John Adams' Letter to Abigail Adams: Primary Source Analysis

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John Adams to Abigail

Adams, John (1735-1826). Letter to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston, Mass. Massachusetts Historical Society, 2002.


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Adams, John. “John Adams to Abigail.” Primary Source Investigator. Accessed October 7, 2019.

John Adams was a prominent political figure in the beginning stages of an independent America. A well-known lawyer and delegate of the Continental Congresses, he eventually became the first Vice President of the United States and the second President of the United States. While present at the Second Continental Congress, he penned this letter (dated July 3rd, 1776) to his wife Abigail to inform her of the proceedings and he discusses the newly minted Declaration of Independence.

In writing this letter, Adams was trying to keep his wife updated on what was happening and what to expect in the coming months. He mentions the pros and cons of having this setback in declaring independence. He states that if the country had already decided to separate from England, they could have been forming alliances with other nations. Conversely, in delaying the decision it has eliminated any “Hopes of Reconciliation,” between those who lived in the colonies and England. Finally, the colonies were united in the decision to become an autonomous state. Adams then goes on to talk about how future generations will celebrate July 2nd as a day of freedom for all. (He was only slightly off). He knew that declaring independence from England would not go without a fight. He states that he is “…well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States.” However, he believes that “…the End is more than worth all the Means.”

While Adams was just updating his wife on the exciting news of hope for a new country, from a historical point of view, readers can get a see from a first-hand account the feeling of contemporaries of Revolutionary times. In the nation around this time, the colonies had been debating for a while over what to do over the treatment of England. The colonists felt they were not represented in Parliament and were being unfairly taxed, as they had no say in what was done to them. The tensions had built up to the proceedings of the Continental Congresses, in which delegates met to discuss options for secession. This document is a direct source from someone who was in on the action. John Adams had a front row seat to the procession of the Continental Congresses, the eventual act of declaring independence, and had a hand in drafting and editing what would become the Declaration of Independence.

From reading Chapter 4 (Declaring Independence) from After the Fact, readers will have discovered that Adams had worked for and pushed for independence nearly from the beginning. However, he found the process to be tedious in waiting for others to see the benefits he saw so early on in seceding. In the first part of his letter, readers can see a bit of that impatience seeping through. Adams is talking about how if they had agreed on declaring independence sooner, then they could have been searching for allies all this time. However, by the end, he concedes that this was the best course of action because all feelings of reconciliation conclusively gone. Some contributing factors in this universal decision to revolt are things like the Stamp Act and Townshend Act. These Acts drew attention to the inequality of the colonies compared to the power of Empire.

One possible bias this document could contain is that it comes from a pretty biased source. John Adams was an elite member of American society who would not be involved in any of the actual battles between the Revolutionary and soldiers. He is very passionate about this movement and America becoming its own self-ruling country. Adams was an American lawyer, representative, and delegate, and as previously mentioned, he really pushed for independence early on. These are all biases that could have skewed his opinions to lean one way, but that does not necessarily mean he was lying. These were his opinions on how to become a successful, free nation. As a lawyer, he would look for new ways to look at and word things. The results of the war would also affect how readers today read this primary source. Meaning, since America emerged victorious from the war, readers can see this letter as a successful insight to the upcoming years of battle. If the war had resulted in a victory, this letter would possibly not be as important as it is seen today.

Through this document, readers can see from a first-hand account what it was like to be so directly involved in taking the steps for America to declare independence. John Adams was relaying information straight from the Continental Congresses to his wife with private letters like this one. Historians can use this letter to analyze the past because this is directly involved in the formation of the Declaration of Independence. By having this, they can take sections of this letter and determine a sequence of events in which the colonies finally united in a decision to break away from England. The ability to compare what he predicts to what actually occurs during the Revolutionary War also comes from a primary source like this.


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