Abigail's Letters

Abigail Smith Adams was a gifted and eloquent letter writer. Her correspondence reflects her deep engagement with contemporary social and political issues and provides a unique window into eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century life. The more than 1,100 letters she exchanged with her husband John are preserved in the Massachusetts Historical Society Adams Papers Collection and are available to read online through the Adams Electronic Archive.

Some extracts from Abigail’s letters to friends and family appear below.

I have always wished to impress upon the minds of my children that no man ever prospered in the world without the consent and cooperation of his wife.

A Wife should never suffer a rival in kindness or attention.

I ventured to speak a Word in behalf of our Sex who are rather hardly Dealt with by the laws of England, which give such unlimited power to the Husband to use his Wife Ill. I requested that our legislators would consider our case, and as all Men of Delicacy and Sentiment are averse to exercising the power they possess, yet as there is a natural propensity in Humane nature to domination, I thought the most Generous plan was to put it out of the power of the Arbitrary and tyrannick to injure us with impunity y establishing some Laws in our favour upon just and Liberal principals.

I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives. But you must remember that Arbitary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken — and notwithstanding all your wise Laws and Maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters, and without voilence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet.

If our Men are all drawn off and we should be attacked, you would find a Race of Amazons in America.

America will not wear chains while her daughters are virtuous, but corrupt their morals by a general depravity, and believe me sir a state of nation is undone. Was not Adam safe whilst Eve was Innocent? If you render us wicked you inevitably bring ruin upon yourselves.

A lady cannot possible be too circumspect.

If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, What shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it. With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, and destitute and deficient in every part of Education. I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women.

I can hear of the Brilliant accomplishments of any of my Sex with pleasure and rejoice in that Liberality of Sentiment which acknowledges them. At the same time I regret the trifling narrow contracted Education of the Females of my own country. I haveever entertaind a superiour opinion of the accomplishments of the French Ladies ever since I read the Letters of Dr. Sherbear, who professes that he had in all rather take the opinion of an accomplished Lady in matters of polite writing than the first wits of Itally and should think himself safer with her approbation than of a long List of Literati, and he gives this reason for it that Women have in general more delicate Sensations than Men, what touches them is for the most part true in Nature, whereas men warpt by Education, judge amiss from previous prejudice and refering all things to the model of the ancients, condemn that by comparison where no true Similitud ought to be expected.

You need not be told how much female Education is neglected, nor how fashonable it has been to ridicule Female learning,tho I acknowledge it my happiness to be connected with a person of a more generous mind and liberal Sentiments. I cannot forbear transcribing a few Generous Sentiments which I lately met with upon this Subject. If women says the writer are to be esteemed our Enemies, methinks it is an Ignoble Cowardice thus to disarm them and not allow them the same weapons we use ourselves, but if they deserve the title of our Friends a tis an inhumane Tyranny to debar them of priviliges of ingenious Education which would also render their Friendship so much the more delightfull to themselves and others us. Nature is seldom observed to be niggardly of her choisest Gifts to the Sex, their Senses are generally as quick as ours, their Reason as nervious, their judgment as mature and solid. Add but to these natural perfections the advantages of acquired learning what polite and charming creatures would they prove whilst their external Beauty does the office of a Crystal to the Lamp not shrowding but discloseing their Brighter intellects. Nor need we fear to loose our Empire over them by thus improveing their native abilities since where there is most abilities Learning, Sence and knowledge there is always observed to be the most modesty and Rectitude of manners

Patriotism in the female Sex is the most disinterested of all virtues. Excluded from honours and from offices, we cannot attach ourselves to the State or Goverment from having held a place of Eminence. Even in the freeest countrys our property is subject to the controul and disposal of our partners, to whom the Laws have given a soverign Authority. Deprived of a voice in Legislation, obliged to submit to those Laws which are imposed upon us, is it not sufficient to make us indifferent to the publick Welfare? Yet all History and every age exhibit Instances of patriotick virtue in the female Sex; which considering our situation equals the most Heroick of yours.