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.
Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) and John Adams (1735-1826) were married for 54 years, beginning in 1764. By the spring of 1776, when Abigail was in her early thirties and John was in his early forties, the couple had five young children, living in their home in Braintree, Massachusetts. John Adams, a noted lawyer, was then serving as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and proving to be vital in helping to forge the movement for American independence from Great Britain. The couple exchanged regular letters during this period –though Abigail Adams sometimes complained about her husband’s uneven attention to their correspondence. In this exchange from March and April 1776, Abigail Adams went further and pressed her husband on political matters, urging him to apply the revolutionary principles of freedom and equality to women as well as men. John Adams tried responding in teasing fashion, calling his wife “saucy,” though the details of his reply suggested that he was well aware that the “Masculine systems” of their social hierarchy were more precarious than they may have appeared in such a turbulent age.
SOURCE FORMAT: Private letters
WORD COUNT: 470 words
Abigail Adams to John Adams
Braintree March 31 1776
…I long to hear that you have declared an independancy—and by the way 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 perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, 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 immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness….
John Adams to Abigail Adams
[PHILADELPHIA] Ap. 14, 1776
…As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient — that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent — that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented. — This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.
Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they are in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would compleatly subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight. I am sure every good Politician would plot, as long as he would against Despotism, Empire, Monarchy, Aristocracy, Oligarchy, or Ochlocracy. — A fine Story indeed. I begin to think the Ministry as deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tories, Landjobbers, Trimmers, Bigots, Canadians, Indians, Negroes, Hanoverians, Hessians, Russians, Irish Roman Catholicks, Scotch Renegadoes, at last they have stimulated the ____________ to demand new Priviledges and threaten to rebell.
CITATION: Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31 – April 5, 1776 and John Adams to Abigail Adams, April 14, 1776, and available FULL TEXT via Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- Abigail Adams urged her husband in 1776 to convince other American revolutionaries to promote a “new Code of laws” for the independent nation that would treat husbands as friends and not as masters of their wives. Was she invoking some of the ideas of Lockean liberalism here?
- When John Adams responded to his wife’s admonition about remembering “the Ladies,” was he being dismissive, sarcastic, or both? How else might you characterize his response?
- In his reply to Abigail Adams, John Adams listed various ways that less powerful elements of colonial society were becoming emboldened by the American revolutionary movement. Did he sound fearful of that reaction, or perhaps quietly proud of what had been unleashed?
Abigail embraced the concept of independence personally and politically. While John traveled, she managed the farm, raised their children and enlarged the house. –New England Historical Society
Scene from HBO miniseries “John Adams” (2008)