Abigail Adams was probably the first person in America to argue that women and men should have equal rights. She was a native of Massachusetts, well-educated and liberal in religion. In 1776, Adams asked her husband John, a member of the Continental Congress, to "remember the ladies" as he and his colleagues debated the future of the new nation. They and their friends discussed women's rights at length over the next three years. Did they find common ground?
The following letters are from Charles Francis Adams, Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, During the Revolution (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1875); and Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1854).
Abigail Adams to Issac Smith, Jr.
Braintree April the 20 1771
I write you, not from the Noisy Buisy Town, but from my humble Cottage in Braintree, where I arrived last Saturday and here again am to take up my abode.
"Where Contemplation p[l]umes her rufled Wings And the free Soul look's down to pitty Kings."
Suffer me to snatch you a few moments from all the Hurry and tumult of London and in immagination place you by me that I may ask you ten thousand Questions, and bear with me Sir, tis the only recompence you can make for the loss of your Company.
From my Infancy I have always felt a great inclination to visit the Mother Country as tis call'd and had nature formed me of the other Sex, I should certainly have been a rover. And altho this desire has greatly diminished owing partly I believe to maturer years, but more to the unnatural treatment which this our poor America has received from her, I yet retain a curiosity to know what ever is valuable in her. I thank you Sir for the particular account you have already favourd me with, but you always took pleasure in being communicatively good.
Women you know Sir are considerd as Domestick Beings, and altho they inherit an Eaquel Share of curiosity with the other Sex, yet but few are hardy eno' to venture abroad, and explore the amaizing variety of distant Lands. The Natural tenderness and Delicacy of our Constitutions, added to the many Dangers we are subject to from your Sex, renders it almost imposible for a Single Lady to travel without injury to her character. And those who have a protecter in an Husband, have generally speaking obstacles sufficent to prevent their Roving, and instead of visiting other Countries; are obliged to content themselves with seeing but a very small part of their own. To your Sex we are most of us indebted for all the knowledg we acquire of Distant lands. As to a Knowledg of Humane Nature, I believe it may as easily be obtained in this Country, as in England, France or Spain. Education alone I conceive Constitutes the difference in Manners. Tis natural I believe for every person to have a partiality for their own Country. Dont you think this little Spot of ours better calculated for happiness than any other you have yet seen or read of? Would you exchange it for England, France, Spain or Ittally? Are not the people here more upon an Eaquality in point of knowledg and of circumstances--there being none so immensly rich as to Lord it over us, neither any so abjectly poor as to suffer for the necessaries of life provided they will use the means. It has heretofore been our boasted priviledg that we could sit under our own vine and Apple trees in peace enjoying the fruits of our own labour--but alass! the much dreaded change Heaven avert. Shall we ever wish to change Countries; to change conditions with the Affricans and the Laplanders for sure it were better never to have known the blessings of Liberty than to have enjoyed it, and then to have it ravished from us.
But where do I ramble? I only ask your ear a few moments longer. The Americans have been called a very religious people, would to Heaven they were so in earnest, but whatever they may have been I am...