Conversations at Home: Abigail Smith Adams and John Adams
In her letter to her husband, when the discussion of codified laws concerning voting rights was still being argued in the realm of theory, Abigail Smith Adams famously wrote “Remember the Ladies.” John Adams disagreed vehemently with her views about voting rights, saying, “As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh.”
In his response to his wife, and in correspondence with others at this time, John Adams made it clear that he believed in restricting suffrage to male property owners. He groups her suggestion of women’s suffrage with a list of groups he sees growing agitated in the lead-up to establishing a new form of government: children, and apprentices; schools and colleges; and Indians and Negroes.
“Depend upon it,” he writes to Abigail, “We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.”
The Adamses exchanged over 1,100 letters. Their extraordinary correspondence is archived in the Adams Family Papers collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society. You can read their letters HERE.
Here are a few excerpts from their correspondence in the spring of 1776.
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (excerpt)
Braintree March 31, 1776
. . . I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable 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 perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness. . . .
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams (excerpt)
Ap. 14, 1776 [Philadelphia]
. . . As to Declarations of Independency, be patient. Read our Privateering Laws, and our Commercial Laws. What signifies a Word.
As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient—that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters.
But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented.—This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.
Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they are in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would compleatly subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight.