“In 1776, when the letters reprinted below were exchanged, John Adams was in Philadelphia attending the Continental Congress.  Within months of receiving his wife’s request that the “new code of laws” give some consideration “to the ladies,” he was hard at work, with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others drafting one of the world’s great statements of human liberty – the Declaration of Independence.  Yet, for the rights of women, he could summon only a smile. “

 

(to John Adams)

AbigailAdams31 March, 1776.  … 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 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.

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 and impunity.  Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex.

***

(to Abigail Adams)

14 April, 1776.  As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh.  We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges 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.

***

(to John Adams)

7 May, 1776.  I cannot say that I think that you are very generous to the ladies; for, 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 subdue our masters, and, without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet; – “Charm by accepting, by submitting away, Yet have our humour most when we obey.”

Ed. Miriam Schneir. Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. pp 3 – 4.

     Well thanks for that John Adams.  One might question your dedication to freedom, equality, and other shiny words that were bandied about at the time, considering the hearty F-you delivered to womenfolk.   :/

Advertisements