Smith Adams, (b.11-11-1744) was the wife of the second President
of the United States and mother of the sixth, but her everlasting fame
is as a gifted letter-writer - and remarkable political mind.
She managed the farm and business matters, while her husband spent much
of his time away before, during, and after the American Revolutionary War,
and her management made him a wealthy man. John Adams often extolled his
wife's wisdom and claimed she would have made an ideal politician/stateman
- except, of course, she was a woman and he was opposed to women's political
The following well-known exchange of letters occurred between Abigail
and John while he was in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress in
1776. John and his fellow politicians set up a new form of government,
considered an ideal form today - except it gave no rights to more than
« the population . . . women, non-property owners, and slaves.
Abigail wrote John:
long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in
the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make,
I desire you would remember the ladies and be more: generous and favorable
to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands
of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular
care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment
a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we
have no voice or representation.
"That your sex are naturally tyrannical is
a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of
you as wish to be happy willingly give up - the harsh tide of master for
the more tender and endearing one of friend.
"Why, then, not put it out of the power of
the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?
Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the
(servants) of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under
your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that
power only for our happiness."
John Adams, the future President of the United States and signer of
the Declaration of Independence which declared all men are
created equal, was not pleased by his wife's letter. He answered:
"As to your extraordinary code of laws, I
cannot but laugh!
"We have been told that our struggle has
loosened the bonds of government everywhere -- children and apprentices.
. .schools and colleges. . .Indians and Negroes grow insolent. But your
letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful
than all the rest, were grown discontented. . .Depend on it, we know better
than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force,
you know they are little more than theory. We are obliged to go fair and
softly, and you know in practice we are the subjects. We have only the
name of masters, and rather than give up this which would completely subject
us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all
our brave heroes would fight!"
From Abigail Adams to John Adams, 7 May 1776:
"I cannot say that I think you are very generous
to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men,
emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over
wives. But you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things
which are very hard, very liable to be broken; and, notwithstanding all
your wise laws and maxims, we have it in our power, not only to free ourselves,
but to subdue our masters, and without violence, throw both your natural
and legal authority at our feet."
Feminist scholars have pointed out that Abigail wrote with an inclusive
"ladies" and "we" which indicates that there was a
definite, active women's rights movement at the time - a movement long
overlooked by HIStorians. Anther overlooked "fact" is that some
states accepted women's voting rights as a matter of due until AFTER the
adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Indeed, the study of HERSTORY puts a different light on the past and
on our foreFATHER's "justice for all" reputation.
Abigail also wrote in the same period:
"I wish most sincerely that there was not
a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to
me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing from those who have
as good a right to freedom as we have."
Although her exchanges with her husband are best known, her correspondence
with such men as Thomas Jefferson are also remarkable.
An acute political mind, Abigail Adams' light shines across two and