John Adams II and Mary Catherine Hellen
The seduction of a president's son
There is a curious thread linking the first White House wedding to the second. Louisa Adams, wife of then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, returned home from one of the Monroe receptions in disgust and disappointment. “I didn’t get a bit of cake and Mary had none to dream on.” The Mary she referred to was her niece, the same Mary Catherine Hellen who would one by one win the hearts of each of the Adams’ sons. When her parents had died, Mary along with her siblings was brought into the Adams’ household. She was an impressionable thirteen years old when her aunt came home with stories of the biggest social event of their day, the White House wedding of Maria Monroe, and Louisa’s excitement must have made an impression.
Within two years, Mary Catherine Hellen was a beauty in her own right and possessed of a flirtatious and beguiling instinct for seduction that would reduce the three Adams’ brothers to sniveling desperation. Charles was conquered first and then dropped for older brother, George Washington Adams. A bitter, rejected Charles described her as “one of the most capricious women that were ever formed in a capricious race.” She became engaged to George, who would postpone the wedding to please his parents and finish his education. It would prove to be fatal for their relationship. Mary, whatever her best intentions may have been, was not one to wait.
Ironically, John Adams II, who was expelled from Harvard, would be the winner in this bachelor derby. Described as “arrogant” and “brusque” when compared to older brother George, the brilliant and sensitive poet, young John Adams was brought back to the White House as his father’s secretary, where day-to-day contact with Mary soon prompted whispers and mutterings that grew with each successive week. In 1927, alarmed that the relationship between Mary and her son was racing toward consummation, Louisa urged the president to have the couple get married immediately, but John Quincy would not consent.
They were finally married on February 25, 1828. True to the fantasies Mary Hellen must have held since age thirteen, the second White House wedding was almost a recreation of the Maria Monroe experience. Once more they used the Elliptical Drawing Room, today’s Blue Room. Much of the same furniture and candelabras was employed, and the same Rev. William Hawley officiated. With the sudden death and funeral of General Brown of the Army, there was even an untimely passing of an American hero to force flags to half-mast and the cancellation of some receptions. Making one improvement on the Monroe affair, the Adams’ wedding provided lots of cake for everyone.
Still, the White House was once again denied a truly grand wedding. The cloud surrounding the jilted brothers hovered over the affair. Neither Charles nor George W. attended, and the list of invited guests was kept short. Louisa wrote Charles the next day, suggesting that “Madame is cool easy and indifferent as ever” and that his brother John was not to be envied, for he “looks already as if he had all the cares in the world upon his shoulders and my heart tells me that here is much to fear.” The First Lady was sick for days after.
In the aftermath of the second White House wedding, George Washington Adams would begin his descent into alcoholism and depression, dying little more than a year later, a suicide or accidental drowning. He was twenty-eight. The groom John Adams II, who would be the only presidential son ever married in the White House, would fail at business and die an alcoholic at age thirty-one. Heartbroken, rejected suitor Charles Francis would go on to a distinguished career that, with a little luck, might have produced a third Adams presidency. And, finally, the vivacious, carefree Mary Catherine Hellen would live with the former President and First Lady to the end of their days, running their household and tending to their needs. She would even outlive her own two daughters, witnessing yet two more White House weddings before her death in 1870.
Read the whole story: http://www.amazon.com/All-Presidents-Children-Americas-Families/dp/074344633X