A Father’s Plea: Get an Honest Husband

John Adams, who would become our second president,  travelled across Europe in behalf of the young nation. Even when separated by ocean, he and his beloved wife, Abigail, stayed in touch by letter, expressing their mutual admiration and devotion, offering commentary on the major political issues of the day, and diligently tending to the pressing concerns of family life. Letters took months to arrive, so much consideration was given to their composition. Each thought had to be weighed carefully and expressed clearly, every word just right.

In a 1782 letter Abigail informed him of their 17-year-old daughter Nabby’s romantic interest in a promising young lawyer, Royall Tyler, the talented son of an affluent family. Gifted with a sharp mind, he became valedictorian of his class at Harvard. By all accounts, a profitable career lay before him

But as Tyler and Nabby’s relationship blossomed, Abigail’s concerns grew.  The young lawyer’s reputation for moral recklessness disturbed her. Expressing her doubts, she confessed to John, “I feel the want of your presence and advice.”

Abigail’s news troubled John, but he was not caught off guard. A wise father, he sought earlier to warn his daughter of the dangers of making a foolish choice for a husband. He wrote:

“Daughter! Get you an honest man for a husband, and keep him honest. No matter whether he is rich, provided he be independent. Regard the honor and moral character of the man more than all other circumstances. Think of no greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart. An honest, sensible humane man, above all the littleness of vanity and extravagances of imagination, laboring to do good rather than be rich, to be useful rather than make a show, living in modest simplicity clearly within his means and free from debts and obligations, is really the most respectable man in society, makes himself an all about him most happy.”

Christian parents echo John Adam’s concern. A renewed moral character is the fruit of our salvation in Christ, and we should prize godly character in others even as we pursue it ourselves. And at no time are questions of character more important than when a man and woman contemplate marriage.


For more information about the relationship between Royall Tyler and Nabby Adams, see:

David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 288-291.

Margaret A. Hogan an C. James Taylor, eds., My Dearest Friends: Letters of Abigail and John Adams (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), 270-277.

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