Abigail Adams – America’s Most Intellectually Gifted First Lady
From being the wife of John Adams – America’s second president – to becoming the mother of John Quincy Adams – America’s sixth president, the following briefly explores the life and achievements of Abigail Smith Adams, America’s second First Lady.
Birth and Childhood
On November 22, 1744, Abigail Adams was born at Weymouth, Massachusetts, to parents – William Smith and Elizabeth Smith. William was a liberal minister and an influential leader among the clergy. Abigail’s maternal family traces its roots to the famous Quincys – an influential and successful family that dominated Massachusetts colony.
Did you know that Abigail Adams was the cousin of Dorothy Quincy – John Hancock’s wife?
Abigail Adams had four siblings – two sisters and one brother. Her only brother died due to excessive drinking in 1787.
Growing up, Abigail was very prone to falling ill. Owing to this, she received very little formal education. The truth of the matter is: Abigail most likely failed to gain the education that she desired because she was a girl. After all, it was the 18th century – girls were still not considered equal to their male siblings.
Regardless of the little formal schooling she received, Abigail was privileged to have a mother who taught her how to read and write. She also benefited from her uncle’s vast book collection in his library.Such was her passion for education that by her teens, Abigail took to studying French and English literature at an early age.
In 1759, Abigail, 15, met her future husband, John Adams who was then 24. The two got to know each other through Richard Cranch, a friend of John who was in relationship with Abigail’s older sister, Mary Smith.
Abigail and John Adams tied the knot on October 25, 1764. The couple made their home in Braintree, Massachusetts. In order to further his law practice, Abigail moved with her husband to Boston. The family lived on Queen Street.
Abigail and John Adams had a shared passion for books and intellectual discussion. They were both committed to the development of constitutional law and republicanism in the colony. As a matter of fact, Abigail offered several pieces of sound advice to her husband throughout his political and professional career.
Abigail Adams’s Children
In the next 12 years, John and Abigail went on to have six children: Abigail (“Nabby”, born in 1765), John Quincy Adams (born in 1767), Susanna (born in 1768), Charles (born in 1770), Thomas (born in 1772), and Elizabeth (still birth in 1777).
Most prominent of those children was their first son, John Quincy Adams. Quincy followed in his father’s footsteps and became the sixth president of the United States. The remaining two sons – Charles and Thomas – had brief careers in law. However, they both ended up heavy alcoholics, dying at an early age.
Abigail Adams’ sound intellectual reasoning
Abigail showed a remarkable resolve and strength in managing the farm while her husband was away on diplomatic missions abroad. She handled virtually everything at home, be it finance and investment, staff and labor, or the children’s education.
Kind courtesy to the extensive letters she exchanged with her husband, historians have been able to understand the crucial impact she had on John Adams’s political career. The couple had complete trust and respect for each other’s intellectual capacity.
1784 to 1788 – Time in Europe
Between 1784 and 1788, Abigail Adams lived in Europe. In 1784, she, along with her daughter “Nabby” and John Quincy Adams, joined her husband, who was by then a U.S. diplomat serving in Paris. Initially, the future First Lady found it difficult to adapt to the new environment. However, with the passage of time, she eased in and even became a big fan of Parisian theater and opera.
In 1785, the Adamses moved to London. John Adams was posted there to serve as the Minister to the Court of St James’s. She was not so much fond of London. As a matter of fact, she found Londoners a bit cold-mannered. Around this time, Abigail developed a very close bond with the Mary (Polly) – President Thomas Jefferson’s daughter.
In 1788, the family returned home – Peacefield (“Old House”) in Quincy. A year later, her husband was elected the first vice president of the United States. Abigail spent a big chunk of John Adams’s vice president tenure a bit ill. Intermittently, she and Martha Washington (George Washington’s wife) organized dinner parties in the nation’s capital, Philadelphia.
Second First Lady of the United States
After the retirement of George Washington from active politics, John Adams swept his way to victory in the 1796 U.S. presidential election, defeating Thomas Jefferson.
On the day of her husband’s inauguration (March 4, 1797), Abigail could not attend the ceremony because she was attending to John Adams’s dying mother.
As First Lady, Abigail was the voice of reason in John Adams’s ears. She was an extremely influential First Lady, perhaps the most influential First Lady in America’s history. And all of that was backed by her sharp intellectual reasoning.
She made several public appearances with her husband. She also hosted a number of entertainment events and large dinner parties in Philadelphia, particularly on the 4th of July.
Due to her active participation in politics in the capital, she was nicknamed “Mrs President”. Quite honestly, she also acted as John Adams’s most trusted adviser. Many politicians admired the manner in which she held discussions about issues pertaining to Adams’s administration. For a long time, she was the person to talk to if someone wanted to get to in touch with John Adams. She even served informally as the President’s PR handler.
Through thick and thin, Abigail was always there to support her husband. Even during periods when Adams passed out not so favorable policies such as the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Abigail Adams holds the record of being the first First Lady of the United States to live in White House. After the nation’s capital was relocated to Washington D.C. in 1800, the First Family moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. The White House by then was called the President’s House. Abigail and her family spent the last four months of Adams’ term in the White House.
Even though, the White House was not fully completed, Abigail had good things to say about her stay there. She also was not perturbed that much by the then wild and mushy conditions in Washington D.C.
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After John Adams lost the 1800 presidential election, Abigail retired to Peacefield in Quincy. While in retirement, she lent her support to her son’s – John Quincy Adams – budding political career.
Towards the later part of her life, the Adams and the Jeffersons became close-knit again. Abigail and Thomas Jefferson corresponded often with each other. This happened after the death of Jefferson’s daughter, Maria Jefferson Eppes (Jolly).
Abigail Adams’s Death
After battling typhoid fever for a while, Abigail Adams passed away on October 28, 1818. She was 73. Her final resting place was at United First Parish Church (“Church of the Presidents”) in Quincy, Massachusetts. The parish also serves as the resting place of most of her family members, including John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
Other interesting Facts about Abigail Adams
- From the over 1200 letters between John and Abigail, many historians commonly hold the view that Abigail was the better writer of the two. Bear in mind that Abigail self-educated herself. And John Adams himself was a very good writer.
- Regardless of her slight taste for conservative ideas, Abigail was a big advocate for women’s right and education. She believed that a woman’s role was not only restricted to being a man’s companion and help mate. All throughout her life, America’s second First Lady campaigned for women, encouraging her gender to strive and achieve something for themselves and the country.
- Abigail Adams viewed slavery as a canker that was capable of ruining America’s stride in democratic governance. At times, she even criticized the double standard of Virginian politicians that wanted liberty but at the same time subjugated blacks to a life of slavery and torture. She famously sponsored the education of a free black youth that had a passion for reading.
- During the America’s struggle for independence, she interacted extensively (via several hundreds of letters) with her husband John Adams. By then, Adams was serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Without a shred of doubt, Abigail’s sound advice and intellectual discussions had a huge impact on John Adams, one of America’s Founding Fathers.
- Finally, Abigail Adams holds the remarkable record of being the wife of a U.S president (John Adams) and also a mother of a U.S. president (John Quincy Adams). The only other person to hold this enviable record is Barbara Bush. Barbara was the wife of George Bush Senior and a mother of George Bush Junior.