(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)
In today’s era of texting, Facebooking and emails, one wonders how comfortable our nation’s second First Lady would have felt about these forms of communication. Abigail Smith Adams, while not a “woman of letters” (she had little formal education), left behind letters that tell us much about her, her marriage and her desire to be part of a nation of liberty.
In 1775, the Massachusetts Colony General Court appointed Adams (and other young women) to question their peers as to their loyalty to the crown or their new nation. Her husband, John, told her she was now a “politician and now elected into an important office, that of judges of Tory ladies, which will give you, naturally, an influence with your sex.”
It was noted that Abigail enjoyed conversations about politics, especially as her husband’s own political career grew. One thing she might have in common with today’s politicians and their spouses is that she did not enjoy the so-called “fishbowl” that comes with this type of career. Clearly, the role of women at this time in the public realm was limited, which Abigail accepted, but perhaps chafed against. She wrote in one correspondence, “Let each planet shine in their own orbit, God and nature designed it so. If man is Lord, woman is Lordess — that is what I contend for, and if a woman does not hold the Reigns of Government, I see no reason for her not judging how they are conducted.”
She believed that women not only could be educated, but must be, in this new nation, for it was in education that virtue was learned. As her husband and his peers drafted the country’s Constitution, she wrote, “our new constitution may be distinguished for learning and Virtue…. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women.”
This formidable First Lady may have penned some of the most striking words of the young nation she helped found:
[R]emember 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.