tv First Lady Abigail Adams CSPAN May 2, 2015 12:00pm-1:36pm EDT
american history tv is featuring c-span's original series "first lady's influence and image" at 8:00 p.m. eastern on sunday night throughout the rest of the year. in a moment, we look at abigail adams. c-spanadams. c-span produced the series in cooperation with the white house historical conversation. through video to it, and questions from c-span's audience, we tell the stories of america's 45 first ladies. now, abigail adams on first ladies. this is about 90 minutes. >> ♪ [piano] >> abigail would grow to be the equal of john adams as confidante and dearest friend. she has really revealed herself as, yes, an 18th century woman but her concerns sound very
modern to us today. >> john and abigail adams have become so prominent in the minds of americans because of this collection of papers and the publications that have opened them up to the world. >> the story of abigail adams in the revolutionary war is a story of sacrifice, of commitment to country and abigail rose to the occasion. >> abigail was adamantly opposed to slavery. >> she was quite behind-the-scenes dynamo, i think. she warned her husband. you can't rule without including what women want and what women have to contribute. >> the backdrop to the adams' brief occupancy of the white house is one of political defeat and personal tragedy. >> she is worried about her husband and defends him against slander. she is concerned about her children, their upbringing their education. >> she could hold her own with anybody, in her own time and since. she was in every way her husband's equal.
susan swain: born in 1744, abigail smith married john adams at age 19. over 54 years of marriage, they have five children together including a future president. ahead of her time in many ways and a writer perhaps unparalleled to any first lady abigail pens this to her husband during the american revolution "all history at every age exhibits instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours." good evening and welcome to c-span's "first ladies influence & image." for the next 90 minutes we will be learning more about abigail adams, the second first lady of the united states. we have two guests at our table who spent much of their professional careers learning about the adams and bringing their writings to the public . let me introduce them to you. edith gelles is the author of numerous books including two "abigail adams: a writing life"
and "abigail and john: portrait of a marriage." and james taylor. jim taylor is the editor-in-chief of the adams papers at the massachusetts historical society. thanks to both of you and welcome. well, edith gelles, abigail adams would just by virtue of the fact of being the wife of the second president and the mother of another president earned her place in history. but you say in your book that she is a historical figure in her own right. how so? edith gelles: primarily because she left us letters and we have a record of her life. but her letters are not ordinary. they are extraordinary. they're wonderfully, wonderfully written and there are many, many of them. so abigail was a letter writer at a time when women couldn't publish for publication. so her letters became her outlet and it -- they are the best
record we have of women's role in the american revolution and for the period of the early national government of the united states. susan swain: last week in the martha washington program we learned with great sorrow that martha washington burned all of her papers, her letters, of her correspondence with her husband george and only two of them remained. we've got just the opposite here thousands and thousands of them. explain the scope of the trove of materials that you have to work with the scholars, through the writings for the adams family. james taylor: the adams family gave to the massachusetts historical society a collection. we've never counted them individually but probably 70,000 plus documents over several generations and probably about 300,000 pages. for abigail and john which is the, i think, the most important of the collection, there are about 1170 letters that they exchanged over the years. susan swain: how frequently did they write to one another? james taylor: well, it was
dependent because when they were together. for example, we don't have any letters after 1801 because after john leaves the white house they are together almost all the time. but for periods for example, when there's fairly regular mail delivery between massachusetts and philadelphia or later washington d.c. they wrote at least once a week and sometimes twice a week. i almost like to think they're like phone calls. susan swain: this program is an interactive one which makes it more enjoyable for all of us. we hope you'll take part. in about 15 minutes we'll be taking your telephone calls and we'll put the phone numbers on the screen so you can phone in a question. there are two other ways you can be involved as well. if you go to twitter and use the hashtag first ladies we'll include some of your tweets, your questions by twitter. and you can also go to c-span's facebook page and we have posted a spot where you can send questions in tonight. and i'm actually going to start with a facebook comment. from sophia sonnen and who writes, "she looks like a tough cookie.
by looking at the words of abigail adams was she in fact a tough cookie?" edith gelles: oh my goodness no. yes and no. in fact, one of the things that is important to understand about abigail is she started out as a naive, young woman who expect -- whose expectations were to have a normal life like her mother did and the revolution disrupted that and her whole life shifted. and this is one of the reasons she become so very great a model for us as women is that she used the opportunity of this disruption in her life to grow as a person. so that she begins as a naive young woman and she does become a very sophisticated, worldly, opinionated, kind woman. james taylor: i think this is one of the things that makes her most attractive. a good character in a novel develops over time. and she is like a good character
in a novel she develops. susan swain: well, what were her roots? where was she born and what was her upbringing such that she became a woman of letters? edith gelles: she was the daughter of a minister, reverend william smith. her mother was descended from -- if there was nobility in new england, the clergy and the political world of new england of massachusetts bay colony, so that her mother's family were nortorns and quincys. and so she grew up in a household that was quite middle class for that time and had two sisters and one brother. she was by all reports sickly as a child and therefore, didn't go to any kind of public schooling of which there were a few.
but was educated at home by her mother and she read at random in her father's library. susan swain: when, in the of course in reading her writing, did she become political and can you describe her politics? james taylor: i'm trying to think. very early on when john is active at the continental congress, she consumes news. and she wants the newspapers from philadelphia. she wants pamphlets when they're published. so one of the things we know that she is consuming the news at that time. and because all the news was what was printed. and she begins, i would say, by the middle 1770's that she's onboard. susan swain: and then in what capacity? what was her political thinking? james taylor: she was an ardent revolutionary. she was very supportive not only in revolution but the fact that
john was participating. as a matter of fact, they were partners in everything that he did. and as a matter fact, at some point, he writes to her as thanking her for being a partner in the activities. but later on, i think she is i would say, perhaps more conservative than john in some ways when it came to national politics. susan swain: we will be looking at some of her letters throughout the program. but a very famous one is the and we used it in the open was her "remember the ladies." that's a letter that's of particular interest to you. and you write that the scope of it, we always hear that section is really much broader. why is that letter significant in understanding abigail adams? edith gelles: the letter does many things. she -- -- my sense of abigail
is that she wrote at night and she would enter a kind of reverie in which she just followed her thought pattern wherever it went. and so she changes topics in her letters very many times. and so it starts out with a political statement about why these southerners can favor slavery and still be are doing a rebellion against a tyranny. susan swain: and she questions that? edith gelles: and she questions that. and then she moves on and in the middle of a paragraph makes this "remember the ladies" statement. then it goes on still further to suggest that if john didn't like this idea -- actually, it was a remarkable thing because he was actually in a position to do something, to make a change because he was on the committee that was drafting the declaration of independence. so that he actually could have made a move for women's rights
at that time and it's remarkable that she did suggest that. susan swain: can you give us a sense of what powers women had in society at that time? i mean, they couldn't publish under their own names. they certainly couldn't vote. so how could women be influential? james taylor: i think the -- it's a much more subtle thing and in the same way that if a decision is made even today and people think that the husband makes the decision. well, there's a kitchen table discussion that goes on before that. and i think that probably in the adams household there were a lot of kitchen table discussions between john and abigail. and abigail may not have been more -- most obvious in making the decisions but i think that she influenced john a lot. and we know much later after the revolution when he has his political career that she's very influential in helping him
formulate some of his ideas. susan swain: i want you tell you a little bit about what the county look like in 1800s as john adams was leaving office. we have some statistics that we will put on screen to give you some of the scope. for example, by that point and the census in 1800 interestingly was done by john marshall who went on to the supreme court and ultimately done by secretary of state james madison, all such familiar names from history in the job of a census chief at that time. the population was 5.3 million across 16 states. there were 998,000 blacks, about 19 percent of the population , only 12 percent of them free. and that 5.3 million was a 35 percent growth in the country just in 10 years since the 1790 census. one interesting thing though the average life expectancy if you were born in 1800 was just 39 years. the largest cities in the country were new york, philadelphia and baltimore , unchanged from 10 years ago.
what are some of the things we should take away from those statistics, that snapshot of america? james taylor: well, i think one of the things is there is an expansion going on. and this is one of the things that is very difficult for the adamses because politics are changing. and the changing politics means that they're new englanders. they're federalist. and as time goes by and as the population move south and westward it makes it more difficult for the politics so -- that they believe in. susan swain: and again, we're going to invite your telephone calls. we'll be going to calls in just a few minutes. i'm told that you want to read us a passage from one of the letters. edith gelles: yes, i would just like to remark on the -- susan swain: sure. edith gelles: -- 39-year life span. that isn't exactly accurate to the extent that if children died much more rapidly. so that if a child survived to 12 probably the life span was much longer and many, many people lived into their 70s as the adamses did.
susan swain: what -- the adams' five children how many of them survive to adulthood? edith gelles: four. susan swain: four? edith gelles: right. susan swain: right. you're getting a passage ready for us. and you want it to read us from that letter that we talked about earlier -- edith gelles: right. susan swain: -- of the "remember the ladies?" edith gelles: right. well, in this particular letter, abigail was ruminating about conditions in her life and what was going on in the -- her world. and she says, "i long to hear that you have declared an independency." she knew john was on this committee. "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 your ancestors," which is a bold and remarkable statement for a woman to have made in that era. susan swain: based on the relationship that we see detailed in the letters, would it have been a surprising thing for her to say to john adams? james taylor: no. i don't think so at all.
and as i go back to the kitchen table, i am sure that before he rode off to philadelphia, she filled his ear with a lot of ideas along the way. but john in his response notes that there are several groups of people -- servants, slaves et cetera are also moved during this time to think about their rights and their independence? -- independence. susan swain: what was her viewpoint on slavery? james taylor: she was opposed to slavery. she had a servant, a black servant who in fact had been a slave of her father's. and i think the woman had -- what was the story that -- susan swain: phoebe. james taylor: phoebe abdee. susan swain: yes. james taylor: but did she have her -- did she have the right to be free after the or continue as a servant. i can't remember the exact --
edith gelles: abigail cared for her for the rest of her life. james taylor: right. right. edith gelles: and after her parents died. james taylor: right. right. edith gelles: and abigail cared for her. in fact, she lived in the adams' house when -- james taylor: when they were in europe. right. right. susan swain: but the adams' business was a farm. james taylor: right. susan swain: and so how did they manage to work the farm? what kind of labor did they use to support family labor? edith gelles: tenant farming mostly. and -- susan swain: tenant farming. so would-- edith gelles: -- they did have hired labor. they did have -- and it became very problematic for abigail during the war the whole situation of having labor on the land. i want to go back to the letter just a little bit because the -- you mentioned john's response to her and what she does in this letter in addition to saying why is it that southerners can support a revolution when they themselves keep people in slavery. and then she goes on and says, "remember the ladies. and then she says, "if you don't pay attention to this, we ladies are going to foment our own
rebellion." and then, it goes on further to say that you should treat us the same way that god treats people and she invokes the theory in hierarchy. in this one letter, she brings out so many ideas. i would suggest that her threat to foment a revolution was one of the -- is indicative of one of the ways that the adams has -- adams related to each other and which is they teased each other. and his response to her was a tease also. well, it sounds to me as if every group, any tribe is going to make a revolution. and jokes are a way that people have of de-escalating-- james taylor: right. edith gelles: -- an argument and it brings it down to normal. so what they'd really -- one of the ways in which they related it seems to be that she -- susan swain: well, these two prolific letter writers. how do they meet each other? james taylor: they met at her
father's house. he went as a dinner guest with a friend, a lifelong friend namely canch, who -- richard cranch who then married the elder sister of abigail's. and abigail was only not yet 15 at that time. and john was not particular at least in his diary was not particularly enthusiastic about her at first, but apparently things changed over the years. but he was nine years older than her, so he was 23, 24 years old. edith gelles: he also had a girlfriend at that time. james taylor: oh, right. edith gelles: yes. james taylor: and there's amazing story that he was about to propose -- edith gelles: right. james taylor: -- to this woman and one of his friends burst in and broke the mood, i guess you'd would say -- susan swain: right. james taylor: -- and then that -- she went off and made somebody else and -- but it came within a whisker of him marrying or at least proposing to somebody else, right. edith gelles: right. exactly. susan swain: he was a lawyer. would that have been a profession that her family
would've and appreciated her falling for? edith gelles: well, the family lore suggests that it wasn't. and when charles francis adams wrote about it, he suggested that her family disapproved of her marrying a lawyer. but she was also very young when she met him and i think they were being protective of her as well. susan swain: was john political at that point? did she know she was going to be choosing a life of politics? edith gelles: well, no one knew about the revolution coming. i mean, it's just one thing we have to keep in mind that all of this is happening in a period of time there is no revolution. there is no revolution on the horizon. they think of themselves as british people. and sure he was interested in politics the way young men were and he was i think running for office by this time. was he -- james taylor: but very, very local. edith gelles: yes. right. james taylor: his trajectory was to be a great lawyer in massachusetts. that's what he saw. then he -- edith gelles: right. james taylor: -- was following that line and probably would
have been. susan swain: well, it's important to note because these two were married for 54 years and as we're hearing from our guests were great partners. even if it was in the beginning not a love match, it grew to become one. and we have as an example one letter. this is called the "miss adorable" letter and we're going to show that to you next. >> i think what's so appealing about the family series is the intimacy that the letters reveal. the earliest extent letter we have dates to october 1762 and we call it the "miss adorable" letter because that is how john adams opens the letter. so it's john writing to abigail. and he says, "miss adorable, by the same token that the bearer hereof sat up with you last night i hereby order you to give him, as many kisses, and as many hours of your company after 9:00 as he shall please to demand and charge them to my account." and he continues, "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, and of consequence the accounts between us is immensely in favor of yours." so very teasing affectionate tone. and there's just some wonderful moments in the courtship correspondence. susan swain: it's fun doing these series to bring these founding fathers, people that we see in these very two dimensional poses come to life and have real human personalities. these people were clearly having fun and enjoyed one another. james taylor: i think this is one of the most appealing things about john and abigail and some of the other adamses but particularly john and abigail. they have a life that you can follow because of the documents. you see them in good times and at bad. you see death in the family. you see triumph. it is -- i was going to say it's like "downton abbey" but
it's not exactly but it's a one -- it is a wonderful story and the reason it is, is because we have so many of these documents that there's texture there that you don't have with the other founders. susan swain: based on well, how you've described her admonitions to john about remembering the ladies. brenda elliot on twitter wants to know, would you say abigail adams was the mother of women's rights in the united states? edith gelles: i think one of the things that we know by reading abigail's letters is that women were aware of their subordinate role in the 18th century. and because we have abigail's letters where she writes about this, we know that she wasn't exemplary other women in her period of time. her good friend mercy otis warren for instance was totally agreeing with her and totally a colleague. i think that one of the things we've learned in the women's movement in the late 20th, early 21st centuries is that we can
trace the movement for women's rights back further and further in history and abigail happens to be an outstanding example because she left us letters that say these things. she was also was very eloquent. not everyone could write like abigail. abigail was a wonderful writer. susan swain: first telephone call on abigail adams comes from jan watching us in new york. hi jan. you're on. jan : yes. hi. good evening. so, while abigail certainly was one of the first great american female writers shouldn't it also be acknowledge that she was -- the acknowledged that she was a poor mother despite john quincy since another son committed suicide and another son drank himself to death? susan swain: thank you. was she a good mother? edith gelles: yes. she was a very good mother. i think we live in a post-freudian world in which when something goes wrong inside of a family, the mother gets the blame.
first of all, these children were living through a revolution. second of all, their father was not at home for 25 years. she was doing it all by herself and she was coping in the situation which was extraordinary. and i think that applying 20th 21st century standards to mothering and even the psychology that has developed in the early 20th century doesn't fly for the 18th century. susan swain: mary is up next in santa rosa, california. hi, mary. mary: hi. thanks for taking my call. i'm interested in finding out what's the relationship between abigail and thomas jefferson was? did abigail and thomas jefferson correspond during john and thomas's year of not really speaking to each other? i've also heard that abigail was really had an intimate
relationship with him as far as correspondence went and i'm wondering how true that is? james taylor: they were very good friends at one time. i think the highest point of their relationship was when abigail was for a while in france and then in england thomas jefferson was a diplomat abroad at that time. and they were very close. they were very close. as a matter of fact, for a while, while jefferson was in paris and she was in london, they bought goods from one another and kept little accounts for one another. also, at one point, one of jefferson's younger daughter came from virginia to france but stopped in london on the way and abigail took care of her during that time. during the national period when particularly after the election of 1800, their relationship really fell apart.
it was over politics. and i would say during that time abigail was very disappointed with jefferson. susan swain: next up is matt in oshkosh, wisconsin. matt: hi. thanks for taking my call. i was wondering what some of the intellectual and stylistic influences on abigail's writing was. you know, other letters that she might have had and how they would have been influenced upon. susan swain: thank you. did she have influences on her writing? edith gelles: oh yes, of course. she was a great reader. and this is the beginning point of learning to write well of course is to read good literature. and she read the bible. she read pope but i'm going to let jim also talk to this. james taylor: when we do the research on her letters, one of the things we -- if she is quoting somebody or citing somebody, we always want to identify who it is. but sometimes since she's not using quotation marks because
people in -- educated people on 18th century knew a lot of things automatically. and i would say the things that she quoted most often or things that she referenced most often were shakespeare, the bible, alexander pope and the classics. susan swain: this next call is from their hometown, quincy, massachusetts. this is kila. you're on. kila: yes, hello and congratulations on having this wonderful series on the first ladies. you know, i live in quincy massachusetts and we are very lucky to, you know, see and experience and breathe the adamses' life up close everyday. and my comment was going to be about abigail's statement or sentiment about "remember the ladies" because i think that she pretty much, you know, pave not the paved the way but, you know, she shone or she put the light on the fact that women can
shape and change destinies, not just of one's life but of nations and of the world if they set their mind to it. and it's really important because, you know, women are the primary factor in children -- in bringing up the children, so. and especially she did it at -- just at the brink of, you know, of united states as we know it today because, you know, they were instrumentally the adamses are very instrumental in the constitution in forming of this nation. so -- and in fact, quincy is actually the birthplace of the american dream. so, i think that she may not be formally recognized as, you know, primary role -- her primary role in women's rights but i think she definitely had a very, very important role in
shaping women's place in this country and in history. susan swain: thank you kila and since that's a as a comment and observation rather than a question. and that caller was from quincy. we'll take you next to the quincy home of the adams as we prepared to tell you the story of the revolutionary times in which the adams lived. let's watch. >> the story of abigail adams in the revolutionary war is a story of sacrifice, of commitment to country and abigail rose to the occasion. for the first 10 years of their married life, john and abigail lived in this home from 1764 to 1774. it's where they raised their four children. this was the birthplace also of their second child, john quincy adams who went on to become the sixth president of the united states. >> it's also an important home because the primary link between she and john adams who was serving in philadelphia at the second continental congress would be letter writing. and it was from this house that he was provided a window to what was happening back here in the
colony of massachusetts during the revolutionary war. abigail would report to john about the militia in boston. during the battle of bunker hill on june 17th, 1775, she took her hill on june 17 1775, she took her young son and john quincy and she would watch the battle of bunker hill with her son and report to john adams of the fires and the smoke rising from charlestown. she was literally the eyes of the revolution to john adams and the second continental congress in philadelphia. and abigail adams parlor, we are in the hub of the household. this room in particular could be really considered the classroom for abigail, this goal mistress and her four children. , during the war, one must remember, schools were closed down. the children did not benefit from formal education. instead, it was up to abigail to teach them the less is --
teaching them the lessons. not only arithmetic and french but also morality, literature, and what is going on in the revolution. she was their primary educator here in this home. this is the room where many lessons would have taken place. she reported to john adams during the revolution. at one point, she began to take up the works of law and ancient history, and she was having john quincy read at least two agents today. i don't know if anyone who has read this history, but for a seven-year-old boy to read this, he had a very good instructor in abigail. during the occupation of boston, there were many refugees leaving from boston into the country had -- and they needed a place to live. abigail adams wanted to open a home next door for these refugees. she rented out the house to a farmer, the hayden's. they would provide assistance on the farm here. she reported to john and one of her letters that she met with some very ill-treatment.
she asked mr. hayes to share his house with the refugees but he , refused. by the time abigail received a response from john adams, like many things she had solved the , problem herself and reported to john later. she had taken care of it and paid for mr. hayden to leave the premises, providing her the opportunity to house the refugees. there are troops that are marching in her yard practicing their maneuvers in preparation for war. she reports to john that young john quincy is behind the house marching proudly behind the militia. at one point, there were militia living in the upstairs attic and also the second floor. she welcomed the militia men to her home and supported the revolutionary war with her actions. susan: the adams' life and the trajectory of it puts them into the biggest events of the founding days of our country. we have a timeline on some of the key points.
events we all learned in our history books. you can see 1744 when she was born, and mary john adams 20 years later. soon after that, the stamp act. in 1770, the boston massacre. as you are watching that timeline, i wanted to ask edie about how endangered the adams family were living in the midst of this preparation for war and being sympathizers against the existing government. edith: for the first decade of their marriage, abigail and john lived together. it was during this decade that the events happened, that the events escalated towards war. this was a kind of simultaneous parallel occurrence at the personal level and then the more global political level. during this period of time there was not danger. there was danger once lexington and concorde had happened. once there was fighting in the
massachusetts bay area. yes, there was danger. more than that, they didn't know if there would be danger. they never knew where the next troop deployment was going to happen. she was ready at any minute to move away from the house, to move inland, take her children and bring them to safety. susan: how much time was she alone while john adams was off working on the foundations of the government? edith: my goodness. from 1774 until 1784, they were apart most of the time. he came a couple of times for a couple of months, but during that time she was alone on the farm by herself bringing up the children. susan: and she was writing these letters explaining the situation. how concerned was he about his family back in massachusetts? c. james: i think he is very concerned. there is one heart wrenching period when she is pregnant and writing right up
until the time that she begins labor. and because of the time and distance -- which is so hard for us to understand now, with our instant communication -- he is writing hoping that she will have a daughter and that everything will be fine. in the meantime, she is -- the infant is born dead. she had a premonition that this was going to happen. so while he is writing happily joyfully, she has buried this child. so there is -- he knows that she is capable of doing almost anything that a woman or man could do during that time, but i think there is a certain helplessness on his part. he is so consumed by what he is doing there, but then he will reflect and send letters kiss
, tommy and johnny. a lot of it is very emotional. susan: when war broke out, i read that she was so supportive that she would do things like how the effort by melting down a -- pewter housewares so that they could be made into bullets. was that common? edith: sure, people were doing that altogether. yes. i'm going to pass on that. susan: ok. let's take a couple more calls as we learn more about the revolutionary years of of the items. next is a call from denise in michigan. caller: hello. i would like to know if the miniseries from hbo was reflective in any way of how things really were, in the sense of family. i know they did not go too deep into that. i would also like to know, when you talk about five kids, was that the baby who died?
was a correct about the man, the son drinking to death? thank you. susan: first, the hbo mini series. which brought the adams family to the forefront for a lot of contemporary americans. c. james: it was good history. part of it was drama also, so you have to understand in order to make it appealing, a little license was taken. but i think generally, it was pretty good history. susan: on the children, there was this tweet to add on. abigail raise the children for 25 years alone as john adams was busy? wow, a woman of steel! the caller asked about the five children and didn't include the child who died? edith: the child who died was the third child, born before charles. there was abigail jr., then john quincy -- nabby, then a third
child named susanna who lived only one year, and there is very little reference to this child in the correspondence. we know very little about it. abigail was pregnant at the time of the death of susanna. her third child charles was then born. at the end of her life, when her daughter-in-law lost a child, in st. petersburg at the time, abigail wrote to her, and for the first time i have seen in the correspondence -- maybe you have seen it -- she made reference to having lost a baby daughter. it was a closed topic. susan: the caller also wanted to know about the son who was an alcoholic and died. edith: charles -- people did not know about alcoholism in those days. it was considered sinful. it was not considered a disease. charles is, throughout the correspondence, treated as a person who was sensitive. from the earliest years, he was
sensitive. he went to europe with his father and john quincy in 1779, and he had to come back, because he was home sick. thereafter, every reference one sees about him, is that he was a sweet child, a pleasant child. but also fragile, he may have got into trouble when he was in harvard. his life was a regular. c. james: you know from the correspondence between abigail and her sisters that they kept an eye on him, that there was a problem. it is never fully discussed. i think one of the things that was difficult for abigail is that her brother was an alcoholic also. and left his family. edith: right. susan: this viewer on twitter says abigail adams sounds most like eleanor roosevelt. if she had been born at a later age, when she have been as activist as eleanor roosevelt? edith: that's very hard. yes, she certainly wasn't, she
-- she certainly would. she had all of the attributes of a very dynamic woman who was opinionated and would have had her own goals to pursue. she would have been very influential. she was very influential in the presidency. we know. susan: among historians -- and there have been four surveys of historians over the past decades abigail adams always comes in the number two or number three position as most influential. why is that? c. james: who would be number one? edith: eleanor roosevelt, i think. c. james: who would be number two then? susan: while she was number 23 of the four times. so why does she end up in the number two spot? c. james: one of the problems is there is a distance and time. people have other images. people are still alive that new -- knew eleanor roosevelt. she is modern. if you did a survey now, jacqueline kennedy would
probably rate much higher, because people know and like her -- and really liked her at that time. abigail, the only thing we really have from her are the letters. susan: and she's still in the number two spot. not bad. [laughter] with the list of these first ladies, she was the second most influential. based on these letters you have been spending your career on. c. james: i think also, if you see her influence on her husband, i do not know there have been many first ladies that have had that kind of influence. susan: what is a specific example of an important policy that you see she really worked on him? c. james: i do not know of a particular policy. it is that he consults her all the time. she talks -- her letters at a certain point, are divided into two things. this is what is happening with the children, this is what is happening on the farm, here are my thoughts about politics. she shared all the time.
i think, by the time he got to be president, and he was not popular with his party, she was his major adviser. susan: we're talking about letters. here is another in a video piece of a letter. abigail to john, focus on virginia. [video clip] >> the remember the ladies letter is a letter that everyone knows and associates with abigail adams. i think what is lesser-known and is fastening about the letter is that the remember the ladies comment comes quite far down in the letter. the first section of her letter to john is questioning and voicing her concerns about virginia's role in the revolutionary war. she writes, "what sort of defense virginia can make
against our common enemy whether it is so situated as to make an able defense. are not the gentry lords and the common people vassals? are they not like the uncivilized natives britain represents us to be?" she continues, and one of her probably most pointed comments on slavery -- "i am sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breast of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. of this i am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us." susan: how influential was this opinion about enslaved people on john adams's thinking? c. james: i think john adams had to be more practical. he is in congress. he is dealing with these people. he cannot alienate them. he could not see -- maybe he
could because he was outspoken but he had to help hold this together. it is easy to be a critic when you're not there. i think throughout the first 60 years of the country, people had to tread softly in order to keep the union together. edith: right. susan: we are going to fast forward. the country is formed. the washingtons are elected president and serving in new york first and then in philadelphia. john adams is vice-president. to the washingtons. how does he and abigail decide their household? did she move to new york, or philadelphia? how did they arrange all that? edith: john was vice-president for eight years. he moved to new york for one year, the first year because the , capital was in new york for the first year. she loved it. she had a beautiful house on the hudson overlooking the
city of manhattan and overlooking new jersey's shore. she loved it. she was also happy because her daughter lived nearby. then they moved to philadelphia and she spent the entire year ill. it was not the climate for her. her health was always precarious. she decided after that year in philadelphia, they decided together that she would stay at home. there was not really a precedent for the first lady and the second first lady, the vice president's wife to be living , with the men. it was by choice that martha did it. but abigail had the liberty to choose to go home. she did for the next six years. susan: on her illness, we learned last week that the city of philadelphia was decimated at the start of the second washington term by yellow fever. 12% of the population died. did she have an illness related to that? edith: no.
susan: did she have an illness related to that? edith: no. it is very hard to tell. she describes symptoms, but it is hard to put a name on the symptoms. c. james: they say rheumatism. edith: rheumatism she did have , rheumatism. but beyond that, the symptoms she describes are very hard to diagnose. susan: there was no role model for being the second lady at the time. but on twitter, to the newspapers of that time mention abigail? c. james: i am not sure about that. they certainly mentioned john from time to time. susan: was he a national figure at that point? c. james: no, not at all. she was known because she had been the wife of the minister to great britain. one of the problems they had is that people thought they were monarchical, they had been tainted by their time in europe.
i think this is one of the interesting things about abigail. she grew up minister's daughter, and at one point she is at versailles and the court of st. james so she is a much , more sophisticated person. much more so than martha washington. martha washington was american elite, abigail was international. susan: what is the relationship between martha washington and abigail adams? edith: it was wonderful. abigail loved martha. she met her when she was the wife of the vice president. whenever they had social events, they were very close. abigail wrote -- whenever she wrote about martha which was not much, but when she did write about martha, it was in the most glowing terms. c. james: one of the things she did was that just after she knew that john was going to be
elected, she wrote to martha washington, asking her about how to be the first lady, how she would carry the role. edith: martha wrote back and said, you know inside yourself how to behave. susan: we know that is a tradition that continues today , for new incoming first ladies, reach out to the people that served before, to understand the enormity of the task. here is a call. it is from ron in washington. caller: good evening. thanks for the program and for taking my call. i read in one of miss gelles'books and some earlier works on john adams, but i still think the most comprehensive biography, technically of john adams, but really of them both, was one done more than half a century ago. two volumes by paige smith.
i think that really still stands out. i wanted to get your comments on that. edith: i think no one writes about john adams today without consulting page smith. he is the foundation for writing about. it is remarkable to me, because the adams papers had just been opened to the public at the time when he started writing his book. and yet it is so thoroughly researched. c. james: that was the first thing i read about graduate -- in graduate school. susan: the caller was nice to mention your books. i want to show some of them. we're hoping people be intrigued enough to read more. here is "abigail adams: a one. writing life." another, "abigail and john: the portrait of a marriage. and here is another "my dearest friend: the letters of abigail and john adams." are these letters approachable for the everyday person?
can you dive right in and get a sense of the person? c. james: yes. you might need a little historical context to understand a few of the things if are alluding to, but they are personal and in some ways they , are timeless. the talk about problems that people have today, concerns that people have today. not the political context, but the intimacy of the letters. edith: i would add to that is that first of all, your book is excellent because it is footnote-ing antics people into accounts. abigail's letters have it in print and she has been read since 1840 when her grandson's first published an edition of her letters. which went through four editions in the 1840's. she was a best seller through the 19th century. people knew her. she has always been famous. susan: i won't be able to find the tweet as quickly as i need to write now but somebody asked a question, did the adams to think about their letters being published?
and do you have any -- c. james: as early as 1776, john is telling her to put the letters up, to keep them. at a certain point, there is a consciousness in some of the particularly his letters. , they know at a certain point and i do not know when the cross the threshold, that they are important. at that point, this is one of the reasons the family saves the letters. early on, it is emotion with the miss adorable letters and so on. but after that, their letters extend from 1762 to 1801. the most important 40 years in american history. susan: they understood they were players in and they were writing for the ages. c. james: i think so. c. james: this is a tweet from big john99881.
last week you mention martha did not like john adams. how did this effect of the relationship between martha and abigail? c. james: i do not think that is true -- susan: i think what we said was that abigail and martha's friendship helped facilitate the relationship between washington and adams when they were trying to understand what a president and vice-president might do. can you see any evidence for that? c. james: i don't know, i think john and george washington got along pretty well all the time. and john adams was extraordinarily supportive of washington and was personally injured when some of the press turned on washington, could not believe it. this is one of the things. martha and george were a hard act to follow. and they knew they would be difficult. susan: we will move into the years of their one-term presidency. before that is video that is before that video, it is a time when in one of your books, you
call it a splendid misery being in the white house. explain what that phrase meant. edith: it meant that it was splendid in that they were at the pinnacle of his political career and her career. i mean, they had risen to the top. and it was nothing but trouble and agonizing trouble from the very beginning. at very first, john was enthusiastic about becoming president. abigail said, i'm going to stay here in quincy. because i have things to do. she was taking care of john's mother. and she said, i will not be until october. -- and she said, i will not be there until october. he said, that's fine, you do not come until october. once he was in the presidency, he discovered it was the loneliest place in the world. he started writing letters, drop everything that you're doing come here, i need you immediately. and she did. c. james: i think one of the interesting things, one of the reasons she was hesitant about
it was she said, i , like to be outspoken. i like to speak my piste -- my piece. she knew that in that context she could not. when she was in quincy, she could. susan: when she was in quincy, there was a house they built together called peace field. let's take a look at it. >> in 1787, abigail realized they had outgrown the cottage at the foot of 10 -- penn's hill. she began to negotiate through her cousin to purchase a house we're standing in front of right now. john adams enjoyed a lot of peace and tranquility at this home, as did abigail. so he christened his home peacefield. there were two rooms on the first floor, two rooms on the second and three smaller bedrooms on the third floor and a small kitchen in the back. there were about seven and a half rooms on this home. this was john and abigail's home base. before becoming first lady abigail was spent nine years in this house. the first year she essentially was setting up the house after returning from europe.
she had remembered this house as one of the grand houses in quincy. but her perception of grand had changed after living in europe. she began making plans to enlarge the house. she wanted to improve on the size and height of the ceilings and the size of the space. she would write to her daughter, warning her not to wear any of her large feathered hats because the ceilings were too low. so abigail began working with an architect to enlarge the home. in effect, doubling the size. adding a long hall and a long entertainment room where she would receive her guests. with sensitivity to the architecture on the outside and the flow of the home, she had the builder dig down so they could lower the floors and get the high ceilings that she desired without disrupting the architecture on the outside of the house. you step down two steps, and you're in a whole different world. a typical day for abigail would
be to rise at 5:00 a.m. she had many chores to do. much for time was spent in the farm taking care of the orchard and taking care of the house. but she also loved those early morning hours to spend by herself, preparing herself for the day. most importantly, having a chance to indulge in one of her novels. although this was a presidential home, it is the home of a family. and abigail, instead of having servants doing all the work for her even , as a first lady, she would also be contributing to the kitchen and running of the household. this is something she continued throughout her life no matter what her position was. she was very involved. she had children and grandchildren visiting her here. it was an active and lively household. she also spent a great deal of time writing. again, there is fortune, john and abigail's was our , fortune. in one letter when he is asking her to come to philadelphia, abigail would write of the room that she was in and the view
that she saw. the beauty that unfolds outside the window at which i now write tempts me to forget the past." an indication that while abigail was back here, she was on a new beginning as the first lady of the united states, as the wife of the president, and also still a mother. she would describe life here so romantically that john adams would reply in one of his letters, "oh, my sweet little farm, what i would do to enjoy thee without interruption." susan: and of the four years of the items presidency, how much time did she spend at peacefield versus in the capital? edith: she became ill in 1798 and went home and had to stay there for an extended time. john actually followed her and stated there. for too long, according to his cabinet members who , finally urged him to come back
to philadelphia, which was then the capital. she tried to stay there for as much time as she could. again, her health caused her to be at home. she was quite ill, for close to a year. and possibly close to death during that time. susan: how could he served as chief executive from afar? c. james: this also happened during the vice presidency. when congress was not meeting the vice president would go back to where he lived. especially during the summer they would usually leave in the spring and come back in the fall. it was like a seasonal thing. although he did overdo it a little bit during this time. it was not unusual for the president to be away. susan: these were very trying and tempestuous years for a brand new nation. can you give us a sense of some of the history of the period of what was happening during the adams administration, the key policy issues and how it was faring on the world stage, this country? c. james: the major problems
were international at that time. there were internal political rifts. you have the creation of political parties at this time in america, the two-party system. we had problems with the french, with the british. in particular with the french. american political parties were divided pro-french, pro-british. one of the things john was troubled with during this time was keeping the country out of war. he was successful. i think that is probably the thing that he should be most recognized for during that time. edith: i also find it ironic that he is one president who kept us out of war, avoided war, because the revolution -- and the unite states would have collapsed in a war against c. britain. james: and people would have gone to war at the drop of a hat. edith: they would have. they would have gone to war and he prevented that.
it also subverted his career. politicians at the time, where -- were maybe like politicians forever. enjoying the exercise of making war. they were very close to war. was going on. american ships were being taken on the seas and american diplomats were being badly treated in france especially. the french revolution had happened. john adams, as jim says, kept us out of war. susan swain: we have a few key dates and a very, very historic four years of the adams administration, 1797 to 1801. and a small point for those of you who don't follow early american history, presidents then were inaugurated in march now the date in january familiar to us now but march to march was the timeframe. and you can see things such as washington d.c. selected as the capital in 1800, 1801, chief
justice john marshall selected. but i want to go to this date in 1798 with the passage of the alien and sedition acts. what were they and what is the significance and what is the viewpoint of both adamses on this act? james taylor: oh, the alien and sedition acts were a reaction to some of the international problems at that time. there was a belief on the part of some people that we were about to be overrun by french revolutionaries and that they were influencing people in america. there were rumors about that cities were going to be burned and that -- it was terrorism that they were anticipating. susan swain: so americans were afraid of the french at that point? james taylor: some of the french, they were people who were, for example, the opposition party, the democratic-republican party was very enthusiastic about the french and some of the ideals of
the french revolution. susan swain: jefferson in particular. james taylor: jefferson in particular. this is where they begin to go different directions. also, some of the press was very, very vehement in their criticisms of the administration. so one of the thing is that they muzzled the press and i think this is the thing probably that john adams is most criticized for. abigail, i believe supported john. well, actually, it wasn't john that started to came on the congress and he signed that, the legislation. but abigail was even more vehement. this is where i say she's even more conservative than john is during that time. susan swain: and the upshot of this for people who would be breaking the law, if you were caught of breaking the alien and sedition acts, what happened? james taylor: you could be jailed. edith gelles: right. james taylor: you'd be jailed. edith gelles: to recall page smith who was mentioned earlier, a biographer. susan swain: right. edith gelles: page smith said
that the press wrote that the press at this time was most scurrilous in american history. they made things up. they didn't have standards. so that the press was -- it was not only that they were supporting the french. they made up stories that were not true. and the adamses were seriously worried about this. and also it should be said that jefferson also supported the alien and sedition acts except that he believed the states should be passing sedition laws. not the national government because he was in favor of states rights and that was part of what separated them. so, it was not -- it was something that at that time people didn't have the same horror about suppressing the press that we have today. james taylor: right. and it was in the heat of a moment. it was in the heat of a moment. edith gelles: right. susan swain: next question comes from steven watching us in chicago. hi, stephen. steven: hi there. i was just wondering, you know they say history repeats itself.
and i was wondering if there are any presidents and first lady, first couple that most resemble or are analogous of the adams's. you know, people talk about george and barbara bush because of the one-term presidency and the son that went on to be president. but is there a better relationship or is that sort of the relationship standard? james taylor: i hope you'll take that question. [laughter] edith gelles: yes, there's no one else like abigail and john. first of all, we don't have the insights into anyone else's lives. they don't leave us letters telling us. i think whose letters recently were revealed? lyndon johnson's love letters to lady bird were recently published. susan swain: and bess truman and harry truman wrote letters to each other. edith gelles: yes. right. but there's nothing like the abigail and john exchange in american history. susan swain: not that the two of you are biased having spent your -- edith gelles: no we're not biased. susan swain: really? is that right? edith gelles: it's true. james taylor: no, and i think that the length of
it's when they were situated in such an important period of time and they were players on so many stages and that's the thing that sets them apart. susan swain: here's the question about peacefield from twitter. many presidents, aaron chihi writes, use their homes as neutral space for meetings. did john and abigail host dignitaries at peacefield? james taylor: people came by, i know that, but not so much during the presidency, much later at in retirement. i remember, there's when john is really quite ancient and i think it's a little while after abigail has passed. cadets from west point came and they were -- they had a band and they played and marched and they were served punch and the officers, john adams gave a talk to the -- a patriotic talk to the troops. edith gelles: right. james taylor: and occasionally people would come by but they didn't entertain in the sense of politically entertaining. it was family for the most part. susan swain: and which is a
contrast from mount vernon and the washingtons which seem to be constantly welcoming people into their house throughout their -- edith gelles: well, i think they did that. i think there was a lot of traffic through their houses. james taylor: right. edith gelles: people wanted to be close to the president and they were accessible. i think social standards were different then and standards of hospitality were different. so that if someone came to your door, you just didn't turn them away, although they might like to have done so. susan swain: so during the period of the white house years, she continued to write letters as in the time they were separated? james taylor: oh, right. yes, she did. and when this -- i think another important point is that when she is with john, it isn't that she isn't writing letters, she's writing letters to other people. while he is president, two of their children are in europe as -- on a diplomatic mission. so there's a lot of letters back and forth between thomas boylston and john quincy adams to their parents especially to abigail. she writes wonderful letters to her sisters who were back in massachusetts or a while in new
hampshire. susan swain: we have another example of letter to john adams from abigail. let's watch. >> "i have been much diverted with a little occurrence which took place a few days since and which served to show how little founded in nature the so much boasted principle of liberty and equality is. neighbor faxon came in one evening and requested to speak to me. his errant was to inform me that if james went to school, it would break up the school for the other lads refused to go. craig, mr. faxon -- pray mr. faxon has the boy misbehaved? if he has let the master turn him out of school. oh no, there was no complaint of that kind, but they did not choose to go to school with a black boy. and why not object to going to meeting, because he does mr. faxon." she continues on in this vein saying, you know, they allow him to play at the dance and they still go.
and she closes this section saying, "the boy is a freeman as much as any of the young men and merely because his face is black, is he to be denied instruction? how is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? is this the christian principle of doing to others, as we would have others do to us?" susan swain: this is a letter to john adams as he's serving in the presidency. she's not just recounting an experience in her life. she's hoping to influence his thinking it seems. so, how concerned was he with rights and equality at this point in his presidency? james taylor: i think it's a little different thing. and i think this is james that she's talking about who was an adams' servant. james was a special person to abigail. and when abigail, in few months after this goes to philadelphia,
john says, "don't bring james." he didn't want blacks in philadelphia as his servants. it's not really clear why but i think it was a sense that they could be corrupted because there were much -- many fewer blacks in massachusetts and it was a larger black -- free black community and slaves in philadelphia. and he says to her, "don't have him come beyond philadelphia or beyond new york. have him go back." and he writes a second letter, and this is very revealing to me and he says, "you have babied him." and i think he was a special. i think she taught him to read. and so, i don't think that this -- i don't know that she was instructing john adams so much on this is that she was showing her love and affection for james as an individual regardless of his race. susan swain: here's a quote that one of our viewers are sending i believe, it looks like she's
quoting john -- a letter of john to abigail in 1774. the quote is fewer picked out was, "we live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. what will the consequence be, i know not." do you have any thoughts on that? edith gelles: well, it's a wonderful quote because it does tell us that they had no idea that there would be war. although, i guess they suspected there would be a war. they did not know its duration. they did not know it would separate the colonies from the mother country. all of the things that we take for granted that we know about them, we have to erase if we go back to a letter like this and view it from their point of view. he was saying, "we don't know what's going to happen." susan swain: few more things from this time period of the presidency, we said at the outset that she was criticized by the press who at sometimes used the phrase to describe her as mrs. president. what's the whole context of that reference? edith gelles: the context is the
scurrilous press at that time, for one thing and that they attacked a woman was not very nice. and the british press did the same, referred to them as darby and joan and had attacked them because he was of course the american minister to great britain. so she was accustomed to not having good relations with the press, but it didn't endear the press to her. and it speaks to the tone of newspaper journalism at that time. susan swain: did she complain to family members about this? was she hurt by the way she was treated in the press or just take it as part of politics? james taylor: i think she probably took it as part of politics. i think she was much more defensive about her husband. edith gelles: right. james taylor: abigail didn't have great ambition for herself but she had great ambition for john, she had great ambition for her voice but particularly for john quincy adams and she was very defensive of them.
so, i think this is one of the reasons why the relationship with jefferson is so difficult because she had really loved thomas jefferson as a friend and jefferson she believed turned on her husband. susan swain: how did she express her support of her husband in addition to just writing letters to him and encouraging him along? edith gelles: she stayed there. she went there. and she was with him all of the time. when he needed her, she was there. susan swain: was there an avenue for her to respond to the press? edith gelles: not that i can think of. but her avenue of responding to the press was, oh, she was in favor of the sedition laws. she liked the idea of curtailing the press. susan swain: let's take our next telephone call. it is from allen, boca raton florida. hi. allen: yes. hi. good program. thank you for taking my call. interestingly enough, i'm a member of the press and we've
heard two callers tonight kind of insinuate that abigail was not a good mother because of a situation with charlie yet they talk nothing about john quincy not only becoming present. i believe john quincy was a leading abolitionist and here we are just follow american history whether it's the kkk still doing their thing in the south today whether it's the john birch society, whether it's the tea party now which is 97 percent caucasian, can we at least give abigail throw her a bouquet of roses to say that may be she might have influenced john quincy in terms of the color of a man's skin should not determine how we place them in this society and now you got scumbags like -- susan swain: all right. we're going to stop you right there but her influence on raising john quincy adams. edith gelles: well, john quincy lived with her until he was 11 years old in which point he went to europe with john. and she didn't see him again until he was 17 or 18.
so he became a man and -- susan swain: under the tutelage of his father. edith gelles: under the tutelage of his father. but she was very influential in those first 11 years. i balk at this tendency blame the mother every time something goes wrong with the children. circumstances happen. there are genes. i mean, there is possibly a genetic predisposition to alcoholism in that family. abigail's brother died of it and there apparently were other members of the family. and it's certainly was in the culture and the kind of sensitivity to alcohol. edith gelles: so a revolution happened when her children grew up. they grew up in wartime. that can be very, very damaging to children's psyches. susan swain: the year 1800 was a very, very difficult year for the adamses. a campaign for re-election hard
fought against the big political rival in thomas jefferson they lost that. that was also a year that they moved to the white house and they also lost their son in that year. so, let's talk about all of those individually for a little bit. first of all, the decision to run for the office again. did abigail support john's interest in continuing in the presidency? james taylor: yes. we don't have as much as we had in the decision for the previous election where they agonized over it. they went back and forth and there's letters should i shouldn't i, should i, shouldn't i. i don't have as much of that for the second term. this was -- he was in a harness, things were going and part of it was because by this time the political parties were so strong, he just didn't want the other party in. he wanted to follow through with what he was doing. and he had and even though there
were several bad things happening around or to the adams family during that time is that actually in 1800 he had one of his great successes, the convention with the french that ended the non-declared war. edith gelles: right. right. i also would emphasize that the political parties was not -- were not written into the constitution. and washington and adams both and many of the people around them did not anticipate political parties. they thought they had a constitution, they had a government. well, everyone was going to agree and it would be harmonious. didn't work out that way. but -- and it was a surprise to them. i think it was a surprise to adams that there was so much dissension during his administration. susan swain: they lived the last four months of their administration as the first occupants of the white house. we have this graphic that we've shown of the white house in 1800
and it just really looks pretty miserable. what was life like in the mansion for the adamses? edith gelles: well, it was pretty miserable. they did not have heat. they had to put -- gather wood such as it was in that area and stoke fires in the fireplaces. the mansion was not finished when they moved in. abigail describes georgetown as a swamp. the city was not yet built. they moved in before there was a proper white house. i think -- and it also i think affected the way she entertained, it affected her entire role as first lady and -- in that she was limited by what she could do in that drafty, cold, incomplete house. they had one stairway that they could use to go to the second floor. susan swain: but it must have been shared misery by the members of congress who were arriving in the city with --
james taylor: they are -- most of them lived in rooming houses and boarding houses. and, of course another thing was it was seasonal. congress came and went. there weren't a lot of people who lived year round in washington at that time. susan swain: and we have this graphic we've been showing of laundry being hung inside rooms of the white house. is that apocryphal or that really happened? james taylor: i don't know. edith gelles: i don't either. i suspect it's apocryphal. susan swain: yes. edith gelles: and she may have done it. i don't know, right. it sounds like abigail actually -- pragmatic solutions. james taylor: it wouldn't have been a good place to dry laundry though because it was dark and cold. yes. susan swain: and we've talked about charles dying. any more to say about how that affected her and anymore for people to know about the death of that son in that turbulent year of 1800 for that? edith gelles: oh, it's a terrible heartache for her and for him. james taylor: he denied it though. he tried to stand off from it. edith gelles: right. right.
he did write it to jefferson in later years, "the greatest grief of my life." susan swain: jen is watching us from boise. you are on the air, jen. jen: oh, hi. thank you for putting on this series. i'm curious about what role religion played in her life given that her father was a pastor. my sense was that john was raised with more calvinist bent, but was more unitarian as an older man. what about abigail? edith gelles: thank you, thank you for that question. abigail was a very religious woman. abigail was so religious that in times of turbulence, when things went wrong in her life, she thought it was a case of punishment. when there was an epidemic during the war years when john was away when they -- that people were dying and her servants were sick and so forth. she said, it is a scourge sent upon us for some sin. and she truly believed that life was providential.
her letters continually reference the bible. i think that when things got bad in her life, she became more religious. and when -- and more conservatively religious. i agree with you that she was probably more conservative in her religion than john adams. susan swain: we've got 10 minutes left in our discussion of abigail adams in this series on the biographies of the first ladies with our two guests here. when john adams realized that he'd lost the presidency, how did he take that? how did abigail take it? james taylor: i think they were -- well, by the time the electoral vote was counted, i think they pretty well knew that he was not going to be re-elected. i think they were disappointed. one of the things that john said throughout his public life was
that he was always going to retire, he was always going to go back to the farm and retire. so they -- and he loved the farm. so in that sense, it wasn't so bad. but i think it was the defeat of the ideas and some people referred to as a revolution of 1800 because it was such a dramatic change with the other party coming in. he did not attend the inauguration and that some people say it was because he's being spiteful or whatever. those of us who defend adams say he had to catch an early stage to get back. i don't know. it might be somewhere in between there. but part of it was a man who in a sense i think he felt betrayed him and defeated him and i think that was probably the hardest thing. edith gelles: that's right. that's right. susan swain: now, this couple who had spent so many years apart and the development of their country and now had this opportunity to live together. how long did they live together in the post-white house years? edith gelles: well, abigail lived until 1818 and they lived together for 18 years.
susan swain: and what were those years like for them? edith gelles: they were idyllic in some ways and very difficult in other ways. it was not an easy retirement all the time. they were very happy to be together. abigail refused to go visit her daughter for instance because she said, "i can't leave john. i'm not going to leave john." and during that period of time her daughter had a mastectomy in 1811 without anesthesia. susan swain: that's so hard to think of. and then ultimately died. edith gelles: and ultimately died two years later, but came from new york state to her parents' home to die. so they were very close. so, it was a time of satisfaction and peace and also very great disruptions in their lives. i mean, they had problems with grandchildren and children, i mean, there was constant drama
going on. one grandson went off and fought in a revolution in venezuela and they had to bail him out or not bail him out. john refused to bail him out was that right? james taylor: and also they had some financial difficulties for a while. edith gelles: oh, yes. james taylor: there was a bank failure-- edith gelles: yes. james taylor: -- in england that their son had invested in and -- susan swain: this is where it does begin to sound like "downton abbey." james taylor: yes. susan swain: the large family with the trauma. james taylor: and one of the problems with the daughter was that she had a terrible husband. and they very early on realized that and they were constantly worried about her. not just physically but just everything about her life. edith gelles: right. susan swain: from the perspective of your life's work and the letters they were together so obviously they stopped writing letters at that point? james taylor: they stopped writing letters to each other, but she's still writing to other people and john is still writing to other people. susan swain: to whom most prolifically?
james taylor: they're writing to -- well, john quincy adams is frequently away on diplomatic assignments or later will be secretary of state. and he's in washington -- a senator and other things. she has a sister -- abigail has a sister who lives in new hampshire at that time. her -- i think mary cranch is her favorite sister, her older sister, lives fairly nearby so there isn't much correspondence there. but to children, to friends -- edith gelles: close to her granddaughter caroline. james taylor: oh, right. right. her grandchildren, right. edith gelles: and so there is lovely correspondence between her and this young girl. susan swain: when john quincy goes to england, he meets his wife, louisa catherine there. what was the relationship between the two adams women? edith gelles: well, i think it was a good one. i think louisa catherine was quite shocked by the culture she encountered in new england after having had a rather gentile upbringing in england and in france and was quite shocked by
the people in the surroundings and the customs, even church attendance she -- james taylor: when she went to the old house, she said it was like going on noah's ark. edith gelles: right. susan swain: well, let's actually have our closing video, "a return to peacefield" where the adams spent their final years. susan swain: abigail enjoyed 17 years of retirement here at peacefield with her husband john adams. here, the old couple could dote on their children and grandchildren and enjoy the peace and tranquility that this place offered them throughout their lives. the president's bedroom is a reflection of the warmth that this house provided them. it was inviting, sunny and bright. and abigail enjoyed many hours in this room writing to her friends, writing to her family enjoying the time with her husband. on october 27th of 1818, abigail passed away from typhoid fever. she was 74 years old and john adams had lost his dearest
friend. the only way that he could find comfort was in the pen. he would pen a letter to thomas jefferson, letting jefferson know that he lost his dear friend. and he would say to his family "if only i could lie down beside her and die too." susan swain: can you talk about john adams' life in the years after abigail died? edith gelles: yes. john was surrounded by family, so he was not isolated. he had always as his amanuensis and hostess and caretaker, a niece who lived with him and had lived with him for most of their lives, her life. and grandchildren came and children came, so there was always traffic to the house and people came and the militia came from boston, as you've said. so there was a lot going on during those years. and he was quite palsy.
he couldn't write his own letters, so he had to have an amanuensis. he had someone write for him. but he carried on this incredible correspondence with jefferson during those years. and it was -- susan swain: culminating-- edith gelles: yes. susan swain: -- as our viewers probably know with the two of them. these great bitter enemies finally coming to peace and dying together -- edith gelles: right. susan swain: -- on the 50th anniversary of the declaration of independence on july 4th which is really quite and amazing -- edith gelles: yes. susan swain: -- piece of american history. there's a question here about whether or not there is a bloodline still living of john and abigail? or is there an adams family still today? james taylor: we were joking about this before. edith gelles: oh, yes. we were laughing. oh, yes. why don't you respond to that? james taylor: there are several
that the massachusetts historical society and the adams family have been close over the centuries. and there's an association, an adams family association for the adams memorial association. and i think they have more than 100 members. but what we were joking about is that we frequently get questions from people thinking, believing that they're related or a descendant of john and abigail. some of them may be, but there are many more descendants than think are possible. edith gelles: right. right. james taylor: but people believed that -- edith gelles: also the name gets lost because women of course marry out and so the adams name gets
lost. susan swain: in our few minutes left, stephanie from farmington hills, michigan. you're going to be our last caller stephanie. what's your question? stephanie: thank you. i'm wondering what became of nabby's children and after she died very young? did they remain with the adams at peacefield? and thank you for taking my call. i've enjoyed the show. susan swain: thank you. edith gelles: they were adults when she died. the daughter caroline was married. i don't know she -- james taylor: caroline de windt. edith gelles: de windt. yes. james taylor: yes. yes.
edith gelles: she was married at that time. and the son was also an adult. so there were no small children. , susan swain: our last video of abigail's death at peacefield. and if we -- all right, we don't have that. so we have very little bit of time left. so, in bringing this full circle, for people who have been introduced to abigail adams tonight, what's the important thing to know about her? what was her impact or influence on american history? edith
gelles: she was influential and particularly as a -- as we think back to the american revolution, she is the only woman -- her record of letters provides the only insights we have of the revolution at a sustained level during that entire period of the revolution and the early national period. so she's historically significant. she also was an exemplary person and tells us about women's lives in that time and what it was
like to be -- not just first lady or not just the wife of the american minister but to be a wife and a mother, and a sister, and a daughter. susan swain: dr. taylor, what would you say? james taylor: i think the thing that i always think about with abigail is the relationship, the partnership that with there's -- without abigail there's no john, without john there's no abigail. susan swain: and therefore john's importance to history. so, the reason why she is important is the relationship? james taylor: right. right. right. without the kind of support that she provided both to him in europe, in the presidency, in the vice presidency the more important that he didn't have to worry. she was so trustworthy that she could take care of things, he could go off and be this great public person, which is exactly what she wanted. susan swain: to our two guests edith gelles and james taylor.
james taylor, jim taylor, our thanks for helping us understand more about the life and legacy of america's second first lady, abigail adams. thank you for your time. james taylor: thank you. edith gelles: thank you. >> ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> ♪
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