The Great Abigail Adams

John Adams was a man of tremendous intellect and inner strength.  With the aid of Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers, he set the legal and political foundations of the United States of America.

As a rebel, he was the intellectual force of the revolution against England.  His words in support of reason and law were the balancing force to the raw anger and violent ways of his cousin Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.  Without him, the revolution would not have taken root in the solid ground of law.

As a writer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, he put his whole life (career, family, friendships…) on the line.  Using his intellect, his pen, and his voice, he helped defeat the most powerful force in the world, the King of England, for the freedom of American people and their descendants.

As the first American ambassador to England, he successfully created a peaceful partnership with the monarchy, which served our young nation well.

As our second President, he kept the United States out of wars with either England or France, against the will of the press and the politicians.  He lost re-election, as well as his friendship with Thomas Jefferson, over his struggle to avoid war.  But history proved him right.  Had he given in and waged war on France or Britain, the United States would have likely lost the war or been torn apart in a civil war.  More importantly, he saved a generation of young men from death and disability.

His son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth President of the United States.  Similar to his father, John Quincy’s tremendous intelligence, vast experience in international politics, and his unquestionable integrity and devotion to his country were well-known.  He was passionate about using federal powers to create infrastructure to increase the economic power of the nation.

The legacy of the Adams’ family lived on in an historic case.  In 1841, John Quincy Adams, successfully defended the slaves of the Amistad slave ship in United States v. The Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the United States.  He successfully argued that the Africans should be considered free and released.

The point of this is not to focus on what a great man John Adams was, for he had his share of faults.  Instead, let’s peek behind the curtain.

Behind all this was Abigail Smith Adams, devoted wife of 54 years to John and the mother of John Quincy.  She should be considered the greatest of our founding mothers, along with Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, and a slew of lesser-known women who served, sacrificed, and counseled the men in their lives who served the public.  But of them all, Abigail Adams stands supreme.  She was the wisest counselor that John Adams ever had.  She was the rock upon whom the 2nd and the 6th Presidents of the United States depended.  Without her, these two men would not have achieved much.

Here is a music video made from the HBO mini-series John Adams (highly recommended) based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book by David McCullough.  It gives a glimpse of this extraordinary woman.

There is wonderful letter (of the many) from John to Abigail about the education of their children.  Now, it is true that John Adams was not as good a father as he was a statesman, but it is also apparent that John had a vision for the upbringing of his children.  With a vision for their education in mind, Abigail made it happen.

“Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and beast. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing.

“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 excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue.  If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.

“But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted.  Without strength and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured (Bennett 240).”

It’s hardly a wonder that their son became president, with Abigail in charge of John Quincy’s early education and John helping him achieve great things in his young adult years in various ambassadorships in Europe.  John Quincy Adams stood high on the shoulders of his parents.

And isn’t that the case with every great man or woman?  There is always someone who is behind the scenes, keeping the household affairs in order, teaching the children, counseling the confused, encouraging the discouraged, caring for the sick, and fighting for all in her care.

While I am certainly no John Adams, I can tell you that there is an Abigail Adams in my home.  She is my wife, the mother of my two children, and the counselor of so many people who seem to need just what she has to offer.  I have no doubt that someone in her counsel or care will be great one day and will thank her for being the person behind the scenes who helped make greatness happen.

Is there an Abigail Adams in your life?  Does she know how much you appreciate her?

Are you somebody’s Abigail Adams?  Do you know how valuable you are?

More importantly, have you set educational goals, like the Adams’ did, for your kids, your students, your athletes?


Works Cited – Bennett, William J.  Our Sacred Honor. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997. Print.

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