Excerpts of letters exchanged among Abigail Adams,
Mercy Otis Warren and James Sullivan
From Abigail Adams to John Adams 31 Mar. 1776
I wish you would ever write me a Letter half as long as I write you; and
tell me if you may where your Fleet are gone? What sort of Defence Virginia
can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is so situated as to make an
able Defence? Are not the Gentery Lords and the common people vassals, are
they not like the uncivilized Natives Brittain represents us to be? I hope
their Riffel Men who have shewen themselves very savage and even Blood thirsty;
are not a specimen of the Generality of the people.
I am willing to allow the Colony great merrit for having produced a Washington
but they have been shamefully duped by a Dunmore.
I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot
be Eaquelly 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 independancy–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 favourable 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 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.
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 Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
From John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 April 1776
As to Declarations of Independency, be patient. Read our Privateering
Laws, and our Commercial Laws. What signifies a Word.
As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot by 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 Colledges
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.
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 compleatly
subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope General Washington and
all our brave Heroes would fight. I am sure every good Politician would
plot, as long as he would against Despotism, Empire, Monarchy, Aristocracy,
Oligarchy, or Ochlocracy
From Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren 27 April 1776
He is very sausy to me in return for a List of Female Grievances which I
transmitted to him. I think I will get you to join me in a petition
to Congress. I though it was very probable our wise Statesmen would
erect a New Government and form a new code of Laws. I ventured to speak
a word i nbehalf of our Sex, who are rather hardly dealt with by the Laws
of England which gives such unlimted power to the Husband to use his wife
I requested that our Legislators should consider our case and as all Men
of Delicacy and Sentiment are avers to Exercising the power they possess,
yet as there is a natural propensity in Humane Nature to domination, I thought
the most generous plan was to put it out of the power of the Arbitrary and
tyranik to injure us with impunity by Establishing some Laws in our favour
upon just and Liberal principals.. . .
In return he tells me he cannot but laugh at my Extraordinary Code of Laws....
So I have help'd the Sex abundantly, but I will tell him I have only been
making trial of the Disintresstedness of his Virtue, and when weigh'd in
the balance have found it wanting.
It would be bad policy to grant us greater power say they since under all
the disadvantages we Labour we have the assendancy over their Hearts.
And charm by accepting, by submitting
From Abigail Adams to John Adams 7 May 1776
I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, and 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 Humour most when we obey."
John Adams to James Sullivan, 26 May, 1776
It is certain, in theory, that the only moral foundation
of government is, the consent of the people. But to what an extent
shall we carry this principle? Shall we say that every individual of
the community, old and young, mail and female, as well as rich and poor,
must consent, expressly, to every act of legislation? No, you will
say, this is impossible. How, then, does the right arise in the majority
to govern the minority against their will? Whence arises the right
of the men to govern the women, without their consent? Whence the right
of the old to bind the young, without theirs?
But lest us first suppose that the whole community, of
every age, rank, sex, and condition, has a right to vote. This community
is assembled. A motion is made, and carried by a majority of one voice.
The minority will not agree to this. Whence arise the right of the
majority to govern, and the obligation of the minority to obey?
From necessity, you will say, because there can be no
But why exclude women?
You will say, because their delicacy renders them unfit
for practice and experience in the great business of life, and the hardy
enterprises of war, as well as the arduous cares of state. Besides,
their attention is so much engaged with the necessary nurture of their children,
that nature has made them fittest for domestic cares. And children
have not judgment or will of their own. True. But will not these reasons
apply to others? Is it not equally true that men in general, ain every
society, who are wholly destitute of property, are also too little acquainted
with public affairs to form a right judgment and too dependent upon other
men to have a will of their own? If this is a fact, if you give to
every man who has no property, a vote, will you not make s fine encouraging
provision for corruption, by your fundamental law?