A Theater? YES! John Quincy Adams

A Theater? YES!

The subject of theatrical amusements still continues a gentle agitation in this town. We had yesterday a town meeting to consider the propriety of remonstrating to the Legislature against the prohibitory statute. You will see the remonstrance in today’s Centinel, and you will find my name there with twenty others.

John Quincy Adams to John Adams, February 10, 1793

During the years he spent growing up in Europe, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the future sixth president of the United States, developed a fondness for literature in general and live theater in particular. At the age of 13, during a stay in Paris, he became infatuated with a young actress. So it’s no wonder that, as a young lawyer working in Boston in the early 1790s when the controversy over the 1750 theater-banning law came to a crisis, he enthusiastically joined the pro-theater side. In 1792 he became an original stockholder in the Boston Theatre and published a series of letters in the Columbian Centinel making the case for its construction. In these articles and in private letters written to his father, Adams defended the audience at the Broad Alley Theatre that refused to comply with what they regarded as Massachusett’s unconstitutional theater ban and decried the provincialism that motivated resistance to what he saw as a delightful and beneficial form of public entertainment.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © 2002 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bequest of Charles Francis Adams