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1776 / New England

All Men Would Be Tyrants If They Could

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Braintree, Massachusetts, March 31
Abigail Adams to John Adams

I wish you would ever write me a letter half as long as I write you, and tell me, if you may, where your fleet has gone, what sort of defense Virginia can make against our common enemy, whether it is so situated as to make an able defense. Are not the gentry lords and the common people vassals? Are they not like the uncivilized vassals Britain represents us to be?

I hope their riflemen, who have shown themselves very savage and even bloodthirsty, are not a specimen of the generality of the people. I am willing to allow the colony great merit for having produced a Washington, but they have been shamefully duped by a Dunmore.

I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us.

Do not you want to see Boston? I am fearful of the smallpox, or I should have been in before this time. I got Mr. Crane to go to our house and see what state it was in. I find it has been occupied by one of the doctors of a regiment; very dirty, but no other damage has been done to it. The few things which were left in it are all gone. I look upon it as a new acquisition of property—a property which one month ago I did not value at a single shilling, and would with pleasure have seen it in flames.

The town in general is left in a better state than we expected—more owing to a precipitate flight than any regard to the inhabitants—though some individuals discovered a sense of honor and justice and have left the rent of the houses in which they were for the owners, and the furniture unhurt, or, if damaged, sufficient to make it good. Others have committed abominable ravages. The mansion house of your president is safe, and the furniture unhurt; while the house and furniture of the solicitor general have fallen a prey to their own merciless party. Surely the very fiends feel a reverential awe for virtue and patriotism, while they detest the parricide and traitor.

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. 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.

That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. Why then not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity? Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as beings placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 14
John Adams to Abigail Adams

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Revolutions
About the Author

Abigail Adams and John Adams, from their letters. Abigail posted her letter only two weeks after the British evacuated their troops from Boston and almost one year after the Battles of Lexington and Concord signaled the beginning of the American Revolution. It had been this event that prompted John once again to leave his family for Philadelphia, where he served in the Second Continental Congress, sitting on more than ninety committees and chairing twenty-five. Benjamin Rush wrote of Adams, “Every member of Congress in 1776 acknowledged him to be the first man in the House.”

The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
Victor Hugo, 1862
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