Abigail and John – Contributed by Jeff Olson
Our nation’s founding era was not just about our founders and the many events of which they were a vital part. It was also about their spouses and families, and how their love and support played a key role. The contributions of women during America’s War of Independence were indispensable and have too often been overlooked or minimized. As Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, stated, “The women of America have at last become principles in the glorious American controversy. Their opinions alone and their transcendent influence in society and families must lead us on to success and victory.” And, indeed they did! One of the best examples is Abigail Adams, wife of second president of the United States, John Adams, and mother of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States.
This week marks the 255th anniversary of the marriage of Abigail Smith and John Adams, on October 25, 1764. Abigail was born on November 11, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. In her earliest years, she was often in poor health which afforded her time for reading, learning, and corresponding with family and friends. As a young woman, she was taught social graces as well as homemaking and handiwork skills. Abigail and John had known each other since she was but fifteen years old. At the time of their marriage, John was a young country circuit lawyer and in the eyes of Abigail’s mother certainly less than who she had hoped for in a husband for their youngest daughter. However, her father approved of the marriage.
Abigail would give birth to five children, raising them and managing the family farm often alone while John was away on trips practicing law or serving his country. One trip lasted three long years. Her steadfastness and courage provided security and stability to her family during the War. Her son, John Quincy, described that time as “the space of twelve months [in which] my mother, with her infant children dwelt, liable every hour of the day and the night, to be butchered in cold blood. My mother…was bred in the faith of deliberate detestation of War…Yet, in that same spring and summer of 1775, she taught me to repeat daily, after the Lord’s Prayer…”
The marriage of Abigail and John Adams was one of mind and heart, a unique and special combination of friendship and mutual love and respect within the context of Christian principles and faith. While her unwavering love and loyalty to her husband and family was preeminent, she was a self-educated and accomplished woman in her own right and was never afraid to boldly express her opinions in private and in public. This was evident in a March 1776 letter to John and the Continental Congress, requesting that they, “…remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors…”
Abigail and John retired in 1801 and for the next 17 years enjoyed the companionship that public life had long denied them, until her death on October 28, 1818. John died on July 4, 1826. To truly sense the heart and substance of their relationship, one has only to read but a small sample of the extensive correspondence between them during their courtship and marriage, a marriage lasting 54 years and one which was perhaps the most exemplary, enduring, and consequential in the formative years of the United States of America.