Winner of the Bancroft Prize
The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
American Heritage, Best of 2009
In this vivid new biography of Abigail Adams, the most illustrious woman of the founding era, Bancroft Award–winning historian Woody Holton offers a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams’s life story and of women’s roles in the creation of the republic.
Using previously overlooked documents from numerous archives, Abigail Adams shows that the wife of the second president of the United States was far more charismatic and influential than historians have realized. One of the finest writers of her age, Adams passionately campaigned for women’s education, denounced sex discrimination, and matched wits not only with her brilliant husband, John, but with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. When male Patriots ignored her famous appeal to "Remember the Ladies," she accomplished her own personal declaration of independence: Defying centuries of legislation that assigned married women’s property to their husbands, she amassed a fortune in her own name.
Adams’s life story encapsulates the history of the founding era, for she defined herself in relation to the people she loved or hated (she was never neutral), a cast of characters that included her mother and sisters; Benjamin Franklin and James Lovell, her husband’s bawdy congressional colleagues; Phoebe Abdee, her father’s former slave; her financially naïve husband; and her son John Quincy.
At once epic and intimate, Abigail Adams, sheds light on a complicated, fascinating woman, one of the most beloved figures of American history.
While Abigail Adams has always been viewed as one of the most illustrious of America's founding mothers, University of Richmond historian Holton (Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution), drawing on the rich collection of Adams's letters and other manuscripts, paints a strong-minded woman whose boldness developed in the context of the revolutionary era in which she lived. Holton offers a captivating portrait of a reformer both inside and outside the home. Best known for exhorting her husband, John Adams, to "remember the ladies" in devising America's new political system, she also, Holton has discovered, wrote a will leaving most of her property to her granddaughters, in defiance of the law that made her husband the master of all she owned. Furthermore, she was a businesswoman and invested her own earnings in ways John did not always approve of. Tracing Adams's life from her childhood as the daughter of a poor parson to her long and sometimes uncertain courtship with John, her joys and sorrows as a mother and her life as the wife of a president, Holton's superb biography shows us a three-dimensional Adams as a forward-thinking woman with a mind of her own.