Abigail Adams

Honored by:The Iowa State University History Department
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"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 [sic], we are determined to foment a Rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation," wrote Abigail Adams to her husband, John, on the eve of American Independence.

Her words show she clearly understood the political issues that fostered American Independence. John's response that, "we have only the Name of Masters and rather than give up this which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Petticoat," indicates that he did not take Abigail's demands seriously. Nevertheless, Abigail Adams represented the emerging revolutionary woman who gained a measure of independence through the absence of husbands and fathers.

There was nothing in Abigail's background to suggest the "place she would win in history." Her father was a minister, her mother a Qunicy from one of the most distinguished families in New England. Her education, like most females of the time, was non-existent. "Every assistance and advantage which can be procured is afforded to the Sons whilst the daughters are wholly neglected in point of Literature," she later complained.

Like many others who lacked educational opportunities, she learned on her own from books available to her in her father's library. Writing letters was one of the few ways young people communicated with each other. John and Abigail, because of his frequent absences, continued a correspondence they started during their courtship that lasted throughout their lives. Consequently, we can get much insight into Abigail's thoughts that were unusual because of their concern for politics.

Abigail Adams was unusual for several other reasons. She was married to one president and mother of another--a feat no other woman could claim until George W. Bush was inaugurated president in 2001. But even more crucial to our knowledge of Abigail Adams is the confidence her husband John had in her observations. Consequently, she served as John's eyes and ears during his many absences. "What a politician you have made me," she wrote to John. "If I cannot be a voter upon this occasion I will be a writer of votes."

She was educated and carried on serious political discussions with other women, such as Mercy Otis Warren, the outstanding woman of the revolution future presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and other prominent political figures. She wrote forcefully about political issues not just during the moment of the revolutionary era, but during the movement for a new constitution and snuggle of the new nation to assert its place in the world.

She was an early advocate of independence. "We cannot be happy without being free," she wrote. Freedom requires "Being free in our property. Securing our property cannot be assured if others can take it away without our consent." Here she echoes the principal issue of the revolution, "no taxation without representation." She also described the military movements of the British that led to Lexington and Concord and to the battle of Bunker Hill. Later, when John Adams was in England, she kept him abreast of a need for a stronger government and describe the "turmults" occurring in her native state in 1786 as the result of actions by, "Ignorant restless desperadoes without conscience or principles." Her words to "remember the ladies" were not heeded in her generation but they served as inspiration for women of the next generation who met at Seneca Falls in 1848 and wrote their own Declaration of Independence.


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