6 5MAHMP Who was the Most Romantic Founding Father?
Who, might you ask, was the most romantic Founding Father? I believe that I have the answer. Of course, I should actually phrase the question: Which Founding Father wrote the most romantic love letters? After all, we cannot interview them or observe them with the objects of their affection. What we have to answer that question is the writings that remain available to us.
Although we live in an age where public figures are willing, if not exceedingly interested, in baring their souls for profit or greater notoriety, the same could not be said for those in the political realm of the late 1700’s. Martha Washington burned letters that she exchanged with her husband, George, after his death. Thomas Jefferson did the same after the death of his wife, Martha. Samuel Adams was well known for regularly burning his personal correspondence, and then flamboyantly throwing the ashes out the window, so as to assure the personal safety of his friends. Consequently, we have limited access to the personal writings of many of the Founders.
But don’t despair. There was one couple who not only wrote to each other frequently, and exchanged words of a highly romantic nature, but their writings have survived for us to review to this day. In fact, the letters exchanged between John Adams and his wife, Abigail, gives us a unique window into all aspects of their lives. John and Abigail spent many years living apart from one another. During their courtship John was often away while advocating for his clients across the route of court circuits. They were also separated for a six-week forced quarantine after John was inoculated against small pox.
After their marriage, John once again journeyed away from home to take part in the Continental Congress. He was separated from Abigail for lengthy periods of time between 1774 until 1777. In 1778, John Adams was appointed by the Continental Congress, along with Arthur Lee and Benjamin Franklin, to negotiate an alliance with France. Adams later returned to Paris (without first discussing the matter with Abigail) to await the opportunity to negotiate the end of the American Revolution
For much of this time, Abigail not only raised their two children, but managed the family farm, the household staff, and tenants on the Adams’ property as well.
While you might assume that they would also have lived together during John’s time as Vice-President and President. However, Abigail spent portions of that time in the family home in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Needless to say all of the time that they spent apart encouraged John and Abigail to correspond with one another. They left behind more than 1000 letters that included their concerns about day-to-day matters, opinions, humorous stories about themselves and others, advice to each other on all matters, views about politics and other political figures, and, best of all, their feelings of love for one another.
Although John was well known for lashing out at political foes and colleagues alike, and repeatedly damaged his political career because of his inability to hold his tongue, he was particularly adept at penning romantic prose to his beloved Abigail. He often referred to her as “Diana” after the Roman goddess of the moon. In other letters he referred to her as “Dear Adorable” or “Miss Adorable.” He sometimes referred to himself as the Spartan hero “Lysander.”
The first written exchange we have between them, although undated, already notes John’s intention to marry the seventeen year old Abigail. The letter was as follows: “Dr. Miss Jemima…I have taken the best Advice, on the subject of your Billet, and I find you cannot compell me to pay unless I refuse Marriage; which I never did, and never will, but on the Contrary am ready to have you at any Time. Yours, Jonathan…I hope Jemima’s Conscience has as good a Memory as mine.”
The second preserved letter, written on October 4, 1762, was even saucier: “Miss Adorable…By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O’Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account: This Order, or Requisition call it which you will is in Consideration of a similar order Upon Aurelia for the like favour, and I presume I have good Right to draw upon you for the Kisses as I have given two or three Millions at least, when one has been received, and of Consequence the Account between us is immensely in favour of yours, John Adams.”
Another quite romantic letter was written by Adams on February 14, 1763 while he was kept apart from his beloved Abigail due to his small pox inoculation. The letter included the following:
“Accidents are often more Friendly to us, than our own Prudence. I intended to have been at Weymouth Yesterday, but a storm prevented. — Cruel, Yet perhaps blessed storm! — Cruel for detaining me from so much friendly, social Company, and perhaps blessed to you, or me or both, for keeping me at my Distance. For every experimental Phylosopher knows, that the steel and the Magnet or the Glass and feather will not fly together with more Celerity, than somebody And somebody, when brought within the striking Distance — and, Itches, Aches, Agues, and Repentance might be the Consequences of a Contact in present Circumstances.’”
After a lengthy separation, Adams wrote to Abigail on September 20, 1764: “Oh my dear Girl, I thank Heaven that another Fortnight will restore you to me — after so long a separation. My soul and Body have both been thrown into Disorder, by your Absence, and a Month of two more would make me the most insufferable Cynick, in the World.”
And what of Abigail’s letters to John? Although she never received a formal education, her love of reading gave her a considerable vocabulary, and she was equally adept at writing prose from the heart. She began many of her letters with the phrase, “my dearest friend.” Initially, she adopted the pseudonym of Diana given to her by the one whom she cherished, but after the birth of her first child, she began to refer to herself as “Portia” who was the wife of “Brutus” – a famous Roman political figure.
During their separation in the spring of 1764, on April 12th, Abigail began a lengthy letter with the following paragraph:
“My Dearest Friend
Here am I all alone, in my Chamber, a mere Nun I assure you, after professing myself thus will it not be out of Character to confess that my thoughts are often employ’d about Lysander, “out of the abundance of the Heart, the mouth speaketh,” and why Not the Mind thinketh.”
You might wonder if John and Abigail’s strong emotional attachment to one another diminished over time? The answer is an emphatic “no.”
Let’s consider the following exchange. On April 11, 1776, Abigail concluded a letter to John:
“Write me how you do this winter. I want to say many things I must omit, it is not fit to wake the Soul by tender strokes of art, or to Ruminate upon happiness we might enjoy, least absence become intolerable.
On April 28, 1776, John’s response to Abigail ended the letter with the following paragraphs:
“Is there no Way for two friendly Souls, to converse together, altho the Bodies are 400 Miles off?—Yes by Letter.—But I want a better Communication. I want to hear you think, or to see your Thoughts.
The Conclusion of your Letter makes my Heart throb, more than a Cannonade would. You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.”
It seems that we now have the answer as to why John chose not to burn their correspondence after Abigail’s death.
The couple’s last known letters to one another came as John’s term as President came to a close. Both letters were focused on the politics of the day, but continued to contain affection for one another.
The writings of John and Abigail Adams remind us of the humanity of our Founding Fathers. While some hold them out to be almost god like, others portray them as flawed figures whose opinions should be dismissed. Yet, the letters exchanged between John and Abigail allows us to see them for the unique and interesting individuals who they were.
If you would like to hear the complete edition of this podcast, go to www.bingoforpatiots.com, and scroll down under the “subscribe to American History for the Modern Patriot Podcast” to the American History for the Modern Patriot Episodes tab. Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel.