Saturday, September 17, 2011
She was born in 1744 and died in 1818, after living through one of the most tumultuous times in history.
Her marriage to John Adams was one of love and affection, and fortunately we have their many letters, written over more than a half century detailing their love as well as personal grief, and loneliness.
Abigail was the daughter of a prominent Congregational minister and from an old family. She received no formal education, and was taught at home by her mother. She was a prodigious reader and learned in philosophy, religion and politics.
She and John Adams were third cousins and had known each other as children, and though her mother thought him a bit of a country bumpkin, her parents were approving of the marriage, and her father performed the ceremony.
Abigail and John were both caught up in the fight for independence and she was his most trusted advisor. Their letters show that John consulted her in his thorniest problems and she gave wise advice.
The posts John Adams had during and after the revolution meant that they spent many years apart. Mostly on her own, she raised four children, managed their farm and dealt with sickness and death. During his many absences she was on her own for all the day to day decisions and the mail and transportation of the day meant that it could be months between letters. During his absences she dealt with the death of her mother, and another time the birth of a stillborn child. There were all the trials of the times in illness taking friends and family members, not to mention the hard work of running a farm. She poured out her frustrations, sorrows, and feelings in her writing. She felt that at times her writing was all that kept her grounded. She clearly loved him and missed him sorely when they were apart. He was her, “Dearest Friend” and she his Portia.
She was interested in women’s rights and believed women should not have to obey laws that were not in their favor. She lobbied her husband when the constitution was being drawn up, not “to forget the ladies.”
John Adams was a prickly person and could be pompous and testy. Abigail seems to have smoothed out those characteristics and he was much more mellow when she was near. In their letters you can also see his tender and affectionate side. She always brought out the best in him. Most of the mistakes or hasty decisions he made were when they were separated. He and Thomas Jefferson after ealy friendship became bitter enemies, and it was Abigail in their later years who brought about a reconciliation between them.
However, she was so much more than the calming influence and helpmate of her husband. When he became president, she was diplomat, as well as first lady, and much more politically active than Martha Washington. People were known to call her "Mrs. President." They were the first couple to live in the new White House in Washington, though built and ‘habitable’, it was isolated and she had trouble finding help.
After the presidency, they returned to their farm in Quincy.
She took an active interest in son John Quincy’s career and wrote advice to him though his postings as ambassador and as president and in congress. Also she kept correspondence with friends made through John’s long career, while keeping up with the farm and John’s law practice. There is a story of the two of them working in one of the fields together then returning to the house where she prepared dinner while he read to her from Descartes.
She died at age 73 after an illness, saying, “Do not grieve my friend, my dearest friend, I am ready. And John it will not be long”