Letter To John Adams


Michael Benton, Contributor

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letter to john adamsJohn Adams was a prolific orator and a mastermind behind many crucial decisions in the Continental Congress, in George Washington's administration, and as President of the United States. During this time, he spent many hours penning letters to his wife and political allies. Letters of Abigail and John Adams were dutifully kept and passed down by the family before being published for the American public. Also, John Adams' letters to Thomas Jefferson were maintained and are now a treasure trove for curious historians. Adams was a well-educated and strongly determined man, but the John Adams to Abigail letters also demonstrate a love that allowed for the free sharing of opinions and a mutual commitment to the good of the nation. They spent a lot of time apart during the deliberation of the Continental Congress and while John was serving in a diplomatic role in Europe, but the John and Abigail Adams love letters never slowed. Two generations later, their grandson, Charles Francis Adams, would publish the letters of John and Abigail Adams for the public to witness the love and patriotism at the root of his family history.

As a friend and then a political rival before friendship's renewal, there were many John Adams letters to Thomas Jefferson. In total, the men wrote 380 letters to each other over the course of five decades. At times, there was little to no correspondence, as in the years when Jefferson was the head of the rival Democratic-Republican party who defeated Adams in his bid for re-election in 1800. Before their rivalry had developed, the two men had been great friends and compatriots in the designing of the Declaration of Independence and the persuasion of Continental Congress to approve it. Back then, the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson letters were full of ideas and friendly banter. When Jefferson's wife passed away in 1782, he became a frequent guest of the Adams home and even began to share an annual letter with the outspoken Abigail Adams. But after the selection of John Adams as Vice President under George Washington, their political differences began to divide them personally. Their theories on the role of government were opposite; Adams was a Federalist who sought a strong, centralized government while Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican who demanded a limited role for federal government and room for states and municipalities to govern themselves. Jefferson did not write a letter to John Adams nearly as frequently, especially after Adams' defeated him in the 1796 presidential election by the smallest of margins. When their roles were reversed and Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800, they barely wrote each other at all. After his re-election in 1804, they stopped completely for four years. In 1812, convinced by mutual friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, the men opened up correspondence again and suddenly a friendship was renewed. As retired politicians they waxed over new events and ideas but maintained their opposing views until July 4th, 1826 when they died on the same day. Adams' last recorded words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives," but he was not aware that his friend and rival had died hours earlier.