America’s First Power Couple

History often remembers the great men of each era, their very public accomplishments, and the trials and tribulations they may or may not have gone through to get there, sometimes to the extreme. What’s often forgotten in many cases is the men generally didn’t do any of it alone. For most, there was their partner in life beside them supporting them through it all. Beyond such aphorisms as “Behind every great man, you’ll find a great woman”, as Ben Franklin noted in his June 25, 1745 “Old Mistresses Apologue”, “It is the Man and Woman united that make the complete human Being. Separate, she wants his Force of Body and Strength of Reason; he, her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissors. If you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.”

Nowhere is this perhaps better illustrated than in the United States’ first power couple, John and Abigail Adams. Breaking many customs of their era, Abigail was subservient to no one, an equal partner in their combined journey to help create and shape the United States, with arguably only a handful of others having more influence on the United States today because of their work in its foundation than these two. While Thomas Jefferson would once state of John Adams during Adams’ Presidency, Adams “takes no counsel from anyone”, he was incorrect. His closest confidant and whom he thoroughly relied for her equally keen intellect next to her certifiably genius husband, was his wife, Abigail. As historian and author of Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage Edith Gelles, notes, “Abigail was his best ally, and because she was intelligent, well-informed and totally sympathetic with him, she was devoted to his politics. She probably was the best-informed and most reliable advisor to a president until Eleanor Roosevelt in the 20th century.”

On top of this, while her husband was off gallivanting across the nation and the world, leaving them parted for about half of the first two decades of their marriage, she also managed all the family’s affairs from approximately middle class to start, to later great prosperity in some rather ingenious ways that actually occasionally went against her husband’s wishes, as we’ll get into, but in the end doing it anyway and making John Adams one of the few early presidents who not only didn’t see near financial ruin because of the nature of the position at the time, but one who died relatively wealthy. This was in stark contrast to the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who started off incredibly wealthy and ended life deeply in debt- in Adams’ case, all achieved through Abigail’s keen mind for investments, allowing her husband to do his thing without concern for his financial base and homefront.

Going back to her counsel, it is thus no coincidence that when John Adams finally ascended to the role of President, he desperately wrote to his then sick wife four hundred miles away in Quincy, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my life…” And, “I can do nothing without you… Public affairs are so critical and dangerous that all our Thoughts must be taken up with them. I must intreat you, to loose not a moments time in preparing to come… assist me with your Councils…”

The first woman to be both wife and later mother to a U.S. President, and generally ranked as one of the best female intellect’s of her era in the United States, so much so that she was given the nickname “Mrs. President” for her influence on affairs of state during her husband’s Presidency, Abigail Adams is the oft’ forgotten half of the power couple pair, and considered by many to be greatest among the little talked about “Founding Mothers”, and a woman future President Harry Truman would remark, “would have been a better President than her husband.”

So let’s dive into it shall we?

Abigail Smith was born on November 22, 1744 at the North Parish Congregational Church in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Smith. Her father was a prominent leader in her community as a Congregational minister. Unlike some hellfire and brimstone type ministers, however, William stressed morality and reason as a key tenant to religion- two things that would likewise be a hallmark of Abigail and her future husband, John’s, core tenets to live life by.

While as a child her family did own four slaves, including one who cared for Abigail in her youth named Phoebe, much like John Adams, Abigail would grow to to loathe the institution of slavery and helped instill this in her later son John Quincy Adams, who would lead the charge to abolish slavery in the United States through decades of work in Congress, all laying the foundation for what Abraham Lincoln and his supporters would finally accomplish.

She would state of all this in a March 31, 1776 letter to her husband concerning slaveholders, among whom many of the founding fathers were, “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…”

On September 22, 1774, she would further write to John, “I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”

She would further stir up some controversy in Philadelphia when, in 1797, she took it upon herself to see to it that a young black teen named James would be able to attend school. She wrote to John, then President elect, of the incident on February 13, 1797,

“I have been much diverted with a little occurrence which took place a few days since and which serve to show how little founded in nature the so much boasted principle of Liberty and equality is. Master Heath has opend an Evening School to instruct a Number of Apprentices Lads… James desired that he might go. I told him to go with my compliments to Master Heath and ask him if he would take him. He did and Master Heath returnd for answer that he would. Accordingly James went. After about a week, Neighbour Faxon came in one Evening and requested to speak to me. His Errant was to inform me that if James went to School, it would break up the School for the other Lads refused to go…. This Mr. Faxon is attacking the principle of Liberty and equality upon the only Ground upon which it ought to be supported, an equality of Rights. The Boy is a Freeman as much as any of the young Men, and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? Is this the Christian principle of doing to others, as we would have others do to us?”

Going back to her youth, as with most women of her era, Abigail was never formally educated, outside of that her mother taught her to read and write and for a brief time one Richard Cranch, who would later marry Abigail’s older sister, took to tutoring them. This simply wouldn’t do for the otherwise brilliant young girl, who, much like her future husband John Adams, craved knowledge and learning insatiably. Towards this end, while she couldn’t get a formal education like her male counterparts, through her father, uncle, and grandfather’s combined respective libraries, she was able to study all manner of subjects, something her grandfather, Colonel John Quincy, who the city of Quincy is named after, would encourage. Through a lifetime of this, by the time of her position as First Lady, this otherwise not formally educated individual is today considered one of the most erudite women to ever serve in the position, with it noted in her well over a thousand surviving letters she often would quote various works of literature even more readily than her husband who also is generally considered one of the greatest and most well-read minds of his era in the United States, and enjoyed the same practice in his letters.

As to how the couple met, around the age of 15, a 24 year old farmer and lawyer John Adams would come visit the Smith household with his friend, the aforementioned Richard Cranch. Initial impressions were seemingly not good, not just his finding all the Smith girls relatively uninteresting, but he also did not like their father at first. He wrote in his journal,

“Parson Smith has no small share of Priest Craft. — He conceals his own Wealth, from his Parish, that they may not be hindered by knowing it from sending him Presents. — He talks very familiarly with the People, Men and Women of his Parish, to gain their affection.He is [a] crafty designing Man. — He watches carefully Peoples Looks and Behaviour… his Conceit, his orthodoxy, his Ignorance [illegible] &c. and I caught him, several times, looking earnestly at my eyes my face. — He is not one of the heedless, inattentive Crew, that take no Notice [illegible] of Men’s Behaviour and Conversation and form no judgment of their Characters.”

As for the girls, he wrote, “Polly and Nabby are Wits… A Man of fond Passions. Cranch was fond of his Friend, fond of his Girl, and would have been fond of his Wife and Children. Tender and fond. Loving and compassionate…. are fondness and Wit compatible? [Parson] [Smiths] Girls have not this fondness, nor this Tenderness… Are [the Smith Girls] either Frank or fond, or even candid. Not fond, not frank, not candid.”

And for Abigail’s parent’s part, they were likewise relatively unimpressed by the country-ish young lawyer who, while he may have had a great education, his middle class background and farm manners were less than impressive and deemed unsuitable for a good match for one of their daughters.

That said, Abigail had something going for her that none of the more wealthy and beautiful women John Adams had courting him did, and so did John in turn. Both were unabashedly frank and open. And both possessed extremely intelligent minds with a general exceptionally strong compatibility in thought and natures.

Thus while Abigail may not have been heralded for her beauty or tenderness, as so many men prized, and John may not have been upper class enough for her family’s liking, and himself not exactly the most attractive or tender man in the world, to put it mildly, already beginning to lose his hair and a bit pudgy around the edges in his 20s, as the two began to talk and ultimately correspond with one another regularly over the next three years, their respective and very complimentary intellects were revealed to each other. With this, so did their affections for one another grow rapidly, along with their friendship.

For Abigail, John Adam’s admiration for her intelligence and her intellectual accomplishments was tantamount in a future partner given her passion for this, and how many of his peers would have suppressed, rather than encouraged her, in it. For John, all of this about Abigail made her relatively unique to her peers owing to societal practices of the era and region with regards to women and education. Thus, in her he had found a rare equal to his genius mind and he quickly came to value her and her thoughts to an extreme degree.

On all this, during his time with the Continental Congress, John Adams would write his wife, “Is there no Way for two friendly Souls, to converse together, altho the Bodies are 400 Miles off? — Yes by Letter. — But I want a better Communication. I want to hear you think, or to see your Thoughts.”

But going back to their courtship, it did not take long for John’s affections for Abigail to come out, at first referring to her as “Miss Adorable”, and not long after “the great Goddess Diana”, as well as writing on October 4, 1762, “I hereby order you to give [the bearer of this letter], as many kisses, and as many Hours of your company after nine o’clock as he pleases to demand, and charge them to my account.”

As for Abigail, she would write on August 11, 1763, “And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship … unite these, and there is a threefold chord — and by this chord I am not ashamed to say that I am bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it. … The health and happiness of Seneca she says was not dearer to his Paulina, than that of Lysander to his Diana… Adieu may this find you in better health than I fear it will, and happy as your Diana wishes you. Accept this hasty Scrawl warm from the Heart of Your Sincere Diana”

Finally, after approximately a three year courtship, Abigail’s parents relented and gave their blessings to a union between the two, with Abigail’s father himself presiding over their marriage on October 25, 1764 at the Smith’s home in Weymouth.

After the reception, the new couple, little knowing they’d just made a union that would shape history, would both mount together on a single horse and set off to their new home in Braintree Massachusetts in present day Quincy.

Right from the start, the couple had to endure lengthy periods apart from one another, with John Adams traveling around from town to town continuing to grow his legal practice, while Abigail dutifully stayed home and took care of managing their small farm and finances. On this one, several years later, she took to, among many other investments, targeting junk bonds, in slight defiance of her husband’s wishes to put all their money into land. In this one, he wrote to her in the fall of 1783 to see about purchasing their neighbors’ farms, to which Abigail responded she would see about it, but that it would likely be expensive and suggested instead, “There is a method of laying out money to more advantage than by the purchase of land’s… State Notes.” Which, at the time, were sometimes going as low as 25 cents on the dollar, but yielding interest on the full amount. While John Adams had strong opinions against such investment, she did it anyway. In all of this and other management of their finances, making a killing, ultimately propelling their family from middle class to wealthy in the process.

Interestingly, because she was largely responsible for the family’s assets, she also broke precedent via claiming ownership of some of these assets herself, including leaving a will which normally wasn’t a thing for a married woman at the time given her husband technically owned everything, not her. She nonetheless left some $100,000 in modern day valuation to various women upon her death, as well as small bequests to her sons.

As alluded to, through her work in all this, she is largely credited for why the couple not only never suffered any real financial difficulties throughout their eventful and tumultuous life, in contrast to so many other of the early U.S. Presidents, but also died quite well off given their original station in life to start.

In any event, going back to the beginning of their marriage, Abigail would give birth to the couple’s first child, also named Abigail, a mere 9 months after the couple were wed. She would add 5 more over the next 12 years, only 4 of which, however, survived until adulthood- one, Grace, dying at 2 years old and Elizabeth being stillborn while her husband was away in Congress in 1777 with, at the time, rumors of the British intending to attack Boston and Quincy rampant, adding to all their extreme stress during the revolution.

As for the rest of the children, Abigail took over much of their early education. In particular, seeing the genuine brilliance in her son John Quincy Adams, often called the “Genius President”, he was groomed at a young age for this highest office. With Abigail pulling no punches in her expectations of him nor any of her other children.

Lest you think any of this hyperbole about the whole “Groomed to be President” thing, John Adams would write in a letter to John Quincy on April 23, 1794, “You come into Life with Advantages which will disgrace you, if your success is médiocre.— And if you do not rise to the head not only of your Profession but of your Country it will be owing to your own Laziness Slovenliness and Obstinacy.”

Not messing around either, Abigail wrote to John Quincy when he’d just completed a risky trip across the big blue at the age of 10, “For dear as you are to me, I had much rather you should have found your grave in the ocean you have crossed… rather than see you an immoral profligate or a graceless child.” She also would later write to him, “How unpardonable would it have been in you, to have been a Blockhead.”

Going back to John Adams, while he was, once again, often parted from his family, he still wrote to his son regularly, encouraging him to read, and in some cases translate, certain works he felt important for his son to study in depth, from Virgil, Horace, Aristotle, and Plutarch, to Thucydides and Hugo Grotius, as well as generally pushing John Quincy in all facets of his education and life to excel. Taking to such things like a fish in water, the Jr. Adams soon found his knowledge on many subjects superior to even some of his teachers throughout his formal schooling.

Abigail stated of this, “If you are conscious to yourself that you possess more knowledge upon some subjects than others…, reflect that you have had greater opportunities of seeing the world, and obtaining a knowledge of Mankind than any of your contemporaries, that you have never wanted a Book, but it has been supplied you, that your whole time has been spent in the company of Men of Literature and Science…”

The senior Adams would also write on December 28, 1780 to John Quincy, “Every Thing in Life should be done with Reflection, and Judgment, even the most insignificant Amusements. They should all be arranged in subordination, to the great Plan of Happiness, and Utility. That you may attend early to this Maxim is the Wish of your affectionate Father.”

Going back a bit, during the Battle of Bunker Hill, Abigail would also take the then 7 year old John Quincy to nearby Penn Hill to watch the battle on June 17, 1775, and discuss the significance of the event with him.

While the times were trying and extremely stressful for all involved, she would later write to John Quincy on January 12, 1780 of how grateful he should be to live in such turbulent times, “These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orator if he had not been roused, kindled, and inflamed by the tyranny of Catiline, Verres, and Mark Anthony? The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities, which would otherwise lie dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

Moving on from her children to her council to her husband, thanks to the fact that they were apart for so much of their marriage, including one period for almost five years straight, while the couple may have loathed it and Abigail referred to the time as her “widowhood” and “patriotic duty”, it was a boon to history. You see, because the two best friends were so close and relied on one another’s counsel so much, while countless letters between them were lost in transit, they wrote over the course of these periods apart well over a thousand, often lengthy, letters that have survived to this day. These Covered all periods of the Revolution, their deep thoughts and intellectual discussions on government and politics and significant events of the era, as well as simple things like insights into their relationship and family- in all giving an amazing and almost unparalleled picture of this couple throughout their lives that had so much influence on what the United States would become.

On this “unparalleled” note, unfortunately, while other prominent individuals, like George and Martha Washington, were likewise often parted and wrote an unknown number of letters, upon George’s death, Martha destroyed their letters to preserve their privacy. This was something Abigail did request John Adams do as well, but he replied, “You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.” And then doubled down by purchasing leather cases for them both to store them for posterity. That said, he did once write to his friend and fellow founding father Benjamin Rush he had great concern that the letters would be read while he was still alive, stating, “God help me if they ever see my letters.”

In any event, as to specific discourse between them during these periods, Abigail would write on May 7, 1776 encouraging John to have the colonies declare independence, stating, “A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own importance? Shall we not be dispiced by foreign powers for hesitating so long at a word?”

A mere one month later, John Adams would be selected as a part of the Committee of Five to draft the Declaration of Independence to do just this.

Around this same time Abigail famously made an impassioned plea to her husband on March 31, 1776, “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 into 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. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.”

Unfortunately, while John Adams very much treated his wife as an equal, and occasionally his superior in some matters, throughout their partnership, this was a sentiment too far for even his incredibly intellectual and open 18th century mind. Replying on April 14, 1776 as if the whole thing had been said in jest, and teasingly alluding to who the real masters are already in women, writing,

“As to your extraordinary Code of Laws… We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where… But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented… We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they are in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat…”

She did not let the matter drop, however, and In the aforementioned May 7, 1776 letter in which she encouraged Adams to get the colonies to declare independence, she also wrote, “I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives. But you must remember that Arbitary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken—and notwithstanding all your wise Laws and Maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters, and without violence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet—”

Needless to say, she did not take the matter so lightly, nor the plight of her sex at the time when it came to education and property rights particularly. Arguing vehemently that an educated woman would be far more valuable to her family and more capable to raise superior children, and thus nation, because of it. Of this, she wrote John Adams on June 30, 1778, “…you need not be told how much female Education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule Female learning, tho I acknowledge it my happiness to be connected with a person of a more generous mind and liberal Sentiments.”

Going back to the revolution, eventually John Adams was sent abroad to France in 1778 and the couple were parted for years. The journey across the ocean was anything but routine for Adams, with the added danger of potentially encountering British ships which would have likely seen John tried and executed for treason, and with no way for his family back home to find out if he’d made it safely for many weeks after his departure.

Ultimately Abigail did join her husband in France and later England from 1784 to 1788. Her time here would later serve her extremely well for her time as First Lady, for the first time having to run a large household including several servants, as well as being exposed to elite society in Europe and observing the manners and customs of such in conducting official events and dinners and the like.

Returning to the U.S. and their home in Quincy in 1788, the two great friends were not yet set to be able to fully enjoy their home and continued time together, with John Adams just one year later serving as Vice President under George Washington from 1789 to 1797. While the couple at this point seem to have had desires to simply return home after, they both felt it their civic duty for John Adams to continue his service in running for President, which he did on March 4, 1797, narrowly defeating his close friend, but extreme political rival, Thomas Jefferson. On this note, Jefferson wasn’t just close to John Adams, but also adored Abigail for similar reasons that John did- her intelligence, thoughts, and conversation, writing Abigail Adams was “one of the most estimable characters on earth.” With the two exchanging hundreds of very intimate letters over their lifetime.

Going back to the Presidency, unfortunately for the couple, the then 52 year old Abigail missed her husband’ inauguration, instead recently suffering from a bout of rheumatism, as well as tending to her 89 year old mother-in-law who would die just a month later. However, as previously noted, as the full weight of his office descended upon him, and having a Congress who were bitterly divided by the relatively new two party system that had risen up, and even his own dear friend and Vice President Thomas Jefferson refusing to work together with him to try to bring the two sides together, Adams desperately reached out to his best friend, writing on March 22, 1797, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my life…”

Unfortunately, she did not come right away, much to the ever increasing anxiety of the new President. He would write her a few weeks later on April 11, “You had not received any of my Letters which urge your immediate departure for Philadelphia. I must now repeat this with Zeal and Earnestness. I can do nothing without you… Public affairs are so critical and dangerous that all our Thoughts must be taken up with them. I must intreat you, to loose not a moments time in preparing to come on that you may take off from me every Care of Life but that of my public Duty, assist me with your Councils, and console me with your Conversation.”

And so she came. In his time in office helping to define many of the roles of the First Lady as the aforementioned historian Edith Gelles states, “she established many of the protocols, which survived. She wrote about having to have dinners, in which she entertained all the members of the Senate and their wives, and the House of Representatives and their wives, and the Supreme Court and their wives. She also had to have a great Fourth of July party, in which everyone in the neighborhood of the capital city was invited to attend. So she was a great social arbiter.”

Indeed, when Abigail wrote to her close friend Martha Washington for advice on how to conduct herself as First Lady, Martha responded on February 20, 1797, “It is very flattering for me, my dear Madam, to be asked for rules … With in your self, you possess a guide more certain than any I can give, to direct you:— I mean the good sence and judgment for which you are distinguished.”

But far more importantly, she worked alongside her husband to help guide the nation. Not always agreeing, such as their extreme difference of opinion on whether the U.S. should stay neutral or go to war in the conflict between France and England, John Adams, with few strong allies to rely on in Congress given his decision to attempt to try to bring the two bickering parties together, continually instead relied on his wife for council and insight into affairs.

In this role, Abigail was very aware few outside of her husband wanted to hear the opinion of a woman, and in the extremely politically charged atmosphere, also aware everything she said or wrote could be weapons leveled against him. She stated of this, “I have been so used to freedom of sentiment that I know not how to place so many guards about me, as will be indispensable, to look at every word before I utter it, and to impose a silence upon myself, when I long to talk.” And that, “My pen runs riot. I forget that it must grow cautious and prudent. I fear I shall make a dull business when such restrictions are laid upon it.”

Nevertheless, much like her husband, keeping her mouth shut when she had a well reasoned opinion was not in her nature. And, thus, Abigail wrote many public letters in support of her husband and his policies, as well as privately saw to it that stories painting her husband in a positive light frequently found their way to certain members of the press.

As she predicted, however, this was sometimes used against John Adams. While today the title of “Mrs. President” leveled against her shows in part her significant influence on things and how John Adams valued her keen intellect and ideas in a positive way, many of John Adams’ political opponents did not use the moniker kindly. Such as Congressman Albert Gallatin, who wrote, “She is Mrs. President, not of the United States but of a faction… It is not right.”

Moving on from politics, the couple also became the first President and First Lady to reside in the President’s House, later renamed the White House, giving an interesting insight into the new capital’s humble beginnings.

Upon his arrival, John Adams did not give much of his thoughts in writing to his wife, penning simply on November 2, 1800, “My dearest friend, We arrived here last night, or rather yesterday, at one o’Clock and here we dined and Slept. The Building is in a State to be habitable. And now we wish for your Company…. Before I end my Letter I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof. I shall not attempt a description of it. You will form the best Idea of it from Inspection.”

Upon her own arrival, Abigail would write a much more detailed account of the new White House, painting a very different picture of the region from today,

“I arrived here on Sunday last, and without meeting with any accident worth noticing, except losing ourselves when we left Baltimore and going eight or nine miles on the Frederick road, by which means we were obliged to go the other eight through woods, where we wandered two hours without finding a guide or the path…. woods are all you can see from Baltimore until you reach the city, which is only so in name. Here and there is a small cot, without a glass window, interspersed amongst the forests, through which you travel miles without seeing any human being. In the city there are buildings enough, if they were compact and finished, to accommodate Congress and those attached to it; but as they are, and scattered as they are, I see no great comfort for them…. The house is upon a grand and superb scale, requiring about thirty servants to attend and keep the apartments in proper order, and perform the ordinary business of the house and stables…. The lighting of the apartments, from kitchen to parlors and chambers, is a tax indeed; and the fires we are obliged to keep to secure us from daily agues is another very cheering comfort… I could content myself almost anywhere three months; but surrounded with forests, can you believe that wood is not to be had because people cannot be found to cut and cart it? Briesler entered into a contract with a man to supply him with wood. A small part, a few chords only, has he been able to get. Most of that was expended to dry the walls of the house before we came in, and yesterday the man told him it was impossible for him to procure it to be cut and carter. He has had recourse to coals; but we cannot get grates made and set. We have, indeed, come into a new country.

…The house is made habitable, but there is not a single apartment finished, and all withinside, except the plastering, has been done…. We have not the least fence, yard, or other convenience, without, and the great unfinished audience room I made a drying room of, to hang up the clothes in. Principal stairs are not up, and will not be this winter. Six chambers are made comfortable; two are occupied by the President and Mr. Shaw; two lower rooms, one for a common parlor, and one for a levee room. Upstairs there is the oval room, which is designed for the drawing room, and has the crimson furniture in it. It is a very handsome room now; but, when completed, it will be beautiful…. It is a beautiful spot, capable of every improvement, and the more I view it, the more I am delighted with it.”

That said, such a mansion was not really to her sensibilities, as she would later write, “neither my habits nor my education or inclination have led me to an expensive style of living.” That said, given the state of the White House at the time, as she noted, much was lacking, and in order to keep warm in winter, staying in one room with the door closed was required.

Ultimately however, in December of 1800 when John Adams’ officially lost in his bid for a second term as President, all such ordeals and lengthy separations the couple had had to endure throughout their marriage were over. She would later write to her son, Thomas, on December 13, 1800, “for myself and family I have few regrets; at My age and with my bodily infirmities I shall be happier at Quincy…. So on that score I have little to mourn over; if I did not rise with Dignity, I can at least fall with ease…. I leave to time the unfolding of a drama. I leave to posterity to reflect upon the times past—and I leave them Characters to contemplate upon.— my own intention is to return to Quincy as soon as I conveniently can.”

Unfortunately, while she may have looked forward to retirement from public life, almost exactly at the same time the partners lost their bid for the presidency, they also learned they had lost something far greater, another of their children, Charles, dying at the age of 30.

In the aftermath, John and Abigail returned to their home in Quincy and lived out their lives as farmers, as well as entertaining their remaining children and grandchildren and countless others. On the side, the couple also continued to help advise and guide their son John Quincy Adams in his own rather fascinating and odd rise to the Presidency, which we’ll be covering in a future video The Horribly Dressed, Socially Awkward, Genius President.

In the end, after 18 more years together, Abigail Adams died on October 28, 1818 in Quincy Massachusetts of typhoid fever. Her last words were to her husband by her side, “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.”

Abigail Adams’ obituary would ultimately read in part, “Possessing, at every period of life, the unlimited confidence, as well as affection of her husband, she was admitted, at all times, to share largely of his thoughts. While, on the one hand, the activity of her mind, and its thorough knowledge of all branches of domestic economy, enabled her, almost wholly to relieve him from the cares incident to the concerns of private life; on the other, she was a friend, whom it was his delight to consult, in every perplexity of public affairs; and whose councils never failed to partake of that happy harmony, which prevailed in her character; in which intuitive judgment was blended with consummate prudence; the spirit of conciliation, with the spirit of her station, and the refinement of her sex. In the storm, as well as on the smooth sea of life, her virtues were ever the object of his trust and veneration.”

As you might imagine, John Adams was devastated by his best friend and partner in life’s death after 54 years together, in his grief immediately after her passing exclaiming, “I wish I could lay down beside her and die too.”

He would have to wait another 8 years for this, ultimately leaving this world on July 4, 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the United States declaring its independence.

Today, if you’re in the neighborhood, you can visit John and Abigail Adams’s crypt, as well as John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa’s, at the United First Parish Church in Quincy. As well as visit the couple’s humble home at Adams National Historical Park.

Expand for References

Abigail Smith Adams

The Ageless Love Story of John and Abigail Adams

Abigail and John Adams Converse on Women’s Rights, 1776

The Adams Family and the Washingtons: A Political Friendship

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