Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Abigail (Smith) Adams 1744 ~ 1818


Abigail Smith Adams

The letters of Abigail Adams form a valuable contribution to the published history of our country, laying open as they do the thoughts and feelings of one who had borne an important part in our nation's history. Mrs. Adams' character is worthy of contemplation for all her countrywomen even today, for though few may rise to such pre-eminence, many can emulate the sensibility and tact which she combined with much practical knowledge of life, as well as the firmness that sustained her in all vicissitudes.

She was Miss Abigail Smith, the second of three daughters, and was born at Weymouth, November 11, 1744. She was descended from genuine stock of the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts. Her father, the Rev. William Smith, was, for more than forty years, minister of the Congregational Church at Weymouth, and the ancestors of her mother, Elizabeth Quincy, were persons distinguished among the leaders of the church. From the ancestry, it may be inferred that her earliest associations were among those whose tastes were marked by the love of literature. She was not considered physically strong enough to attend school, consequently, the knowledge she evinced in after life was the result of her reading and observation rather than of what is commonly called education, which all the more emphasizes her native talents. The lessons that most deeply impressed her mind were received from Mrs. Quincy, her grandmother, who's beneficial influence she reverently acknowledges in her letters.

Her marriage to Mr. Adams took place October 25, 1764, and she passed the ten years that succeeded, devoting herself to domestic life and the care of her young family. In 1775 she was called to pass through scenes of great distress amid the horrors of war and the ravages of pestilence.

She sympathized deeply with the sufferings of those around her. "My heart and hand," she wrote, "still tremble at the domestic fury and fierce civil strife. I feel for the unhappy wretches who know not where to fly for succor, and I feel still more for my bleeding countrymen, who are hazarding their lives and their limbs.'' To the agonized hearts of thousands of women went up the roar of the cannon booming over those hills, and many a heart joined in breathing her prayer: "Almighty God! Cover the heads of our countrymen and be a shield to our dear friends.''

But in all her anxieties her calm and lofty spirit never deserted her; nor did she regret the sacrifice of her own feelings for the good of the community. During the absence of her husband, when Mr. Adams had been sent as a joint commissioner to France, she devoted herself to the various duties devolving on her, submitting with patience to the difficulties of the time.

After the return of peace, Mr. Adams was appointed the first representative of the Nation at the British court, and his wife went to Europe to join him. From this time Abigail Adams moved amidst new scenes and new characters, yet in all her variety and splendor of life in the luxurious cities of the Old World she preserved the simplicity of heart which had adorned her seclusion at home. In the prime of life, with a mind free from prejudice, her record of the impressions she received is interesting and instructive. Her letters of this period are filled with that delicate perception of beauty which belongs to a poetic spirit.

As was to be expected, neither she nor her husband were exempt from annoyances growing out of the late controversy. She writes to Mrs. Warren: "Whoever in Europe is known to have adopted republican principles must expect to have all the engines of war of every court and courtier in the world displayed against him."

Yet, notwithstanding the drawbacks that sometimes troubled her, her residence in London seems to have been a most agreeable one, and, with the unaffected republican simplicity and exquisite union of frankness and refinement in her manners, she seems to have won her way even in the proud circles of the English aristocracy.

Her letters are a faithful transcript of her feelings, and there is a surprisingly modern note and almost prophetic suggestion in the following observation from one of her letters to her sister: 'When I reflect on the advantages which people in America possess over the most polished of other nations, the ease with which property is obtained, the plenty which is so equally distributed, their personal liberty and security of life and property, I feel grateful to Heaven, who marked out my lot in that happy land; at the same time I deprecate that restless spirit and that baleful ambition and thirst for power which will finally make us as wretched as our neighbors." When Mr. Adams, after having returned to the United States with his family, became Vice-President, his wife appeared, as in other situations, the pure-hearted patriot, the accomplished woman, the worthy partner of his cares and honors.

He was called to the Presidency, and the widest field opened for the exercise of her talents. Her letter written on the day that decided the people's choice shows a sense of the solemn responsibility they had assumed, with a truly touching reliance upon Divine guidance and forgetfulness of all thoughts of pride in higher sentiments.

In this elevated position, the grace and elegance of Mrs. Adams, with her charm of conversation were rendered more attractive by her frank sincerity. Her close observation, discrimination of character and clear judgment gave her an influence which men and women acknowledged. Her husband appreciated her worth, and was sustained in spirit by her buoyant cheerfulness and affectionate sympathy in the multiplicity of labor which the highest office of his country brought him.

It was hers, too, to disarm the demon of party spirit, to calm agitations, heal the rankling wounds of pride, and pluck the root of bitterness away.

After the retirement of her husband, Mrs. Adams continued to take a deep interest in public affairs. Her health was much impaired, however, and from this time she remained in her rural seclusion at Quincy.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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