a transcriber of the Adams Papers, described that passage as “a freight train barreling over the epistolary countryside bearing a cargo of bad attitude.” Read more—including the meaning of Brimborions—in The Beehive, the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

John Adams ended his time on Earth with a flourish—dying the same day as Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

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