The love letters between John and Margaret Winthrop, and the letters between John and Abigail Adams, are useful in interpreting the personalities of the writers. The Winthrops’ religiousness reflects in their letters, while on the other hand, the Adams’ letters reflect their personal characteristics and dedication to the economy and politics. The two letters have the ability to show the reader the everyday lives of the two couples, but also express what they considered important. The letters between the two couples share the same ability to give insight into the writer’s personalities: but the traits of the two husbands, one consumed with religion; the other occupied with worldly matters, as well as the two wives, one submissive; the other equal to her husband, couldn’t be more different from each other.
The importance of religion in the life of John Winthrop can clearly be interpreted from his letters to his wife. Almost every single one of his letters begins with some form of acknowledging and showing appreciation for God. While the first half of each letter consists of this praise of the Lord, the rest of the letter deals with the actual intent of the letter and is consumed with constant references to God being the most driving factor to all things around them. The letters seem to be written to God as much as they were for his wife Margaret.
While Winthrop makes it clear that God is the most important thing in his life Adams makes it clear that it is politics and the economy. Adams regularly writes things that I imagine Winthrop would find sacrilegious. Such examples include “Let frugality and industry be our virtues”1 as well as “now I will laugh and be easy if I can, let the contest of parties terminate as it will…whether I stand high or low in the estimation of the world, so long as I keep a conscience void of offense towards God and men”2. The later quote is very significant in understanding the motives that drive Adams. Unlike John Winthrop, Adams is a politician and as a result expresses his value depends on his reputation among men. While Winthrop’s self-value is only how God views him, Adams consists of how God and men see him.
Being a politician is not the only difference between the two men that can be interpreted by the letters, but also the fact that Adams is also more concerned with money and the economy. Every letter John Adams wrote to his wife has something to do with local politics or the economy. Adams preoccupation with worldly matters is what sets him apart from Winthrop. While Winthrop is writing of the glory of God, Adams writes of Congress and his economic standing such as “it is expensive to keep a family here, and there is no prospect of any business in my way in this town the whole summer. I don’t receive a shilling a week”3.
While the two husbands tones and attitudes were vastly different so were their wives. Through the writings between John and Abigail Adams you can get the sense that the two are equals in their relationship. On the other hand it seems Mrs. Winthrop is subservient to her husband. The equality of the Adams can be seen when John writes “I must entreat you, my dear partner in all the joys and sorrows, prosperities and adversity in my life, to take part with me in the struggle”4. This quote implies that John Adams considers his wife his partner and equal in their relationship and that they share everything, the good and the bad. On the other hand the Margaret Winthrop implies that she is not the equal to her husband. Actually she goes as far to say “yet I am so much indebted to you for your lovinge and longe letters…although I can do nothing to equall them or to requite your love”5. She also signs every letter referring to herself as John Winthrop’s obedient wife. While the Adams are equal in their relationship it is evident that Mrs. Winthrop considers herself less significant and subservient to her husband to who she can never equal in importance.
There is a strong difference between the tones of the two couples as well. The Winthrop letters are short and have little information in them. While the Adams letters consist of important matters that are happening in Congress and the community but they also just write of frivolous and seemingly unimportant things. Such as “I have a great deal of leisure, which I chiefly employ in scribbling”6. The Winthrops don’t seem to concern themselves with such frivolous details. John Adams letters seem very much relaxed compared to John Winthrops letters. While the Winthrop letters seem to be written as much to God as to his wife, the Adams letters seem to imply that the Adams was as much friends as they were husband and wife. John Adams even gossips to his wife writing “Safford, my barber, tells me, that his Minister Lymanis bribed to be a tory”.7
There are many differences in personalities of the four writers that can be inferred by the letters. The two husbands create this worldly vs. heavenly mindset. Adams portrays this idea of the American man. He is consumed with politics and the economy, striving to make a better place for not just his family but for the whole country. On the other hand John Winthrop embodies the religious man, where worldly matters concern him little. The two couples seem of different worlds and are vastly different. But while the two couples seem to be different in almost every way, a similarity is apparent. That similarity between the two couples is the love they feel for their companion. Every letter shared between husband and wife shows the affection the two partners have for each other. While the Adams seems to be more of equals in their marriage they care no more for each other than the Winthrops. These letters are an excellent source for historians to gain a clear image of not only the lives of a Puritan and a politician during colonial American, but they also help historians see a more intimate and personal side of social relationships during the period.
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