President's Day was yesterday, so I was thinking about Presidents and naturally, my mind then wandered to the President's wives. Probably one of my favorite presidential wives is Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), wife of John Adams, Second President of the United States, and mother of John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States.
She was known for her spunky intelligence and strongly expressed views. During her husband's term of office she was often referred to as "Mrs. President". Her husband often relied on her advice and sought it out repeatedly and they exchanged many letters filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics. She was also an advocate for married women's right to property and more opportunities for women, particularly in education. This was a time when most women had no formal education of any kind. It was her belief that women should educate themselves and be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, so that they could better guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. Truly, she was a woman ahead of her time.
If Abigail had gone to the Continental Congress in 1776 instead of her husband, the status of American women might have been quite different. As a woman, of course she could not go, but she did what she could to raise her husband's "consciousness", as he helped shape a new nation.
On March 31, 1776, she wrote to him , " 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 that all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies were are determined to form a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."
Her husband's reply on April 14 was somewhat satirical and droll, "As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot help but laugh. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems...... 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."
Abigail tartly replied on May 7 to remind her husband that "arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard; very liable to be broken!.... and, we have it in our power not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our Masters and throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet."
Despite their verbal sparring, it was very apparent in the many letters written to each other during their marriage that John Adams was very sincere in his trust of his wife's views and advice, and that they mutually shared emotional and intellectual respect for each other.
As we might say today, "You go, girl!"