Securing Liberty at Home and Abroad
In 1774, John went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as a delegate to the First Continental Congress where America made its first legislative moves towards forming its own government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm and educate their children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adamses could communicate with each other. Now, their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British and American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail was aware of the importance of these events, and took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Not all Americans shared the Adamses' vision of an independent nation. To those that wavered, Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own independence?" John agreed with his wife and in June of 1776 was appointed to a committee of five men to prepare a Declaration of Independence for Great Britain. Yet Abigail's vision of independence was broader that the delegates for she believed all people, and both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In her letters to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes (African- Americans) of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have." Later Abigail added John and his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than you ancestors" when they enact new codes of law. She was certainly justified for asking for such rights, for women such as Abigail, by tending the fields, managing the farm, and supporting the militia and doing other jobs, made possible the U.S. military victory. Despite Abigail's best efforts to include all people in America's new system of government, her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress. While they did adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the document failed to guarantee the rights of blacks or women. John soon was appointed President of the Board of War, and turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job. She was the one person he could turn to for advice and support in politics and government. Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants, so Abigail advised her husband and John valued her judgment so much that he wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts." In 1778, John Adams was sent to France on a special mission to negotiate an alliance with the French. John Adams was in Europe from 1778 to 1787 except for a three-month rest at home during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. Now separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to run their farm, pay their bills, and serve as teacher to their children. She labored to develop the great abilities of her son, John Quincy, who had joined his father in Europe. In one letter to her son, she inspired him to use his superior abilities to confront the challenges before him: "These are times in which a genius would wish to live...great necessities call out great virtues."
Abigail Adams as First Lady
In 1784, with independence and peace secured from Great Britain, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband and son. Abigail spent four years in France and England while her husband served as United States Minister to Great Britain. As wife of a diplomat, she met and entertained many important people in Paris and London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to like the people and cities of both countries. Nevertheless, Abigail was pleased when the time came to return to Braintree in 1788. The next year, John Adams was elected first Vice President of the United States. During the course of the next twelve years as John Adams served two terms as Vice President (1789-1797) and one term as President (1797-1801), he and Abigail moved back and forth between the new home they bought in Braintree (the "Old House") and the successive political capital of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Throughout these years, Abigail frequently made use of her writing ability in the defense of John Adams and his policies. Time began to take its toll on Abigail; she had constant recurring bouts of rheumatism, which forced her to frequently retreat to the peace of Braintree in order to recover. In 1796 after 8 years of apprenticeship as vice-president, John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as President of the United States. While John and Abigail could be proud to reach this esteemed position, they had little time to enjoy their success, for the United States was in a very dangerous condition when Adams took office. Party lines were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet and the Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John Realized the problems he faced and wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering form a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice and assistance more in my life." Abigail traveled to the Philadelphia to fulfill her duties as First Lady and maintained a grueling schedule of public appearances. She entertained guests and visited many people in support of her husband. The First Lady had a limited budget to carry out her duties, but she compensated for this with her attentiveness and charm. Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France and popular opinion held that America should aid Great Britain. The President felt that war would weaken the United States and decided upon the unpopular course of neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President" for it was widely believed that the President's decisions were influenced by his wife. In reality, Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality, but people believed she was influencing his policies and this weakened John Adams politically. In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the U.S. and weakening the opposition press. Abigail supported these measures, because she felt they were necessary to stop the press from undermining her husband. The acts proved very unpopular and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the protest against them. Adams' courageous yet unpopular stand on this matter led to his failure to be reelected in 1800, but he was forever proud that he prevented war. The year 1800 was bittersweet for the Adamses. In November, John and Abigail became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington, D.C. (today the White House). Meanwhile, their son, John Quincy Adams, was distinguishing himself abroad as United States Minister to Prussia. Eleven months of relative joy was soon overshadowed by a December that brought sadness to the Adams family when they suffered the untimely death of their son Charles, and John's loss to Thomas Jefferson in the Presidential Election of 1800. In March of 1801, John and Abigail retired to Quincy. During her last years Mrs. Adams occupied herself with improving her home and entertaining the many children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews who would visit. In the company of those she loved Abigail was content with her domestic chores, visits to friends, and ceaseless writing. Abigail focused much attention on the advancement of her son John Quincy's career. The proud mother watched as John Quincy Adams distinguished himself as U.S. Senator, Minister to Russia, and Secretary of State. Throughout this time, Abigail constantly advised her son and worked behind the scenes to protect him from the hardships associated with a life of public service. In October of 1818, Abigail contracted typhoid fever. Surrounded by family members, she died on October 28. John Adams and his wife had shared 54 years of happiness and companionship, and the Second President was so moved by Abigail's death that he said, "I wish I could lay down beside her and die too."
Abigail Adams' Legacy
Today, nearly two centuries after Abigail's death, her legacy survives in the letters she wrote which chronicled this important period of history. The memory of Abigail Adams is still present at the Adams National Historical Park, which serves as an invaluable resource for witnessing this woman's contributions to the improvement of her family and nation through public service.