On This Day...
February 2, 1775, Abigail Adams Knows. In 1775, Abigail Adams wrote sadly "the Die is Cast . . . The Sword is now our only yet dreadful alternative." The day before, news had come from England. King George had rejected the colonists' pleas that he overturn the harsh measures imposed on them by Parliament. The King promised to "withstand every attempt to weaken" Parliament. Abigail Adams was astute enough to know that this was the beginning of the end. She confided in a letter to a friend, "We know too well the blessings of freedom to tamely resign it." Within a few months, Minutemen and British Redcoats would engage each other on the Old North Bridge in Concord. There was no turning back.
The autumn of 1774 found the residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on edge. Revolution was no longer unthinkable, although many colonists still believed that they could resolve their differences with Britain without declaring independence.
Tensions had been rising since the Boston Tea Party the year before. Parliament enacted a series of punitive measures, closing the port of Boston, forbidding town meetings, depriving colonists of any say in the appointment of judges, and stripping the people of Massachusetts of other rights they had long enjoyed.
Unrest spread from Boston through the countryside; acts of defiance were common, but most men and women were not yet ready for war.
In September, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia. Massachusetts sent four delegates, including John Adams and Samuel Adams. Congress laid out their grievances with Parliament. They agreed not to import any products from Britain until the offensive measures were repealed.
They also petitioned King George directly. It was not the Crown, but Parliament, that was oppressing them. They wished to remain loyal subjects. The Continental Congress appealed directly to the King:
"MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your majesty's faithful subjects. . . . beg leave to lay our grievances before the throne. . . . Your royal indignation, we hope, will rather fall on those designing and dangerous men, who, daringly interpose themselves between your royal person and your faithful subjects. . . . Your royal authority over us, and our connection with Great Britain, we shall always carefully and zealously endeavor to support and maintain. . . . We, therefore, most earnestly beseech your majesty that your royal authority and interposition may be used for our relief."
The Congress closed its message with a toast: "To his majesty King George III! . . . May the sword of the parent never be stained with the blood of his children."
Then they waited. News traveled slowly across the Atlantic. Three months passed before they received a response. On February 1, 1775, a ship arrived in Marblehead Harbor carrying a copy of the King's November 30th address to Parliament.
The King had rejected the colonists' appeal and reaffirmed his support for Parliament and all its acts. "You may depend," he had told Parliament, "upon my firm and steadfast resolution to withstand every attempt to weaken or impair the supreme authority of this Legislature."
The news broke the next day in the Boston newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy. The Spy printed the full text of the King's address, leaving no hope that George III would intervene on behalf of his discontented subjects in the American colonies.
Abigail Adams was at home in Braintree when she read the report in the Spy. John Adams was at the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in Cambridge, but Abigail did not need his help to interpret the King's proclamation. Well-informed and politically astute, she had been following the growing conflict carefully. She wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren that "the die is cast." War now appeared inevitable.
The King, she wrote, was determined to implement "the acts passed by the late Parliament, and to Maintain the authority of the Legislature over all his dominions. . . . The Sword," she concluded solemnly, "is now our only, yet dreadful alternative."
On April 19, 1775, what she dreaded came to pass. Four thousand Americans confronted 1,800 British soldiers at Lexington and Concord. One Redcoat remarked on his return from Concord, "Even the women had rifles! The enthusiastic zeal with which those people have behaved must convince every reasonable man what a difficult and unpleasant task we have before us."
Abigail Adams spent much of the war, and many years after it, without her husband, as John Adams served in Congress and then was posted overseas. Perceptive observers and gifted writers, the Adamses wrote hundreds of letters to one another. Their always intelligent, sometimes caustic commentary on events provide one of the most compelling accounts we have of the American Revolution.
The website for the 2006 PBS film, "John and Abigail Adams," includes a timeline, maps, primary sources, and a Teacher's Guide.
If You Go.
Adams is one of three women honored in the Boston Women's Memorial sculpture on Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
Abigail Adams: A Biography, by Phyllis Lee Levin (Thomas Dunn Books, 2001).
The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord, by Ray Raphael (New Press, 2002).
Massachusetts Spy, February 2, 1775.
Online at: Abigail Adams Knows "the Die is Cast"