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Abigail Adams Vents to Mercy Otis Warren About John

In the spring of 1776, Mercy Otis Warren received a letter from her good friend Abigail Adams complaining

Mercy Otis Warren by John Singleton Copley. Courtesy Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Mercy Otis Warren by John Singleton Copley. Courtesy Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

her husband John had been saucy to her -- about women's rights.

Abigail was 16 years younger than Mercy, but the two women had much in common. Both were witnesses to – and recorders of -- the American Revolution, a cause to which they were passionately committed. And both lived on the South Shore of Massachusetts: Abigail in Braintree, Mercy in Plymouth.

Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis Warren was born Sept. 25, 1728 in Barnstable, Mass., where a statue of her now stands in front of the Barnstable County Courthouse. She was educated with her Harvard-bound brother James Otis. When she married James Warren, the two men encouraged her to write poetry and essays satirizing the colonial government.

The Warren home was a frequent gathering place for such patriot leaders as Sam Adams, his cousin John and Mercy’s brother-in-law, Joseph Warren.

Abigail Adams met Mercy Otis Warren in the spring of 1773, when she accompanied John to a court session in Plymouth. Mercy was elegant and well-read. Like Abigail, she had five children. The Adamses and Warrens would meet often in the coming years.

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

When they met, Abigail was 28 and Mercy was 44. Abigail was flattered the older woman wrote to her afterward, beginning a long friendship and correspondence.

Correspondence

In 1776, John Adams was in Philadelphia representing Massachusetts in the Continental Congress.  Abigail wrote to him on March 31, eager to hear about the new code of laws she presumed the congress was drafting. She urged him to remember the ladies.

 I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited 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.

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. 

‘Remember the ladies’ is perhaps the most famous quotation attributed to Abigail Adams. John was not impressed. In his reply on April 14, 1776, he mocked her plea for women’s rights:

As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient -- that schools and Colledges 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 powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented.--This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I won't blot it out...We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would compleatly subject s to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight.

On April 27, 1776, Abigail vented her frustration about John to Mercy Otis Warren. “He is very sausy to me,” she wrote. “I think I will get you to join me in a petition to Congress.”

She indignantly repeated his comments, then wrote,

I will tell him I have only been making trial of the Disintersstedness of his Virtue, and when weigh'd in the balance have found it wanting.

Her friend's reply -- if she did reply -- is lost to history.

Abigail waited 10 days after she wrote to Mercy Otis Warren to compose her reply to her husband:

I can not say that I think you very generous to all the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining and 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 to subdue our Masters, and without voilence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet –

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