24 July 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 3

Acquaintance and Courtship

“I begin to find that an increasing Affection for a certain Lady, (you know who my Dear) quickens my Affections for every Body Else, that does not deserve my Hatred.  A Wonder if the Fires of Patriotism, do not soon begin to burn!”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams,  April 20, 1763 (Butterfield, I. 5)

John and Abigail had a strong emotional and intellectual attachment.  However, when they first met in 1759, John was not impressed (Withey 13).  John was a twenty-three year old graduate of Harvard studying law.  Abigail was fifteen years old, and seemed always to be sick (McCullough 54).  He was the son of a farmer and she was a well-read daughter of a well-off parson.  When John’s friend, Richard Cranch, began courting Abigail’s sister Mary, John spent more time at the Smiths’ house and spent more time with Abigail, and the two got to know each other better.  An intellectual affinity was part of the attraction.  Edith Gelles, another of Abigail’s biographers, states that in addition it was “chemical, it was physical, it was humor, it was the fact they enjoyed being in one another’s company” (John).  These early meetings laid the groundwork for a lifetime of love and friendship.

In 1762, John and Abigail would exchange their first letter.  The letter, written by John and dated October 4, 1762, was flirtatious and playful and is the first of what would become about 1,180 known letters exchanged between the two lovers (Sikes).  “Miss Adorable” it began,

By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O’Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account: This Order, or Requisition call it which you will is in Consideration of a similar order Upon Aurelia [Mary Smith, Abigail’s sister] for the like favour, and I presume I have good Right to draw upon you for the Kisses as I have given two or three Millions at least, when one has been received, and of Consequence the Account between us is immensely in favour of yours, John Adams. (Butterfield, I. 2)

The courtship continued until 1764.  In between, letters flowed from one to the other proclaiming love, affection, and a yearning to be together.  

            Sometimes words were not enough.  John ended his letter to Abigail on February 14, 1763, “Your–(all the rest is inexpressible) John Adams” (Butterfield, I. 3).  That same year, Abigail began to sign her letters “Diana” after the Roman goddess of the moon.  To her, John became Lysander, the Spartan hero (McCullough 55).  Their letters typically began with “My Dearest Friend,” and each of them meant it when they wrote those words.  Before they were married, John wrote to Abigail, describing her as “The dear Partner of all my Joys and sorrows, in whose Affections, and Friendship I glory, more than in all other Emoluments under Heaven, comes into my Mind very often and makes me sigh” (Butterfield, I. 17).

            Over the course of their courtship of nearly five years, John and Abigail came to know each other intimately, both emotionally and intellectually.  In the beginning, politics and humor along with their proclamations of love filled their letters to each other.  They became spouses and lovers, best friends and intellectual partners (Wood 38).  They were married on October 25, 1764 by Abigail’s father at the parsonage.  Afterwards, they moved into the house directly across from John’s mother.  He set up his law office in the front room of the house and was able to find time to spend with Abigail (Withey 25).  John went away every so often, appearing in courts across Massachusetts (which, at the time, included present day Maine).  He was never away long, but approaching events would soon change their happy home.

John and Abigail’s relationship was not love at first sight.  They grew to love each other over the first few years.  They went from having short meetings to longer ones, and when they could not physically be together, they wrote letters to each other to feel closer.  The time was nearing when the letters would be as close as they could get to each other.

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