“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. 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 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.”
Abigail Adams wrote these words to her husband, John Adams, on March 31, 1776, nearly 150 years before the House of Representatives voted to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Her words urged him and the other members of the Continental Congress to consider the rights of women while laying the framework for the new, independent nation.
Abigail Adams was an advocate for greater political rights for women, especially in regards to divorce and property ownership. While her husband didn’t heed her advice then, he did consider her his better half. The two exchanged countless letters discussing everyday life and his political work, although wrote John, “as to what passes in Congress I am tied fast by my honour to communicate nothing.”
The two were married for 54 years, and their marriage was one of mutual respect and affection. Adams died in 1818, eight years before her husband. Her obituary read, “Possessing, at every period of life, the unlimited confidence, as well as affection of her husband, she was admitted, at all times, to share largely of his thoughts. … she was a friend, whom it was his delight to consult in every perplexity of public affairs; and whose councils never failed to partake of that happy harmony, which prevailed in her character; in which intuitive judgment was blended with consummate prudence; the spirit of conciliation, with the spirit of her station, and the refinement of her sex. In the storm, as well as on the smooth sea of life, her virtues were ever the object of his trust and veneration.”
The Library’s collections contain a wide variety of resources related to John and Abigail Adams and his contributions to the nation. This resource guide compiles links to digital materials related such as manuscripts, letters, broadsides, government documents and images that are available throughout the Library of Congress website.
In addition, the Library is home to the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection along with the papers of suffrage movement leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt. Even more resources can be found on the Library’s Women’s History Month web portal.
I have read Abigail’s letters on this issue along with John’s letters to Mercy Warren two powerful woman, it was not wise to trend on them!
When were her letters published? After her death? During her lifetime?
Her letters have been published at various times. The Library of America has a modern publication of her letters and the notes say that many of them were published in that volume “for the first time.” But to document when some of them were published for the *first* time, please consult our Ask a Librarian service. That will connect you with a reference librarian who can look that up…just the same process that would happen if you came into the Library itself! //ask.loc.gov/
Abigail Adam’s letter was certainly ahead of it’s time. I especially like the sass she adds at the end, reminding her husband of the limitations of mankind that typically devolves into tyranny, as was expanded upon fittingly in the Federalist Papers years later. I’m curious though, what was John’s response to his wife’s plea? Did he respond affirmatively, and vouch for some women’s rights at a drafting meeting of “the new code of laws”? John Adams was similarly ahead of his time, being a noted abolitionist if I recall correctly, so I wonder if he also advocated for women’s right, before majorities within the country did.
If you read his response letter, you will find that he is quite snarky and crude in his response when he says to his wife that he simply would not.
His letter reads:
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.