Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 1776

We the people are really creeped out right now.

June 3, 1776

My Dear John,

It has been too many weeks since I have heard hopeful news from you. Like every wife in the Colonies, I long for some sign of reassurance that the war will soon be over. I dream of the day when you and your fellow men will declare independency. Yet I pray, too, that your passion for liberty will not overcome your sense of duty to your family.

Verily, even as I pen these words, a small arachnid spins his web in the corner of the drawing room.

Without a husband at home to take care of such concerns, what is a wife to do? I know I have written to you in the past of the vital importance of granting women self-sufficiency apart from their husbands. However in such cases as these, the value of a husband cannot be overstated.

There, it moves. The spider, which I first considered small, is indeed quite medium-sized, or even large.

As he moves closer to my bare face and neck, I remind you to include a clause in your Declaration ensuring the right of all women to be sheltered by their husbands from such creatures. Women must be given the opportunity to control their own destinies, by having their husbands kill large, hairy spiders such as the one creeping toward my writing desk.

Of course, my dear, I wish only to be reassured that you are well and that when you return home, you will carry an old newspaper with which to swat the bug. It is not that I do not think Liberty is important, only that I think you should give it up so you can come home immediately.

Please hurry. I think he is looking at me.

Yours,

Abigail

Although women were denied the right to vote in the United States until well over 100 years after the founding of the Republic, political maneuvering in the Continental Congress very temporarily gave them the right to buy newspapers. And yes, it was the great John Adams who wrote the language giving them that right. Was it because of this letter from his wife?

We know that Abigail Adams was both a major contributor to the founding of the country and deathly terrified of spiders. In her letter, she may not actually be demanding her husband return to destroy the eight-legged beast (her good-for-nothing, never amount to anything son John Quincy could handle that for her). Rather, she may be subtly reminding him that the women of the Republic would be defenseless against spiders while their husbands were at war. The concept of using a shoe to destroy spiders would not gain traction in the New World until well into the antebellum period, although Swiss farmers had been using similar techniques since the late 17th century. Rolled up newspapers were sold specifically as anti-spider defense mechanisms, as early Americans were not yet socially advanced enough to realize they could roll up their own newspapers.

Thirteen years later, at the Constitutional Convention, John Adams very nearly secured the right of all women to own rolled up newspapers for “their safety, the safety of the home, and the bleffings of Providence” (The Adams’ Diaries: Part 6 – Going Constitutional). The language doing so was removed from the document when conservative Southern interests were able to convince the majority that slave women with rolled up newspapers could be a threat to the propertied classes. In return, Adams and the “spider-blasters,” as his coalition was called, were able to pass some nonsense about bills of attainder. Abigail, brave in the face of disappointment, wrote John to say the compromise was “the biggest shitload of fuck I’ve ever seen, you turd” (The Adams Diaries: Part 7 – Shit My Wife Said). Women would not gain the right to purchase rolled up newspapers until well after the Civil War.

In a bit of humorous irony, during Adams’ presidency, Abigail was attacked and carried off by a family of giant spiders originally belonging to Martha Washington. Abigail lived as a spider for the better part of a year before the President was able to convince a pro-Jefferson Congress that rescuing her from the spiders was not a backdoor endorsement of New England mill interests.

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