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First Lady Abigail Adams' Letters - Published Now for All the World to See

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Abigail Adams Coin

                                                       First Ladies Coin - Abigail Adams                                                                                                                                     Wikimedia

Publication of Abigail Adams’ Letters

An article in The Buffalo News on April 17, 2017 indicates that, over the past two years, the Library of America has published inconspicuously some of the most historically significant writings with regard to the founding of our nation.

Previously, the Library had completed the three-volume set of the nation’s second president, Abigail’s husband John Adams.  There had also been a compilation of the two-volume pamphlet debate concerning the future of England’s American colonies. 

                                   

Aigail Adams

                                        Abigail Adams - by George S. Stuart - Wikimedia

Now we have access to 950 pages of the published letters of Abigail Adams, the outspoken wife of one President and the mother of another one (a la Barbara Bush).  The volume contains 430 letters of a prolific and strong-willed New Englander.  Some are 3,000 words long.  The letters were written over a period of 55 years, beginning in 1763 when Abigail was dissatisfied with the British rule, until 1818 when our new nation had expanded from her Massachusetts home to the base of the Rocky Mountains.

Abigail Adams, Adviser to Her Husband

 Abigail Adams, served as an unofficial adviser to her husband, and their letters show him seeking her counsel on many issues, including his presidential aspirations.  Abigail’s letters stand out because of her unguarded and free-spirited prose.  The letters to her husband spoke about politics, family finances, relatives and friends, and local gossip, at lightning speed.  In the 18th century, there was a clear disregard for spelling and syntax.  It gives the reader a singular glance into New England society, husbandry, and commerce.  Abigail recognized that King George III was totally out of touch with the American colonies.  The work is edited by Edith Gelles, an expert on the Adams family.

Abigail’s letters to her sister and her cousin are chatty and unassuming.  On meeting George Washington, she spoke of his “dignity at ease---a gentleman and soldier blended in him.”  She wrote about Virginia slaveholders and wondered how they favored personal liberty “when they deprive their fellow creatures of theirs.”

                           

John Adams

                                                     President John Adams -  {{PD}} - Wikimedia

Long Periods of Separation

With a busy law practice, John Adams spent a lot of time away from home.  Abigail was often left to carry much of the burden at home, raising their children and caring for the family farm.   Some critics objected to Abigail’s influence over her husband, calling her “Mrs. President.”

“Remember the Ladies”

Her famous remonstrance to her husband when he was a delegate to the Continental Congress was “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors were.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”

In 1784, Abigail joined her husband and son in Europe and suffered horrendous seasickness for almost four weeks while crossing the Atlantic in what she considered a dirt-encrusted ship.  At that time, John was the American minister to Great Britain.

Abigail Adams’ Dislike of Europe

In France, she wrote home about the poverty of the French countryside compared to England and even New England.  She termed Paris “a horrid dirty city.”  She considered herself snubbed by the English aristocracy and wrote “I shall never have much society with these kind of people.”  When she was presented to the English court, she stated “I never felt myself in a more contemptible situation than when I stood four hours together for a gracious smile from Majesty.”  Unlike her husband’s letters, Abigail never thought that the sharp, caustic letters that she wrote during her four years as First Lady would ever be published.

                                               

Abigail Adams Letter

                                                 Words of Abigail Adams - Wikimedia

She worried about keeping their home together on his stingy salary.  She complained openly to family and friends about her husband’s measly remuneration as President. 

These were real letters from a woman who appeared to have no scruples about what she wrote in private to her family.  She brings Early American history to life to such an extent that you can hear the sounds, see the colors, and smell the flowers that surrounded her when she wrote about a country that she truly loved and that her husband was responsible for shaping.

More Than 1,100 Letters in Thirty-nine Years

An article written by D. E. Vitale in The Early American Review also speaks of Abigail Adams’ famous letter-writing habit.  It states that the couple exchanged more than 1,100 letters over a thirty-nine year period, from their courtship in 1762 to the end of John’s political career in 1801.  The letters reveal the emotionally fulfilling relationship between John and Abigail which lasted for fifty-four years.For some reason, Abigail addressed her letters to John as “Dearest Friend” and signed them “Portia.”  They have since been referred to as “America’s first power couple.

                                        

Peacefield - Adams' Home

                                         Peacefield - Home of John and Abigail Adams                                                                                                                          Wikimedia

Abigail’s Limited Education

The Adams’ corresponded when he served in the Continental Congress and during his diplomatic assignment in Europe.  Sending mail across the ocean was a challenge they gladly undertook.  Abigail had little formal education.  She was taught to read and write in order to read the Bible and to write letters.  Her father encouraged her to read extensively on topics of history, theology, poetry, and politics.  When she was an adult, she was considered to be one of the best-read women of her time.

Because of her letters Abigail Adams’ life is one of the most documented of our First Ladies.  Her ideas on women’s rights and government eventually played a major role, perhaps indirectly, in the founding of the United States.

She wrote to John on one occasion “My pen is always freer than my tongue.  I have wrote many things to you that I suppose I never could have talked.”

Marriage and Family

John Adams and Abigail Smith were actually third cousins and had known each other since they were children.  They married on October 25, 1764 when John was 29 and Abigail was 20 years old.  They had six children, of whom five survived.  Their oldest son, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth president of the United States.

When the President’s House was moved from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800, Abigail Adams became the first First Lady to reside in the White House.  After John Adams left office in 1801, he and Abigail returned to their family farm in Massachusetts.

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Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution
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Bibliography

  1. Edward Cuddihy "Abigail Adams’ Letters Add Color to Early U. S. History." The Buffalo News. 17/04/2016.
  2. "Letters from Abigail Adams to John Adams On News Of The War." The Early American Review. 18/04/2016. 18/04/2016 <Web >

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