August 28, 2011
Abagail and John Adams wrote over 1200 letters to each other over the course of 60 years- from their 6 year long courtship till John’s retirement from politics. These letters give us a very personal history of a marriage enduring alongside America’s revolutionary beginnings. What a marvelous resource these intimate letters are and what a cultural legacy they give us!
The custom of the day was to burn all the letters at the death of one’s spouse. Martha Washington did just that after her husband George died. And so much of history went up in smoke. Abagail wanted her letters to John burnt, but John, aware of his place in the forming of a new republic, saved his wife’s letters. Thank you, John Adams!
When we self consciously contemplate burning our letters or discarding our journals, consider what represents our uniqueness and our real feelings more than our thoughts written on paper. To save or not to save? It’s a personal decision. However, your life has value, so why not share your observations and poetry… You can write it in your will to have so much time pass, as with Mark Twain’s autobiography. It was not to be published until 100 years after his death.
Joseph J. Ellis, First Family- Abagail & John Adams, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
Cokie Roberts, Ladies of Liberty, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008