The Quest To Succeed As A Republican Mother: Abigail Adams’s Message To Her Son

In the 18th century, American revolutionaries were driven by the belief that “all men are equal”. Although women were excluded from the philosophy, they believed that women with their weak intelligence and lack of strength had a superior moral sense than any man. It fell to women in the end to educate the citizens of the newly formed nation, which became known as the Republican Motherhood principle. In a long letter to John Quincy Adams’ son, Mrs. Adams asserts her authority as a parent by strategically arranging a ethos-based, optimistic argument that is intertwined and backed up with allusion.

In her opening paragraph, Adams explains what the letter is about and reiterates the decision taken that made the situation a reality. While she initially expressed her concern for his safety, Mrs. Adams quickly changed the tone of her letter and used a condescending matronly tone to acknowledge her son’s “reluctance”, but also pointed out that his lack of “capacity to judge” what is right was evident. This conveyed a message that John Quincy Adams should accept that Mrs. Adams is the best person to make decisions. Mrs. Adams wants to maintain her power, even in a time when women are disadvantaged.

Having established the hierarchy of power in her letter, Mrs. Adams was able to establish strict expectations. She can be confident that John Quincy Adams will meet them. She had many demands, including that he make the best use of his language abilities and achieve a success level worthy of those advantages. Another was to be an eyewitness to revolution for her to honor John Adams. Abigail wanted him to achieve the level of success she had provided him with. She also wanted him to be an “eyewitness” of the revolution to honor her, John Adams and the country.

Mrs. Adams’ superiority was maintained by her use of allusions, optimistic language and ethos. She tossed out names like Verres and Mark Anthony midway through her letter. John Quincy Adams would recognize these names because unlike many families of that time, they made sure their kids were well educated. The people who lived through the American Revolution were aspired-to individuals. This fact was used by Mrs. Adams to say that “these were times that a genius would want to live.” Her son’s feelings towards the revolution are likely to be negative. The British imposed harsh laws, which made his father work and travel continuously, as well as forcing him to travel. She combats negativity in this section by associating famous leaders with the struggle and using words like “wish” and “genius”, which have connotations of something that creates opportunities and should be appreciated.

In total, Mrs. Adams’ strategies in her letter reinforce her son’s pre-existing sense of obligation to be grateful, both to her and to the environment he lives in. She tells the boy that he should “owe his existence” to a budding nation. Her letter also says that his achievements must “bear some relation to [his] advantage.” The inciting incident for this letter was her convincing the son to visit France, despite the fact that it was against his wishes. John Quincy Adams is born into a period of opportunity, and his father was “honored”. He has played a “large and active” role in helping the revolution succeed. Mrs. Adams is concerned that her son will not be able to achieve his fullest potential due to the idleness of youth.

History shows Mrs. Adams’ success as a mother republican. John Quincy Adams is a great example of how Mrs. Adams helped him become a successful Secretary of States.



I'm Spencer Knight, a 29-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about a variety of topics related to education, from teaching strategies to student success stories. I hope to help others achieve their educational goals and help them develop a lifelong love of learning.

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