Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #44: My Dearest Friend, Letters of Abigail and John Adams
We've talked about John Adams on here already, but his story is woefully incomplete without mention of his special partnership with one of the truly remarkable women in American history. Since this is Valentine's Day, it seems fitting to acknowledge one of the great love stories in our country's political history, between our prickly, stout, irascible second president and his brilliant utter equal, Abigail Adams.
The two met when John was 24 and Abigail only 15 (scandal!). Within a couple of years they were corresponding regularly. When Abigail was 17, John penned her a note addressed to "Miss Adorable" and their lifetime penchant for flirtatious nicknames and often steamy exchanges was off and running. Throughout the next forty years of frequent separation while she raised children and tried to keep their farm afloat and he tried to start a country, their letters flew fast and furious between them, a lifeline of love but also a detailed time capsule into the founding of America. Abigail was as politically astute and well-read as her husband, and neither flinched from honest praise and criticism in their letters. It's well-known that Abigail entreated her husband to "remember the ladies" - the full passage reads as follows:
"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 all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, 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."
It's not hard to imagine Abigail all in white taking her seat in Congress.
The letters are so candid, so loving, so full of detail and intelligence, that it makes me sad we'll never see their like again. I don't imagine email exchanges or strings of text messages are going to survive into the historical record in quite the same fashion. I mean, when Sarah texts me to remember to pick up milk and I respond with a thumbs-up emoji, it's hardly Lysander and Portia debating the defense of Boston harbor.
Happy Valentine's Day, my dearest friends.