John and Abigail Adams’ relationship served as one of the most influential over the formation of our nation’s government during the late 18th-early 19th centuries. When one briefly glances at them, they paint a picture of strength, endurance, and wisdom, which proved to be an iconic ideal during these harsh years for all the couples during these years. Years of travel, together and apart, criticism for beliefs, and the will to fight for a new country and a new government proved the iron will these two maintained to soldier on.
But looking closer, these two did not simply luck out and endure through because of systematic circumstances. Their marriage and individual lives were built and maintained through their dependence on one another, Scripture, and conviction.
John was a lawyer from Massachusetts; Abigail was a self-educated daughter of a minister. Married in 1764, they lived a full 54 years married (keep in mind the average lifespan was less than that) and exchanged over 1,100 pieces of correspondence during the most volatile years of our nation’s history.
Arguably, John Adams was one of the most involved of our Founding Fathers for independence from Britain and establishing our government. He served in the Continental Congress for four years (1774-1778), was in around 90 committees and was the head chairman of 24. He was more involved than any other member. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, he was one of five on the committee to write it.
After the Revolutionary War, he was vocal in his views on government. He was one of two people to sign the Bill of Rights. He once stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He was the first Vice President of the United States of America, and the second president. After nearly 30 years of public service, John Adams returned to Massachusetts in 1800 to live the rest of his 26 years writing prolifically on all of his experiences.
During John’s political years, Abigail raised their four children and often traveled with him. When she was not with John in New York, Philadelphia, Great Britain, France, and eventually our newly formed capitol, Washington, D.C., she was writing to him and several others. Abigail had an overwhelming love for scripture. She was devoted to John, but she was never one to mince words. Combining those attributes, her letters and words of wisdom had a tremendous effect on how John viewed the situations during the Revolutionary War.
For instance, after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, she wrote to John,
Nor doth the eye say unto the hand, “I have no need of thee” [1 Corinthians 12:21]. The Lord will not cast off His people, neither will He forsake his inheritance [Psalm 94:14]. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity, and if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favor. . . . Pharaoh’s [i.e., King George III’s] heart is hardened, and he refuseth(sic) to hearken to them and will not let the people go [Exodus 8:32]. May their deliverance be wrought out for them, as it was for the children of Israel [Exodus 12].
Not only was she a “most trusted advisor,” to John, but to many of the other Founding Fathers. She did not write simply her ideas and feelings, but she wrote of her political ideals. In March 1776, she wrote,
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.
These sentiments are more reflective to the early 20th century than the late 18th century, but that is what made Abigail such an amazing partner to her husband. She did not simply nod and smile; she challenged him and his cohorts. She was the perfect counterpoint. She challenged ideas of the day but did so with the scripture in mind.
Both of these patriots have several of their personal writings and letters published today. If you read but just a fraction, it would be hard to prove that either of them were anything but strong Bible-believing Christians. Not only that but that Christianity should influence government. A government they helped establish.
“The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this Earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government – but that which is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.” These are the words of John Adams, one of the foremost minds of all of the Founding Fathers. Imagine a pastor, much less an elected official, saying these words today without some derogatory name being labeled to him/her.
He also once wrote, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity.” Abigail was as explicit about her beliefs when she wrote, “He who neglects his duty to his Maker may well be expected to be deficient and insincere in his duty towards the public.”
Both John and Abigail were well aware that part of their duty was to look to future generations. They did not necessarily think of how their own actions and words would determine their own lives, but of what the next generations would have as a result. John once wrote, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” In fact, they were so intent on future generations and raising good citizens, they raised the future sixth president of the United States, John Quincy.
It must be noted, John Quincy was one of the strongest abolitionists in his day, and was so determined to end slavery that after his presidency he went on to serve in the House of Representatives for 17 years until 1848. He was the only President ever to do so, and served as the Speaker of the House with every intention of not leaving until slavery was eradicated. He actually had a stroke while in the House of Representatives’ chamber at the age of 80 during a debate and died two days later in the Speaker of the House office. One of the ceremonial pallbearers was a young representative, Abraham Lincoln. The Adams didn’t simply raise good citizens, they raised people of conviction who fought for their beliefs to the end and left a legacy.
The legacy of the Adams’ is seen all around us today in America and, indeed, is America herself. So much more could and should be (and has been) shared about the Adams, their individual influence and character. But as a couple, the Adams’ relationship calls to mind Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” John and Abigail Adams correspondence and love for one another, the scripture, their family, and America are a display of how a couple of people can truly influence an entire society and nation.
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