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Arrived here on Sunday last, and without meeting with any accident worth noticing, except losing ourselves when we left Baltimore, and going eight or nine miles on the Frederick road, by which means we were obliged to go the other eight through woods, where we wandered two hours without finding a guide or the path. Fortunately, a straggling black came up with us, and we engaged him as a guide, to extricate us out of our difficulty; but woods are all you see, from Baltimore until you reach the city, which is only so in name. Here and there is a small cot, without a glass window, interspersed among the forests, through which you travel miles without seeing any human being. In the city there are buildings enough, if they were compact and finished, to accommodate Congress and those attached to it; but as they are, and scattered as they are, I see not great comfort for them.
The river, which runs up to Alexandria, is in full view of my window, and I see the vessels as they pass and repass. The house is upon a grand and superb scale, requiring about thirty servants to attend and keep the apartments in proper order, and perform the ordinary business of the house and stables; an establishment very well proportioned to the President's salary. The lighting the apartments, from the kitchen to parlors and chambers, is a tax indeed; and the fires we are obliged to keep to secure us from daily agues is another very cheering comfort. To assist us in this great castle, and render less attendance necessary, bells are wholly wanting, not one single one being hung through the whole house, and promises are all you can obtain. This is so great an inconvenience that I know not what to do, or how to do. The ladies from Georgetown and in the city have many of them visited me. Yesterday I returned fifteen visits —but such a place as Georgetown appears— why, our Milton2 is beautiful. But no comparisons—if they will put me up some bells, and let me have wood enough to keep fires, I design to be pleased.
I could content myself almost anywhere three months; but, surrounded with forests, can you believe that wood is not to be had, because people can not be found to cut and cart it ! Briesler entered into a contract with a man to supply him with wood. A small part, a few cords only, has he been able to get. Most of that was expended to dry the walls of the house before we came in, and yesterday the man told him it was impossible for him to procure it to be cut and carted. He has 2 Miltont Mass. had recourse to coals; but we can not get grates made and set. We have, indeed, come into a new country.
You must keep all this to yourself, and when asked how I like it, say that I write you the situation is beautiful, which is true. The house is made habitable, but there is not a single apartment finished, and all withinside, except the plastering, has been done since Briesler came. We have not the least fence, yard, or other convenience, without, and the great unfinished audienceroom I make a drying room of, to hang up the clothes in. The principal stairs are not up, and will not be this winter. Six chambers are made comfortable; two are occupied by the President and Mr. Shaw; two lower rooms, one for a common parlor, and one for a levee-room. Upstairs there is the oval room, which is designed for the drawing-room, and has the crimson furniture in it. It is a very handsome room now; but, when completed it will be beautiful.
If the twelve years in which this place has been considered as the future seat of government had been improved, as they would have been if in New England, very many of the present inconveniences would have been removed. It is a beautiful spot, capable of every improvement, and, the more I view it the more I am delighted with it.
Since I sat down to write I have been called down to a servant from Mount Vernon, with a billet from Major Custis, and a haunch of venison, and a kind, congratulatory letter from Mrs. Lewis, upon my arrival in the city, with Mrs. Washington's love, inviting me to Mount Vernon, where, health permitting I will go before I leave this place.
The Senate is much behindhand. No Congress has yet been made. 'Tis said — is on his way, but travels with so many delicacies in his rear that he can not get on fast, lest some of them should suffer.
Thomas comes in and says a House is made; so to-morrow, tho Saturday, the President will meet them. Adieu my dear. Give my love to your brother, and tell him he is ever present upon my mind.
Charles Adams to Abigail Adams
Your favor of the 19 th instant I have received1 I thank you for your congratulations upon an event which has united me to the woman of my affections Your kind invitation shall be accepted as soon as I can leave my business for a few weeks how soon this may happen I cannot tell, nor can I flatter myself it can be in a short time. Since our marriage we have been at a house the Colonel has bought for his mother about two miles out of the City2 M rs Smith intends residing here all winter. I have taken a house in a very advantageous situation for my business near the Tontine Coffeehouse and shall remove to it on the first of November.3
I have as yet been every day into the City The billious fever by most people called the yellow fever which prevails in this City has frightened the inhabitants exceedingly, though the mortallity has by no means been so great as to warrant it, more than seventeen thousand are said to have left the place. Terrified by the example of Philadelphia reason has but little effect when opposed to their apprehensions The greatest mortallity which was last week amounted to 89 in three days yet business is at a stand almost every house and store in Water street and Cherry Street where it has mostly raged is shut up. The inconvenience to our commerce is equal to that experienced in Philadelphia though our loss by the fever does not amount to more than a tenth part.4 Col and M rs Smith with their children are on Long Island and have enjoyed remarkable good health during the summer. We had yesterday three ships arrived from England that bring late intelligence I have not yet seen any papers but by a private letter to a gentleman of my acquaintance I see the news that the treaty was ratified by The Senate arrived in England as early as the thirty first of July and was very acceptable.5 I had sent the Herald for my Brothers to Holland two days before the receipt of your last. I wrote to them by a Vessel which sailed yesterday for London.6
Sally joins with me in offers of respectful affection to her new parents. Remeber us also to Louisa her kind recollection gave me a pleasing proof of the esteem I sincerely wish she may always cultivate for one who loves her much for your dutiful and / affectionate son
3 . CA and SSA moved to 93 Front Street in November. The Tontine Coffeehouse was located about one block north, at the corner of Wall and Water Streets ( New-York Directory , description begins New-York Directory [title varies], issued annually with varying imprints. description ends 1796, p. 2, 7, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959 14 vols. description ends No. 30706).
4 . A virulent outbreak of yellow fever occurred in New York City beginning in late July 1795, probably carried via ships from the West Indies. On 14 Aug. Gov. John Jay issued an edict prohibiting vessels from the West Indies from docking on Manhattan Island until they could prove themselves free of infection, and by September panic was spreading. People who could afford to left the city, and Columbia College ceased offering classes because of low attendance. By the time the disease abated toward the beginning of November, some 700 people had died from it (M. L. Davis, A Brief Account of the Epidemical Fever Which Lately Prevailed in the City of New York , N.Y., 1795, p. 14–20, 58–67, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959 14 vols. description ends No. 28538). See also AA2 to JQA , 26 Oct., below.
5 . The New York Argus , 1 Oct., had already reported that news of the ratification of the Jay Treaty had reached London by 29 July. The three ships were likely the Susan and Polly , the Ocean , and the Ellis , all from London (New York American Minerva , 3 Oct. New York Argus , 5 Oct.).
6 . The letter has not been found but was likely carried on the Niagara , Capt. Black, which cleared for London on 1 Oct. (New York Argus , 1 Oct.).
Abigail Adams led a life of public service and devotion to family. She was an invaluable partner to America’s second president (so much so that she was called “Mrs. President”), and the educator of America’s sixth president. She maintained a voluminous correspondence during her lifetime that provides a unique window into political goings-on, war, leading citizens, daily life, and her personal relationships—and her strong opinions about all. As the writer Laurie Carter Noble describes, “Her letters show her to have been a woman of keen intelligence, resourceful, competent, self-sufficient, willful, vivacious, and opinionated—a formidable force. Her writing reveals a dedication to principle, a commitment to rights for women and for African Americans, fierce partisanship in matters of her husband’s and her family’s interest, and an irreverent sense of humor.”
Abigail Smith was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to the Reverend William Smith, the pastor of the North Parish Congregational Church, and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. Both of her parents enjoyed high status in Weymouth they instilled in Abigail a sense of duty to those who were less fortunate, and a religious life that emphasized morality and reason. Abigail often accompanied her mother on visits to the poor and the sick.
Abigail did not receive a formal education, which she always regretted with embarrassment, but she did read the books contained in her father’s library and throughout her life was a voracious reader. Her intellect and spirit caught the attention of an aspiring young lawyer named John Adams in 1759. His respect for her as an equal caught her attention. By 1762, Abigail and John were exchanging flirtatious letters. In 1764, they were married by Abigail’s father and moved to Braintree. John began to ride the court circuit, traveling from one district of Massachusetts to another to practice the law, and thus began the many years’ worth of separation the couple would endure during their marriage. In 1765, Abigail gave birth to their first child, a daughter, named for her mother but called “Nabby.”
In 1767, Abigail gave birth to John Quincy Adams, and the following year the Adams family moved to Boston where John hoped to expand his law practice. The couple also became close to some of the men who were challenging Britain’s taxation policies and heavy-handedness. In 1770, when outnumbered British troops fired upon an unruly mob near the State House, the soldiers were arrested and John Adams made the unpopular decision to defend them. Abigail, his most trusted confidante, supported him. The troops were found innocent, and John’s career would now flourish. The family returned to Braintree briefly, but returned to Boston in 1772 where they were on hand to witness the aftermath of the “Boston Tea Party” in 1773.
John Adams was appointed as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, which met in Philadelphia to determine the colonies’ future with Great Britain. Abigail had returned to Braintree to manage the considerable workload of the farm and to educate their children who now included Nabby, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston (a daughter, Susanna, died in 1770). Laurie Noble writes that at one point John “told her she was so successful in budgeting, planting, managing staff, regulating live-stock, buying provisions, nursing and educating her children, that their neighbors would surely remark on how much better things seemed to go in his absence.” When she wasn’t working, Abigail was writing letters to John including her now famous pleas in 1776 to end slavery and “remember the Ladies.”
Separation between Abigail and John continued in 1778 when John was sent to France to negotiate for their support. Sadly, in 1777, Abigail had given birth to a daughter named Elizabeth who was stillborn. When the war was finally over, Abigail sailed to Europe in 1784 to join her husband and young John Quincy Adams who had sailed earlier with his father. Abigail spent four years in England and France as the wife of the United States Minister to Great Britain, meeting and entertaining royalty and leading citizens. In 1788, they returned to their modest farm in Braintree where John drafted the Massachusetts Constitution on which the United States Constitution would be based. The following year John was elected Vice President and the couple moved to New York, the first seat of the new American government. When John was elected President in 1796, the Adamses moved to Philadelphia and, eventually, to the unfinished, drafty Executive Mansion (the White House) in the newly constructed capital city, Washington, D.C.
Abigail’s long-standing role as John’s trusted advisor continued in Washington where his opponents, including Thomas Jefferson, criticized his policies and her influence. But their Federalist friends, throughout the country, admired both John and Abigail. One of their acquaintances, the essayist Judith Sargent Murray of Gloucester and Boston, wrote to a cousin in 1798, “it is confidently asserted that every transaction of his administration is now laid before her — she is not only his bosom friend, but his aid and his Councellor in every emergency — and such are the energies of her mind, as to place her title to the unbounded confidence of her illustrious husband, beyond all controversy — several Gentlemen in Boston, whose character, and influence, are high in the political world — declare that was the President called out of time, they should rather see Mrs Adams in the Presidential chair than any other character now existing in America.”
But John’s detractors were growing in number. His refusal to go to war with France angered the Jeffersonians, as did the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by Congress in 1798 to limit foreign influence and public criticism of Adams’ policies. In 1800, John Adams lost the presidential election to Thomas Jefferson. In the same year, the Adamses lost their son Charles, celebrated John Quincy Adams’s election to the U. S. Senate, and retired to their farm in Quincy (formerly, Braintree) where they were surrounded by their extended family and beloved farm. Abigail became involved in the Unitarian church, the running of the farm, and she encouraged her oldest son’s political career as he ascended to the position of minister to Russia and then Secretary of State under President Monroe in 1817.
In 1818, Abigail contracted typhoid fever and died soon after on October 28. Her distraught husband of fifty-four years was heard to say, “I wish I could lay down beside her and die too.”
The National Park Service, which owns the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, explains the legacy of Abigail Adams this way: “Today, nearly two centuries after Abigail’s death, her legacy survives in the letters she wrote which chronicled this important period of history. The memory of Abigail Adams is still present at the Adams National Historical Park, which serves as an invaluable resource for witnessing this woman’s contributions to the improvement of her family and nation through public service.”
‘A fearsome decision’: Abigail Adams had her children inoculated against smallpox
The future first lady feared inoculation, but she feared smallpox more.
It was 1776, and Abigail Adams had decided that she and her four children would seek protection from a deadly epidemic. Her husband, John Adams, was in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence had just been announced.
A smallpox inoculation involved a controversial treatment: infecting the recipient with a mild case of the deadly disease.
“God grant that we may all go comfortably through the Distemper,” Abigail wrote her husband.
At the dawn of the American Revolution, the world was fighting smallpox just as it now is battling the novel coronavirus.
Like the novel coronavirus, smallpox was “a highly contagious virus that is transmitted from contact with an infected person, causing illness,” said Jonathan Stolz, a retired physician in Williamsburg, Va., and author of “Medicine from Cave Dwellers to Millennials.” More than 100,000 people in the colonies died of smallpox. Scientists around the world were desperately seeking to develop a vaccine.
People are now beginning to receive vaccines to prevent covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, which so far has killed nearly 300,000 Americans. In 1776, the only medical preventive was an inoculation that had been developed in Boston in the 1720s by Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister, and Zabdiel Boylston, a physician, and was based on techniques shown to them by enslaved Africans, including one of Mather’s enslaved men, Onesimus. But the procedure was considered so dangerous that a number of states eventually banned it.
So many people ignored the ban, however, that in June 1776, Massachusetts suspended its prohibition, and many doctors set up shop in Boston to perform inoculations.
Martha Washington to Abigail Adams
your kind and affectionate letter of the 9 th instant has been duly received.— For the favourable sentiments you have been pleased to express for me, and for the testimony it contains of the aprobation of my conduct in the station I am about to retire from, I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgments—
It is very flattering for me, my dear Madam, to be asked for rules, by which I have acquired the good opinion, which you say is entertained of me.— With in your self, you possess a guide more certain than any I can give, to direct you:— I mean the good sence and judgment for which you are distinguished—but more from a willingness to comply with your request, than from any conviction—of the necessity, I will concisely add—
That the practice with me, has been always to receive the first visits, and then to return them.— These have been repeated (when received) after an absence of considerable length from the seat of the government.—
It has been a custom for the ladies of the diplomatic corps, to be introduced in their first visits by the secretary of state—and for strangers by those who are known to them and to me after which the visits have been returned.— This has been the general etequette—but familiar morning visits have been received and made without cerimoney.—
The President having resolved to accept no invitations, it followed of course that I never dined or supped out, except once with the vice President, once with each of the Governers of the state whare we have resided—and (very rarely) at the dancing assemblies.— In a few instances only—I have drank tea with some of the public characters—and with a particular friend or acquantance.—
with respect to the Trades people of this city, I find but little difference in them: and of domestics, we have none I would venture to recommend, except the steward who is capable, sober, active and obliging and for any thing I know, or believe to the contrary, is honest.—
The President feels very sensibly for the politeness of your expressions as they relate to him self and unites most cordially and sincerely with me in wishing that you, and the President elect, may enjoy every honour happiness and ease which the station you are to fill, can afford— and with compliments to Miss smith in which Nelly Custis joins us
I am my dear Madam with great / esteem and affectionate regard your / your obediant
"Remember the Ladies"
Abigail Adams wrote the following letter to her husband, John, on March 31, 1776, as the American Revolution raged all around their home near Boston, Massachusetts. John was in Philadelphia, attending the Second Continental Congress, and Abigail took an active interest in his work. Knowing that he and the other delegates would soon declare America's independence from Britain, she implored him to consider "the ladies" when creating a government and a set of laws for the new nation. She wanted American women to be granted more rights and to be treated as friends, not possessions. Abigail's letters span about five decades, and this letter has become her most famous.
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 [were] 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 [start] 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. . . .? Men of sense in all ages abhor [hate] those customs which treat us only as the vassals [servants] of your sex. Regard us then as beings, placed by providence [God] under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
Impressions of Washington: The Gilded Age, 1873
In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published their novel The Gilded Age, both as a parody of contemporary popular novels and to criticize political and economic corruption. In chapter 24, Twain and Warner take the reader on a virtual tour of the nation’s capital. They didn't paint a pretty picture.
You are assailed by a long rank of hackmen, who shake their whips in your face as you step out upon the sidewalk you enter what they regard as a “carriage” in the capital, and you wonder why they do not take it out of service and put it in the museum. You reach your hotel presently- of course you have gone to the wrong one. There are a hundred and eighteen bad hotels, and only one good one. The most renowned and popular hotel of them all is perhaps the worst one known to history.
The city at large . is a wide stretch of cheap little brick houses, with here and there a noble architectural pile lifting itself out of the midst- government buildings, these. . You will wonder at the shortsightedness of the city fathers, when you come to inspect the streets, in that they do not dilute the mud a little more and use them for canals.
Creating A New City & Moving The Capital
Choosing to move the capital from Philadelphia came about through negotiations and compromise between the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson. Eye Witness to History explains that the Republicans “Accepted the Federalist proposal that the national government pays the state debts incurred during the war of independence.” In return, the Federalists agreed to relocate the nation’s capital to a location designated by George Washington.
Rather than simply relocating the capital to an existing city, U.S. History points out that the new location of the capital, “The special District of Columbia, to be under Congressional control, would be built on the Potomac River.”
George Washington and Abigail Adams Get an Extreme Makeover
Inside the conservation lab at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. , Joanna Dunn painstakingly wipes a solvent-soaked cotton swab across the bridge of Joseph Anthony’s nose. Her subject, a prominent merchant at the outset of the American republic, stares out from a 1787 depiction by master portraitist Gilbert Stuart. The force of White’s gaze has been muted, its intensity obscured by a layer of hazy, yellowed varnish. As Dunn cleans the canvas, however, a transformation takes hold. “The varnish makes everything dull, and flat,” Dunn says. “When you get it off, you see all the subtle details—the ruddiness in his cheek, the twinkle in his eye—and he really comes to life.”
Dunn and her fellow conservators finished restoring 16 of the museum’s Stuart masterpieces to their original beauty. Seven newly refreshed works by Stuart, including depictions of George Washington, as well as John and Abigail Adams, are being unveiled this weekend, on October 7—the first time these works will be shown together in a pristine condition since their creation. (The National Gallery is home to a total of 42 Stuart portraits, including 13 others on permanent display.) In the country’s earliest days, Stuart rose from humble beginnings as the son of a snuff-maker to become our de facto portraitist laureate. The most distinguished statesmen, generals, and lawmakers lined up to sit for a portrait because of Stuart’s renowned ability to create deep, vibrant portrayals on a flat surface. In 1822, the Boston Daily Advertiser wrote about his series of the first five presidents, “Had Mr. Stuart never painted anything else, these alone would be sufficient to make his fame with posterity. No one…has ever surpassed him in fixing the very soul on canvas.”
These radiant souls, though, have had a way of fading over the years. In Stuart’s day, artists covered their paintings with protective varnishes—and though they appeared clear when first applied, the coatings inevitably yellowed due to a reaction with oxygen in the air. “Stuart really wanted his paintings to look fresh and bright,” Dunn says. “He hated to varnish them, because he knew they would turn yellow.” Nevertheless, he did anyway, and his works were gradually muted over time.
A close look at the 1795 portrait of President George Washington during restoration.The original coloring is seen at the top left of his head in contrast to the yellowing hues of the varnish on the rest of his face. (Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of National Gallery of Art) George Washington (Vaughan portrait), 1795, oil on canvas The portrait after restoration. Gilbert Stuart painted this portrait of 63-year-old President George Washington in the then capital of Philadelphia. Stuart made about 104 portraits of the President. (Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of National Gallery of Art) A detailed look at the effects of varnish on Stuart's Abigail Adams portrait. The varnish changes color over time, creating a layer of yellow pigment over the original paint. (Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of National Gallery of Art) Conservator Gay Myers restoring Stuart's Abigail Adams portrait at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. (Courtesy of National Gallery of Art)
A restored John Adams. Stuart began this portrait of President John Adams during his presidency in 1800, but he did not complete the portrait until 15 years later. (Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of National Gallery of Art)
Now, as part of an ongoing project, conservators are using the latest techniques to show the portraits’ true colors. Applying a gentle solvent (one that that will remove varnish but not original paint), Dunn rolls a cotton swab across a small section of the canvas for hours at a time. Eventually, the varnish lifts off, exposing exquisite brushstrokes and vivid pigments. Dunn also removes discolored restoration paint—until the middle of the 20th century, restorers frequently added their own flourishes to historical works, creating color mismatches—and inpaints with her own. Unlike previous conservators, though, she is careful not to cover any of Stuart’s original work, meticulously introducing only a tiny dot of color-matched paint wherever bare canvas shows though. Finally, Dunn coats the piece with a new varnish, formulated to remain clear indefinitely. Spending hours face-to-face with these works, she develops a deep connection to her subjects. “I definitely get attached to the sitters,” she says. “I sometimes even invent little stories about them in my head while I’m working.”
Stuart had a talent for capturing the personalities of his sitters, a skill enabled by his habit of chatting and joking with them as he worked, rather than forcing them to sit perfectly still as many portraitists did in his day. “He always engaged his sitters in conversation, so he was able to relate to them, and reveal a little more about their character than any other painter was able to do,” says National Gallery curator Debra Chonder. “Looking at the portraits, you can almost tell when he was particularly engaged with someone.” The portrait of Abigail Adams, Dunn says, is a case in point: “He made her look like the intelligent, kind person that she was. In addition to the outer appearance of his subjects, he captures their inner beauty.”
The careful restoration of these works has even helped uncover previously unknown stories about their actual creation. For years, scholars were puzzled by an early copy of Stuart’s Abigail Adams portrait, made by another artist: It featured a cloth atop her head, instead of the white bonnet in Stuart’s version. Then, when conservator Gay Myers removed old restoration paint from the original, she discovered a similarly shaped patch above Adams’ head. Stuart, it turned out, had likely given Adams a head cloth to wear for modesty’s sake as she sat in 1800 and sketched it on the canvas he replaced it with a bonnet that matched the latest fashions when he finally completed the painting in 1815.
All these years, a telling detail of Stuart’s creative process was hidden under a thin layer of paint. In revealing it, conservation does more than restore the art—it recreates the artist. “When you’re working on a portrait, you feel like you get to know the artist,” Dunn says. “You start to envision him creating the painting.”
About Joseph Stromberg
Joseph Stromberg was previously a digital reporter for Smithsonian.
The Founders & Slavery
Abigail Adams was the daughter of William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. She had numerous roles throughout early American history. Abigail Adams was known for being the wife of John Adams and the mother of John Quincy Adams. During these times, women didn’t have a big say in politics. However, she made attempts at having a voice. When the signing of the Declaration of Independence occurred, she was elated and wrote to John in one of her most famous quotes, “Remember the ladies.”
Abigail Adams was very important to history. She was one of the first people who was against slavery from the very beginning. She and her husband, John Adams, did not own slaves. They were outspokenly against slavery. In a letter she wrote to John Adams, she explained that “Unsearchable are the ways of Heaven who permitteth Evil to befall a city and a people by those very hands who were by them constituded the Gaurdians and protecters of them. We have done Evil or our Enimies would be at peace with us. The Sin of Slavery as well as many others is not washed away.” By using the words “Sin of Slavery,” she is showing just how much she was against slavery. She also wondered if disease and war were God’s way of punishing America for committing the acts of slavery.
When John Adams was in Philadelphia working on the Declaration of Independence, he would often share his letters from Abigail with Congress. In one of her letters, she specifically stated that “it was time to separate from Britain. It was time to make a new country, with new laws.” She had ideas for those new laws. She believed “there should be no more slavery in the new nation. People in the colonies were allowed to own slaves.” Abigail insisted that it was not fair to fight for freedom for themselves and then take it away from others. Abigail was always trying to fight for ending slavery. She believed slavery was evil. But what upset her the most was the widespread use of slave labor in Washington. “She always had strong feelings about racial discrimination, and now she did not like what she was seeing.” She objected to the sense of superiority that it instilled in all white people. She was basically in shock and horror by “the extent to which southerners depended on slavery.” She often wondered “how could they reconcile human bondage with the ideology of freedom that Americans had fought for?”
What some people do not know is that Abigail was not always surrounded by people who were against slavery. Her husband was against it, as well as her cousin, Samuel Adams. However, her father owned slaves so she grew up around slavery. I believe that it was her relationship with John Adams that made her opposition against slavery so strong.
Abigail always tried to abolish slavery and emancipate the slaves. She was always writing letters to John about these issues, hoping that he would voice these opinions while in Philadelphia however, a majority of the members at the meetings in Philadelphia owned slaves so he could not accomplish as much as his wife hoped he would.
Abigail and her granddaughter oversee servant hanging laundry to dry.
As previously stated, both Abigail and John Adams never owned slaves. George and Martha Washington brought over slaves form Mount Vernon during George’s time of presidency. Abigail and John never had slaves in the President’s House. They were that opposed to slavery. They would hire a few staff members, but never slaves.
The Adams family was known for being very outspoken and against slavery. At the time, most people in politics either owned slaves or were against slavery, yet still owned slaves. The Adams family were only a few of the people who were against slavery and did not own slaves. Abigail Adams did as best she could do to try and stop slavery. Like I said before, she was a woman. She didn’t have a voice. But with the little voice she did have, she made sure to use it.