Abigail Adams Quotes: Words on Politics and Life

Engraved Portrait of Abigail Adams
Engraved portrait of Abigail Adams, circa 1780 (Image: Rufus Wilmot Griswold / Getty).

First Lady of the United States (1797-1801), Abigail Adams was married to John Adams, second U.S. President. During his many absences from home working with the Continental Congress and as a diplomat in Europe, Abigail Adams managed the farm and family finances. No wonder she expected that the new nation would "remember the ladies."

Abigail Adams was an early proponent of the rights of women; her letters to her husband are a source of many arguments and persuasive commentary about the need to include women in the making of the new nation. Her argument, simply, was that women should not be bound by laws that did not take them into consideration except as "companions" and mothers. In addition to advocating for women's rights, she was an abolitionist who believed that enslavement was, possibly, the single biggest threat to the "American experiment" of democratic, representative government.

Selected Abigail Adams Quotations

"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."

"If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women."

"It is really mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to... Nay why should your sex wish for such a disparity in those whom they one day intend for companions and associates. Pardon me, sir, if I cannot help sometimes suspecting that this neglect arises in some measure from an ungenerous jealousy of rivals near the throne."

"Well, knowledge is a fine thing, and mother Eve thought so; but she smarted so severely for hers, that most of her daughters have been afraid of it since."

"Great necessities call out great virtues."

"I've always felt that a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic."

"Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex."

"The only chance for much intellectual improvement in the female sex, was to be found in the families of the educated class and in occasional intercourse with the learned."

"I regret the trifling narrow contracted education of the females of my own country."

"The natural tenderness and delicacy of our constitution, added to the many dangers we are subject to from your sex, renders it almost impossible for a single lady to travel without injury to her character. And those who have a protector in a husband have, generally speaking, obstacles to prevent their roving."

"If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instill'd take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women."

"These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed."

"To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man comprised in a few words."

"I am more and more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature, and that power whether vested in many or a few is ever grasping, and like the grave cries give, give. The great fish swallow up the small, and he who is most strenuous for the Rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of Government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances."

"Learning is not to be attained by chance, it must be sought with ardor and attended to with diligence."

"But let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act."

"A little of what you call frippery is very necessary towards looking like the rest of the world."

"We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them."

"I begin to think, that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Man was made for action and for bustle too, I believe."

"Wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure."

"These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed."

"No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches."

Selected Sources

  • Adams, John; Adams, Abigail (March–May 1776). "Letters of Abigail Adams"Letters Between Abigail Adams and Her Husband John Adams. Liz Library.
  • Gilles, Edith Belle. Abigail Adams: A Writing in Life. Routledge, 2002.
  • Holton, Woody. Abigail Adams. Simon and Schuster, 2010.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Abigail Adams Quotes: Words on Politics and Life." ThoughtCo, Oct. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/abigail-adams-quotes-3525379. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, October 11). Abigail Adams Quotes: Words on Politics and Life. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/abigail-adams-quotes-3525379 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Abigail Adams Quotes: Words on Politics and Life." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/abigail-adams-quotes-3525379 (accessed May 31, 2023).