During the first 10 years of our nation’s history, John Adams led the conservative party called the Federalist and Thomas Jefferson led the Liberal party called the Republican.  The two men met in the Continental Congress in 1775 and found that they shared an enthusiasm for declaring independence from Great Britain in the 1780s. They went to France together the ministers from the United States. While there, their families were cemented in friendship.  John Adams lived frugally on the farm outside of Paris.  Thomas Jefferson lived in downtown Paris close to the  entertainment district such as the Opera.  John Quincy Adams, John Adams’ son, was going nuts in the outskirts of Paris.  He was a teenager.   Thomas Jefferson had him live with him in downtown Paris in the entertainment district – – -two bachelors.  Thomas Jefferson tutored him and eventually recommended when he was about 18 that he be the Secretary to our Ambassador to Russia. As a result, John Quincy learned Russian, knew Latin, English, French and Dutch from when he was with his Father, John Adams raising money in the Netherlands.  In addition, he was only 17 -18.  He eventually became the 6th president of the U.S. and was essential to the Seward folly of buying Alaska.

John Adams became the second president by three Electoral College votes.  Thomas Jefferson was second and became Vice President. However, in the next election, lost to the Republican Jefferson in 1800. The two Patriots were different in their beliefs as day and night –

  • Jefferson
    • Was a radical 18th-century liberal who was extreme in his views
    • In his attitude towards government, he believed in minimal government, which was a progressive position at the time
    • He believed in a wise and frugal government not a very strong one
    • He literally believed that all men were created equal
    • He put an enormous emphasis on education
    • He believed that the world was getting better, becoming freer and more democratic in that America had a special role in the future.
    • He believed America was her chosen country, the world’s best hope
    • Jefferson invented the idea of American exceptionalism.
  • Adams
    • The Federalist Adams was a conservative
    • He had a sour and cynical view of human nature
    • He was pessimistic about the future and a severe critic of the Jeffersonian concept of American exceptionalism
    • Adams was the ultimate realist committed to stubborn facts
    • he did not believe that all men were created equal
    • he believed that all were born unequal and that education couldn’t do much about the inherent differences among people
    • He believed that nature not nurture made the difference for leaders
    • He did not fear big government itself, but he did fear the unrestrained power of government.
    • He stated that government power must never be trusted without a check
    • Adams had little confidence in democracy and the virtue of the people. Therefore, he believed in the English tradition much more than Jefferson.
    • He believed that elections will become so partisan and so corrupt that the nation would have to turn to having officeholders serve for life
  • In 1812, their friend Benjamin Rush asked the two men to start writing one another. They did so and became friends again. Their letters are classics.    They exchanged 150 letters over the next 14 years.
  • Jefferson believed that Adams was a man of “rigorous honesty” and realistic judgment.  He believed that below the crusty exterior was a man that was as friendly as can be.
  • The two men avoided controversial topics in their correspondence because they did not want to endanger the communication channel.
  • They knew that their combination of idealism and realism had helped create the nation and that realization was enough to sustain their friendship.

They died on the same day, 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.