By Woody Holton
Free Press, Hardcover, 9781416546801, 512pp.
Publication Date: November 3, 2009
Winner of the Bancroft Prize
In this vivid new biography of Abigail Adams, the most illustrious woman of America's founding era, prize-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 a host of 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): her mother, whom she considered terribly overprotective; Benjamin Franklin, who schemed to clip her husband's wings; her sisters, whose dependence upon Abigail's charity strained the family bond; James Lovell, her husband's bawdy congressional colleague, who peppered her with innuendo about John's "rigid patriotism"; her financially naÏve husband (Abigail earned money in ways the president considered unsavory, took risks that he wished to avoid -- and made him a rich man); Phoebe Abdee, her father's former slave, who lived free in an Adams property but defied Abigail's prohibition against sheltering others even more desperate than herself; and her son John Quincy, who worried her with his tendency to "study out of spight" but who fueled her pride by following his father into public service, rising to the presidency after her death.
At once epic and intimate, Abigail Adams sheds light on a complicated, fascinating woman, one of the most beloved figures of American history.