JULY / AUG 2014: BY VERONICA LEIGH
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.”
When we think of the ones who forged America, our thoughts immediately turn to the Founding Fathers. We tend to forget that behind every great man, there is a great woman. Abigail Adams was one of a kind.
Born to a Congregationalist minister and his wife, Abigail was reared in Colonial Massachusetts. Though she did not receive a higher education, she was what we would consider today as “home schooled.” This sharp lady adored books and she devoured most of the classics that men were educated on. Though young, her opinions on women’s rights were formed early. Her uniqueness piqued the interest of country lawyer John Adams. He admired her intelligence and they soon fell in love, and married. Six children followed (two of them died young) and though they had the beginnings of a normal Colonial family, they were anything but that.
The fever of independence was running high among the colonists and it wasn’t long before John and Abigail contracted it. Although not as popular as others because of his brash manners, John was the one to stir up the emotions of the people and the other Founding Fathers. Meanwhile, it was Abigail he turned to for counsel. Her advice and levelheadedness was precisely what he needed to help spawn a revolution. In his letters to her, he tenderly called her his “Dearest Friend.”
While John and the other founders were away at the Continental Congresses, writing the Declaration of Independence and other important documents, or when he was an ambassador in Europe, Abigail stayed behind at home. Not only did she tend to the chores women of her era saw to, including raising the children, her influence went further. She ran the farm, educated the children and oversaw the finances. On top of all that, Abigail wrote to John, encouraging him to remember the ladies and their best interests, arguing for them to have equal rights. Though he privately agreed with her, he brushed her concerns aside.
One issue that the Adams’ were in agreement on was the matter of slavery. Like many others from Massachusetts, they opposed it on moral and religious grounds. They refused to employ slaves, opposed family members who did, and years later, Abigail taught a young black man in their home. Had it been Abigail at the Continental Congress, she would not have backed down. “I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the 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. You know my mind upon this subject.” She fervently wrote to him.
John, on the other hand, hoping to appease the Southern members of the congress, agreed that slavery would be part of the new nation and would gradually be phased out. When he became the second president of America, John often heeded what Abigail said on matters. Unlike her predecessor, she was active in running the young nation. Thomas Jefferson, who was a chauvinist, thought so much of Abigail, that he too was impressed by what she had to say. She was the only woman who’s opinions he valued.
Clearly Abigail was a woman ahead of her time. What drove her exactly? The answer is simple: her faith. Abigail’s father was a minister; she was raised in Puritan tradition. She read the Bible to her children daily, which her son John Quincy Adams later attested to. When John Quincy went to Europe as a young ambassador, she charged him to remember his Christian faith. Modern scholars now question her faith. It seems that when she and John Adams were younger, their faith was more Orthodox. As they aged, they embraced many of the beliefs of the Unitarian Church.
Whatever her religious beliefs, it was the basis of her and John’s motivation to support the Revolution. They believed that God created mankind to be independent and free, and that no tyrannical government could squelch the indomitable human spirit. ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh is an aspiring novelist, who lives in Indiana with her family and six furbabies. Her obsessions range from Jane Austen to the Holocaust to the TV show Once Upon a Time. She has published two short autobiographical pieces and hopes to see more in print. She also lurks on her blog.