Words Crush Wednesday – Abigail Adams

Published January 13, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This is going to be the last Words Crush Wednesday post from the book My Dearest Friend, because it’s going back to the library tomorrow.  But I wanted to quote this first.  From a letter dated March 31, 1776:

I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the New Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make 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 perticuliar care and attention is  not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so throughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the  more tender and endearing one of Friend.  Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity.  Men of sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as vassals of your Sex.

(Yes, the odd spellings and punctuation are accurate to what’s in the book.  As I said previously, the English language had not yet been nailed down as firmly as it has been now.)  Anyway, she was quite something, as you can see.  Unfortunately, John treated her statements as more or less a joke, and said that giving up the title of “Master” would subject men to “the Despotism of the Peticoat,” among other irritatingly flip remarks.  In a letter to a friend, Abigail mentioned the exchange, and said

So I have help’d the Sex abundantly, but I will tell him I have only been making trial of the disintresstedness of his Virtue, and when weigh’d in the balance have found it wanting.

However, John wasn’t always so bad on this score.  He did several times in the course of the letters say that he felt men could only be great with a great woman (like Abigail) to support and raise them up.  Not perfect (especially since one of his examples was Pericles’ courtesan) but better than a lot of his contemporaries…probably.

***Warning!  Warning!  Unrelated statement follows!***

I wonder when we stopped capitalizing nouns?  Seems like the process was about halfway completed in the late 18th century.  Then again, you never see capitalized nouns in Shakespeare, so perhaps we only started capitalizing them in English with the Hanoverian monarchs bringing a renewed influence of the Germanic roots of the language?

Hmm.  I don’t even know how to research the question, apart from trying to find original documents from the periods in question.  (And I don’t mean tidied up and published ones like this book.  I mean actual 3-400 year old books, pamphlets, et cetera.)  Doesn’t really seem that feasible.  Also not quite in keeping with, like, anything.  I’m not supposed to be a historian of the English language…


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