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Wife of diplomat John Adams and mother to five children, Abigail Adams, in her letter to her son, encourages her son to use his second voyage to France to mold his future. She firmly advises her son of the benefits of the trip. Through her use of ethos, allusion, and pathos, Adams creates an authoritative tone in order to persuade her son to use the voyage overseas as an opportunity to learn and grow as both an individual and a citizen.

In order to convince her son of the positive opportunity at hand, Adams establishes her credibility in the first paragraph by taking an authoritative stance on the issue of her son’s voyage. When she states, “If I had thought your reluctance arose from proper deliberation, or that you were capable of judging what was most for your own benefit, I should not have urged you to accompany your father and brother when you appeared so averse to the voyage” (lines 3-8), she establishes herself as the one with knowledge; the fact that her son did not weigh the pros and cons of the journey allows her to show him that he does not have the authority to make a sound decision. Furthermore, his reluctance toward the voyage allows for her firm tone, because her position as mother and adult gives her the authority to make the decision for him.

Thus, because Adams begins her argument with motherly advice, John Quincy has little option other than to heed his mother’s suggestions and go on the journey. In the middle of her letter, Adams switches her persuasive tactic and employs metaphor and allusion to persuade him logically that he will grow from this experience. For example, in the third paragraph, Adams explains the comparison of a “judicious traveler to a river, that increases its stream the further it flows from its source” (lines 16-18). Comparing John to a river allows her son to realize that his voyage away from America, his native land and source, will only increase his ability to grow personally just like a river grows stronger the farther it flows. Moreover, the fact that “springs...improve their qualities as they pass” through “rich veins of minerals” (lines 19-20), prompts John Quincy to realize that he, being exposed to various experiences abroad, can only become a better person for having experienced them.

Furthermore, the allusion to Cicero in the fourth paragraph proves to John that he will gain qualities of greatness from the experiences overseas like Cicero did through his experiences with adversity. Thus, these logical connections between experiences and growth allow Adams to persuade him that he will benefit from his travels in Europe. Adams concludes her letter with various appeals to her son’s emotions through a petition to his patriotism and a call to uphold family obligations, which allow her to overcome her son’s reluctance through guilt. For example, Adams reminds John Quincy that “a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart” (lines 38-39) and that it is his “lot...to be an eyewitness of these calamities in your own native land” (lines 43-45) in order to make him realize that experiencing America’s fight for independence will help him to become a better citizen and leader in the future. Invoking his love for his homeland makes him feel responsible for helping to lay the path for its future.

Likewise, Adams’ call to uphold the family name when she states that her son has a father “who has taken so large and active a share in this contest” (lines 52-53), serves as a subtle form of guilt and reminds him of his duties within his family: his father’s position as a diplomat, coupled with his father’s investment in America’s freedom, should make him want to accompany his father on this trip, not lament it. Like many adolescents, John Quincy Adams is reluctant to listen to his parents; for this reason, it is imperative that his mother reminds him of his ignorance and convinces him to listen to her. By acknowledging his feelings yet firmly establishing herself as the wise one, together with making logical comparisons of him to other natural things, she instills a feeling of guilt in her son in order to urge him toward the sound decision of making the most of his current opportunity.

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Wife of diplomat John Adams and mother to five children
Little Torch Key, mm28.5