Henry Brooks Adams (February 16, 1838 – March 27, 1918) was an American historian, journalist and novelist. The son of Charles Francis Adams, Sr. and Abigail Brooks Adams, he was a member of the Adams political family.
Adams was born in Boston into one of the country's most prominent families (both his grandfather and his great-grandfather had been Presidents of the United States). After his graduation from Harvard in 1858, he embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, during which he also attended lectures in civil law at the University of Berlin.
Adams returned home in the midst of the heated presidential election of 1860, and which was also his father Charles Francis Adams, Sr.'s bid for reelection to the US House of Representatives. He tried his hand again at law, taking employment with Judge Horace Gray's Boston firm, but this was short-lived. With his father's victory in November, Charles Francis asked Henry to be his private secretary, a familial role between father and son going back to John and John Quincy. It was a sign that Charles Francis had chosen Henry as the political scion of the Adams family. But Henry himself shouldered the responsibility reluctantly and with much self-doubt. "[I] had little to do," he reflected later, "and knew not how to do it rightly." During this time, Henry secured outside (but anonymous) employment as the Washington Correspondent for Charles Hale's Boston Advertiser.
On March 19, 1861, Abraham Lincoln appointed Charles Francis Adams, Sr. United States Minister (ambassador) to the United Kingdom, and Henry Adams continued to accompany him as his private secretary. Henry again sought outlet for his literary pursuits, taking employment (again anonymously) as the London correspondent for the New York Times. The two Adamses were kept very busy, monitoring Confederate diplomatic intrigues and the construction of Confederate commerce raiders by British shipyards (see Alabama Claims). Henry's main concerns, as London correspondent, lay in attempting to persuade the American audience to maintain patience with the British. As his social life expanded in Britain, Adams befriended many noted men including Charles Lyell, Francis T. Palgrave, Richard Monckton Milnes, James Milnes Gaskell, and Charles Milnes Gaskell.
It was also in Britain that Henry read and was taken with the works of John Stuart Mill. For Adams, Mill showed (in Consideration on Representative Government) the necessity of an enlightened, moral, and intelligent elite to provide leadership to a government elected by the masses and subject to demagoguery, ignorance, and corruption. Henry wrote to his brother Charles that Mill demonstrated to him that "democracy is still capable of rewarding a conscientious servant." His years in London showed him that as a correspondant and journalist he could best provide America with that knowledgeable and conscientious leadership.
In 1868, Henry Adams returned to the United States and settled down in Washington, D.C., where he started working as a journalist. Adams saw himself as a traditionalist longing for the democratic ideal of the 17th and 18th centuries. Accordingly, he was keen on exposing political corruption in his journalistic pieces.
In 1870 Adams was appointed Professor of Medieval History at Harvard, a position he held until his early retirement in 1877 at 39. That year he returned to Washington, where he continued working as a historian. In the 1880s Adams also wrote two novels. Democracy was published anonymously in 1880 and immediately became popular. (Only after Adams's death did his publisher reveal Adams's authorship.) His other novel, published under the nom de plume of Frances Snow Compton, was Esther (1884).
Adams was a member of an exclusive club, a group of friends called the "Five of Hearts" which consisted of Henry, his wife Clover, mountaineer Clarence King, John Hay (assistant to Lincoln and later Secretary of State), and Hay's wife Clara.
On December 6, 1885, Marian (Clover) Hooper - Adams, his wife, committed suicide. Following her death Adams took up a restless life as a globetrotter, traveling extensively, spending summers in Paris and winters in Washington, where he erected an elaborate memorial at her grave site. In 1907 he published his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, in a small private edition for selected friends. The work concerned the birth of forces Adams saw as replacing Christianity. For Adams, the Virgin Mary had shaped the old world, as the dynamo represented the new. The book has been cited recently by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute as the most important non-fiction work of the 20th century. It was only following Adams's death that it was made available to the general public, in an edition issued by the Massachusetts Historical Society. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1919.
In 1912 Adams suffered a disabling stroke; in 1918 he died at his home in Washington.
As a historian, Adams is considered to have been the first (in 1874–1876) to conduct historical seminar work in the United States. His magnum opus is The History of the United States of America (1801 to 1817) (9 vols., 1889–1891). It is particularly notable for its account of the diplomatic relations of the United States during this period, and for its essential impartiality. Garry Wills's book Henry Adams and the Making of America (2005) examines Adams's History, and proclaims it a neglected masterpiece.
Adams also published Life of Albert Gallatin (1879), John Randolph (1882), and Historical Essays (1891), besides editing The Writings of Albert Gallatin (3 volumes, 1879) and, in collaboration with Henry Cabot Lodge, Ernest Young and J. L. Laughlin, Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (1876).
Henry Adams's brothers are also notable: