Abigail Adams was a woman far before her time. It’s very likely her plea to “Remember the women” and her disdain for slavery greatly influenced her husband, John, long before he became the first Vice President and second President after George Washington. Yet there are no popular and highly-rated books about her.
If you ever watch John Grisham’s Masterclass video on writing, there’s a nugget in there where he suggests authors “write for women” because women read more than men and thus buy more books in North America than men. I’d be willing to bet more women than men visit their local libraries, too.
If you do a Goodreads search of books on John Adams vs. Abigail Adams you’ll find the books on Abigail are about one-half to one-full star lower than on her husband. And it seems some are carried only because they mention both.
I wonder why this is. Is it because the work of revolution was done by men, insofar as women had no rights to vote or express an opinion in early U.S. history? Maybe because war, battles, and fighting are more interesting to people, and thus books that focus on the work of the men do better? Perhaps because books that are adapted into TV and movies fare better when there’s a fair bit of violence in them. It could also be because the sexual attitudes at the time were tight, and a book about a woman without exploring sexuality is somehow less … sexy?
Still, Abigail Adams deserves so much better. Her husband still doesn’t have a statue in Washington D.C., but if and when one comes to fruition it should feature both of them. John and Abigail are America’s original power couple, the Gomez and Morticia Addams (ha) of love and trust.
Harry Truman once remarked Abigail “would have made a better president than her husband”, and it’s very likely she’s the reason John Adams holds the now-honored distinction of being the only early president having never owned a slave. It wouldn’t be until their son, John Quincy, became President that another executive could claim never having owned a slave.
Abigail, it could be said, made two presidents out of mere men between her husband and son John Quincy. She valued education and ran her household in the long stretches when John was away to Philadelphia, New York, or Paris. Her values of independence, equality, and judgement shaped a nation in ways we don’t really appreciate today.
Her writing was always sharp and much of it forms the foundation of our understanding of the Revolution today. We know so much about them and the early history of this country simply because she and John exchanged thousands of letters over the years. George and Martha Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, as two other examples have no such record. Martha burned most of their correspondence for privacy and Thomas Jefferson burned all of his wife’s letters and paintings after her death, most likely as a result of grief.
Still, there should be a better book about Abigail.