Reading 20

The following passage is adapted from an article entitled “A Life in Letters” by Maggie Riechers (2006 by Maggie Riechers).

  1. Statues and monuments will never
  2. be erected to me, nor flattering
  3. orations spoken, to transmit me to
  4. posterity in brilliant colors,” wrote
  5. John Adams. Defeated and bitter
  6. after losing the 1800 election for a
  7. second term as president, Adams
  8. believed that his rival Thomas
  9. Jefferson would get credit for the
  10. creation of a new nation. But as
  11. concerned as he was for his
  12. reputation, Adams would not
  13. change his ways for power.
  14. His journey through the Revolution
  15. and the new government is retold
  16. through his letters—letters that
  17. reveal a revolutionary, a diplomat,
  18. and a husband who sorely needed
  19. the advice of his wife Abigail.
  20. Over the course of their fifty-year
  21. marriage, their letters show that
  22. Abigail was sometimes John’s war
  23. correspondent, his political spy,
  24. and always his strongest advocate.
  25. John relied heavily on Abigail’s
  26. judgment. “Abigail Adams was one
  27. of the most remarkable, admirable,
  28. wise Americans of all time,” says
  29. historian David McCullough. “She
  30. is a better judge of people than he
  31. was. She was a much more
  32. insightful politician, if you will.”
  33. In 1774, as the Revolution was
  34. brewing, Adams was chosen as one
  35. of four delegates from
  36. Massachusetts to the Continental
  37. Congress in Philadelphia. Abigail,
  38. although unhappy at the prospect
  39. of her husband’s being three
  40. hundred miles away, urged him on.
  41. “You cannot be, nor do I wish to
  42. see you, an inactive spectator,”
  43. she wrote to her husband. “We
  44. have too many high sounding
  45. words, and too few actions that
  46. correspond with them.” Adams,
  47. however, was filled with self-doubt
  48. about his abilities to take on a
  49. leadership role. He wrote to
  50. Abigail, “There is in Congress a
  51. collection of the greatest men upon
  52. this continent,” and admitted, “I
  53. mope, I ruminate. I feel
  54. unutterable anxiety, unequal to
  55. this business.”
  56. Yet Adams became the driving
  57. force behind the Continental
  58. Congress’s vote for independence.
  59. He went on to secure loans to keep
  60. the army going during the war. He
  61. wrote the state constitution for
  62. Massachusetts, still in use today.
  63. He helped negotiate peace with
  64. Britain, and kept the United States
  65. from war with France.
  66. He was also ambitious, feisty, and
  67. insecure. These emotions come to
  68. light in his writings, which include
  69. thirteen hundred surviving letters
  70. between himself and Abigail.
  71. “The letters are a wonderful
  72. window into a marriage of true
  73. companions—which was also one
  74. of the greatest political
  75. partnerships in American history,”
  76. says Elizabeth Deane, producer of
  77. the documentary John and
  78. Abigail Adams.
  79. At the Continental Congress in
  80. Philadelphia, Adams emerged as a
  81. leader, pushing delegates to
  82. declare a permanent split from
  83. Britain. “I am as fond of
  84. reconciliation as any man,” he told
  85. the Congress. “But the cancer is too
  86. far spread to be cured by anything
  87. short of cutting it out.” He mocked
  88. those who opposed him and was
  89. disliked by many. “Adams could
  90. not strike a pose to save his
  91. life,” says Deane. “He was
  92. irascible and temperamental.”
  93. At the same time, Abigail’s letters
  94. reported on British troop
  95. movements and the actions of the
  96. local militia. After the attack on
  97. Bunker Hill she wrote, “How many
  98. have fallen we know not. The
  99. constant roar of the cannon is so
  100. distressing that we cannot eat,
  101. drink or sleep. Perhaps the decisive
  102. day is come on which the fate of
  103. America depends.”
  104. Despite their common concerns for
  105. their country’s future, John’s and
  106. Abigail’s lives were separate. At
  107. home, Abigail struggled with the
  108. farm, the finances, and the children.
  109. “At the end of a long day, which
  110. would begin for her at about five
  111. o’clock in the morning, in a house
  112. that the upstairs is so cold that
  113. water freezes in the wash basins,
  114. she sits down at her kitchen table
  115. with a quill pen and a candle, and
  116. writes some of the greatest letters
  117. ever written by an American,” says
  118. McCullough.
  119. John took her thoughts and advice
  120. seriously. “She knows what’s going
  121. on in the Continental Congress and
  122. he values her opinion,” says Deane.
  123. “One could get the impression that
  124. she was the ‘loyal little lady’
  125. managing the farm and children
  126. back home but she was so much
  127. more. Credit John Adams for
  128. seeing her astuteness and making
  129. her his true confidante.”