On this day in 1776, future first lady Abigail Adams writes to her husband urging him to “remember the ladies” when drafting a new “code of laws” for the fledgling nation.
While John Adams participated in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Abigail remained at their home in Braintree, Massachusetts, managing their daily affairs in his absence. At the same time that Adams was preparing to publish his “Thoughts on Government” essay, which outlined proposed political philosophy and structures for the new nation, Abigail pondered if and how the rights of women would be addressed in an American constitution.
A prolific letter writer, Abigail never hesitated to debate her husband on political matters. She begged Adams to draft laws that were “more generous and favorable” to women than his predecessors had. She half-jokingly claimed that “all men would be tyrants if they could” and pointed out the glaring hypocrisy of male Patriots fighting against British tyranny if they should disregard the rights of half the population when drafting a constitution. Abigail warned “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.”
Adams responded to his wife’s letter, by teasing her in return and declaring that men were not really the “masters” of women but were “subject to the despotism of the petticoat.” However, like their predecessors, Adams and his contemporaries failed to make codifying women’s rights a priority. It was not until 1919 that Congress amended the Constitution to grant women the right to vote.