John and Abigail Adams: America's First Power Couple

Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society / Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Two-and-a-half centuries before a young, bearded Bill Clinton approached a classmate named Hillary Rodham in the Yale library, John Adams met his match in a young Abigail Smith. Like Bill, John was charismatic, charming, and destined for greatness. Abigail was opinionated, well-read, and ready to take on any challenge. Abigail worked at helping her husband build a new nation, expressing her thoughts and opinions to him on everything from a woman’s role in government, the education system and slavery.

Between 1762 and 1801, John and Abigail Adams exchanged 1160 letters, giving insight into the daily life and times of a Founding Family and a detailed look inside America’s original power couple and how they set the tone for generations of American political celebrity pairs to come.

1. They were hopeless romantics.

Abigail, a self-educated woman from a well-connected family, met John in the summer of 1759, but sparks didn’t fly until much later. It wasn’t until letters flowed freely between them that the love flowed as well. The letters between the future president and first lady began in 1761 and put Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” lyrics to shame.

In 1762, John addressed Abigail as “Miss Adorable” and requested two or three million kisses: “…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… 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…”

In 1763 Abigail wrote to John: “And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship ... unite these, and there is a threefold chord — and by this chord I am not ashamed to say that I am bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it.”

2. John and Abigail were made for each other.

It’s no secret that John Adams was kind of a stubborn and obnoxious guy. There was really no one else on earth more suited for John than Abigail. She was the Kim to his Kanye.

About others, Adams once said: “There are few people in this world with whom I can converse. I can treat all with decency and civility, and converse with them, when it is necessary, on points of business. But I am never happy in their company.”

But, when it came to Abigail, he couldn’t be happy without her. In 1783, he told her, “I am in ear-nest. I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you.”

Abigail stuck by his side for 59 years.

3. They presented a united front.

In the 1700s it wasn’t easy for a woman to be outspoken or committed to a cause, but Abigail Adams was. Abigail believed in the fight her husband was leading. So much so, she almost expected him to choose his country over his family.

While Abigail was committed to her husband’s role in the new government, she wasn't shy about her desires for the new nation either, asking her husband to “remember the ladies” in a letter writ-ten to John during the First Continental Congress:

“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 favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such un-limited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

4. They took equal shares in the household.

All in all, women were not treated as equals during America’s early days, but John very much treated Abigail has his partner and confidant. Not only did John trust Abigail to educate the children, she also ran the family farm, bought property and acted as a policy advisor to John.

In 1775, John wrote to Abigail and implored her to elevate the minds of their children: “It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in… every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”

She fared pretty well in all those aspects—especially in terms of raising the couple’s four children, as John Quincy Adams is often described as the nation’s most well-read president.

5. John knew women make the world go 'round.

While John was away forming a new nation, Abigail was holding down the fort—while a war was going on around her. John was more than impressed with how Abigail handled herself, he was ecstatic. He wrote to tell her so: “It gives me more Pleasure than I can express to learn that you sustain with so much Fortitude, the Shocks and Terrors of the Times. You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine. And you have Reason to be. For the worst that can happen, can do you no Harm. A soul, as pure, as benevolent, as virtuous and pious as yours has nothing to fear, but every Thing to hope and expect from the last of human Evils.”