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The Adams-Jefferson Letters

The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams

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    The Adams-Jefferson Letters
    Book Description:

    An intellectual dialogue of the highest plane achieved in America, the correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson spanned half a century and embraced government, philosophy, religion, quotidiana, and family griefs and joys. First meeting as delegates to the Continental Congress in 1775, they initiated correspondence in 1777, negotiated jointly as ministers in Europe in the 1780s, and served the early Republic--each, ultimately, in its highest office. At Jefferson's defeat of Adams for the presidency in 1800, they became estranged, and the correspondence lapses from 1801 to 1812, then is renewed until the death of both in 1826, fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence. Lester J. Cappon's edition, first published in 1959 in two volumes, provides the complete correspondence between these two men and includes the correspondence between Abigail Adams and Jefferson. Many of these letters have been published in no other modern edition, nor does any other edition devote itself exclusively to the exchange between Jefferson and the Adamses. Introduction, headnotes, and footnotes inform the reader without interrupting the speakers. This reissue of The Adams-Jefferson Letters in a one-volume unabridged edition brings to a broader audience one of the monuments of American scholarship and, to quote C. Vann Woodward, 'a major treasure of national literature.'

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0026-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xxii)
    (pp. xxiii-xxx)
    L. J. C.
  4. INTRODUCTION “Prospect of an immortality in the memories of all the worthy”
    (pp. xxxi-l)

    Faneuil Hall, the “Cradle of Liberty,” attracted a large crowd of Bostonians on August 2, 1826. The City Council had invited Daniel Webster, well known for his oratory, to deliver the address. It was a day of commemoration rather than of mourning, in recognition of the recent deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4· The fiftieth anniversary of American independence had been celebrated in this same hall, as it was in countless others throughout the nation. In near-by Quincy, the venerable Adams had been unable to accept the invitation of his fellow citizens to be the guest...

  5. 1 “The great Work of Confederation, draggs heavily on” MAY 1777 – OCTOBER 1781
    (pp. 1-11)

    John Adams and Thomas Jefferson first met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1775 as delegates to the Continental Congress. Adams was thirty-nine, Jefferson thirty-two. Both were lawyers and each had to his credit several years’ experience in the lower house of his provincial legislature. The elder, who had represented Massachusetts in the Congress of 1774, quickly became identified as a radical in the conflicting loyalties and emotions of the times. His authorship of the anonymous Novanglus letters, printed in January 1775, was not long in doubt, so vigorously did they uphold the rights of the Bay Colony against the...

  6. 2 “The Subject of a Treaty of Commerce” JUNE 1784 – SEPTEMBER 1785
    (pp. 12-71)

    Even before the Declaration of Independence, a major objective of the Continental Congress was the negotiation of treaties of amity and commerce with foreign nations. During the summer of 1776, Congress approved a plan embracing the most-favored-nation principle and the protection of private property from devastation and confiscation in time of war. The “Plan of 1776” became the basis for such negotiation throughout the Confederation period,¹ and Congress promptly dispatched commissioners and agents in quest of commercial conventions. These treaties were among the joint responsibilities of the ministers plenipotentiary, Adams and Jefferson, and therefore occupied a major portion of their...

  7. 3 “As We are poor We ought to be Œconomists” SEPTEMBER 1785 – FEBRUARY 1786
    (pp. 72-124)

    The Most critical diplomatic question confronting Adams and Jefferson was that of trade relations. In a report to Foreign Secretary Jay on October 11, 1785, Jefferson summarized the situation with respect to commercial treaties negotiated by the American commissioners. The treaty with Prussia had been concluded in July; discussions with other nations were in process, but the results were not assured.¹ In bargaining for the trade so desperately needed, the diplomats would have to take as firm a stand as possible. But always the ebb and flow of power politics must be closely watched.

    Both Adams and Jefferson knew that...

  8. 4 “Abate the ardor of those pyrates against us” MAY 1786 – JANUARY 1787
    (pp. 125-162)

    In March 1786 at the request of John Adams, Jefferson visited England on a mission which proved to be fruitless and frustrating diplomatically, though pleasant enough otherwise. The two friends made a tour of English gardens, Jefferson with Thomas Whately’s Observations on Modern Gardening in hand, Adams with an eye to historic sites and the ostentatious luxury of country estates.¹ Jefferson must also have enjoyed frequent visits in the Adams household, where Colonel William Stephens Smith, secretary of the American legation, would soon take young Abigail as his bride. The Virginian sat for a portrait by Mather Brown and presented...

  9. 5 “The first principle of a good government” JANUARY – OCTOBER 1787
    (pp. 163-204)

    Life and History are full” of political lessons, too often disregarded, Adams wrote Jefferson in October 1787.¹ On both sides of the Atlantic the world was stirring with great events. The ancien régime of France was tottering on the brink of revolution. Vergennes, vigilant defender of the Bourbon monarchy, who at times lent a sympathetic though enigmatic ear to American interests, had died in February. Thus a strategic link had been severed in the diplomatic chain of command accessible to Jefferson. In Philadelphia the Federal Convention was in secret session throughout the summer, debating the political future of the American...

  10. 6 “On ... Guard against the immeasurable avarice of Amsterdam” NOVEMBER I787 – MAY I789
    (pp. 205-238)

    In the history of the American Republic as well as in the careers of its two ministers to the courts of western Europe, the years 1788-89 marked the end of an era. This was, in fact, the end of an era in the Western world. In February 1787 Jefferson learned that Adams had requested Congress to relieve him of his office so that he might return home.¹ To Jefferson this was most unwelcome news, for he relied on Adams for advice and felt more confidence in his own diplomatic maneuvers because he respected Adams’s judgment and longer experience. At the...

  11. 7 “The Age of Experiments in Government” APRIL 1790 – MARCH 1801
    (pp. 239-264)

    The correspondence between Adams and Jefferson during the 1790’s provides something less than even a bare outline of their participation in the political events which profoundly affected the development of the United States. The paucity of correspondence may be accounted for during the early years of the decade by their close personal contact in public affairs which made letters unnecessary, during the later years by their political differences.

    When Jefferson learned that Adams had been elected vice-president of the United States, he wrote from France in May 1789 to congratulate him and pay “cordial homage.”¹ Six months later he returned...

  12. 8 “Faithfull are the wounds of a Friend” MAY – OCTOBER 1804
    (pp. 265-282)

    On April 17, 1804, Mary Jefferson Eppes died at Monticello at the age of twenty-five. Pressing presidential duties, made heavier by the session of Congress extending through March, required Jefferson’s presence in Washington, but he arrived home before his daughter’s death.¹ With unaccustomed lack of restraint, he poured forth his grief to the friend of his boyhood, John Page. “Having lost even the half of all I had, my evening prospects now hang on the slender thread of a single life [his daughter Martha Randolph]. Perhaps I may be destined to see even this last chord of parental affection broken!”²...

  13. 9 “Whether you or I were right Posterity must judge” JANUARY 1812 – JUNE 1813
    (pp. 283-340)

    During the summer of 1811 Edward Coles, secretary to President Madison, and his brother John were traveling through the northern states, armed with letters of introduction from the President to various statesmen they hoped to meet. John Adams was of course on their list. Cordially received by Mr. and Mrs. Adams, the Coles brothers found their host in a reminiscent mood and they spent the better part of two days talking with him about the history of the United States and especially his presidential administration. As Adams warmed to the subject, he voiced his grievances against Jefferson and recalled events...

  14. 10 “Belief ... the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition” JUNE 1813 – DECEMBER 1813
    (pp. 341-413)

    I have given up newspapers,” Jefferson informed Adams on the resumption of their correspondence in 1812, “in exchange for Tactitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid.” Adams, with his New England background, found most pleasure in “Theological and Ecclesiastical Instructors.”¹ The major interest of Jefferson in historical and scientific questions, of Adams in theological and religious, is characteristic of each, as their wide-ranging minds were characteristic of the Enlightenment. The intensive reading and worldly experience of each enriched the reflections of the other. Much of that experience had been in politics, which Jefferson had gladly abandoned but which Adams followed...

  15. 11 “The Eighteenth Century... most honourable to human Nature” JANUARY 1814 – MAY 1816
    (pp. 414-474)

    As philosophical citizens of the eighteenth century, Adams and Jefferson witnessed the rude shaking and shattering of their world by the Napoleonic Wars. With Europe in turmoil and reactionary forces in the ascendant during the opening decades of the new century, the two American statesmen weighed their own era and found the balance in its favor. In spite of errors and vices, declared Adams, it was “the most honourable to human Nature.... Arts, Sciences useful to Men, ameliorating their condition, were improved, more than in any former equal Period.”¹ Jefferson agreed. “I think too we may add, to the great...

  16. 12 “The advantages of education ... on the broad scale” AUGUST 1816 – DECEMBER 1819
    (pp. 475-551)

    During the early years of reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson, the latter’s correspondence with Mrs. Adams was resumed, but it was sparse and restrained and without any regularity. She had terminated their exchange of 1804 and it was proper that she make the first gesture for renewal of their friendship. At the urging of her husband, she added a halfhearted postscript to his letter to Jefferson in May 1812, and a year later, by the same device, she sent “the regards of an old Friend, which are still cherished and preserved through all the changes and vi [ci] ssitudes which...

  17. 13 “Calms succeeding the storm which our Argosy ... so stoutly weathered” JANUARY 1820 – APRIL 1826
    (pp. 552-614)

    Adams and jefferson grew old gracefully, exemplifying some of the better qualities that Cicero commended in his essay on the subject, De Senectute, familiar to a generation steeped in the classics. At least three reasons may be suggested for the contentment reflected in their letters. Retirement, which came in their sixties, resulted from desire, not compulsion. Adams was eager to return to Quincy in 1801 after his stormy presidential administration. He conceded that “ennui, when it rains on a man in large drops, is worse than one of our northeast storms; but the labors of agriculture and amusement of letters...

  18. INDEX
    (pp. 615-638)