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Abigail Smith Adams

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    Abigail Smith Adams

    An in depth discussion of Abigail Smith Adams’ character finds one so confused because of the wide array of literature to choose from for analysis. Among the earliest papers include Abigail Adams: Girl of Colonial Days by Wagoner, JB (1896) and The Second First Lady in 1963 by Stein, NE. For recent listings, much of what is written about her, she has written herself in her letters, while others are revealed by letters sent to her. Abigail Smith Adams is one of the most influential First Ladies in the history of the United States primarily because she lived through an era when the backbone of the American government is being constructed. In addition, it was no less than his husband, second US President John Adams, to be a key player in these events, as he was a famous lawyer and representative to the Continental Congress, a commissioner of the US to France and later the negotiator of peace relations to Great Britain.

    Information about her life and their relationship is revealed to modern day readers in the form of letters that they send to each other during the periods when John had to travel for political duties. A comprehensive compilation of these letters are presented in the book My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams (eds. Hogan, MA and Taylor, CJ, ) where 289 letters were brought together and allowed to weave a fascinating love story in the background of the American revolution and evolution of the American government during the periods 1752 to 1784. All in all, there are 1,160 existing letters between Abigail Smith Adams and John Adams, one of the largest exchanges that document their family life, politics, news, personalities and a growing relationship with time and distance. The Adams Family Correspondence from December, 1761 to March, 1778 (ed. Butterfield, AH; Garrett, WD; Sprague, M, 2004) also provided a good reference for various topics of importance to Abigail Smith through John’s letters to her. A large portion of the texts are available online through the Harvard University Press website. A peek at her later relationship with her children, especially her only daughter, is also seen in Miss Adams in Love by Mayo (1965) in an article written in American Heritage Magazine.

    Historical and theoretical implications

    The freedom that Abigail Adams has of expressing her own points of view (mainly in her letters) in every aspect of life is also tantamount to her belief in the strength of women and their roles in nation building. She was famously remembered to implore to John that the currently being drafted Code of Laws be women-friendly and as such, he should “remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors” and qualifies that the then to be outlined rules should “not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.” (March, 1776). In addition, although the active fight against women’s rights to education did not start in her times, she is one of the women who have early on commented on the need to provide for an accessible system of education for all sectors including women when she described schooling to be a “narrow contracted education of the females of my own country” (June, 1778). This way, she is often viewed in history as a champion of women’s rights. She also consented to describing her concern, if not annoyance, over the fact that women are “excluded from honors and from offices” and that women “cannot attach ourselves to the State or Government from having held a place of eminence. Even in the freest countries our property is subject to the control and disposal of our partners, to whom the laws have given a sovereign authority. Deprived of a voice in legislation, obliged to submit to those laws which are imposed upon us, is it not sufficient to make us indifferent to the public welfare?” (June, 1782). On the contrary, although she expressed it accurately, this statement was entirely untrue for her case because of her large involvement in John Adams’ political dealings. Why did she strongly believe in feminine power and strength?  Because, according to her, the country would greatly benefit from the “literary accomplishments in women”.

    When she discussed her plight of being too uneducated to teach her own children, she may have expressed it, in part, as a voice for the mothers in her time, who are experiencing a great deal of hunger for knowledge if only for the desire to quench the hunger of educating their own children. Again, in one of her letters to John in the summer of 1776, she was quoted saying, “If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, what shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it”. These words show how genuine her feelings are for her country. It confirms her concern for the coming American generation and adds a quality of patriotism to her motherly nature. When she says that the constitution should benefit the future generations and that it should be “distinguished for encouraging Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women”, it, in fact, justifies her hopes of raising a child who would later be instrumental in the evolution of an American government be it be a future wife to an important shaper of American history or a future American  president (and would later turn out to be in the person of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, and famous for his advocacy against slavery).
    Personal concerns and arguments by Abigail Adams

    The compilation of John and Abigail’s letters contain an exchange of heartfelt points of views from the man who is striving to run and a wife who expresses daily experiences and opinions on a wide array of topics in order to bridge the gap between them. One of the most noticeable is her involvement in John’s political career manifests itself during their several political discourses captured in her letters to him and describes the power she has as her husband’s equal, adviser and partner. She herself came from a prestigious family in Weymouth Massachusetts but despite this, she had no political ambition, but she shared in John’s power and found both fulfillment and gratification through it. She has also nagged John when she reminds him “you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken.” (May, 1776).

    She consistently reminds him of the rippling effects of his responsibilities and on some occasions, she would express her dismay to the quality and rarity of John’s presence in the home, eventually resulting in her expressed opposition to his political position. She was quoted in one of these letters saying “I feel anxious for the fate of our monarchy, or democracy, or Current innovations and technology should even make us more aware of the ease of documenting and keeping correspondences between individuals as opposed to the time of Abigail and John where some of their letters could have been lost during the state of political turmoil and war. In fact, they were one of a few couple of known and existing records of their letters unlike the other American presidents and their wives.  As for the case of Abigail and John, they were quite aware that they are also documenting a very important event in history through their letters but more displayed their growing maturity in their relationship along with the improvements of their political standing.

    whatever is to take place. I soon get lost in a labyrinth of perplexities; but, whatever occurs, may justice and righteousness be the stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion.” It is also clear how the state of the government during their time has shaped the content of her letters and has unfailingly made her vocal to make her influence count. She has also complained of increasing numbers of refugees in Braintree, Massachusetts, of soaring prices, of deteriorating health conditions and scarcity of goods and labor.

    Several issues are noticeable in the correspondence between John and Abigail that cannot be missed by the reader. Foremost is, of course, the kind of nurturing relationship and love that abounds in their marriage despite their physical separation for long periods of time. At times letters and news have not been able to reach each other from weeks to several months yet their fervor and anticipation were still obvious in their exchanges. Abigail met John in 1759, was referred to her as “Miss Adorable” during their years of courtship and exchange of letter, later they would refer to each other as My Dearest Friend, thus, the title of the book edited by Hogan and Taylor. They married in October of 1764, she barely entering her 20th year.

    Since their courtship they have sent letters to each other until the time when they were able to be physically close to each other in their later trips to other countries and after John’s retirement. These letters are testament to an inspiring couple who display love and responsibility to each other and to their country despite inconveniences.

    Although during the early exchanges, Abigail wished that John would burn her letters due to its intimacy and quality but John responded that it was far too important to be consumed and that he kept them because he doted on her so much. Abigail was also described in Mayo’s text as a “lively” woman during the start of her golden years but still expressed her insecurities in public presentations and meetings with royalty just like how they were revealed in her letters to John.
    Relationships

    The character of Abigail also gives a loud voice to wives and women in politics and their say on everyday issues without forgetting the kind of roles that are typically assigned to them, that of motherhood and a care giver. In her letters she even asked if she could send some milk or balm to her husband. She would also recount many stories of life at home and news about their children, relatives and friends and shared to him her opinions on everyday matters. From her letters, she discussed her concern for raising their children well, tending the home, maneuvering the farm and managing family finances. A tragic moment in their lives was also delivered in a letter when she announced the loss of her baby daughter. Despite this, they were blessed with five children, but were still, as described by Mayo, overprotective of their daughter, also named Abigail.

    In her letters to John, bits and pieces of her personality are revealed and these can be painted together to come up with the portrait of Abigail Smith Adams – courageous, self reliant, intelligent and loving. Her courage and character exudes when she talked about perseverance, overcoming sacrifices and obtaining opportune rewards in due time when she expressed “How often are the laurels worn by those who have had no share in earning them! But there is a future recompense of reward, to which the upright man looks, and which he will most assuredly obtain, provided he perseveres unto the end” (July, 1775) and in November of 1775, she articulates that “Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.” True enough, the couples lives were not spent in complete distance from each other. Mayo also introduced us to a scene in the existence of the Adams where they are starting a life in Europe as John was chosen to have the prestigious title of first American minister to England, a position that suited him well because of his earlier experiences in France and the Netherlands.

    The strengths, weaknesses, oversights, most original or confusing aspects of the reading

    Although most of these historical books are not quite an easy read due to their jargon and deep, unusual wording for our times, the idea that most text about Abigail Smith Adams are in the form of letters helps a big deal to easily familiarize the reader to her stories and personal concerns and opens a window to her personality. In the compilations of their letters as presented by Hogan and Taylor and that presented by Butterfield et al., some capitalized words which John and Abigail stressed in their exchange of paper and ideas were also quite confusing but nonetheless did not deter one to easily understand what they meant. Footnote in some references were also very useful in explaining some off topics and discussions, also the length of some letters from a single-sided point of view may cause confusion during the readings. Some answers will come in from a later letter and the reader might lose track of previous discussions. Even so, it may have been far more difficult to our heroine and his husband to wait for replies to their letters, some of which may have not reached them at all. The focus of the editors on the letters and allowing them to be stand-alone by minimizing comments and other supporting credentials or evidence unlike many documentaries was also helpful at immersing the attention of the reader to the story. The additional pictures are also a treat.

    Once again letters and personal account of persons during a critical era of history, just like Anne Frank and her diary entries, have proven to be useful and engaging to modern day readers and helps explain the kind of universal emotions or unique accounts that has gripped every generation. Current innovations and technology should even make us more aware of the ease of documenting and keeping correspondences between individuals as opposed to the time of Abigail and John where some of their letters could have been lost during the state of political turmoil and war. In fact, they were one of a few couple of known and existing records of their letters unlike the other American presidents and their wives.  As for the case of Abigail and John, they were quite aware that they are also documenting a very important event in history through their letters but more so displayed their growing maturity in their relationship along with the improvements of their political standing. A great deal of words might also be found interesting by the modern reader and will definitely be a great addition to this time’s colloquial.

    References

    Adams, A. and Adams, J. My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. eds. Hogan, MA; Taylor, CJ. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Adams, A and Adams, J. 2004. The Adams Family Correspondence from December, 1761 to March, 1778. ed. Butterfield, AH; Garrett, WD; Sprague, M. Accessed February 28, 2008. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/ADAADE.html

    Mayo, L. 1965.Miss Adams in Love. American Heritage Magazine. 16(2). Accessed on February 28, 2008. http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1965/2/1965_2_36.shtml.

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