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John Adams Explains Why Women Should Not Be Able to Vote

James Sullivan, a state court judge in Massachusetts and colleague of John Adams, was often sympathetic to those who thought women and non-elite men should have a voice in the new nation’s government. Adams disagreed, explaining to Sullivan why women and the poor should be excluded. Some spelling changes and edits have been made to improve clarity.

It is certain in theory, that the only moral foundation of government is the consent of the people, but to what an extent shall we carry this principle? Shall we say, that every individual of the community, old and young, male and female, as well as rich and poor, must consent, expressly to every act of legislation?... 

…Why exclude women? …Because their delicacy renders them unfit for practice and experience, in the great business of life, and the hardy enterprises of war, as well as the arduous cares of state. Besides, their attention is so much engaged with the necessary nurture of their children, that nature has made them fittest for domestic cares. And children have not judgment or will of their own… 

Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open [such a] source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to [change] the qualifications of voters. There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a [dime], will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and [surrender] all ranks, to one common level.

Source | John Adams to James Sullivan, 26 May 1776; from Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854).
Creator | John Adams
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | John Adams, “John Adams Explains Why Women Should Not Be Able to Vote,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed February 24, 2024,

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