Remember the Ladies

Today marks the 273rd birthday of one of the greatest figures from America’s founding generation: Abigail Smith Adams.

Born on November 22, 1744 (at least going by the Gregorian Calendar used today), Abigail Adams was a feminist before “feminist” was even a word (According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest recorded use of the word dates to 1852). I have no doubt she would be immensely proud of the courageous women (and men) who have come forward to share their all-too common experiences of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of powerful men. I am equally certain that she would be dismayed by the very existence of such a man as Donald Trump, let alone the fact of his elevation to the presidency.

On March 31, 1776, Abigail wrote to her husband John, to share her thoughts on the unfolding drama of Revolution:

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 in 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 and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex.

Abigail Adams was ahead of her time in other ways as well. In the same letter, in reference to Virginia, she wrote:

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.

John Adams was in many ways a brilliant and admirable individual. Indeed, in writing that wiser men “willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend” Abigail was at least in part describing her own husband, who treated her as a genuine partner and trusted adviser. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that the United States of America would be a better nation today if Abigail Adams, rather than John, had been our second president.

– P. Sicher


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