Rich with excerpts from her incomparable letters and alive with the ferment of a new nation, Dearest Friend is the first full biography of Abigail Adams, the unschooled minister's daughter who became the most influential woman in Revolutionary America.
The author treated Abigail as a mere mortal noting contradictions, changes in thinking/attitudes/relationships, for instance her stance on the Shays and Whiskey Rebellions as compared to her notions about the Revolution, as well as her eventual softening towards Republicanism later in life when the country didn’t fall apart under Jefferson. I think my favorite quote from the Adams' letters was “I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable 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 Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” Which deftly makes the point that not only was Abigail Adams import as a feminist but that she did so by linking the cause of women to the American Revolution. Her keen powers of observation led to her comment on Hamilton’s 1791 plan: “I firmly believe if I live Ten years longer, I shall see a devision of the Southern and Northern States, unless more candour and less intrigue, of which I have no hopes, should prevail.”
Despite these qualities, this was not a perfect or comprehensive biography – little time was spent on her relationships with her children aside from Nabby, though there is such material available (especially between her and John Quincy). At times, the narration was so caught up in the events of the day it was hard to tell if it was a biography of Abigail or John Adams. Further, though a minor point, there were a number of typos in the text I read, outside of the retained contemporary spelling, which distract from the narrative flow, and hopefully these have been fixed in a newer edition. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read overall to get a good sense of Abigail’s life and times.
This is more a straight-up biography, of course largely based on those letters, among other things, and sometimes containing excerpts from those letters. It seemed promising, with a lovely quote on the front from The Boston Globe of all places, saying it was "as lively, sensible, and forthright as the woman about whom it is written..." Personally, I would drop the word "lively" from the description. At times this book was so dry that the only thing that kept me reading was how excessively interested in Abigail Adams I have been from the beginning.
I acknowledge that I may have made the author's task more difficult by an over-familiarity with the subject. The basic details of her life I already know -- from 1776 and the John Adams mini-series, among other places. Every once in a while, Dearest Friend would sputter into life, and I would sit up, feeling like I was getting a truer glimpse into the details of Abigail's life -- a feeling for what it really must have been like to live that life. Then it would fade back into what seemed like a dry recitation of "and then this happened, and then this...."
I am probably being overly harsh on this poor book. Maybe the quote on the cover jaded me. Maybe I just wanted too deeply to be swept away with love for Abigail. Certainly I read the entire book with interest. But still, I want the book that was originally on my list.
A person of an independent mind — can't be consistent — Hard to accept there are legitimate differences of opinion
This is the life of Abigail Adams, wife of patriot John Adams, who became the most influential woman in Revolutionary America. Rich with excerpts from her personal letters, Dearest Friend captures the public and private sides of this fascinating woman, who was both an advocate of slave emancipation and a burgeoning feminist, urging her husband to “Remember the Ladies” as he framed the laws of their new country.