Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
If ever there were a marriage that daily lived out these verses, it was that of John and Abigail Adams. Thank goodness that poor first impressions sometimes lead to second chances in those who are patient and reasoned as “love at first sight” was hardly the case for these two strong-willed individuals.
Abigail was a mere 15 years old when she first met her future husband who happened to be accompanying a friend to her home as he was attempting to court her older sister. John was almost a decade her senior, portly and balding while she was youthful, petite and trim. John detailed his visit to her family’s farm as basically an exercise in futility. He described her pastor father as a “crafty, designing man,” while he found Abigail and her sisters all-together “not fond, not frank, not candid.”
Yet, Providence would have its day! John continued to go along with his friend, Richard Cranch, when he visited Abigail’s sister and soon thereafter, John developed quite the fondness for the young lady. Their courtship would last for three years after which they wed on October 25th, 1764.
The newlyweds set up housekeeping on a small farm in Braintree, Massachusetts. Their 50 year betrothal would produce 5 children, one of whom followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming president. John Quincy Adams was considered by many to be one of our most brilliant leaders; no surprise to those familiar with the superior intellect of both of his parents.
One of the most significant challenges faced by the colonial couple was that of the lengthy separations they experienced as a result of John’s time spent in Philadelphia during the Continental Congress in the 1780s as well as his diplomatic service in far-flung Europe during the 1790s. During those solitary years, Abigail was solely responsible for the maintenance of both the family as well as the farm.
Perhaps what sustained them, aside from a deep and abiding devotion, was the “old school” art of correspondence or letter writing. They often referred to each other as Lysander and Diana from Greek mythology. And occasionally, When John was feeling particularly playful, he nicknamed his sweetheart, “Miss Adorable!” A whopping 1160 of their letters remain for posterity to enjoy.
While these love notes conveyed a deep affection between the two and allowed John to “catch up” on the happenings back home, they also served a more significant purpose to our fledgling nation. Mr. Adams relied heavily upon the insight and opinions of his beloved spouse.
Somewhat unlike many marriages of the day, John considered his wife not only his boon companion but his intellectual equal as well. What she thought, even on matters of politic, dearly mattered to this sage man.
In one particularly compelling letter penned on March 31, 1776, Abigail implored her husband to “remember the ladies” and “to be more generous and favorable to them than your (his) ancestors.” She gently reminded him that those who are not consulted or even addressed in the formation of law should not be obligated to follow it. A common sense approach indeed!
The couple did reside for a time in the White House or as it was known then, the President’s House. And as is certainly proper and fitting, the luminescent brilliance of Abigail Adams is on display for all to see chiseled above the fireplace in the State Dining Room. Her reflections are simple yet apt and enduring:
“I pray Heaven to bestow the best on this House, and that all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”