Thursday, July 26, 2012

John and Abigail Adams on Women's Rights


In the months leading up to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, who was a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and his wife Abigail Adams, who was at their home in Braintree, Massachusetts, engaged in a lively correspondence about men, women, liberty, and equal rights... 

Abigail to John, March 31, 1776
“…I have sometimes been ready to think 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. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us….

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 imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.” 

John to Abigail, April 14, 1776
“…As to Declarations of Independency, be patient…. As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient—that schools and Colleges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented.—This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out.

Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Although 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 petticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight….”

Abigail to John, May 7, 1776
“…I cannot say 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 Arbitrary 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—

"Charm by accepting, by submitting sway Yet have our Humor most when we obey." 

(The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, ed. L.H. Butterfield et al. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 121-123, 127) (Spelling Modernized).

No comments: