Thomas Jefferson


Michael Benton, Contributor

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thomas jeffersonJohn Adams' greatest political rival as well as a longtime friend and compatriot was Thomas Jefferson. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson met at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775. Immediately, a friendship was struck that continued until death, only interrupted by extreme political differences and competition. In total, the men wrote 380 letters to each other over five decades; it was only the after the 1800 election, pitting John Adams vs Thomas Jefferson that their writing and friendship waned. In 1812, as retired old politicos, they renewed their friendship with cordiality and joy. Despite their differences in opinion, they expressed happiness to once again be sharing their thoughts while they waxed over current events, life as an elder, and the state of the nation. On July 4th, 1826, exactly fifty years after they produced and signed the Declaration of Independence, the two friends died on the same day. John Adams last recorded words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives," though he was unaware that his rival had passed just hours before him.

At that first convention of Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were tasked to draft the Declaration of Independence together, with Jefferson doing the writing while Adams and Franklin advised and edited. This was the start of the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson relationship and probably the last time they agreed on a political decision. After Jefferson's wife passed away in 1782, he became a regular guest of the Adams' home. Both of the men were assigned to diplomatic posts in Europe, Jefferson in Paris and Adams in London. Their friendship continued and Jefferson even wrote a number of letters to Adams' wife, Abigail. The first instance of an election pitting Thomas Jefferson vs John Adams was the selection of George Washington's Vice President. Adams was the victor but their differences were now more pronounced. Adams was a staunch Federalist promoting centralized, national power while Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican who sought a limited government with greater control given to the States. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams' relationship soured during this time and fewer letters were written.

In 1796, Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson as Washington's presidential successor. Although he was the leader of the Federalist party, Adams faced enormous pressure from both Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans and Alexander Hamilton's faction of Federalists. In 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams in his attempt for re-election. In a move that Jefferson would tell Abigail was the one action of John Adams that bothered him personally, Adams appointed a number of Jefferson's political opponents to high positions just before leaving office. During Jefferson's presidency, the relationship between the men was at its worst. It was not until 1812, when Dr. Benjamin Rush convinced the men to write each other, that they recognized how their friendship was more valuable than their differences. The letters once again began to flow, this time with topics moving in and out of politics, philosophy, life and love. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson's rivalry was a friendly one by the time they died on the same day.