Discussion 3

 Turn to pp. 145 of your SFA text.  Read the exchange between John and Abigail Adams.  Why is Abigail so adament that women should be included in the new nation’s political structure?  Why is it so important to have women’s voices in the new republic?

6-2 Adams, Correspondence 145

15. That a General and equal land tax be laid throughout the State. 16. That people shall be taxed according to their estates. 17. That sheriff, clerk and register shall be chosen by the freeholders in every

county, the register to continue in office during good behaviour, the sheriff to be elected every year. The same person to be capable to be elected every year if all moneys due by virtue of his office shall be faithfully paid up.

18. That men shall be quieted in their titles and possessions and that provision shall be made to secure men from being disturbed by old and foreign claims against their landed possessions.

READinG AnD DiScuSSion QuESTionS

1. How would you summarize the type of government that the delegates were instructed to support? Why do you think the citizens of Mecklenburg County wanted the kind of government they described?

2. Did any of the instructions to delegates surprise you? How might you explain, for instance, the instructions related to questions of religion?

6-2 | A call to “Remember the Ladies”

AbigAil And John AdAms, Correspondence (1776)

Just as the citizens of Mecklenburg County instructed their delegates on which rights to demand, Abigail Adams sent similar instructions to her husband, John, then serving at the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia. John was pivotal in moving the dele- gates to declare independence, and the couple’s wonderfully rich letters provide a window into the buildup to that historic moment. In addition to the personal hardships they endured during the Revolutionary period, the letters reveal the lively discussions John and Abigail shared over the place of women in the emerging republic. Abigail did not miss the opportu- nity to lobby for her sex, and in one letter, reproduced here, she famously instructs her hus- band to “remember the ladies” as he and his fellow delegates contemplate laws for the newly independent states.

Abigail Adams to John Adams

Braintree, 31 March, 1776. I wish you would ever write me a letter half as long as I write you; and tell me if you may where your fleet are gone? What sort of defense Virginia can make against our common enemy; whether it is so situated as to make an able defense. Are not the gentry lords and the common people vassals, are they not like the uncivilized vassals Britain represents us to be? I hope their riflemen, who have shown themselves very savage and even blood-thirsty, are not a specimen of the

Charles Francis Adams, Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, During the Revolution (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1875), 148–155, 158–159.

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146 PART 3 / Chapter 6 Making War and Republican Governments, 1776–1789

generality of the people. I am willing to allow the colony great merit for having produced a Washington; but they have been shamefully duped by a Dunmore.

I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow-creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us.

Do not you want to see Boston; I am fearful of the small-pox, or I should have been in before this time. I got Mr. Crane to go to our House and see what state it was in. I find it has been occupied by one of the doctors of a regiment, very dirty, but no other damage has been done to it. The few things which were left in it are all gone. I look upon it a new acquisition of property, a property which one month ago I did not value at a single shilling, and could with pleasure have seen it in flames.

The town in general is left in a better state than we expected, more owing to a precipitate flight than any regard to the inhabitants, though some individuals discovered a sense of honor and justice and have left the rent of the Houses in which they were, for the owners and the furniture unhurt, or, if damaged, suffi- cient to make it good. Others have committed abominable ravages. The mansion- house of your President is safe and the furniture unhurt whilst both the House and Furniture of the Solicitor General have fallen a prey to their own merciless party. Surely the very fiends feel a reverential awe for virtue and patriotism, whilst they detest the parricide and traitor.

I feel very differently at the approach of spring to what I did a month ago. We knew not then whether we could plant or sow with safety, whether when we had tilled we could reap the fruits of our own industry, whether we could rest in our own cottages, or whether we should not be driven from the sea coasts to seek shelter in the wilderness; but now we feel a temporary peace, and the poor fugi- tives are returning to their deserted habitations.

Though we felicitate ourselves, we sympathize with those who are trem- bling lest the lot of Boston should be theirs. But they cannot be in similar circum- stances unless pusillanimity and cowardice should take possession of them. They have time and warning given them to see the evil and shun it.

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 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.

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

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6-2 Adams, Correspondence 147

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 imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.

11 April. I take my pen and write just as I can get time; my letters will be a strange

mixture. I really am “cumbered about many things,” and scarcely know which way to turn myself. I miss my partner, and find myself unequal to the cares which fall upon me. I find it necessary to be the directress of our husbandry. I hope in time to have the reputation of being as a good a farmeress as my partner has of being a good statesman. To ask you anything about your return would, I suppose, be asking a question which you cannot answer.

Retirement, rural quiet domestic pleasures, all, all must give place to the weighty cares of state. It would be —

“Meanly poor in solitude to hide An honest zeal, unwarped by party rage.”

“Though certain pains attend the cares of state, A good man owes his country to be great, Should act abroad the high distinguished part, And show, at least, the purpose of his heart.”

I hope your Prussian General1 will answer the high character which is given of him. But we, who have been bred in a land of liberty, scarcely know how to give credit to so unjust and arbitrary a mandate of a despot. To cast off a faithful servant, only for being the unhappy bearer of ill news, degrades the man and dishonors the prince. The Congress, by employing him, have shown a liberality of sentiment not confined to colonies or continents, but, to use the words of “Common Sense,” have “carried their friendship on a larger scale, by claiming brotherhood with every European Christian, and may justly triumph in the gen- erosity of the sentiment.”

Yesterday, was taken and carried into Cohasset, by three whaleboats, which went from the shore on purpose, a snow from the Grenadas, laden with three hundred and fifty-four puncheons of West India rum, forty-three barrels of sugar, twelve thousand and five hundred-weight of coffee; a valuable prize. A number of Eastern sloops have brought wood into town since the fleet sailed. We have a rumor of Admiral Hopkins being engaged with a number of ships and tenders off Rhode Island, and are anxious to know the event.

Be so good as to send me a list of the vessels which sail with Hopkins, their names, weight of metal, and number of men; all the news you know, etc.

1your Prussian general: Baron de Woedtke, appointed by Congress a brigadier-general and ordered to Canada. He died soon afterward at Lake George.

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148 PART 3 / Chapter 6 Making War and Republican Governments, 1776–1789

I hear our jurors refuse to serve, because the writs are issued in the King’s name. Surely they are for independence.

Write me how you do this winter. I want to say many things I must omit. It is not fit “to wake the soul by tender strokes of art,” or to ruminate upon happiness we might enjoy, lest absence become intolerable. Adieu.

Yours. I wish you would burn all my letters.

John Adams to Abigail Adams

12 April, 1776. I inclose a few sheets of paper,2 and will send more as fast as opportunities

present. . . . You will see by the papers the news, the speculations, and the politi- cal plans of the day. The ports are opened wide enough at last, and privateers are allowed to prey upon British trade. This is not independency, you know. What is? Why, government in every colony, a confederation among them all, and trea- ties with foreign nations to acknowledge us a sovereign state, and all that. When these things will be done, or any of them, time must discover. Perhaps the time is near, perhaps a great way off.

14 April. You justly complain of my short letters, but the critical state of things and the

multiplicity of avocations must plead my excuse. You ask where the fleet is? The inclosed papers will inform you. You ask what sort of defense Virginia can make? I believe they will make an able defense. Their militia and minute-men have been some time employed in training themselves, and they have nine battalions of regulars, as they call them, maintained among them, under good officers, at the Continental expense. They have set up a number of manufactories of firearms, which are busily employed. They are tolerably supplied with powder, and are successful and assiduous in making saltpetre. Their neighboring sister, or rather daughter colony of North Carolina, which is a warlike colony, and has several battalions at the Continental expense, as well as a pretty good militia, are ready to assist them, and they are in very good spirits and seem determined to make a brave resistance. The gentry are very rich, and the common people very poor. This inequality of property gives an aristocratical turn to all their proceedings, and occasions a strong aversion in their patricians to “Common Sense.” But the spirit of these Barons is coming down, and it must submit. It is very true, as you observe, they have been duped by Dunmore. But this is a common case. All the colonies are duped, more or less, at one time and another. A more egregious bubble was never blown up than the story of Commissioners coming to treat with the Congress, yet it has gained credit like a charm, not only with, but against the clearest evidence. I never shall forget the delusion which seized our best and most sagacious friends, the dear inhabitants of Boston, the winter before last.

2Writing paper was scarce during the occupation of Boston.

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6-2 Adams, Correspondence 149

Credulity and the want of foresight are imperfections in the human character, that no politician can sufficiently guard against.

You give me some pleasure by your account of a certain house in Queen Street. I had burned it long ago in imagination. It rises now to my view like a phoenix. What shall I say of the Solicitor General? I pity his pretty children. I pity his father and his sisters. I wish I could be clear that it is no moral evil to pity him and his lady. Upon repentance, they will certainly have a large share in the com- passions of many. But let us take warning, and give it to our children. Whenever vanity and gayety, a love of pomp and dress, furniture, equipage, buildings, great company, expensive diversions, and elegant entertainments get the better of the principles and judgments of men or women, there is no knowing where they will stop, nor into what evils, natural, moral, or political, they will lead us.

Your description of your own gaieté de cœur charms me. Thanks be to God, you have just cause to rejoice, and may the bright prospect be obscured by no cloud. 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 bonds of government everywhere; that chil- dren and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges 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 powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a compliment, but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although 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 completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight; I am sure every good politician would plot, as long as he would against despotism, empire, monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, or ochlocracy. A fine story, indeed! I begin to think the ministry as deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tories, land-jobbers, trim- mers, bigots, Canadians, Indians, negroes, Hanoverians, Hessians, Russians, Irish Roman Catholics, Scotch renegadoes, at last they have stimulated the —— to demand new privileges and threaten to rebel. . . .

15 April. I send you every newspaper that comes out, and I send you, now and then, a

few sheets of paper, but this article is as scarce here as with you. I would send a quire, if I could get a conveyance.

I write you now and then a line, as often as I can, but I can tell you no news but what I send in the public papers.

We are waiting, it is said, for Commissioners; a messiah that will never come. This story of Commissioners is as arrant an illusion as ever was hatched in the brain of an enthusiast, a politician, or a maniac. I have laughed at it, scolded at it,

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150 PART 3 / Chapter 6 Making War and Republican Governments, 1776–1789

grieved at it, and I don’t know but I may, at an unguarded moment, have rip’d at it. But it is vain to reason against such delusions. I was very sorry to see, in a let- ter from the General, that he had been bubbled with it; and still more, to see, in a letter from my sagacious friend W.,3 at Plymouth, that he was taken in too.

My opinion is that the Commissioners and the commission have been here (I mean in America), these two months. The Governors, Mandamus Councillors, Collectors and Comptrollers, and Commanders of the army and navy, I conjec- ture, compose the list, and their power is to receive submissions. But we are not in a very submissive mood. They will get no advantage of us. We shall go on to perfection, I believe. I have been very busy for some time; have written about ten sheets of paper, with my own hand, about some trifling affairs, which I may mention some time or other — not now, for fear of accidents.

What will come of this labor, time will discover. I shall get nothing by it, I believe, because I never get anything by anything that I do. I am sure the public or posterity ought to get something. I believe my children will think I might as well have thought and labored a little, night and day, for their benefit. But I will not bear the reproaches of my children. I will tell them that I studied and labored to procure a free constitution of government for them to solace themselves under, and if they do not prefer this to ample fortune, to ease and elegance, they are not my children, and I care not what becomes of them. They shall live upon thin diet, wear mean clothes, and work hard with cheerful hearts and free spirits, or they may be the children of the earth, or of no one, for me.

John has genius, and so has Charles. Take care that they don’t go astray. Cultivate their minds, inspire their little hearts, raise their wishes. Fix their atten- tion upon great and glorious objects. Root out every little thing. Weed out every meanness. Make them great and manly. Teach them to scorn injustice, ingrati- tude, cowardice, and falsehood. Let them revere nothing but religion, morality, and liberty.

Abby and Tommy are not forgotten by me, although I did not mention them before. The first, by reason of her sex, requires a different education from the two I have mentioned. Of this, you are the only judge. I want to send each of my little pretty flock some present or other. I have walked over this city twenty times, and gaped at every shop, like a countryman, to find something, but could not. Ask every one of them what they would choose to have, and write it to me in your next letter. From this I shall judge of their taste and fancy and discretion.

READinG AnD DiScuSSion QuESTionS

1. How did the war affect the lives of ordinary Americans? What challenges did they face, as glimpsed through the letters Abigail writes to John?

2. Abigail’s admonition to “remember the ladies” has become one of the most famous lines from this period. But what do you think she meant? In a period

3W.: James Warren.

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