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Abigail Adams was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams, as well as the mother of John Quincy Adams. She is sometimes considered to have been a.
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He just didn't see himself as somebody who would become a leader. I feel unutterable anxiety, unequal to this business. Narrator : As delegates convened in Carpenters Hall that September day, the American colonies were on the brink of war with the most powerful nation on earth.
Struggles with Parliament had dragged on for years. Adams knew this was the decisive moment, but he feared he was not up to the task. Joseph Ellis, Historian : Do you have what it takes? Are you learned enough? And he's worried about that. He's pushing himself, asking himself that question. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : There is in Congress a collection of the greatest men upon this continent, in abilities, virtues and fortunes.
It makes me blush for the sordid venal herd which I have seen in my own province. Narrator : He was awed by them at first, but it didn't take long for him to become impatient with some of his fellow delegates. David McCullough, Historian : He had a great mind. And it was a mind capable of seeing ahead, to a degree not found in most of us mortals. Narrator : Adams saw, long before many of the other delegates, that there had to be a break with Britain. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : Gentlemen, the object is great which we have in view, and we must expect a great expense of blood to obtain it, but it cannot be purchased at too dear a rate, as there is nothing on this side of Jerusalem of equal importance to mankind.
John Ferling, Historian : His confidence in what is possible for America and also his confidence in what's possible for John Adams begins to grow. And I think he begins to see that the sky is the limit. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : About eight o'clock Sunday evening there passed by here about of our men, and marched down to the powder house. Narrator : The British were fortifying Boston, she wrote, and seizing arms from the Americans. Local militias began hiding their ammunition. Soon, they would occupy the highest of the three hills opposite the city: Bunker Hill. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : The militia passed without any noise, not a word among them till they came against this house.
They asked me if I wanted any powder and I replied not, since it was in good hands. Narrator : It was an active political role she would continue for much of her life. And there were other letters, more personal, which John described as an "inexhaustible dowry," enriching his life. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : I have taken a great fondness for reading ancient history since you left me and I have persuaded Johnny to read me a page or two every day.
Narrator : Seven-year-old John Quincy was the second of the Adamses' four children. Young Abigail, called Nabby, was nine, and there were two small boys, Charles and Thomas. With war looming, most schools were closed. Abigail had to see to their education herself. She also ran the household and the farm, and managed their meager finances. David McCullough, Historian : At the end of a long day, which would begin for her at about five o'clock in the morning, in a house that upstairs is so cold that water freezes in the little wash basin, she sits down at her kitchen table with a quill pen and a candle, and writes some of the greatest letters ever written by an American.
Abigail Adams Linda Emond : I dare not express to you at miles how ardently I long for your return. The idea plays about my heart and awakens all the tender sentiments that years have increased and matured. Edith Gelles, Historian : She didn't ask him to come home. But she did tell him, time and again, how lonely she was without him. Narrator : Early on the morning of June 17th, , Abigail and the children, asleep in Braintree, were awakened by the thunder of cannon from across Boston harbor.
American militia on Bunker Hill had been attacked by British troops.
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There had been skirmishes with the British at Lexington and Concord in April, but this was the first all-out battle. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : How many have fallen we know not. The constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we cannot eat, drink, or sleep. Perhaps the decisive day is come on which the fate of America depends. Narrator : In Philadelphia, Abigail's reports from the front kept John supplied with the most up-to-date information, and heightened his belief that a formal break with Britain was essential.
The colonies should prepare for full-scale war.
Joseph Ellis, Historian : Adams is engaged in debate and in committee meetings in an extraordinarily intensive way. He is essentially the major legislator and the one-man Secretary of War, maddeningly telling people that there's not going to be a middle position here, folks. It's going to go one way or the other. And it is something that is called out of him- his own latent talent, his own latent energies-is called out of him by the urgency of the moment.
These really were the times that try men's souls. Narrator : Adams was the first to support George Washington as commander of the American forces. He was pushing for new governments for each colony and even drafted a guide for constitution-writers. Washington because he's appointed as head of what will soon come to be called the Continental Army.
And Adams is the major figure in the Congress. Narrator : But the Congress was sharply divided. Adams led a small radical faction; most delegates still favored reconciliation with Britain. Joseph Ellis, Historian : There were no unanimous votes; there were divided votes on almost every question.
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They were essentially improvising on the edge of catastrophe. Narrator : John Dickinson of Pennsylvania believed that independence was suicidal folly. He pushed for reconciliation with the British Crown. Adams would not hear of it.
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But the cancer is too far spread to be cured by any thing short of cutting it out entirely. Narrator : "The cancer" was British corruption, British arrogance. Adams believed that London cared nothing for American rights. He saw a once-great nation now obsessed with luxury and wealth, hungry for ever-higher taxes from its colonies. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : They are taskmasters bent on reducing the colonists to desolation, poverty and servitude.
There is no more justice left in Britain than there is in Hell. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : He is a man of great fortune and piddling genius whose fame has been trumpeted so loudly, but who has given a silly cast to our whole doings. Narrator : The letter was intercepted by British agents, and quickly made its way into Tory newspapers.
Adams had managed to insult one of the Congress's most respected men. For weeks, he was ostracized. Joanne Freeman, Historian : Adams has this perpetual habit of saying what he thinks, bluntly, and then getting in trouble for it, and being shocked that he's getting in trouble for saying what he thinks bluntly. So he says -- announces things about people. And he's continually outraged. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : Will our ambassador be received or so much as heard or seen by any man or woman in power?
He might possibly Joseph Ellis, Historian : "Obnoxious" is a strong term. Notice, Adams is using the term about himself. You would know him in a minute if he walked into the room. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : Suppose we send ambassadors now to foreign courts, what nations shall we court? Shall we go to the court of Prussia or Russia or Turkey or Denmark David McCullough, Historian : He could be very abrasive and tactless and disputatious and opinionated and pugnacious. He was so honest, he expected other people to be honest too.
Abigail Adams Linda Emond : I set down with a heavy heart to write to you. Woe follows woe and one affliction treads upon the heel of another. Narrator : After a visit from her husband in the summer of , too brief to be consoling, Abigail Adams faced a crisis.
Abigail Adams Linda Emond : Such is the distress of the neighborhood that I can scarcely find a well person to assist me in looking after the sick. So mortal a time the oldest man does not remember. Our little Tommy lies very ill now. Were you to look upon him you would not know him. A general putrefaction seems to have taken place, and we cannot bear the house only as we are constantly cleansing it with hot vinegar.
Abigail Adams Linda Emond : Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, o! How can I tell you o my bursting heart that my dear mother has left me. This day about five o'clock she left this world for an infinitely better. Ought I to give relief to my own by paining yours?
Narrator : Three-year-old Tommy survived. John came home in December, but by January of he was on his way back to Philadelphia. The Congress needed someone to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Good, we will meet again tomorrow. Narrator : Some members thought that Adams should be the writer. But he felt that Thomas Jefferson, a year-old planter from Virginia, was a better choice.
Jefferson : Why? Adams : Reasons enough. Jefferson : What can be your reasons? Adams : Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can. John Ferling, Historian : John Adams declined, mostly, I think, because he felt that no one would ever remember the Declaration of Independence.
Congress had already adopted a number of declarations. And nobody remembers them today. And Adams was certain that no one would remember the Declaration of Independence. Narrator : Jefferson was a Southerner, an aristocrat, a slaveholder- everything that Adams was not.
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Joseph Ellis, Historian : John Adams' favorite form of conversation was an argument. He thought that arguments were the only form of conversation that really forced you into truth and into grappling in a struggling way. He's the exact opposite of Jefferson. Jefferson regards argument as dissonant noise. It is almost like bad notes in a song. Narrator : Thomas Jefferson, writing with a simple eloquence that John Adams could never have achieved, crafted what would become the most memorable document in American history. In Braintree, Abigail and the children were enjoying a brief respite from war and illness.
Tommy, now 4, had fully recovered. His year-old sister Nabby had escaped infection. Washington's troops had managed to drive the British out of Boston. The farm was quiet. But Abigail was impatient for news from John, and concerned about how women would be treated in the new American republic. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : 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 have been.
Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. Edith Gelles, Historian : It was the most bold statement by any woman of her time. She was aware that women had rights. She thought that women's role in the household was equally important with men's role in the greater world. And in fact John wrote back and he teased her. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory.
We are obliged to go softly. And in practice you know we are the subjects. We only have the names of masters. Joseph Ellis, Historian : This is banter. It's serious banter, however. What really comes through is that this is a political partnership as well as a marriage partnership, and that Abigail knows what is going on inside the Congress in Philadelphia, and understands those arguments as well as any delegate does. Narrator : On July 1, , the Continental Congress faced the great question of the day: Should the colonies declare independence, and abandon any hope for peace and reconciliation with Britain.
Narrator : With the doors locked against spies, the opposition spoke first. John Dickinson pleaded with the delegates not to make a terrible mistake. David McCullough, Historian : Dickinson said, "To declare independence now, would be to launch our fortunes into the storm in a skiff made of paper. Let's find out first whether we can win, or let's find out if they're willing to have a reconciliation. We don't have to go through the bloodbath. Narrator : A long silence followed Dickinson's address. Finally, John Adams took the floor.
We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world. Narrator : Outside, the sky darkened; the clouds unleashed a summer downpour. Adams had once written that such storms "unstrung" him. Now, he pressed on, making the case for independence. What pains and expense, and misery that stupid people will endure, for the sake of driving the colonies to the necessity of separation. Narrator : The majority must govern, he argued, and the "insolent domination" of the high-born in London be thrown off.
John Adams Simon Russell Beale : The decree is gone forth, and cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty, than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America. Narrator : Independence was a military necessity. America could not win without foreign assistance, and it could not get foreign assistance without first declaring independence. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : If you imagine that I expect this Declaration to ward off calamities from this country, you are much mistaken.
A bloody conflict we are destined to endure. That has been my opinion from the beginning. It is your hard lot and mine to have been called into life at such a time. But even these times have their pleasures. May heaven prosper the newborn republic and make it more glorious than any former republic has been. Narrator : "The man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency is Mr. John Adams of Boston," one delegate wrote. With this speech, Adams put his life on the line. Agents of the Crown were drawing up a list of those rebels to be pardoned.
John Adams was not on it. He was to hang. I have in my mind a source of anxiety, which I have never had before. You know what it is. Narrator : During the harsh winter of , the American army struggled to survive.
And Abigail was pregnant once again. Narrator : John was eager for word of his wife's condition, but wary that yet another letter would be intercepted by the British. John Adams Simon Russell Beale : Can't you convey to me, in hieroglyphics, which no other person can comprehend, information which will relieve me. Tell me you are as well as can be expected. Narrator : Abigail wrote at first of a normal pregnancy, but by the spring she was becoming increasingly apprehensive.
Edith Gelles, Historian : It was a great struggle for her, being pregnant at a time when there was danger of British troops invading the very area where she lived. She was frightened. I think it's the only time in her letters that she expresses such vulnerability. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : I lose my rest at nights. I look forward to July with more anxiety than I can describe. Narrator : As the birth approached, Abigail wrote of a nighttime shaking fit, and fears that "a life had been lost" within her. A short time later, she went into labor.
Edith Gelles, Historian : She suspected that something had gone wrong. And she spent the evening writing a letter to John Adams. Slow, lingering, and troublesome is the present situation. The Dr. I pray heaven that it may be soon or it seems to me I shall be worn out. Edith Gelles, Historian : And the most remarkable thing happens.
She writes while she was in labor. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : I must lay my pen down this moment to bear what I cannot fly from -- and now I have endured it, I reassume my pen. Narrator : Abigail had been right. The child, a girl, was stillborn. A week later, she wrote again to John. She pointed out that in the fourteen years that they had been married, they had been together not more than half that time. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : The unfeeling world may consider it in what light they please.
I consider it a sacrifice to my country, and one of my greatest misfortunes. Narrator : In September, the advancing British army closed on Washington's forces on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Adams and the others were forced to flee the city. Congress was booted from town to town, staying just ahead of the redcoats. When will the light spring up? The Continental army defeated a British force that had marched south from Canada. Now, after ten months, John Adams could take the time to come home to his family.
John Ferling, Historian : I think Abigail thought that they had worked out an agreement that John would come home to stay once independence was declared. And he hadn't done that. He had gone back to Congress. And now he had come home, presumably to practice law. Narrator : In December, while John was away on legal business, an official packet arrived at the farm.
It was from Congress. Joseph Ellis, Historian : Adams is chosen for what they think is the most important single diplomatic mission possible, namely, to negotiate an alliance with the French. Narrator : The revolution could not survive without money and military support from the French. Adams was to leave for Paris as soon as possible. John Ferling, Historian : It was just a devastating moment for Abigail. I think she felt her world collapse around her when she saw that letter. And so an enormous clash develops, I think, between a wife who wants her husband at home, and a husband who wants to continue the public role that he has set out for himself, and which he sees as his future.
Narrator : On the frigid evening of February 13th, , John Adams secretly boarded a frigate bound for France. With him went ten-year-old John Quincy. Abigail had let him go, despite what she called her "thousand fears. But she could not bring herself to see them off.
And they're sailing not only in the midst of winter, but they're sailing in the midst of war. And there were British cruisers right off the shore, just waiting to catch somebody like John Adams trying to make a run for France, and take him to England, take him to the Tower of London, and hang him. Narrator : Adams and John Quincy endured a grueling six-week voyage, fraught with fierce winter storms and a harrowing encounter with a British warship. Finally, they reached Paris. Before he could unpack, John received jolting news. So it was a totally unnecessary trip. John Ferling, Historian : : And it must have been an enormous letdown.
He had seen this as an opportunity to score a huge success and the success had already been accomplished. Narrator : There was little for him to do in Paris -- excruciating for a man with his ambition. He found a good boarding school for John Quincy. Practiced his French. Kept the books for the delegation. Six months earlier, he had been the most important member of Congress. Now he served as a virtual clerk.
A man who did not understand a word of French -- awkward in his figure -- awkward in his dress -- a perfect cipher. He is a world-class scientist. He is a famous writer. Adams is entering a kind of Franklin electromagnetic field. And he's jealous of him. Narrator : Adams was contemptuous of the alliance that Franklin had negotiated. The Americans needed the help of the French navy. He urged Franklin to push the French much harder. Franklin refused. Joseph Ellis, Historian : Franklin recognizes that in order to get what we want from France, which is both money and military support, you've got to be deft and you've got to be indirect.
And Adams just thinks, "Look.
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We got -- need the God damn navy over there. Let's get them over there. Narrator : Adams fired off a torrent of letters back to Congress, critical of Franklin. Franklin, too, took up his pen -- and deftly disposed of John Adams. Adams languished in Paris. After ten months, Congress named Franklin the sole American representative to the French court. Adams was pushed aside. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : How lonely are my days? How solitary are my nights? Secluded from all society but my two little boys, and my domestics. Narrator : Fed up with France, John Adams had decided to come home.
He and John Quincy arrived on August 2, It had been a year and a half since Abigail had seen them. Narrator : Abigail proudly showed John how well the farm had done under her care, despite wartime scarcities and inflation.
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New England was no longer the main battleground; most of the fighting had shifted to the South. And though the outcome of the war was still very much in doubt, many of the states were holding constitutional conventions, preparing for self-government, much as John had urged a few years before.
Joseph Ellis, Historian : And as soon as he gets back, the Massachusetts constitutional convention says, "By the way, would you like to write the constitution? The aim of government is to furnish the individuals who compose the body politic with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights - and the blessings of life David McCullough, Historian : He has no staff. He doesn't have a group of people doing research. It comes out of a mind that I think probably never forgot anything he read.
It comes from talent, God-given gift. And it comes from a tremendous capacity to use the language and to cut through to the essence of things. Narrator : Adams knew from struggling with his own inner conflicts that there were powerful passions deep in the human soul, and that part of the role of government was to restrain those passions, to keep them in check.
Joseph Ellis, Historian : It's an attempt to say: You've got to balance and separate and balance and separate power. You can't allow it to be just power that flows forward in its own ferocious way. John Ferling, Historian : He was attempting to devise a structure of government that would prevent the wealthiest, the most elite in American society, from gaining control. Narrator : Adams called for a strong executive in the form of a governor with veto power; for two branches of the legislature, and an independent judiciary.
The judiciary must be able to come to its decisions without the influence of politics or the power of the other segments of government. Joseph Ellis, Historian : And by late summer and early fall, he has written this document, which still is the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and is generally regarded as the model state constitution, the one that became the closest approximation of what the federal Constitution is going to be.
Narrator : Abigail rejoiced in having the family back together. But in October, Congress called on Adams once again. He was asked to return to Paris to lay the groundwork for a peace treaty with Britain. And once again, he said yes. Abigail steeled herself for another separation. Her husband, and, they had decided, their two older sons, John Quincy and Charles, would be gone for God knows how long. Concealing her own anxiety, she encouraged a reluctant John Quincy to make the most of a difficult moment. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : These are the times in which a genius would wish to live.
It is not in the still calm of life that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. Narrator : Adams knew the British were not yet ready to talk. The mission could take years. He had agreed to go without consulting Abigail. I mean he was an ambitious man and what could be more outstanding than to be the sole negotiator of the peace treaty that would recognize American independence.
Narrator : After John left, Abigail was in despair At the age of 34, she felt as if she were widowed or divorced. Abigail Adams Linda Emond : My habitation, how disconsolate it looks! My table, I set down to it but cannot swallow my food. Narrator : John had spent only 71 days with his family. Back in Paris, Adams found his hands were tied once again.
America's ally, France, was not willing to help him start peace talks with its age-old enemy, Britain. And the British rebuffed him completely. Abigail was often left to carry much of the burden at home, raising their children and caring for the family farm. The couple remained close through a continuous and intimate correspondence with each other. It is believed that they exchanged more than 1, letters. As John Adams was busy hammering out a new government, Abigail Adams expressed concern about how women would be treated. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.
Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
Throughout his career, Abigail had served as his unofficial adviser. Their letters show him seeking her counsel on many issues, including his presidential aspirations. After the revolution, Abigail Adams joined her husband in France and later in England, where he served from to as the first American minister to the Court of St. When her husband became vice president the next year, Abigail Adams stayed with him in the capitol for only part of the time, often returning to Massachusetts to look after their farm and to tend other business matters.
While in the capital, in New York, she helped First Lady Martha Washington with entertaining dignitaries and other officials. Abigail Adams remained a supportive spouse and confidante after her husband became the president in Adams rose early to tend to family and household matters and spent much of the remainder of the day receiving visitors and hosting events. She still spent a lot of time back in Massachusetts because of her health. Abigail and John Adams did not always see eye to eye on matters of policy. Once a great ally, France was in the midst of revolution when Adams became president.
The country was being run by a five-man executive group known as the Directory along with a legislative body. The Directory had stopped trade with the United States and refused to meet with any U.
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In , President Adams was told that the French officials would hold talks for substantial bribes. By giving John this nickname, Abigail was showing him how much she though of him as a man and it was just a fun way of giving John a compliment. Abigail was being flirtatious by giving herself this nickname and writing it to John, because she is playing a little joke for him and acting vain. From these nicknames you gain a lot of information about John and Abigail's relationship to one another, but the movie doesn't get that element across.
You never hear about these names in the movie, and in fact the movie doesn't mention what John and Abigail wrote to each other in their correspondence very much.