If the correspondence was useful for no other purpose alone, reading the letters which passed between John Adams and his wife Abigail might qualify as the smoking gun in a trial to convict social media of killing the fine art of political discourse as well as old-fashioned letter writing. These particular pieces of correspondence were composed during the tumultuous period in which they both contributed mightily to forging a new nation. These letters are actually often dense displays of longing for an absent spouse mixed with prosaic domestic complaints and always sprinkled with a liberal salting of engaged and informed opinions on truly the most pressing political matters of the day. Some might be very surprised to discover that very often the discourse was couched within the framework of not insignificant ideological differences between husband and wife.
Today, the most striking thing about these letters is made inevitable by the unavoidable comparison. Simply put, these letters only serve to intensify the obvious conclusion that the 140 character displays of feigned outrage and confusion of partisan opinion as fact that passes for intellectually engaged political discourse is a dishonorable inheritance. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams at times almost threatens to bounce off the tracks of genre from historical documentation into the sphere of historical romantic fiction. If you ever wondered whether people really did speak the way that they do in those Jane Austen novels and the films made from them, here’s your answer and it is a resounding “Indeed so, dear sir or madam.”
The official title of the collection is a signature of the state of patriarchy at the time: The Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife. In some later editions, the actual name Abigail is appended, but the slow evolution to the volume’s current title is no mere example of political correctness. Abigail proves herself to be at the very least the intellectual equal of her husband and, in fact, time has proven her to be a much more progressive thinker on many issues, the most obvious being the equality of the sexes. Abigail’s confident replies to the doubts consistently if respectfully raised by John on this issue were written at a time, it must be remembered, when women shared the same lack of recourse to express their opinions formed by education as all slaves and even some men who did not own property and pay taxes. Voting in America has not always been more right than privilege.
Over the course of their life together, John and Abigail exchanged more than 1,000 letters. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams confines itself to those which passed which were posted between May 1774 and February 1783. This period was specifically chosen due to the way it focuses on the frequency, content and historical value of correspondence during those periods when duty to creating and sustaining a brand new nation imposed long periods of separation. The result is one of the most fascinating glimpses into the history of one of those earth-shattering moments in time as conceived by those who actually participated in that shattering of the past and the rebuilding of an entirely different future.