April 6, 1796 – March 24, 1801
These five letters span a presidency. In the 1796 election JA succeeded George Washington by beating TJ 71-68 (in electoral votes). As the second place finisher TJ automatically got to be vice president (Thomas Pinckney came in third with 59, but who the hell cares). They pretty much did not speak for the next 4 years, and then TJ won the rematch 73-65. (Actually, Aaron Burr got 73 votes too, which led to House of Representatives shenanigans to decide the winner, which ended up being TJ—whatevs.)
The letters here weren’t even written during JA’s presidency, just before and after. Let’s highlight three of them.
The first is a letter of congratulations from TJ to JA, which TJ never even sent in the end—another knock on his character, if you ask me. I only bring it up because of this line:
TJ to JA: “I devoutly wish you may be able to shun for us this war by which our agriculture, commerce and credit will be destroyed. If you are, the glory will be all your own; and that your administration may be filled with glory and happiness to yourself….”
This was interesting to me in light of Joseph Ellis’s comment in American Creation: “Adams took considerable delight in committing political suicide by refusing to fight a popular war with France in 1799, a decision that led to his defeat in 1800 but that he forever regarded as the finest moment of his presidency.” It’s hard not to love this guy. Ellis calls him “the last of a classical breed.”
The next letter comes four years later. JA to TJ: “In order to save you the trouble and Expense of purchasing Horses and Carriages, which will not be necessary, I have to inform you that I shall leave in the stables of the United States seven Horses and two Carriages with Harness and Property of the United States. These may not be suitable for you: but they will certainly save you a considerable Expense as they belong to the studd of the President’s Household.” Keepin’ it classy, JA.
The third letter defies the tone of this post up to now, but that is life. At the White House, President Jefferson received a letter addressed to JA, and passed it along to him at his home in Quincy, MA. JA responds: “Had you read the Papers inclosed they might have given you a moment of melancholly or at least Sympathy with a mourning Father. They relate wholly to the Funeral of a Son who was once the delight of my Eyes and a darling of my heart, cutt off in the flower of his days, amidst very flattering Prospects by causes which have been the greatest Grief of my heart and the deepest affliction of my Life. It is not possible that any thing of the kind should hapen to you, and I sincerely wish you may never experience any thing in any degree resembling it.”
Anyone who has seen HBO’s John Adams may remember JA’s alcoholic son, Charles, who died on November 30, 1800, at the age of 30. Sadly, four years later TJ did experience a similar loss with the death of his daughter, Mary, at the age of 25. I mentioned her visit with the Adams in London in a previous post.
Politics and trivia suddenly fade at the loss of a loved one.