Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society

John and Abigail Adams: America's First Power Couple

Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Two-and-a-half centuries before a young, bearded Bill Clinton approached a classmate named Hillary Rodham in the Yale library, John Adams met his match in a young Abigail Smith. Like Bill, John was charismatic, charming, and destined for greatness. Abigail was opinionated, well-read, and ready to take on any challenge. Abigail worked at helping her husband build a new nation, expressing her thoughts and opinions to him on everything from a woman’s role in government, the education system and slavery.

Between 1762 and 1801, John and Abigail Adams exchanged 1160 letters, giving insight into the daily life and times of a Founding Family and a detailed look inside America’s original power couple and how they set the tone for generations of American political celebrity pairs to come.

1. They were hopeless romantics.

Abigail, a self-educated woman from a well-connected family, met John in the summer of 1759, but sparks didn’t fly until much later. It wasn’t until letters flowed freely between them that the love flowed as well. The letters between the future president and first lady began in 1761 and put Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” lyrics to shame.

In 1762, John addressed Abigail as “Miss Adorable” and requested two or three million kisses: “…I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O'Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account… and 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…”

In 1763 Abigail wrote to John: “And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship ... unite these, and there is a threefold chord — and by this chord I am not ashamed to say that I am bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it.”

2. John and Abigail were made for each other.

It’s no secret that John Adams was kind of a stubborn and obnoxious guy. There was really no one else on earth more suited for John than Abigail. She was the Kim to his Kanye.

About others, Adams once said: “There are few people in this world with whom I can converse. I can treat all with decency and civility, and converse with them, when it is necessary, on points of business. But I am never happy in their company.”

But, when it came to Abigail, he couldn’t be happy without her. In 1783, he told her, “I am in ear-nest. I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you.”

Abigail stuck by his side for 59 years.

3. They presented a united front.

In the 1700s it wasn’t easy for a woman to be outspoken or committed to a cause, but Abigail Adams was. Abigail believed in the fight her husband was leading. So much so, she almost expected him to choose his country over his family.

While Abigail was committed to her husband’s role in the new government, she wasn't shy about her desires for the new nation either, asking her husband to “remember the ladies” in a letter writ-ten to John during the First Continental Congress:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency - 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 favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such un-limited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

4. They took equal shares in the household.

All in all, women were not treated as equals during America’s early days, but John very much treated Abigail has his partner and confidant. Not only did John trust Abigail to educate the children, she also ran the family farm, bought property and acted as a policy advisor to John.

In 1775, John wrote to Abigail and implored her to elevate the minds of their children: “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 a excel in… every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”

She fared pretty well in all those aspects—especially in terms of raising the couple’s four children, as John Quincy Adams is often described as the nation’s most well-read president.

5. John knew women make the world go 'round.

While John was away forming a new nation, Abigail was holding down the fort—while a war was going on around her. John was more than impressed with how Abigail handled herself, he was ecstatic. He wrote to tell her so: “It gives me more Pleasure than I can express to learn that you sustain with so much Fortitude, the Shocks and Terrors of the Times. You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine. And you have Reason to be. For the worst that can happen, can do you no Harm. A soul, as pure, as benevolent, as virtuous and pious as yours has nothing to fear, but every Thing to hope and expect from the last of human Evils.”

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What Did Burr Do After Shooting Hamilton?
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Aaron Burr's first order of business was to go home and have some breakfast.

Having victoriously emerged from that deadly encounter with Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, Burr returned to his estate in lower Manhattan for a hearty meal. Some accounts claim that the V.P. was also pleasantly surprised by a visiting acquaintance (either Burr’s cousin or his broker, depending upon the source) with whom he dined, politely choosing not to mention the bloody spectacle that had just transpired. The next day, Hamilton passed away. For Burr, his opponent’s death marked the beginning of the end.

On August 2, a New York coroner’s jury found Burr guilty on two counts. In their estimation, he’d committed the misdemeanor of dueling—and the felony of murder. To make matters worse, because his duel had taken place in New Jersey, the Garden State issued its own ruling, which also pronounced him a murderer.

“There is a contention of a singular nature between the two States of New York and New Jersey,” he dryly noted in a letter to his daughter Theodosia. “The subject in dispute is which shall have the honor of hanging the Vice President.” Facing a tempest of public outrage, Burr eventually set sail for Georgia, where plantation owner and former Senator Pierce Butler offered him sanctuary.

But, alas, the call of vice presidential duty soon rang out. As president of the Senate, Burr returned to Washington that November to oversee the impeachment of anti-Jeffersonian Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Shortly thereafter—with some help from a contingent of Republican senators—Burr’s case was dropped in New Jersey, though by then, he’d already stepped down from the vice presidency.

Burr’s saga was far from over, though. After leaving D.C., he began aggressively recruiting allies for a planned seizure of America’s western territories. Among those he managed to enlist were General James Wilkinson, who’d been named Northern Louisiana’s regional governor. Burr even went so far as to begin training his own army before he was arrested in present-day Alabama and put on trial for treason. Ultimately, however, he was acquitted. His scheme foiled and his image scarred, Burr departed for Europe and wouldn’t return to his native country until 1812.

By then, the nation was entrenched in a nasty war with Great Britain and had largely forgotten his attempted conspiracy. Towards the end of his life, Burr went back to New York (where, despite the 1804 ruling, he was never actually tried for murder), revived his law practice, and married his second wife, the notorious socialite Eliza Jumel. He died on September 14, 1836, at the age of 80.

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The Time Ben Franklin and John Adams Shared a Bed
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Ever been on a road trip where the sleeping conditions were less than ideal? Such indignities aren’t just for average citizens like you and me. Even Founding Fathers and future presidents had to bunk with one another on occasion. 

In September 1776, just a few months after the thirteen American colonies announced their independence from Britain, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams got stuck shacking up together for a night. As part of a delegation sent by the Continental Congress, they were on their way from Philadelphia to Staten Island to negotiate with Admiral Richard Howe of the Royal Navy for a possible end to the Revolutionary War. As they passed through New Brunswick, New Jersey, the negotiators—Franklin, Adams and South Carolina politician Edward Rutledgedecided to stop for the night and find a place to sleep. 

The local taverns and inns were nearly full, though, and there were only two rooms for the three men. “One bed could be procured for Dr. Franklin and me,” Adams wrote in his autobiography, “in a chamber a little larger than the bed, without a chimney and with only one small window.”

That window would be a problem for the two men.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW

Adams, who was “an invalid and afraid of the air in the night,” closed the window before they got into bed. 

“Oh!” said Franklin. “Don’t shut the window. We shall be suffocated.”

When Adams explained that he didn’t want to catch an illness from the cold night air, Franklin countered that the air in their room was even worse. 

“Come!” he told Adams. “Open the window and come to bed, and I will convince you: I believe you are not acquainted with my Theory of Colds.”

Contrary to the lay wisdom of the day (and everybody’s grandmother), Franklin was convinced that no one had ever gotten a cold from cold air. Instead, it was the “frowzy corrupt air” from animals, humans, and dirty clothes and beds, he thought, that led people to catch colds when they were “shut up together in small close rooms.” Cool, fresh air at night, he believed, had many benefits. 

Franklin’s ideas were inconsistent with Adams’s own experiences, he wrote, but he was curious to hear what Franklin had to say. So, even at the risk of a cold, he opened the window again and hopped into bed with Franklin.

As they lay side by side, Adams wrote, Franklin “began a harangue upon air and cold and respiration and perspiration.” 

“I was so much amused that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his philosophy together,” Adams wrote. “But I believe they were equally sound and insensible, within a few minutes after me, for the last words I heard were pronounced as if he was more than half asleep.”

The strange bedfellows were out like a light, and continued on their way in the morning. The peace conference they were traveling to lasted just a few hours and produced no results. 

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