Abigail Smith Adams was the wife of the famed politician, 1st vice president, and 2nd president John Adams. She was also the mother to John Quincy Adams, who would later become president seven years after her death in 1818. With her husband going on frequent trips, the two corresponded often, and Abigail is perhaps best known for these letters she sent to her husband. In one, she even wrote to him about giving women the same rights as men while he was attending the Second Continental Congress.
On November 22, 1744, William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy Smith welcomed their second child, Abigail Smith, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. William Smith was a congregationalist minister, and Elizabeth was the daughter of the well known politician John Quincy. Abigail had two sister, one older and one younger, and a younger brother. She was a sickly child, and was never well enough to attend school. Instead her mother taught her and her two sisters how to read, write, and cipher and the three of them were able to study both French and English literature.
Growing up, Abigail would see her future husband John Adams from time to time because the two were third cousins. However, when Adams went with friend Richard Cranch to visit Mary Smith, Abigail’s older sister and Cranch’s fiancee, in 1762 he found himself attracted to seventeen year old Abigail Adams. Adams was a twenty-six year old country lawyer and son of a farmer, which appalled Abigail’s mother. Two years later, the nineteen year old Abigail Smith married twenty-eight year old John Adams on October 25, 1764. The two then lived for a short period of time in a cottage Adams had inherited from his father located in Braintree, Massachusetts. Just shy of nine months later, their first daughter Abigail “Nabby” in 1765. They would have five more children over the course of ten years: John Quincy Adams (1767), Grace Susanna (1768, died two years later), Charles (1770), Thomas Boylston Adams (1772), and Elizabeth (stillborn in 1777).
During the first few years of their marriage, Adams worked as a lawyer in Boston while Abigail remained in Braintree managing the house and raising their young children. They would go onto rent homes in Boston for a few years before finally purchasing and settling down in “Peacefield” in 1787. Abigail stayed at their home while her husband was away in 1774 as a Massachusetts delegate to the First Continental Congress. This began the couple’s frequent correspondence in which Abigail gave her husband advice while he responded with the politics in Philadelphia.
Abigail was tasked with questioning Loyalist women in Massachusetts shortly after the war broke out in 1775 by the Massachusetts Colony General Court with the help of Mercy Warren and Hannah Winthrop. Adams wrote to her afterwards about stating that she was now a politician and was given an important job.
When the Second Continental Congress began and the Declaration of Independence was drafted, Abigail began corresponding with her husband once again. This time, she pressed him to bring up the topic in congress of women being given equal rights as men with the formation of a new country. Abigail was unable to convince her Adams of this though. These letters are some of the earliest known documents that mentioned women’s rights. Today, she is perhaps best known for these exact letters.
In 1778, John Adams left the country as minister to France. Abigail informed him of happenings in America while he informed her of foreign affairs. She later joined him with their two eldest children, Nabby and John Quincy, in Paris. Adams became the minister to the Court of St. James’s in 1785, where they lived until 1788 when they purchased the “Old house”/”Peacefield”.
Shortly after the Adams’ returned home from Europe, John Adams ran for president and was elected as the first United States Vice President in 1789, making Abigail the first second lady of the United States. Abigail moved with her husband to New York City when it was still the capital, then Philadelphia when the capital changed.
George Washington resigned in 1797 after eight years of presidency, John Adams ran once more with Thomas Jefferson as his main competitor. Abigail spent much of the time during his campaign away caring for his dying mother, Susanna Boylston Adams Hall. In a letter to her husband, she mentioned how her husband and Jefferson would never have the same friendly relationship as they did before. By the end of the campaign, Abigail had grown to no longer trust her old friend.
On March 4, 1797, John Adams became President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson had come in second, making him the vice president. Abigail lived with her husband in Philadelphia until moving into Washington D.C. shortly before the end of his term. At this point, Abigail would’ve been fifty-two years old, her husband sixty-one. Abigail was always one to speak and write what was on her mind, in earlier letters to her husband during his campaign she spoke of how now that he was president she would have to be more careful with her words.
Abigail spoke out against slavery, while her husband, who did not believe slavery was correct either, never spoke against it though because he feared the response from Southerners. She firmly believed slavery was evil and wrong. While Abigail strongly believed against slavery, she had strong beliefs that women should be given more rights and that married women should have property rights. Women should not have to only be their husband’s companions and she be provided with a better education where all things she was a supporter of. During her time, women had hardly any of the rights as men, and it was not a topic ahead of her time for sure.
During her husband’s presidency, Abigail took on the role of hostess and held many parties and events. By this time, many people were democratic-republicans and anti-federalists, and John Adams was very much a federalist. Abigail, as first lady, saw herself and was seen as a symbol to the federalist party. Because of how active she was in politics, she was unofficially given the titles “Lady Adams” and “Mrs. President”. Often times her correspondence with her husband was intercepted and published, infuriating Abigail, who believed that a gentleman should to invade a lady’s privacy in such a way. Comments were even made in
anti-federalist papers after Adams had made certain decisions and moved during his presidency
that Abigail would have never allowed him to do such a thing, and must have been away.
In November of 1800, the Adams’ moved into the newly built, yet still unfinished, White House (the name was not used until much later, however) in their country’s new capital, Washington, D.C. Abigail was famously known to hang their laundry in the East Wing Room.
By the time Jefferson won the election of 1800, Abigail had expressed to her husband and son that she wanted to lead a more private life after spending so much time in the public eye. The Adams’ returned to Massachusetts and raised their grandchildren while John Quincy Adam was minister to Russia. Their son Charles had died that same year.
John and Abigail Adams lived a much quieter life upon returning home. A few times, the couple had been approached by people who wanted to publish their private correspondence, but Abigail refused. In 1813, their daughter Nabby died of breast cancer after earlier treatments and the cancer then spreading. Before her death, she had traveled to be with her parents when she died.
Two weeks shy of turning seventy-four, Abigail Smith Adams died on October 28, 1818 in Quincy, Massachusetts due to typhoid fever. Her last recorded words were, “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. And John, it will not be long.” John Adams died about five-and-a-half years later on July 4, 1826. He was buried beside her in a crypt at the United First Parish Church located in Quincy.