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REMEMBER THE LADIES

WHO: Abigail Adams (Personal letter to her husband John Adams)


- Abigail Adams (née Smith; Weymouth, November 22,1744 – Quincy, October 28, 1818) was the
wife of John Adams and the mother of John Quincy Adams. She is now designated the first Second
Lady and second First Lady of the United States, although these titles were not in use at the time.
- Adams's life is one of the most documented of the first ladies: she is remembered for the many
letters she wrote to her husband while he stayed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during
the Continental Congresses. John frequently sought the advice of Abigail on many matters, and their
letters are filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics. The letters serve as
eyewitness accounts of the American Revolutionary War home front.
- Hija de un ministro perteneciente a una congregación, fue educada enteramente en su casa,
volviéndose una ávida lectora de historia.
- En 1774 inició una prolífica correspondencia con su marido, quien trabajaba en el Congreso
Continental en Filadelfia; ella describía la vida cotidiana y abordaba asuntos públicos durante
la Guerra de Independencia con ingenio y agudeza política.
- Abigail continuó con sus misivas a la familia y amistades mientras se encontraba
en Europa (1784–1788) y en Washington D.C. (1789-1801) acompañando la carrera diplomática y
presidencial de su esposo, de quien siempre fue considerada una influyente consejera.
- Murió de fiebre tifoidea.

WHERE: Braintree, Massachusetts, USA.

WHEN: March 31st 1776

- The American War of Independence (1775–1783), known as the American Revolutionary War.
The goal of the war was to keep the colonies, Americans, in the British Empire.
- The Articles of Confederation (ratified in 1781) was an agreement among all thirteen original
states in the United States of America that served as its first constitution. Its drafting by a committee
appointed by the Second Continental Congress began on July 12, 1776, and an approved version
was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777.
- John Adams and other colonial leaders were meeting in Philadelphia in the Second Continental
Congress, while Abigail remained at their home in Braintree, Massachusetts, managing their daily
affairs in his absence.
- At the same time that Adams was preparing to publish his “Thoughts on Government” essay,
which outlined proposed political philosophy and structures for the new nation, Abigail pondered
if and how the rights of women would be addressed in an American constitution.
- In 1776, Abigail Adams penned a letter to her husband, congressman John Adams, asking
him to please “remember the ladies” in the “new code of laws”.
- John Adams’ answer was that he could not help but laugh at her “saucy” letter. What he did not
realize was that his wife had become the first in a long line of American women to assert her desire
for women’s rights. The words of Abigail Adams would echo through American history, a rallying
cry for other activists who believed in the equality of the sexes.
- US Constitution 1787: After declaring independence from Great Britain, the colonies knew that if
they wanted to grow and prosper, they would need a plan for unity. Effective March 1, 1781, the
colonies were governed by the Articles of Confederation.
WHY:

- In the 1700s the lives of colonial married women were governed by the legal doctrine of
femme covert or coverture. Under this doctrine a husband and wife were considered one person,
and that person was the husband. A married woman could not own property, sign legal documents,
enter into contracts, obtain an education against her husband’s wishes, or keep wages for herself.
- Since only property owners could vote, coverture effectively denied women that right. Like other
“dependent” persons, women were not assumed to have separate interests of their own that needed
to be represented in politics. Moreover, dependent persons were considered undesirable as voters
because they would be under the influence of the person on whom they depended: it would be equal
to giving that person two votes.
- In other words, the welfare of women was completely in the hands of men, and the law offered
them little protection from the “tyranick” among them.
- In spite of her situation she still contemplated the political changes taking place, and those
changes are reflected in her appeal to her husband.
- Abigail Adams asked his husband to please “remember the ladies” in the “new code of laws”, as
he and other colonial leaders were meeting in Philadelphia in the Second Continental Congress
outlining the political philosophy and structures for the new nation.
- Abigail pondered if and how the rights of women would be addressed in an American constitution.
- She argued that the laws of the new nation should recognize women as something more than
property and protect them from the arbitrary and unrestrained power men held over them.
- The letters show Abigail was quite serious when she made her request and for good reason.

HOW:

- How in the first paragraph does Adams parallel the dilemma of women with the
political condition of the colonies?
She does so by making the same case against men that the Patriots make against the King of
England. They and he are tyrants. They give women no voice in the laws that govern their lives,
just as the King gives the colonies no voice in the laws that govern them. If the King’s rule over
the colonies is unjust, so, too, is men’s rule over women. If the King’s rule over the colonies
warrants rebellion, so, too, does that of men over women.

- What does Adams mean when she says that “such of you [men] as wish to be happy
willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend”?
She means that some men can overcome their natural tendency to be tyrants and treat women
justly and that such men will be happier for doing so.

- What argument does she make in the second paragraph?


If men are “Naturally Tyrannical,” why not take from them the power to exercise this natural
propensity; why not “put it out of the power of…vicious and Lawless [men] to use [abuse] women
with cruelty and indignity.”

- Is she asking for full women’s independence? How do you know? Cite evidence from
the text.
She is not asking for full women’s rights as we know it today because she states, “regard us
[women] then as beings placed by Providence under your protection…”
CONSEQUENCES:

- The letters showed the evolution of her thinking as the American Revolution progressed and
the seriousness of her advocacy for women's rights.
- The letters clearly support the expansion of the female gender role, despite the doctrine of
femme couverte, thus changing the common historical perspective of women of the period.
- The American Revolution did not free slave women, or secure Native American women’s homes.
The war did not even guarantee white women equality with their male counterparts.
- Adams’ words did not have a great impact on America in the late 18th century. Her letters did not
change her husband’s views on the proper place of women in society, and they did not change the
literal meaning of the words “all men are created equal.”
- The importance of Abigail Adams’ letters is clear only when we view the larger scope of
American history. Although she was, in comparison with other women, in a very privileged
position, Abigail Adams had the courage to challenge the society that surrounded her. Furthermore,
she challenged the male-dominated world as both a woman and an equal.
- Though she wrote to her husband as his wife, she also confronted him with his own language, the
language of liberty. After receiving John Adams’ mocking reply to her plea for American women,
Abigail Adams wrote the following words to her husband, predicting the course of history:
“But you must remember that Arbitrary 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 our selves but to subdue our Masters, and without violence throw both your natural
and legal authority at our feet.”We can analyze and defend the critical function of women as the
backbone of the family and the society during a period in which they were legally powerless.
- To illustrate the important role that women played in the formation of the new American
democracy even in a period when they did not have a legal status.

CONCLUSION:

- It reflects the status of women in eighteenth-century America.

- We can analyze and defend the critical function of women as the backbone of the family and the
society during a period in which they were legally powerless.

- To illustrate the important role that women played in the formation of the new American
democracy even in a period when they did not have a legal status.

- Beginning of women’s rights.

- Abigail Adams’ words came at the birth of America. Political turmoil swept over women as
well as men, and rhetoric proclaiming liberty, freedom, and equality formed the foundation for the
new nation.Yet, these great virtues did not extend to all of America’s residents, and the hypocrisy
was felt acutely in the hearts and minds of many women.

- For Abigail Adams, familiarity with the language of freedom was a luxury given to her by her
station as a middle to upper class, white woman.

- Other women in her position expressed similar sentiments through poems, essays, letters, and
journal entries. Their education, a privilege known to few lower-class women, allowed them to
declare their loyalty in literary forms.