Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dear Abby

“Don’t Know Much About History”
You might remember this line from
What a Wonderful World It Could Be, performed in the late ‘50s by Sam Cooke.

I don’t know much about the subject, myself; because I was too busy flirting with some good-looking heartthrob in high school history class. I usually don’t resonate to anyone or anything before the 20th century. It’s a huge deal when I notice a historical figure.

It finally happened! I am fascinated with
Abigail Adams. Since a major purpose of this blog is to inspire you, I want to share my enthusiasm.

I “met” dear Abby in
John Adams, the seven-part HBO mini-series. It ran in early 2008. Initially, I was enthralled because Abigail Adams was played by Laura Linney, one of my all-time favorite actors.

Memoir Maven

Here’s one fact about second First Lady you might not know. Abigail Adams was one of the world’s greatest memoir writers because she was an avid letter writer. She and husband John exchanged more than 1,100 letters during their 54-year marriage.

Commonalities with Someone Uncommon
Later, I realized I was enticed by what I have in common with Abby. We’re both writers with a history of long-distance relationship, primarily self-educated wisdom seekers, and the combo of supportive nurturer and feminist. There’s the hook I needed to lure me into history appreciation—personal affinities.

Abby’s Bio

Abigail was the first woman who was the wife of one President and mother of another,
John Adams and John Quincy Adams, our first and sixth US Presidents. (Barbara Bush followed.) These are just Abby’s accomplishments by association.

Abigail Smith Adams was born 1744, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister and his wife. She had little formal education but was encouraged to read. Soon she was a voracious learner, conversant on countless topics and fluent in several languages. Most suitors were intimidated by her brains—except for John Adams, who was captivated by her.

bio notes that the long-winded sermons of her father and her bookworm tendencies prepared her for the intellectual tastes of the young lawyer, Adams. After a two-year courtship, they married in 1764. John and Abigail had five children.

John’s successful law practice kept him in Boston, away from the family farm in Braintree, MA. I love the name of their town, almost an inadvertent homage to the brainiac couple. Abigail completely ran the farm and the other family affairs, freeing John to answer his call to committed public service.

Abigail liked public life and accompanied John on his political trips overseas, including a year in France, followed by a move to London when he was appointed Minister of the Court of St. James. Abigail endured “royal contempt” and the tyranny of nobility. She believed John had helped free many Americans from it, thanks to the Revolution.

During the years before John became President, including his Vice-Presidency under George Washington, Abigail took on the enormous job of opening the new presidential mansion, what became today’s
White House. She was a creative, inventive entertainer and manager. She used everything she had learned about protocol and presentation during John’s diplomatic missions in the courts of Europe. She wanted the US Presidency to maintain the same dignity of as the courts of Europe.

Power Couple
The Adamses were the prototype of a partnership Presidency, where the First Lady was a true running mate. This furthered relations between the sexes, a topic on which Abigail was outspoken. My favorite quote from one of her letters to John:

“Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors … If particular care is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.”

Adams’ Letters
Because they were separated during much of their long marriage, John and Abigail maintained their relationship in their voluminous correspondence. (I recently decided to dedicate my memoir to one of my first pen pals, because I realized she was my earliest memoir reader.)

Abby’s letters weren’t just personal memoirs but incredible documentation of the earliest evolution of our republic. The letters were used extensively in researching the HBO special. They are rich in detail, clarity, and humor. Their topics span the new nation, the American family, the revolution, war, and the new capitol.

Power of the Letter … and the Written Word
To promote the John Adams HBO series and to recognize the lost art of letter writing, HBO and the United States Post Office teamed up to create a campaign called
The Power of the Letter. Its slogan: Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. The campaign is over but hopefully not its impact.

There are two kinds of history, oral and written. Anyone who has ever played the game Gossip knows which one is more accurate and enduring. I’m glad we maintain a written record of the modern history through e-mail and blogs in a new-fashioned way.

Here’s to Dear Abby!
… a woman of strong convictions, intelligence, wisdom, and masterful writing. Like the columnist of the same name, she had plenty of sage advice to share with her husband, President John Adams. To his credit, he took it.

She is a champion of three things I hold dear: partnership, equality, and the power of words …

… words that educate, enlighten, maintain connections, and help us to comprehend and heal the world around us.

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