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“Abigail Adams: A Revolutionary American Woman” is a biography by Charles W. Akers, published in June 2006. It chronicles the life of Abigail Adams, who lived during the time of the American Revolution and the birth of a new American nation, from her birth in 1744 to her death in 1818. The author’s thesis states that Abigail’s advocacy for women’s rights and her involvement in her husband’s political career significantly influenced society during the birth and development of the United States.
The book mainly focused on Abigail’s life, her husband John Adams, the revolutionary period in which she lived.
Abigail Adams was born November 11, 1744 to William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Abigail had no formal education because of her poor health, and instead received lessons in her home. She often visited the very impressive library of her father, enjoying literature such as Joseph Addison’s The Spectator. She was married on her twentieth birthday to a twenty-nine year old lawyer, John Adams, on October 25, 1764.
Akers notes many events of the Revolutionary War during the time of Abigail Adams. For example, the birth of her son, John Quincy Adams, arrived the same year as the Townshend Acts.
Additionally, the birth of her daughter Abigail, called “Nabby”, came at the beginning of the Stamp Act Crisis. Abigail saw her husband, John, defending Massachusetts’ interests during these times, such as when he defended soldiers being accused of murder for their involvement in the Boston Massacre. Abigail even witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Akers did a great job at showing how masterfully Abigail was able to raise her kids while the revolution was going on (virtually in her backyard), while being relatively alone as John was mentioned to be frequently absent.
Abigail’s marriage to John was frequently mentioned in the book. After all, women were prevented from officially participating in politics. Therefore, Abigail exercised influence only through her husband. She never campaigned for women’s suffrage or the right of a woman to hold political office, but instead called for education of young girls, rights concerning a woman’s property, action against an abusive husband, etc. She also had strong feelings against slavery. Although John Adams listened and heeded her advice many times, these particular subjects were brushed off.
Akers says by this point, she was beginning to learn what John and the others founders meant when they wrote “all men are created equal” (Akers 52). Akers describes how Abigail adjusted to becoming the president’s wife. She found herself at odds with influential figures such as Benjamin Franklin (whom she once referred to as that “Old Sorcerer) and Thomas Jefferson, who would defeat her husband in the presidential election of 1800. She also didn’t see eye to eye with her husband John all the time, but nonetheless was a great influence on him throughout his political career.
By the end of the book, Akers describes Abigail’s life after her husband’s defeat in the 1800 presidential election. She got to spend more time with her husband, began to correspond with Jefferson again, and saw the rise of her son, John Quincy Adams, in politics. She suffered heartbreak: such as losing her son Charles and her daughter Nabby. Abigail herself died October 28, 1818, after contracting typhus fever. I think Akers did a great job in depicting the life of Abigail Adam, from her early life to her death.
He was able to show how important and influential Abigail was in her own right, by showing that she was much more than a president’s wife and a president’s mother. Akers also expresses a great deal in just 200 pages, as he is very straightforward in every chapter. Nonetheless, I felt as if Akers put in a lot of minor details that could have been left out. For example, what writings she enjoyed as a child. It gives you a sense of who she was, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to list them all out.
Additionally, I felt as if Akers focused too much on John Adams while describing life for Abigail during this time, instead of focusing on Abigail herself. What I liked about this book was the fact that it explained how important Abigail Adams was in her own right, especially to those, like me, that have only ever looked at her as a First Lady. It showed me how smart, influential, and progressive Abigail Adams was. I believe Akers did prove his thesis, by showing us Abigail’s influence on her husband and son was significant during the period of birth and cultural development in the United States.
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