Unit 4, Lesson 1: Student Worksheet #1


Abigail Adams to John Adams

March 31, 1776

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 ...Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention 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.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute. But such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. ... Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex.


independency: American independence from Great Britain

code of laws: Constitution

tyrants: mean spirited demanding leaders; dictators

foment a rebellion: start a revolt

Tyrannical: acting like a dictator

admit to no dispute: cannot be denied

endearing: pleasing

abhor: hate

vassals: slaves


1. This letter was written just a few months before the Second Continental Congress (which John Adams was a member of) voted for independence from Great Britain. Abigail Adams knew her husband was in favor of independence. Was Abigail Adams eager for independence from Great Britain?

2. What does Abigail Adams hope will happen when independence from Great Britain is declared?

3. What does Abigail Adams think about men?

4. What does Abigail Adams threaten to do if women are not given representation in the new laws of the land?

5. What does Abigail Adams suggest husbands do if they want to be happy in their marriages?


John Adams to Abigail Adams

April 14, 1776

As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle [the rebellion against Great Britain] has loosened the bands of Government everywhere. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient-that schools and Colleges were grown turbulent-that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first intimation that another Tribe [women] more numerous and powerful than all the rest [had] grown discontented.

... Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice, you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Petticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight....


extraordinary: amazing

loosen the bands of Government: lessened government control

Apprentices: children learning a trade

grown turbulent: become disorderly

slighted: disrespected

grew insolent: became rude

intimation: hint

grown discontented: became unhappy

repeal: do away with

Masculine systems: laws favoring men

subjects: people under the control of others

Despotism of the Petticoat: unfair rule of women


1. Does John Adams seem to take his wife's suggestions seriously?

2. What other groups, besides women, does John Adams claim are demanding more freedoms from the government? What do these groups have in common with women?

3. From reading John Adams' letter, do you think he would fight hard for more rights for women?

4. John Adams tells his wife Abigail that although the laws favor men, women are the real masters and the men are the subjects. What do you think he means by this?

5. How do you think Abigail Adams felt when she read her husband's letter?


Abigail Adams to John Adams

May 7, 1776

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. But you must remember that Arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken-and notwithstanding all your wise Laws and Maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters, and without violence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet....


whilst: while

proclaiming: announcing

Emancipating: freeing

retaining: keeping

absolute: complete

Arbitrary: unreasonable

liable: likely

notwithstanding: in spite of

Maxims: rules

subdue: control


1. Does Abigail Adams appear to be pleased with her husband's views on women's rights?

2. John Adams was on the committee to help write the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, states that : "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...". Who do you think John Adams and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence were referring to by "all men"? Do you think they meant to include women? slaves? Indians?

3. Abigail Adams states in her letter that women have the power to control their masters (husbands) without violence. What powers do you think she was referring to?