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Jefferson, Adams: Political enemies, friends in death

For The Madera Tribune

Former U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.


Thomas Jefferson and John Adams may have been political enemies, but their lives were really not all that different. They were co-authors of the Declaration of Independence. They both were elected president of the United States, and with more than a touch of irony, the two men faced the Grim Reaper in an amazing coincidence.

When the people of the United States chose George Washington in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789, they also installed John Adams as Vice-President. Washington then appointed Thomas Jefferson as his first Secretary of State, setting the stage for a political fight that would carry on for a decade or more.

Although Jefferson and Adams had stood side by side against King George III, after independence was won, they had drifted apart politically. Jefferson was much more democratic while Adams kept his aristocratic New England bearings.

Such was the cleavage between them that when Washington declined a third term in 1796, Jefferson ran for President against Adams and lost, but he did gain the second spot. Jefferson the egalitarian became vice president, and Adams the plutocrat became the president.

By 1800, Adams was all set for a second term, but Jefferson campaigned hard against him. He charged that while Adams sided with the rich folks, he, Jefferson, stood for the common man. It was an effective argument, given Adams’ natural propensity towards aloofness, and when the votes were finally counted, Jefferson had won.

Adams went back home to nurse his political wounds in Massachusetts, while Jefferson went to the nation’s new capital, Washington, D.C. He served two terms and then retired to his beloved Monticello in Virginia.

In time, the two old patriots laid down their political swords and grew friendly. Then in the summer of 1826, the 93 year-old Adams became ill and died. Before he breathed his last, however, he whispered the words, “Thank God, Thomas Jefferson still lives,” but he was wrong. Thomas Jefferson joined John Adams in death that very day, July 4, 1826, but three hours earlier — exactly 50 years after they both had signed the Declaration of Independence.

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