Abigail Adams: Wikis

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Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blythe, 1766

In office
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Preceded by Martha Washington
Succeeded by Martha Jefferson Randolph

In office
May 16, 1789 – March 4, 1797
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Martha Jefferson Randolph

Born November 11, 1744(1744-11-11)
Weymouth, Province of Massachusetts Bay
Died October 28, 1818 (aged 73)
Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Spouse(s) John Adams
Relations William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith
Children Abigail "Nabby", John Quincy, Susanna, Charles, Thomas, Elizabeth (stillborn)
Occupation Second First Lady
Religion Congregational
Signature

Abigail Adams (née Smith) (November 11, 1744 – October 28, 1818) was the wife of John Adams, who was the second President of the United States, and the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth. She was the first Second Lady of the United States.

Abigail Adams is remembered for the many letters she wrote to her husband while he stayed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Continental Congresses. John Adams frequently sought the advice of his wife on many matters, and their letters are filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics. The letters are invaluable eyewitness accounts of the Revolutionary War home front as well as excellent sources of political commentary.

Contents

Early life and family

Abigail Adams was born in the North Parish Congregational Church in Weymouth, Massachusetts, on November 11, 1744, to the Rev. William Smith and Elizabeth (née Quincy) Smith. On her mother's side, she was descended from the Quincy family, a well-known political family in the Massachusetts colony. Through her mother, she was a cousin of Dorothy Quincy, wife of John Hancock. Abigail Adams was also the great-granddaughter of the Rev. John Norton, founding pastor of Old Ship Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, the only remaining 17th-century Puritan meetinghouse in Massachusetts.

Her father, William Smith (1707-1783), a liberal Congregationalist, and other forebears were Congregational ministers, and leaders in a society that held its clergy in high esteem. However, he did not preach about predestination, original sin, or the full divinity of Christ, instead emphasizing the importance of reason and morality.[1] Abigail was a sickly child and was not considered healthy enough for formal schooling. Although she did not receive a formal education, her mother taught her and her sisters Mary (1739-1811) and Elizabeth (1742-1816, known as Betsy) to read, write, and cipher; her father's, uncle's and grandfather's large libraries enabled the sisters to study English and French literature.[1] As an intellectually open-minded woman for her day, Abigail's ideas on women's rights and government would eventually play a major role, albeit indirectly, in the founding of the United States. She became one of the most erudite women ever to serve as First Lady.

Marriage and children

Although John Adams had known the Smith family since he was a boy (he and Abigail were third cousins[2]), he paid no attention to the delicate child nine years his junior. But in 1762, when John tagged along with his friend Richard Cranch, who was engaged to Abigail's older sister Mary, he was quickly attracted to the petite, shy seventeen-year-old brunette who was forever bent over some book. He was surprised to learn that she knew so much about poetry, philosophy, and politics, considered inappropriate reading for a woman at the time.

Although Abigail's father approved of the match, her mother was appalled that a Smith would throw her life away on a country lawyer whose manners still reeked of the farm, but eventually she gave in. They married on October 25, 1764, just five days before John's 29th birthday, in the Smiths' home in Weymouth. Abigail wore a square-necked gown of white challis; John appeared in a dark blue coat, contrasting light breeches and white stockings, a gold-embroidered satin waistcoat his mother had made for the occasion, and buckle shoes. The Rev. Mr. Smith (the bride's father) performed the nuptials.

After the reception, the couple mounted a single horse and rode off to their new home, the small cottage and farm that John had inherited from his father in Braintree, Massachusetts (later renamed Quincy), before moving to Boston, where his law practice expanded.

In ten years she gave birth to six children:

She looked after family and home when he went traveling as circuit judge. "Alas!" she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks divide thee and me...."

In 1784, she and her daughter Nabby joined her husband and her eldest son, John Quincy, at her husband's diplomatic post in Paris. After 1785, she filled the role of wife of the first U.S. minister to the Kingdom of Great Britain. They returned in 1788 to a house known as the "Old House" in Quincy, which she set about vigorously enlarging and remodeling. It is still standing and open to the public as part of Adams National Historical Park. Nabby later died of breast cancer, having endured three years of severe pain.

Abigail Adams raised her two younger sons throughout John Adams' prolonged absences; she also raised her elder grandchildren, including George Washington Adams and a younger John Adams, while John Quincy Adams was minister to Russia. Her childrearing included relentless and continual reminders of what the children owed to virtue and the Adams tradition.[3]

First Lady

Adams later in life, by Gilbert Stuart

When John Adams was elected President of the United States, Mrs. Adams continued a formal pattern of entertaining. With the removal of the capital to Washington in 1800, she became the first First Lady to preside over the White House, or President's House as it was then known. The city was wilderness, the President's House far from completion. She found the unfinished mansion in Washington "habitable" and the location "beautiful" but complained that, despite the thick woods nearby, she could find no one willing to chop and haul firewood for the First Family. Mrs. Adams' health, never robust, suffered in Washington. She took an active role in politics and policy, unlike the quiet presence of Martha Washington. She was so politically active that her political opponents came to refer to her as "Mrs. President".

The Adamses retired to Quincy in 1801 after John Adams' defeat for a second term as President of the United States. She followed her son's political career earnestly, as her letters to contemporaries show. In later years she renewed correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, whose political opposition to her husband had hurt her deeply.

Abigail and John's marriage relationship is well documented through their correspondence and other writings. Letters exchanged throughout John's political obligations indicate that his trust in Abigail's knowledge was sincere. "She could quote poetry more readily than could John Adams," states McCullogh. Their correspondence illuminated their mutual emotional and intellectual respect. Adams often excused himself to Abigail for his "vanity" (see McCullough's John Adams p. 272), exposing his need for her approval.

Death

Abigail Adams died on October 28, 1818, of typhoid fever, several years before her son became president, and is buried beside her husband in a crypt located in the United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was 73 years old, exactly two weeks shy of her 74th birthday.

Her last words were, "Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long."

Political viewpoints

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Women's rights

Abigail Adams was an advocate of married women's property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in the field of education. Women, she believed, should not submit to laws not made in their interest, nor should they be content with the simple role of being companions to their husbands. They should educate themselves and thus be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, so they could guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. She is known for her March 1776 letter to John Adams and the Continental Congress, requesting that they, "...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.[1]

John declined Abigail's "extraordinary code of laws," but acknowledged to Abigail, "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."[4]

Slavery

Along with her husband, Adams believed that slavery was not only evil, but a threat to the American democratic experiment. A letter written by her on March 31, 1776, explained that she doubted most of the Virginians had such "passion for Liberty" as they claimed they did, since they "deprive[d] their fellow Creatures" of freedom.[1]

A notable incident regarding this happened in Philadelphia in 1791, where a free black youth came to her house asking to be taught how to write. Subsequently, she placed the boy in a local evening school, though not without objections from a neighbor. Abigail responded that he was "a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? ... I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write."

Religious beliefs

Abigail Adams, as well as her husband, was an active member of the First Parish Church in Quincy, which became Unitarian in doctrine by 1753. In a letter to John Quincy Adams dated May 5, 1816, she wrote of her religious beliefs:

I acknowledge myself a unitarian—Believing that the Father alone, is the supreme God, and that Jesus Christ derived his Being, and all his powers and honors from the Father ... There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one, and one three.[1]

She also asked Louisa Adams in a letter dated January 3, 1818, "When will Mankind be convinced that true Religion is from the Heart, between Man and his creator, and not the imposition of Man or creeds and tests?"

Legacy

Memorials

Adams as part of the Boston Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Ave.

A cairn — a mound of rough stones — crowns the nearby Penn Hill from which she and her son, John Quincy, watched the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown. At that time she was minding the children of Dr. Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, who was killed in the battle. An Adams Memorial has been proposed in Washington, D.C., honoring Abigail, her husband, and other members of their family.

Theater

Passages from Adams' letters to her husband figured prominently in songs from the Broadway musical 1776.[1]

Television

Adams was played by Kathryn Walker and Leora Dana in the 1976 PBS mini-series The Adams Chronicles. In the mini-series John Adams, which premiered in March 2008 on HBO, she was played by Laura Linney. Linney enjoyed portraying Abigail Adams, saying that "she is a woman of both passion and principle".[3]

Portrait on currency

The First Spouse Program under the Presidential $1 Coin Act authorizes the United States Mint to issue half-ounce $10 gold coins and bronze medal duplicates[5] to honor the first spouses of the United States. The Abigail Adams coin was released on June 19, 2007, and sold out in just hours. She is pictured on the back of the coin writing her most famous letter to John Adams. In February 2009, Coin World reported that some 2007 Abigail Adams medals were struck using the reverse from the 2008 Louisa Adams medal, apparently by mistake.[6] These pieces, called mules, were contained within the 2007 First Spouse medal set.[6] The U.S. Mint has not released an estimate of how many mules were made.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Abigail Adams
  2. ^ This Day in History in 1828, www.history.com, retrieved 3-13-2008
  3. ^ a b Garry Wills, Henry Adams and the Making of America, 2005; p. 24; Wills cites the criticisms of Paul Nagel "and others"
  4. ^ The exchange can be found online here.
  5. ^ U.S. Mint: First Spouse Program. Accessed 2008-06-27. "The United States Mint also produces and make available to the public bronze medal duplicates of the First Spouse Gold Coins."
  6. ^ a b Gilkes, Paul (2009-02-16). "First Spouse medals set holds Adams mule". Coin World 50 (2549): 1. "Some collectors have begun receiving a First Spouse medal mule - a piece bearing the obverse for Abigail Adams and a reverse intended for the Louisa Adams medal. The mules surfaced in some of the 2007 First Spouse sets...".  

Bibliography

  • Bober, Natalie S. 1995. Abigail Adams: Witness to a revolution New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division.

External links


Honorary titles
Preceded by
New Title
Second Lady of the United States
1789–1797
Succeeded by
Ann Gerry
Preceded by
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington
First Lady of the United States
1797–1801
Succeeded by
Martha Jefferson Randolph

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-11-111818-10-28) was the wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States, and is seen as the second First Lady of the United States, though that term was not coined until after her death. She was also the mother of John Quincy Adams.

Sourced

You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.
  • We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.
  • I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in this province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me—to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.
  • How difficult the task to quench the fire and the pride of private ambition, and to sacrifice ourselves and all our hopes and expectations to the public weal! How few have souls capable of so noble an undertaking! 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.
Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands...
  • I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and, like the grave, cries, “Give, give!” The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.
  • The reins of government have been so long slackened, that I fear the people will not quietly submit to those restraints which are necessary for the peace and security of the community.
  • I feel anxious for the fate of our monarchy, or democracy, or 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. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.
  • 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 favourable 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 title 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 vassals of your sex; regard us then as Beings placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
  • Shall we be despised by foreign powers for hesitating so long at a word?
  • 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.
  • Deliver me from your cold phlegmatic preachers, politicians, friends, lovers and husbands.
  • 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? With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, destitute and deficient in every part of Education.
    I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new Constitution may be distinguished for encouraging Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me and accuse me of vanity, But you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early education of youth and the first principles which are instill'd take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women.
  • It is really mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to... Nay why should your sex wish for such a disparity in those whom they one day intend for companions and associates. Pardon me, sir, if I cannot help sometimes suspecting that this neglect arises in some measure from an ungenerous jealousy of rivals near the throne.
  • I regret the narrow contracted education of the females of my own country.
Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
  • If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?
  • Luxury, that baneful poison, has unstrung and enfeebled her sons.
  • These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by the scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.
  • A little of what you call frippery is very necessary towards looking like the rest of the world.
  • Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
  • Patriotism in the female sex is the most disinterested of all virtues. Excluded from honors and from offices, we 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? Yet all history and every age exhibit instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex; which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours.
  • I begin to think, that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Every object is beautiful in motion; a ship under sail, trees gently agitated with the wind, and a fine woman dancing, are three instances in point. Man was made for action and for bustle too, I believe.
    • Letter to her sister, Mary Smith Cranch (1784)
  • Knowledge is a fine thing, and mother Eve thought so; but she smarted so severly for hers, that most of her daughters have been afraid of it since.
  • I acknowledge myself a unitarian — Believing that the Father alone, is the supreme God, and that Jesus Christ derived his Being, and all his powers and honors from the Father. ... There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one, and one three.
  • Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.
    • Last words in letter to John Adams

Unsourced

  • Great necessities call forth great leaders.
    • This might be a paraphrase of "Great necessities call out great virtues" stated in her letter of 1780-01-19.

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