Abigail Adams was born on November 11, 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts. Abigail was born to a family of four children; her parents were Reverend William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. At twenty, Abigail got married to John Adams in 1774 (Phyllis, p.12). They lived in Braintree, Massachusetts, they were blessed with two daughters and three sons, one of the daughters passed away in infancy, the sons names were John Quincy, Charles and Thomas Boylston. Abigail's education was mostly gained while she was living with her grandmother, she was taught to read and write at home. Abigail's education mostly consisted of reading, she was given access to her father's and maternal grandfather's libraries. It was in these libraries that she took interest in philosophy, Shakespeare, theology, classics, government and law and ancient history (Laurie, p.23).
From the beginning Abigail was a committed mother, she shared with her husband the responsibility of management of the family's finances and property as Adams practiced law in Boston city. Abigail remained home with the children as Adams went to Philadelphia to serve as his colony's delegate to the first continental congress in 1774 (National First Ladies' Library, 2009). This first separation led to the lifelong correspondence between Abigail and Adams, these correspondences did not only reflect the kind of marriage during this revolutionary era, but also detailed the issues in the public and in the nation at the time. Their letters clearly show Abigail's response and reactions to the questions that Adams posed to her. They were a clear indicator of Abigail's opinion and observations of the New England newspapers' and the citizens' responses to the legislation and the news of the American Revolution. Abigail was an ardent participant of her countries events, her continued interest in the news and events at the time, and her opinions that she comfortably shared with her husband Adams, in their letters shows Abigail's interest in politics. The fact that Adams sort Abigail's opinion and advice, shows she was a woman of good and sound knowledge when it came to American politics.
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Abigail and Adams got married during the era of the nation's revolution from England, following the nation's events Abigail found herself appointed together with mercy warren who was the governor's wife, to the Massachusetts colony general in 1775 (Woody, p.64). Their responsibility was the questioning of the women of Massachusetts of their loyalty to England and their involvement against the efforts for independence. This was a position that entailed the rallying of women to support the cause for independence, though women at the time were not actively involved in public politics, Abigail did not shy away from the responsibility as she was already interested in the politics of the nation at the time. Abigail's influence was not only felt at home but also in the capital, for she greatly influenced her husbands decisions, the fact that Adams sort her help went to prove that her ideas were sound and applicable to the day (Withey, 2002).
When the second continental congress debated the declaration of independence in 1776, Abigail was seen to express her opinions to her husband in letters. Abigail in her letters was advocating that the legal status of women was equal to that of men and should be a factor to be considered in the formation of the new government. Though she never succeeded in convincing Adams on this issue, her letters to her husband are known to be some of the earliest known writings on women's equal rights. Abigail's interest in the women's rights must have stemmed form the contact she had with women in Massachusetts when she was appointed to the colony general to speak to women. The fact that she was in a position to speak to women but not contribute to the politics in a major role, and the fact that there were no women in public office at the time, led her to try and convince her husband to influence the new government to include women participation.
In 1778 when Adams left for England, and as a diplomat as minister to France, Abigail kept him up to speed on the local politics, Adams on the other hand confided to her international affairs. It is in their letters that we see that the couple was much more interested in their family life but also in their careers, the two shared on matters of politics openly. Though Adams did not take her advice on the women's equal rights issue, he never stopped seeking her advice in politics. This in the perspective of the times was a very progressive move on Adams part, the fact that it was a time in history where women's voices were not heard in public let alone in politics. This was a time where the woman's position was at home with the children, and if there was any talk on politics is was between women over tea. Though she was appointed together with mercy to the Massachusetts colony general, their position was to advice and address women. Women at this time in history did not hold any important position in government. Despite this Adams clear respected and sort his wife's opinion on matters of importance to the government.
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Abigail during the whole time her husband was away on missions, stayed home and cared for the children and the family's assets. She was a committed mother but also a committed wife, she showed her husband her concern on his affairs and took a keen interest in his matters despite the fact that they were separated by distance. It was then in 1783 that Abigail finally joined her husband, they explored Europe and England, they came back to America when her husband was appointed the first vice president, from 1789 to 1797, Abigail spent part of 1789 in New York and Philadelphia. It was while in England and having a chance to meet the loyal family and visit the palace, that Abigail acquired their habits, these greatly influenced her later when her husband became president and she got a chance to entertain (Withey, 2002).
Abigail's political roles and interests were so much in correspondence; this was seen much more during the period Adams was campaigning for presidency both in 1796 and 1800. she was not a public figure, nor did she join her husband in his campaign travels as would have been expected. Abigail did not have a public political life, but an active life in her letters to her husband. Abigail missed Adams' inauguration ceremony on 4th March, 1797 as she was nursing his ailing mother (Phyllis, 2001).
Abigail during her husband's tenor as president was present in the temporal capital Philadelphia and the permanent capital Washington for a total of eight months. Her time was spent with the family back home, raising the family and caring for the farm and property. She had more of a ceremonial public life and a correspondence political life. Abigail's quotes were often in the press, she helped the interest of the administration by writing letters to family and acquaintances. Her letters were encouraging the publication and viewpoints presented in them for the sake of the administration. Her letters were meant to rally support for the administration, these are the letters that were her sales pitch and gave her the reputation of a back seat president. This was evident from the fact that the press started calling her 'Mrs. President'.
The opposition attacked her influence on the presidential appointments; the opposition attacked her opinions and even suggested that she was too old to understand the issues of the day. It seems the fact that since she did not publicly air her views, and the fact that her political opinions until then were confided to her husband, led the press and opposition to think that she was not experienced in politics and public issues.
Abigail supported her husband's allies and the sedition acts that were a legal measure to imprison those who made bad sentiments of the president in public print. Abigail failed to influence her husband to make war with France; her suggestion was based on the fact that she feared the French revolution would influence the hatchling United States. Abigail in her continual correspondence with Adams advocated for an equal public education of women and the emancipation of slaves.
These issues were very familiar to Abigail as she was interested in politics and public life for many years. Abigail had a good political and social knowledge that was based on her interest in reading at a young age and that was natured by her correspondence with her husband. The fact that Adams involved her in his daily work and decision making gave Abigail experience in politics. Abigail's interest in the nations activities were clear in her correspondences, her knowledge on international affairs was natured by her husband and her readings of the news and opinions on the ground. Abigail was not blind to the fact that the country was going through great changes, these changes she saw were stemmed deep in the people's opinions and reactions that she had noticed as she took interest in the newspapers.
It was from this that she quickly took the opportunity to influence her husband on public matters that were emerging in the day, the issue of equal women representation in government and their rights as women. Abigail spoke up for women and their property rights and the right to education. Abigail was seen to encourage women to get educated, and be more than mere companions to their husbands. This she believed was possible as women held intellectual capabilities, which were evident in their management of the home, children, finances and their husbands. This was seen in her letter to her husband of March 1776 where she told him 'remember the ladies' (Woody, 2009).
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Abigail was against slavery, this was a conviction shared by her husband, and they believed that slavery was evil and a threat to democracy. They did not accommodate the southerner's ideas, which they saw as was an unfair way of acquiring power by depriving your fellow man freedom. Abigail wrote a letter to her husband on 13th February, 1791 concerning a black servant who had come to her, for assistance in regards to his acquiring an education to learn to write. Abigail enrolled him into an evening class, the neighbors opposed and her response to them was that, he had right to learn as much as they were, he was a free man as they were, the fact that he had a black face should not stop him from receiving instruction.
Abigail took her role as the first lady very seriously, as the president's wife she saw her role as more of a hostess for the public and the federal party. Her entertainments were largely in Philadelphia before the capital was moved to Washington. As the first lady to be in the white house, Abigail held the position of a hostess very seriously to the point that she was seen seated as royalty during the parties, she saw the more revealing Napoleonic dress style as very inappropriate.
In the today the presidential families were responsible for the costs of financing entertainments, and this made the Adam family to experience financial difficulty. This was a difficult time too since they had moved into the white house which was not complete and was dump and cold through out. Fires had to be lit through out to keep the place habitable. Despite all these Abigail was seen to be in her usual good cheer and did not want to feel sorry for herself, she was known to hang the family's laundry in the uncompleted east room.
When her husband lost a re-election to their friend Thomas Jefferson, Abigail was bitter, loosing a friendship in the process, she remained interested in national politics, and her family and home, where they had gone to retire. When Jefferson's wife passed away, Abigail reestablished ties with Jefferson, through her letter of condolences. Abigail remained suspicious of Jefferson's political ideas though the Adams and Jefferson's friendships grew. At this time her son, John Quincy was a diplomat who was on mission to Europe, unfortunately she passed away before she saw him become president.
- Laurie, C.N. Abigail Adams. Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS). 2009. 12th May, 2010 http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/abigailadams.html
- National First Ladies' Library. First Lady Biography: Abigail Adams. National First Ladies' Library. 2009. 12th May 2010, http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=2
- Phyllis, L.L. Abigail Adams: A Biography. 2nd ed.Washington: St. Martin's Griffin, 2001.
- Withey, L. Dearest Friend: a Life of Abigail Adams. New York: Touchstone, 2002 Woody, H. Abigail Adams. Berlin: Free Press, 2009.