John Adams & Thomas Jefferson: A Unique Friendship

While the political conflict and turmoil of the recent years can seem previously unmatched and at times, feels close to end times, we must not forget that rivalry and infighting have been a part of U.S. politics since the beginning. This is not to suggest our country is free from present (or past) issues, but to show our situation is not new and far from beyond repair.

Jacob Winter
6 min readJul 5, 2021

Sources of this piece and of other notable information can be found at the bottom of this page.

Photo: Ben Franklin’s World

The Fourth of July not only represents the anniversary of the birth of our Nation, but also of the death of two of the most important founders of the United States of America. July 4, 1826, while on his death bed in Quincy, MA, John Adams’ final words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” To relay some context, Adams and Jefferson were two of the only three signers of the Declaration Of Independence still alive on the 50th anniversary of U.S. independence. What Adams didn’t know, however, was that Jefferson had died just hours before some 600 miles away. At 90 years old, still a notable age to attain in the 21st century let alone the 18th/19th, Adams was the longest living U.S. president until Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93.

As I write this piece on the day before The Fourth, I find myself sitting in downtown Boston within walking distance of many of the key locations which instigated the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States. I do remember (vaguely) visiting Boston on an East Coast trip with my Grandpa when I was ~10 years old, but I also remember favoring our back-to-back movie theater visits in our two days here over our walk along the Freedom Trail. Returning at the age of 24 and with a recently-found obsession with early U.S. history, I’m giddy with excitement to visit the Adams’ Family home known as Peacefield along with other significant meeting places of early U.S. intellectuals. I hope this piece will relay some of my fascination and give you, the reader, some new context on U.S. politics.

Adams’ & Jefferson’s Introduction To Founding Politics

Rising to prominence after taking the wildly unpopular case of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, Adams’ became known for his impartiality. The early figures of the Revolution saw his support of their cause especially important because of this reputation. Despite early reluctance to the barbarism exhibited by many colonial rebels, Adams eventually accepted his nomination to the First Continental Congress. It was at the Second Continental Congress, where the Declaration Of Independence was written, when Adams and Jefferson first met.

Jefferson was sent to the Second Continental Congress as a delegate from Virginia as one of the youngest representatives at 33 years old. He was included in the Committee Of Five upon recommendation from his fast friend, John Adams. This group performed the majority of the leg work involved in thinking up and writing the Declaration Of Independence. When Adams was asked to draft this document, he instead recommended Jefferson, an accomplished writer.

Political Conflicts & Their Respective Presidencies

Early in the presidency of George Washington, the bicameral legislature debated the proper name for the office of U.S. president. John Adams, (a federalist believing in strong central government) pushed for a royalty-esque term including “highness” or “excellency.” Jefferson and those comparable were strongly against this, having just fought a war removing themselves from the rule of highly-held royalty. “Mr. President” was good enough in their opinion.

Aside from his active role as president of the Senate, Adams served a fairly passive vice presidency, rarely consulted by President Washington and excluded from most cabinet meetings. Serving as Washington’s Secretary Of State, Jefferson was more involved in the administration.

Jefferson and his Republicans had problems with many ideas they saw as characteristic of a tyrannical central government such as a national bank, taxes, and a standing army. The Jeffersonian Republicans believed strongly in state rights and the power of states to delegate power to the national government. This brand of ideological conflict persisted through Adams’ presidency and culminated in Adams’ Midnight Judges appointments. A judiciary act passed less than a month before the end of Adams’ presidential term allowed him to appoint and get confirmed more than a dozen federal judges that aligned with his Federalist agenda. This was widely seen as a slight toward Jefferson and his incoming policies.

Jefferson’s presidency prioritized lowering the national debt, shrinking the Navy during a time of peace (serving defense needs only), establishing a U.S. military academy, and developing the Adams-established Library Of Congress. He is also known for the monumental Louisiana Purchase.

Later Life & Death

The regular correspondence between Adams and Jefferson was put on a 12-year extended hold due to the stark political differences surrounding both of their presidencies. A mutual friend and fellow founding father, Benjamin Rush, brokered the restart of their correspondence shortly before his death. These old friends who had, together, helped shepherd the country through the American Revolution realized they were far more similar than different. These years of retirement allowed them to reflect on the incredible progress they brought to the country and share in each others’ joys and sorrows surrounding their lives and families.

How perfect that two of the U.S.’ most senior patriots took their final breaths within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of the founding work they carried out together. Two men with different backgrounds and beliefs. One, a slave owner and skilled writer from a large Virginia plantation. The other a principled lawyer and farmer (Adams and his son were the only of the first 12 presidents to never own a slave) from the outskirts of Boston. One believing in centralized power and the other in unobstructed freedom. It’s safe to say neither were wholly correct, but both respected that right to opine.

As I experience one more anniversary of the founding of our country, in all of its strifes and struggles, I find it encouraging to revisit the events which shaped our country and to recognize the problems of our time are not too different. Individuals, each having their uniquely-shaped experiences, just want what they believe is best for them and their country, albeit some more selfishly than others. No radical idea of government will ever be universally supported, but these founding fathers set a framework and example which allows us to eternally deliberate the values and principles on which humankind ought to be governed.



Jacob Winter

25-year-old exploring history, religion, & philosophy