The Quotable Abigail Adams
In an age of constant and instant communications, we have to sadly admit that letters are becoming a lost art. Gone are the times when lovers exhausted themselves writing page after page to send slowly across the sea, replaced with 140 character tweets or an iPhone vibrating with a picture message. While it’s ignorant to wish we could return to a previous era of correspondence, beautiful letters can still be read, appreciated, and celebrated for their historical and literary importance through collections like The Quotable Abigail Adams.
Edited by John Kaminski, the director of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin Madison, The Quotable Abigail Adams gives a glimpse into the life and letters of the amazing woman who counseled and consoled one of the most influential men in the birth of the United States. With quotes gleaned entirely from the letters Adams used to keep vital contact with her husband, children, and closest friends, Kaminski shows us the complexities and wisdom that make her an invaluable female role model from a male-dominated period of history. The book’s short biography and quotes depict a woman who is at once lacking confidence in her informal education yet one of the President’s most valued advisers; self-identified as more adapted to small, simple pleasures but an adept and experienced in foreign affairs; a mother and wife who gains strength from her family yet is able to endure years of their absence.
Any reader will be able to find quotes that speak to them as well as quotes that raise an eyebrow. Many of her words transcend time and geography, and are astutely applicable in today’s world. In a letter to her uncle, Cotton Tufts, she writes “It is high time that we had a Government who knows how to conduct our affairs with steadiness, judgment, & equity that they may not make themselves contemptible in the Eyes of all Europe.” Writing to John Adams on sexism, she chastises, “I cannot say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives.” Adams intelligence shines as she quotes Alexander Pope, Thomas Paine, and Michel de Montaigne, blended with her own observations on topics ranging from bachelors to the French Revolution.
While the art of writing letters may no longer be practiced in any substantial capacity, The Quotable Abigail Adams is a time capsule in which we can escape the LOLs, SMS, and IMs of our current existence and revel in the wisdom of an icon of American history for whom words and letters were like “cold water to a thirsty soul.”