John Quincy Adams Complains About Kissing

On Jan. 2, 1788, John Quincy Adams was a 20-year-old Harvard graduate studying law with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Mass. As a boy, he had traveled to France and the Netherlands with his father, and at 14 he went on a diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg as secretary to Francis Dana. Still, the quirky John Quincy Adams felt socially awkward and preferred reading alone to parties.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams as a young man

He had spent New Year’s Eve reading in his room and writing a cranky diary entry about how much time his diary was taking up. The next day he was invited to a party at the home of Moses Frazier, a shipowner and officeholder in the town. He went, but he didn’t enjoy himself. He was especially unhappy about a kissing game because he thought it a ‘profanation of one of the most endearing demonstrations of Love.’

He described the evening in his diary:

In the beginning of the evening, Putnam called at our office, and invited me to go with him and pass a couple of hours at Mr. Frazier’s; after debating with myself some time upon the subject, I determined finally to go. We found there a number of young gentlemen and Ladies. After we had sat a little while the infallible request to sing made its appearance. One could not sing, and another could not sing, and a total incapacity to sing, was declared all round the room. If, upon such occasions every one would adhere, to his first assertion, it would be very agreeable; at least to me: for in these mixt companies when the musical powers are finally exerted, the only recompence, for the intolerable tediousness of urging, generally is a few very insipid songs, sung in a very insipid manner. But the misfortune is, that some one always relents, and by singing furnishes the only materials for a conversation, which consists in intreaties for further gratifications of the same kind.

When we had gone through this ceremony, and had grown weary of it; another equally stupid succeeded; it was playing pawns: a number of pledges were given all round, and kissing was the only condition upon which they were redeem’d. Ah! what kissing! ‘Tis a profanation, of one of the most endearing demonstrations of Love. A kiss unless warm’d by sentiment, and enlivened by affection, may just as well be given to the air, as to the most beautiful, or the most accomplished object in the Universe.


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