On this day in 1764, John Adams, future second President of the United States, marries Abigail Smith.
When you think of John and Abigail Adams, you probably imagine the older versions of them. Do you immediately see a snapshot of the John Adams presidential portrait in your mind?! He was in his 60s when he was President. Or perhaps you envision the snapshot of Abigail when she is older and somewhat wrinkled?
I doubt that is how they saw each other!
They were once young. They wrote love letters and had pet names for each other. But as a young, newly married couple in 1764, they could not then know how they would be called upon in future years: They would have to put their relationship on the line for the American cause.
Poor Abigail must have felt that Adams was *always* traveling! He served in the Continental Congress that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He traveled to France, Britain, and Holland as an American ambassador both during and after the American Revolution. Traveling abroad was a time-consuming business back then. It took Adams nearly two months to travel across the ocean on his first trip to France—and it could take as much time to travel back. Thus, Abigail and John were separated more often than they were together during much of this time. They communicated by letter, but their letters, too, could take months to arrive. It wasn’t unusual for a letter to be lost or delayed for a while. Obviously, the difficulties of war would sometimes further complicate the delivery of mail. At times, one or the other of them would think that the other had not written. Abigail would not always know if John was safe.
It was a difficult way to be married, but their correspondence shows a strong relationship, maintained against all odds. Abigail Adams was a remarkable woman. John relied upon her in many ways and sought her advice on political topics. They were truly partners, despite the physical distance between them.
Through all these difficulties, their love did not fade!
On their 18th wedding anniversary in 1782, the two were once again separated. Rather than celebrate a wedding anniversary with her best friend, Abigail could only write him a letter.
“Look to the date of this Letter,” she told John, “and tell me, what are the thoughts which arise in your mind? Do you not recollect that Eighteen years have run their anual Circuit, since we pledged our mutual Faith to each other, and the Hymeneal torch was Lighted at the Alter of Love. Yet, yet it Burns with unabating fervour, old ocean has not Quenched it, nor old Time smootherd it, in the Bosom of Portia.”
Abigail must have been fairly melancholy that night. She wrote of the “untitled Man to whom I gave my Heart,” almost wishing that he were less accomplished so that she might spend more time with him. “How dearly have I paid for a titled Husband,” she mourned, “[but] should I wish you less wise, that I might enjoy more happiness? I cannot find that in my Heart.”
Later that year, Abigail wrote again: “[S]hould I draw you the picture of my Heart, it would be what I hope you still would Love; tho it containd nothing New; the early possession you obtained there; and the absolute power you have ever mantaind over it; leaves not the smallest space unoccupied.”
Naturally, the picture is of a young Abigail! I suspect this picture is how John saw his wife, even after many decades of marriage. What do you think?
Joseph J. Ellis, First Family: Abigail and John Adams (2010)
My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams (Margaret A. Hogan et al., eds. 2007)
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (October 25, 1782)
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (December 23, 1782)