Abigail Adams Code of Laws.

New Government and form a new code of Laws.

I ventured to speak a word on behalf of our Sex, who are rather hardly dealt with by the Laws of England which gives such unlimited power to the Husband to use his wife.

I requested that our Legislators would consider our case and as all Men of Delicacy and Sentiment are adverse to Exercising the power they possess, yet as there is a natural propensity in Human Nature to domination, I thought the most generous plan was to put it out of the power of the Arbitrary and tyranick to injure us with impunity by Establishing some Laws in favour upon just and Liberal principals. I believe I even threatened fomenting a Rebellion in case we were not considered and assured him we would not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we had neither a voice nor representation.

In return he tells me he cannot but Laugh at my extraordinary Code of Laws. That he had heard their Struggle had loosened the bands of Government, that children and apprentices were disobedient, that Schools and Colleges had grown turbulent, that Indians slighted their Guardians, and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But my Letter was the fi rst intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a complement, he adds, but that I am so saucy he wont blot it out.

So I have helped the Sex abundantly, but I will tell him I have only been making trial of the Disinterestedness of his Virtue, and when weighed in the balance have found it

wanting. It would be bad policy to grant us greater power say they since under all the disadvantages we Labour we have the ascendency over their Hearts. And charm by accepting, by submitting sway.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, May 7, 1776: I can not 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 ab- solute power over Wives. But you must re- member 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 our selves but to subdue our Masters, and without violence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet. “Charm by accepting, by submitting sway Yet have our Humor most when we obey.”


1. What was Abigail Adams’ opinion of men in power and what did she request of John Adams as they declared independence?

2. To what other social developments did John Adams compare his wife’s request? What did he mean by the “Despotism of the Peticoat” (a women’s undergarment)?

3. What did Abigail Adams predict in her second letter to John Adams? What do you think of her assessment of “Arbitrary power”?

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