In 1760 the family were visited by the 26-year-old John Adams, who was a long-standing acquaintance. He and Ms Adams were instantly attracted to each other and formed a relationship which their letters show to have been passionate and based on compatibility and equality. They would discuss all manner of topics and John Adams respected to and listened to Ms Adams. In many ways it was recognised she was his intellectual superior, especially by him. The couple married in 1764 and went on to have six children over the next decade although only four reached adulthood. Their son John Quincy Adams would go on to be President.
Mr Adams’ work as a lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts, kept him away from the family farm they named “Peacefield”, in Braintree, Massachusetts, so they kept in touch through over 1,100 letters which now form part of the documents held at the Massachusetts Historical society archive.
The American Revolution separated the couple even more when in 1774 Mr Adams career turned to politics and he became delegate for the colony and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the continental congresses (the governing body formed of delegates from the 13 existing colonies and which ran America at this time). Ms Adams continued to push for more equality in education and property rights, suffrage for both women and African-American people, and abolition of slavery.
Ms Adams took charge of the home and continued her political influence and campaign through letters, most famously exhorting her husband and his colleagues to “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 ... 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.” In 1775 she and the wives of two other prominent Massachusetts citizens were appointed by the Colony General Court to ensure the patriotism of their fellow women of the colony, a role seen by all as one of the first official political positions held by a woman.
The couple would disagree but both felt it important to maintain their integrity and equal relationship. Ms Adams was strongly outspoken and led by example. She is known to have spoken with both President Washington and then Governor Thomas Jefferson concerning their continued support of slavery, to which she was strongly opposed, and her words were often quoted by the media.
When Mr Adams was appointed to Ministerial positions in the US Embassies in France and England in 1778 their correspondence took on new zeal, and in 1783 Ms Adams sailed to France to accompany him in his role. When they returned to the United States in 1788 Ms Adams returned to their farm and their separation renewed but never affected the strength and commitment of their relationship. She would travel to Philadephia when her husband was appointed Vice President, a position he held from 1789 to 1797, but did not reside there.
Ms Adams was politically active and campaigned in her own right, which led to critics utilising gender stereotype to malign both her and her husband politically. When Mr Adams was elected to the Presidential office in 1797 detractors would label Ms Adams “Mrs President” to imply her influence was too strong. Ms Adams continued to campaign and speak out for equality and to ensure this remained in the public and political conscious despite and because of this, and at this point lived part-time with Mr Adams, from 1800 in the newly built White House in the new capital of Washington, D.C.
Mr Adams retired in 1801 having lost the election to Thomas Jefferson, and they returned to the family home which was now at Quincy in Massachusetts. His retirement was welcomed by Ms Adams whose failing health made it increasingly difficult for her to remain active and to cope with the constant derision she received. She would continue corresponding with political figures but would no longer be actively involved in politics. The couple lived happily until Ms Adams passed away on 28th October 1818 from the affects of a stroke whilst suffered with typhus.
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised a Nation, Robert Cokie (2004)
Abigail Adams, Phyllis Lee Levin (1987)
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson