During the American Revolution, a patriot was defined as "one who loves, supports and defends one country" (Webster's Dictionary) Most certainly these qualities were reserved exclusively for the male population of the time. In 1776, words such as androgynous, woman's activist did not exist. It is difficult to obtain and explain one simple definition of what a patriotic American was around 1776 and the Declaration of Independence. Therefore how can one person give a simple definition of a patriot during the American Revolution? Many people insist that the great political leaders of the time and the soldiers who actually fought in the Revolution exemplified a truly patriotic American. The opinions of today's society lean towards men such as Thomas Jefferson, General George Washington and John Adams among the most ardent patriots of the time period. However, there is an entire gender omitted when defining the term.
Female colonists during the time of the American Revolution were also patriotic and tried to help the cause in any possible way. Some may say that these women followed the boycotts of the time and were patriotic in supporting the cause simply because they were married to men who were patriotic. However, this is a sever understatement. Clearly, some women were self-opinionated and possessed a true passion for freedom. Thus, these women could be considered patriots because of their own love for their country. A prime example of a true female patriot was Abigail Adams.
She voiced her opinions on politics in private letters to her husband, John Adams, and at times, expressed her support publicly. She encouraged the women in her town to encourage the revolutionary cause by boycotting British goods and living simply in order to assist the politicians of the time. Since Abigail herself could not hold an office, she lived vicariously through her husband. Her witty letters provide the reader with a glimpse into her truly patriotic nature.
Abigail constantly wrote to John Adams asking for any information about her country's current situation. Additionally, she kept her husband up to date of the political nature of their Boston hometown, Braintree. As Abigail and John continued to write to each other, Abigail became increasingly determined to support her country, especially the females. In her most infamous letter to John Adams, she requests that he "remember the ladies." This letter is possibly the most crucial depiction of Abigail's role as a female patriot. Not only did she want to see the colonies freed from their ties with Britain, she wanted women to have a place among the men in what would become a newly formed Republic. Hence, the reader of Abigail Adams' correspondence with her husband will find that she was an ardent patriot and one of the first women's right's advocates.
Abigail Adams was truly ahead of her time with regards to her intellectual pursuit and her ability to discuss political situation within her nation, and her desire for reform and inclusion of women. Abigail Adams was living proof that women did not simply cling to their husbands and complete their domestic duties day in and day out. During the Revolution, Abigail Adams wrote many letters that tell the story of how she stayed at home struggling with wartime shortages and inflation, to run the farm with minimal help, and to educate her children when their formal education was interrupted. She was a rarity of the time and a great example for women to follow in the future. As one of the first female rights advocates and ardent patriots during the time of the American Revolution, Abigail Adams truly broke ground for the future of female rights. Abigail Adams was born on November 11, 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts.
Since she was born during this period, when only boys were formally educated, Abigail Adams was educated at home. Most women would receive a scanty education in the home, but as the daughter of a clergyman, Abigail's education went further than reading and writing. She was an avid reader of anything she could get her hands on, including the Bible, history, sermons, philosophy, essays and poetry (Adams 1). Abigail's love for the written word and her constant thirst for knowledge is what led to her relationship with John Adams.
At first, John was taken aback by her wit and intellect. He "did not find those feminine qualities which made a woman attractive to him" in Abigail (Keller, 28). On the contrary, Abigail revealed her intellectual abilities and self-confidence to John, and eventually he became very fond of her. After their courtship and marriage, Abigail became devoted to the cause of the American colonies, involved herself in politics and developed candid opinions of the surrounding events. Abigail Adams established a precedent for the women for the future of the new Republic. Her correspondence with John Adams and family friends set a precedent for women in the new Republic to look to and emulate.
Abigail Adams was truly a female patriot during the American Revolution, and she voiced her ideas on women's rights and the revolutionary war battles freely. One of the most important ideals that Abigail Adams held was the importance of education. Always the student, she continued reading during the war and wrote to John Adams about her opinions of the Revolution. On August 19, 1774, she wrote, "The great anxiety I feel for my Country, for you and for our family renders the day tedious, and the night unpleasant (Adams 67)." Obviously, Abigail had a great concern for the colonies in addition to her husband and family.
She continued her letters with questions to John about how the colonies will act against the British making allusions to the great Greek city-state of Sparta. She had many concerns about the bloodshed that her country might have to go through to gain their freedom, but a consistent theme in her letters is her constant support of whatever the colonies chose to do. Consistently, Abigail Adams proves her intelligence with her constant references to historical figures. In her letters to John, she offered many different interpretations of how the lessons learned by these historical figures could be useful during the time of the Revolution. In the same letter, she told John Adams that she had taken a "fondness for reading Rollin's ancient History" (Adams, 68).
This reading allowed her to explore Greece and the wars that occurred between the great city-states to ensure Liberty for all citizens. Since Abigail was a life long learner, she reinforced the importance of education to her children. She encouraged her son, Johnny, to read aloud with her, and she hoped that her children would acquire the same interest in education that she possessed. In a majority of Abigail Adams' letters, she describes the different measures that she was taking to educate all of her children, sons and daughters, during a time period when formal education was hard to find. In a letter dated September 16, 1774, Abigail Adams writes to John Adams, "that children should in the early part of life be unaccustomed to such examples as would tend to corrupt the purity of their words and actions that they may chill with horror at the sound of an oath, and blush with indignation at an obscene expression" (Adams, 74). Although she wanted her children to receive a sound education, she was also concerned with the moral lessons they were learning and how they used their education to become good citizens.
Abigail Adams possessed a sincere interest in how her children were educated and she believed it was part of her patriotic duty to supervise their education whether it was in a formal setting or in the home of a family friend. It is obvious that Abigail Adams possessed the ability to make choices and decisions independently, based on her own thoughts and opinions. Her husband even encouraged her to speak freely and engaged her in conversations about the politics of the time. Since Abigail Adams was an intelligent, confident, outspoken woman, she consciously chose to be a patriot and persistently demonstrated her support of the cause. Although her concentration rested with the education of her children, Abigail demonstrated a multidimensional personality. Most of her letters reveal an extreme love, care and devotion to her husband John Adams.
Her intelligence and understanding of politics is constantly reinforced throughout the letters as well. In a letter dated September 14, 1774, Abigail wrote, "All my intelligence is collected from the news paper and I can only reply that I saw by that, that you arrived such a day" (Adams, 71). Her correspondence establishes many things. First, her writing illustrates an apparent concern for her husband, his whereabouts, and his business.
Secondly, her writings demonstrate how knowledgeable she was on current events in the colonies and the involvement of her husband and family friends. Additionally, Abigail wrote to John about her own patriotic spirit and her surprise at the how patriotic her fellow townspeople were. She also noticed that the Tories in her town feared for their safety. She commented in a letter dated September 14, 1774, "Not a Tory but hides his head.
The church parson thought they were coming after him, and run up garret they say, an other jump out of his window and hid among the corn whilst a third crept under his bord fence, and told his Beads" (Adams, 73). These accounts of how the Tories were alienated were probably exaggerated, but it still demonstrates how determined the citizens were to voice their support of the colonies's epa ration from Britain. Additionally, John Adams requested Abigail's advice and detailed accounts of important information about political events of the time. Not only did John Adams seek information from Abigail Adams, he in turn sent updates to her. In a few letters from John Adams to Abigail during September of 1774, John described the meetings of Congress and the number of debates that were going on during several sessions. His writing suggests that he wanted Abigail to comment on the situations at hand.
As John Adams continued to write to his beloved, he reminded her of the most important task of a female patriot. On September 20, 1774 he wrote, "Frugality, my Dear, Frugality, O Economy, Parsimony must be our Refuge. I hope the Ladies are every day diminishing their ornaments... ." (Adams, 77).
Prior to the Declaration of Independence, the females colonists were encouraged to boycott various goods from Britain in order to help the cause. Adams continued, "Let us Eat Potatoes and drink Water. Let us wear Canvass, and undressed Sheepskins, rather than submit to the unrighteous, and ignominious Domination that is prepared for Us" (77). Abigail Adams heeded her husband's requests and reminded the women of their most important contribution to the revolution. Abigail's denouncement of British parcels began with the Tea Act in the early 1770 s. Keller writes about Abigail Adams' resistance to the Tea Act and her reaction to the arrival of tea in Boston Harbor.
She states, "Abigail did not see it (the Tea Act) as a radical departure in British policy but as the summit of accumulated grievances since the mid-1760 s" (Keller 52). Abigail Adams made homespun clothes and limited the number of personal "ornaments" that she owned, but most importantly she boycotted tea. The Tea Act truly drove Abigail Adams' resolve to support her countrymen's indignation. She saw her country as oppressed and insulted. More importantly, she viewed America as her country too, not just the country of men. "Even in late 1773, when Abigail stated that her fellow citizens would die to defend their country, she was describing the mounting conflict in terms of war between two separate nations.
(Keller, 53) Abigail Adams believed that America should already be independent and needed to resolve conflicts with Britain. Evidently, Abigail Adams' resentment towards Britain and her determination to avoid anything British (especially goods from their mother country) was a product of her own free will and thought. She formed her own opinions and was a strongly emotional woman. Eventually, her patriotic attitude would eventually lead to her commitment to the Declaration of Independence.
The correspondence between Abigail and John continued, and Abigail's quest to be involved in the political atmosphere of the revolution heightened. The intimate relationship between John and Abigail allowed them to communicate freely about any subject, including politics. John respected his beloved wife, and wrote freely to her about the business he was attending to in Congress. In turn, Abigail wrote thoughtfully and insight fully on everything she witnessed during the revolution.
One particular account is documented in her June 18, 1775 letter. First, she writes a sincere account of the death of Dr. Warren, a dear friend of the Adams. Her high opinion of Dr. Warren is evident when she wrote, "Great is our Loss.
He has distinguished himself in every engagement, by his courage and fortitude, by animating the Soldiers and leading them on by his own example" (Adams, 90). Abigail's high esteem of her friend and recollection of his involvement in battle proves that she paid specific attention to the battle that her country was embroiled in and that she believed in her country's leaders. She knew that they would eventually lead the colonies to the ultimate goal of separation from Britain. In the same letter, Abigail Adams continues, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...
The Battle began upon our intrenchments upon Bunkers Hill... ." (90). Abigail gave updates on the status of their friends as well as the battles that were ensuing near her home. If she were not truly a patriotic woman, she would have cared less about the current battles that the men were fighting and even less about the political world her husband was involved in. Additional letters contain accounts of battles, including the outstanding contributions made by General Howe, General Washington, and General Lee. She actually did meet General Washington, and many other generals and soldiers since her house was always open to other patriots and Abigail was always ready and willing to entertain.
In a specific letter, Abigail recounts her first meeting with General George Washington and General Lee, both of whom she entertained at their home in Braintree. She wrote, "You had prepared me to entertain a favorable opinion of him, but I thought the one half was not told me. Dignity with ease, and complacency, the Gentleman and Soldier look agreeably blended in him. Modesty market every line and future of his face" (Adams, 100).
She also wrote of General Lee saying that he "looks like a careless hardy Veteran and from his appearance brought to my mind his namesake Charles the 12, kin of Sweden (100). In describing her first impressions of both men as agreeable, Abigail conveys a sense of comfort with them. It seems that Abigail Adams's trat egy was to stay in touch with the political atmosphere of the time was to surround herself with these men and continue to write to John and other male friends involved in politics. She was successful in acquiring information, and she used this knowledge to form her own opinions. John Adams, however, did not always accept Abigail's opinions on political events.
The best example of John Adams' denouncement of one of Abigail's opinions was written in a correspondence that took place in March of 1776. John Adams wrote to Abigail about the preparations for a document that later became the Declaration of Independence. The famous correspondence has been dubbed the "Remember the Ladies" letter. After hearing about the new code of laws she believes he is involved in creating, Abigail relayed a few requests to her husband. She wrote, "Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors... Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could" (Adams, 121).
From her avid interest in politics of the time and her patriotic nature, it seems obvious to expect Abigail Adams to not only fight for the cause of the colonies as a whole, but also for the freedom for women and equality of women. She explains to John Adams that the oppression that her sex endures is parallel to the oppression that the British were imposing on the colonies. She also wrote, "If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to rodent a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation" (121). In this part of her letter, Abigail Adams did not mean to indicate that she would organize a revolt or break and sort of law, but she was trying to promote an idea that likely to be rejected.
In Edith B. Gelles evaluation of Abigail's letter, she identifies Abigail's introduction of the subject of women's rights as being a joke. After this, she states, "Jokes are the recourse of the weak when they wish to establish credibility but cannot be taken seriously because their mission far overreaches the bounds of social acceptability" (Gelles, 15). Clearly, Abigail Adams knew that her ideas were slightly far fetched, but were not completely preposterous. If the colonies were fighting for freedom from the tyrannical reign of Britain, than certainly they could include women in the fight as well.
The letter that Abigail wrote in private to John would have cause quite a stir if it had been for the public eye. Abigail was extremely bold when she made her claims. More specifically, her ideas were revolutionary. This letter contains elements that reveal a true look into Abigail's life. Additionally, Gelles points out that Abigail Adams' complaint to her husband in the beginning of the letter "summarized the subordinate social status of women in the Revolutionary America who were designing the future of the nation" (Gelles, 16).
However, this allusion to female subordination of the time did not mean that Abigail Adams believed that the subjugation of women should continue. On the contrary, Abigail Adams was strategically trying to use her husband's political powers to impact different political policies that were being debated at the time. (Gelles, 16) Unfortunately, Abigail Adams was extraordinarily ahead of her time, but the women of the suffragist movement almost a century and a half later would eventually emulate her ideas and attempt to put them into action. John Adams response to Abigail's letter was unfortunately predictable. He was more concerned with creating a unity between the quarreling colonies, not to produce more disunity through recognizing the inequality of women (Gelles, 17). On April 14, 1776, John Adams replied to Abigail, noting her accuracy in claiming that General Washington was "duped by Dunmore," encouraging her to read Thomas Paine's Common Sense and requested that she be patient with her expectations of "Declarations of Independency" (Adams, 122).
However, he also turns down her ideas for female rights. He continued, "As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh... We know better than to repeal our Masculine Theory" (Adams, 123). Consequently, John Adams was still promoting the inferiority of Abigail's sex, and he must have respected his "dear friend" Abigail as one of a kind. After her letter for John to "Remember the Ladies," Abigail Adams continued her patriotic cause for the colonies and began a life long struggle to attain some rights for women. With the continuance of her work, Abigail Adams found a way to make some improvements in the lives of the women in the new Republic.
In addition to advocating women's rights, Abigail Adams was truly a patriotic female American. As the dictionary states, a patriot is "one who loves, supports and defends one's country." Abigail Adams obviously loved and supported her country, and she demonstrated her love through her actions and correspondence with her husband. Abigail also defended her country through boycotting British goods and by taking care of the home while John Adams was away. Efficiently, Abigail Adams also ensured that her children would be intelligent and patriotic Americans so that they could be active participants in their new nation.
Through Abigail's own education, her close relationship with her husband, and her constant interaction with prominent figures of the time, she had the ability to make and voice her own opinions about the Revolution. This freedom that was granted to Abigail Adams allowed her to truly identify herself as an ardent patriot and women's rights advocate. Primary Sources: . The Book of Abigail and John.
Eds. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlander and Mary -Jo Kline.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975. Secondary Sources: Gelles, Edith B. First Thoughts, Life and Letters of Abigail Adams. New York: T wayne Publishers, 1998.
Keller, Rosemary. Patriotism and the female sex: Abigail Adams and the American Revolution. New York: Cals on Publishers, 1994.