Saturday, January 14, 2012

Abigail Adams gets tough with John ...

As the American Revolution waged on, the U.S. Congress in late 1777 appointed John Adams to join Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee in Paris to negotiate an alliance with the French. Adams’ wife, Abigail, remained behind in Massachusetts, tending to their children (except for their 10-year-old son John Quincy, who accompanied his father to Europe) and their farm through the hard New England winter.

Between April and September of 1778, Abigail received only two letters from her husband, for whom she had proven over many years previously to be a valued, no-nonsense confidant for his activities as a patriot and political leader. She wasn’t happy about the lack of communication, as noted in David McCullough’s 2001 book John Adams, and she let her husband know about it:  “‘All things look gloomy and melancholy around me,’ she wrote. ‘You could not have suffered more upon your voyage than I have felt cut off from all communication from you.’ … ‘Let me entreat you to write me more letters at a time, surely you cannot want subjects.’” McCullough adds:  “What he wrote, she said, was always too brief, cold, and impersonal. It was as if he had [in Abigail’s words] ‘changed hearts with some frozen Laplander.’”
In Adams’ defense, the passage of mail between Europe and America was not tremendously reliable, and it was common for letters to become lost, stolen, or delayed by many months. He claimed to have written nearly 50 letters during that April-to-September period, although McCullough writes that “was almost certainly an exaggeration.”

Adams’ response to Abigail’s concern was to express a concern of his own about writing tender letters to his wife:  “I have no security that every letter I write will not be broken open and copied and transmitted to Congress and the English newspapers. They would find no treason or deceit in them, it is true, but they would find weakness and indiscretion, which they would make ill use of.”
Abigail’s response, as transmitted in McCullough’s book:  “The affection I feel for my friend is of the tenderest kind, matured by years, sanctified by choice and approved by Heaven. Angels can witness its purity, what care I then for the ridicule of Britain should this testimony of it fall into their hands?”

She has a point ... a good one.

1 comment:

David B. said...

Give him credit: Adams adeptly engaged the old "50 letters" ploy as well as falling back on the "national security" excuse! Wise, true. Cunning, perhaps. Capable of out-maneuvering spry Abby? Hardly.

Good stuff, Ray. Thanks.