Facts About John Adams


Michael Benton, Contributor

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facts about john adamsThomas Jefferson and John Adams had a lifelong friendship in private and a heated rivalry in public that nearly tore it all apart. When they met at the Second Continental Congress in 1775, fighting had already broken out between colonial militias and British troops and Adams was proposing to draft a resolution on the unified effort for American independence. Struck by the powerful essays of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams nominated the young Virginian polymath to lead the effort in writing the Declaration of Independence. Although their duties in the war effort were distant and unrelated, the two Founding Fathers wrote numerous letters to one another about events and ideas that were forming the future plans for American government. After the death of his wife in 1782, Jefferson was consoled by visiting the Adams at their home whereafter he shared letters with John's politically active wife, Abigail Adams, as well. It was during the Constitutional Convention, which neither could attend as they were both serving as Ministers (Ambassadors) in Europe, that the political lines of their rivalry began to appear.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were both influential leaders in the factionalism that fomented during the first term of government under the U.S. Constitution. Adams had been elected as the first Vice President after placing second to George Washington in the nation's first presidential election. Federalists such as Adams and Alexander Hamilton had enormous influence on the Cabinet of the Washington administration, infuriating Thomas Jefferson who envisioned a limited government as ideal for democracy. In 1792, Jefferson joined James Madison in forming an anti-administration party that would later become known as the Democratic-Republicans. After constant bickering with Hamilton over fiscal policy and arguing about enumerated powers and state's rights with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson resigned his post as Secretary of State; President Washington would never forgive him for this public display of opposition.

The election of 1796 pitted Thomas Jefferson vs John Adams and came down to a very narrow victory for the latter. Because of the original laws for a presidential election, the runner up became Vice President. For another term, Jefferson was a member of a government that he publicly opposed. When the Quasi-War with France began in 1798, Federalists branded the opposition as traitors influenced by foreigners and instituted reactionary policies such as the Alien & Sedition Acts. In this atmosphere of oppressive tactics and centralized power, Jefferson considered the election of 1800 a peaceful revolution with the purpose of returning America to the principles of limited government. This time the contest pitted the unpopular policies of the incumbent President John Adams vs Thomas Jefferson the Vice President and vocal leader of the opposition. Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, defeated the Adams ticket but in a fluke had split the electoral votes evenly, sending the decision between the two to Congress and allowing Alexander Hamilton to play kingmaker. Hamilton felt Jefferson was the more principled man and less likely to endanger the functions of government as they existed.

On his way out of office, Adams intentionally nominated several judges with extreme Federalist views in a last minute snub to his rival. The friendship between Adams and Jefferson reached its low point during the latter's two terms as President, but was rejuvenated after they had both retired from politics. Letters shared between them established numerous facts about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson for historians. On July 4th, 1826, exactly fifty years after publishing the Declaration of Independence, both Jefferson and Adams died on the same day. It has been recorded that one of Adams' last statements was, "Thomas Jefferson survives," as news of his old rivals death that morning had yet to reach him.