University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

expand sectionA. 
expand sectionB. 
expand sectionC. 
expand sectionD. 
expand sectionE. 
expand sectionF. 
expand sectionG. 
expand sectionH. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionJ. 
expand sectionK. 
expand sectionL. 
expand sectionM. 
expand sectionN. 
expand sectionO. 
expand sectionP. 
expand sectionQ. 
expand sectionR. 
expand sectionS. 
expand sectionT. 
expand sectionU. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionW. 
expand sectionX. 
expand sectionY. 
expand sectionZ. 

collapse section 
expand section 
collapse section 
expand section 


Page 988


[To Mrs. John Adams.]

Dear Madam,—The affectionate sentiments which you have had the goodness to express
in your letter of May 20, towards my dear departed daughter, have awakened in me sensibilities
natural to the occasion, and recalled your kindness to her, which I shall ever remember with
gratitude and friendship. I can assure you with truth, they had made an indelible impression
on her mind, and that to the last, on our meetings after long separations, whether I had heard
lately of you, and how you did, were among the earliest of her enquiries. In giving you this
assurance I perform a sacred duty for her, and, at the same time, am thankful for the occasion
furnished me, of expressing my regret that circumstances should have arisen, which have
seemed to draw a line of separation between us. The friendship with which you honored me
has ever been valued, and fully reciprocated; and although events have been passing which
might be trying to some minds, I never believed yours to be of that kind, nor felt that my
own was. Neither my estimate of your character, nor the esteem founded in that, has ever
been lessened for a single moment, although doubts whether it would be acceptable may have
forbidden manifestations of it.

Mr. Adams's friendship and mine began at an earlier date. It accompanied us through
long and important scenes. The different conclusions we had drawn from our political reading
and reflections, were not permitted to lessen personal esteem; each party being conscious they
were the result of an honest conviction in the other. Like differences of opinion existing among
our fellow citizens, attached them to one or the other of us, and produced a rivalship in their
minds which did not exist in ours. We never stood in one another's way; for it either
had been withdrawn at any time, his favorers would not have gone over to the
other, but would have sought for some one of homogeneous opinions. This consideration
was sufficient to keep down all jealousy between us, and to guard our friendship
from any disturbance by sentiments of rivalship; and I can say with truth, that
one act of Mr. Adams's life, and one only, ever gave me a moment's personal displeasure.
I did consider his last appointments to office as personally unkind. They were from among
my most ardent political enemies, from whom no faithful cooperation could ever be expected;
and laid me under the embarrassment of acting through men whose views were to defeat mine,
or to encounter the odium of putting others in their places. It seemed but common justice to
leave a successor free to act by instruments of his own choice. If my respect for him did not
permit me to ascribe the whole blame to the influence of others, it left something for friendship
to forgive, and after brooding over it for some little time, and not always resisting the
expressing of it, I forgave it cordially, and returned to the same state of esteem and respect
for him which had so long subsisted. Having come into life a little later than Mr. Adams,
his career has preceded mine, as mine is followed by some other; and it will probably be closed
at the same distance after him which time originally placed between us. I maintain for him,
and shall carry into private life, an uniform and high measure of respect and good will, and for
yourself a sincere attachment. * * *—
To Mrs. John Adams. iv, 545. Ford ed., viii, 306. (W., June 1804.)

[To Mrs. John Adams.]

Dear Madam,—Your favor of the 1st inst. was duly received, and I would not have again
intruded on you, but to rectify certain facts which seem not to have been presented to you under
their true aspects. [529] My charities to Callender are considered as rewards for his calumnies. As
early, I think, as 1796, I was told in Philadelphia that Callender, the author of the “Political
Progress of Britain”, was in that city, a fugitive from persecution for having written that book,
and in distress. I had read and approved the book; I considered him as a man of genius, unjustly
persecuted. I knew nothing of his private character, and immediately expressed my readiness
to contribute to his relief, and to serve him. It was a considerable time after, that, on application
from a person who thought of him as I did, I contributed to his relief, and afterwards
repeated the contribution. Himself I did not see till long after, nor ever more than two or
three times. When he first began to write, he told some useful truths in his coarse way;
but nobody sooner disapproved of his writing than I did, or wished more that he would be
silent. My charities to him were no more meant as encouragements to his scurrilities, than
those I give to the beggar at my door are meant as rewards for the vices of his life, and to
make them chargeable to myself. In truth, they would have been greater to him, had he never
written a word after the work for which he fled from Britain. * * *

But another fact is, that “I liberated a wretch who was suffering for a libel against Mr.
Adams”. I do not know who was the particular wretch alluded to; but I discharged every
person under punishment or prosecution under the Sedition law, because I considered, and now
consider, that law to be a nullity, as absolute and as palpable as if Congress had ordered us to
fall down and worship a golden image; and that it was as much my duty to arrest its execution
in every stage, as it would have been to have rescued from the fiery furnace those who
should have been cast into it for refusing to worship the image. It was accordingly done in
every instance, without asking what the offenders had done, or against whom they had offended,
but whether the pains they were suffering were inflicted under the pretended Sedition law.
It was certainly possible that my motives for contributing to the relief of Callender, and
liberating sufferers under the Sedition law, might have been to protect, encourage, and reward
slander; but they may also have been those which inspire ordinary charities to objects
of distress, meritorious or not, or the obligation of an oath to protect the Constitution, violated
by an unauthorized act of Congress. Which of these were my motives, must be decided by a [530]


Page 989
regard to the general tenor of my life. On this I am not afraid to appeal to the nation at large,
to posterity, and still less to that Being who sees Himself our motives, who will judge us from
His own knowledge of them, and not on the testimony of “Porcupine” or Fenno.

You observe, there has been one other act of my administration personally unkind, and
suppose it will readily suggest itself to me. I declare on my honor, Madam, I have not the
least conception what act is alluded to. I never did a single one with an unkind intention.

* * *—
To Mrs. John Adams. iv, 555. Ford ed., viii, 308. (July 1804.)


Mrs. Adams, in replying to the preceding letter, put forward Jefferson's patronage of Editor Callender
as an offset to the midnight appointments. See Callender.—Editor.


Quotation 59 gives the part of the letter omitted at this point.—Editor.

[To Mrs. John Adams.]

Your letter, Madam, of the 18th of August, has been some days received, but a press of
business has prevented the acknowledgment of it; perhaps, indeed, I may have already trespassed
too far on your attention. With those who wish to think amiss of me, I have learned
to be perfectly indifferent; but where I know a mind to be ingenuous, and to need only truth
to set it to rights, I cannot be as passive. The act of personal unkindness alluded to in your
former letter, is said in your last to have been the removal of your eldest son from some office
to which the judges had appointed him. I conclude, then, he must have been a commissioner
of bankruptcy. But I declare to you, on my honor, that this is the first knowledge
I have ever had that he was so. It may be thought, perhaps, that I ought to have enquired
who were such, before I appointed others. But it is to be observed, that the former law
permitted the judges to name commissioners occasionally only, for every case as it arose,
and not to make them permanent officers. Nobody, therefore, being in office, there could
be no removal. The judges, you well know, have been considered as highly federal; and
it was noted that they confined their nominations exclusively to federalists. The Legislature,
dissatisfied with this, transferred the nomination to the President, and made the
offices permanent. The very object in passing the law was, that he should correct, not
confirm, what was deemed the partiality of the judges. I thought it, therefore, proper to
inquire, not whom they had employed, but whom I ought to appoint to fulfil the intentions
of the law. In making these appointments, I put in a proportion of federalists, equal, I
believe, to the proportion they bear in numbers through the Union generally. Had I known
that your son had acted, it would have been a real pleasure to me to have preferred him
to some who were named in Boston, in what was deemed the same line of politics. To this
I should have been led by my knowledge of his integrity, as well as my sincere dispositions
towards yourself and Mr. Adams [531] . * * * The candor manifested in your letter,
and which I ever believed you to possess, has alone inspired the desire of calling your
attention, once more, to those circumstances of fact and motive by which I claim to be
judged. I hope you will see these intrusions on your time to be, what they really are, proofs
of my great respect for you. I tolerate with the utmost latitude the right of others to differ
from me in opinion without imputing to them criminality. I know too well the weakness
and uncertainty of human reason to wonder at its different results. Both of our political
parties, at least the honest part of them, agree conscientiously in the same object—the public
good; but they differ essentially in what they deem the means of promoting that good.
One side believes it best done by one composition of the governing powers; the other, by a
different one. One fears most the ignorance of the people; the other, the selfishness of rulers
independent of them. Which is right, time and experience will prove. We think that one
side of this experiment has been long enough tried, and proved not to promote the good of
the many; and that the other has not been fairly and sufficiently tried. Our opponents
think the reverse. With whichever opinion the body of the nation concurs, that must
prevail. My anxieties on this subject will never carry me beyond the use of fair and honorable
means, of truth and reason; nor have they ever lessened my esteem for moral worth,
nor alienated my affections from a single friend, who did not first withdraw himself. Whenever
this has happened, I confess I have not been insensible to it; yet have ever kept myself
open to a return of their justice. I conclude with sincere prayers for your health and
happiness, that yourself and Mr. Adams may long enjoy the tranquillity you desire and merit,
and see in the prosperity of your family what is the consummation of the last and warmest
of human wishes.—
To Mrs. John Adams.iv, 560. Ford ed., viii, 310. (M., Sep. 11, 1804.)


The part of the letter omitted here is printed in this volume under the title, Sedition Law, Executive
vs. Judiciary.—Editor.

[To Dr. Benjamin Rush.]

I receive with sensibility your observations on the discontinuance of friendly correspondence
between Mr. Adams and myself, and the concern you take in its restoration. This discontinuance
has not proceeded from me, nor from the want of sincere desire and of effort on my
part, to renew our intercourse. You know the perfect coincidence of principle and of action,
in the early part of the Revolution, which produced a high degree of mutual respect and
esteem between Mr. Adams and myself. Certainly no man was ever truer than he was, in
that day, to those principles of rational republicanism which, after the necessity of throwing
off our monarchy, dictated all our efforts in the establishment of a new government. And
although he swerved, afterwards, towards the principles of the English constitution, our
friendship did not abate on that account [532] . * * *

You remember the machinery which the federalists played off, about that time, to beat
down the friends to the real principles of our Constitution, to silence by terror every expression
in their favor, to bring us into war with France and alliance with England, and
finally to homologize our Constitution with that of England. Mr. Adams, you know, was
overwhelmed with feverish addresses, dictated by the fear, and often by the pen, of the
bloody buoy, and was seduced by them into some open indications of his new principles of


Page 990
government, and in fact, was so elated as to mix with his kindness a little superciliousness
towards me. Even Mrs. Adams, with all her good sense and prudence, was sensibly flushed.
And you recollect the short suspension of our intercourse, and the circumstance which gave
rise to it which you were so good as to bring to an early explanation, and have set to rights,
to the cordial satisfaction of us all [533] . * * *

Two or three years after, having had the misfortune to lose a daughter, between whom
and Mrs. Adams there had been a considerable attachment, she made it the occasion of writing
me a letter, in which, with the tenderest expression of concern at this event, she carefully
avoided a single one of friendship towards myself, and even concluded it with the wishes “of
her who once took pleasure in subscribing herself your friend, Abigail Adams”. Unpromising
as was the complexion of this letter, I determined to make an effort towards removing the
cloud from between us. This brought on a correspondence which I now enclose for your
perusal, after which be so good as to return it to me, as I have never communicated it to
any mortal breathing, before. I send it to you, to convince you I have not been wanting
either in the desire, or the endeavor to remove this misunderstanding. Indeed, I thought
it highly disgraceful to us both, as indicating minds not sufficiently elevated to prevent a
public competition from affecting our personal friendship. I soon found from the correspondence
that conciliation was desperate, and yielding to an intimation in her last letter, I ceased
from further explanation [534] . * * *

I have gone into these details, that you might know everything which had passed between
us, might be fully possessed of the state of facts and dispositions, and judge for yourself whether
they admit a revival of that friendly intercourse for which you are so kindly solicitous. I
shall certainly not be wanting in anything on my part which may second your efforts, which
will be the easier with me, inasmuch as I do not entertain a sentiment of Mr. Adams, the expression
of which could give him reasonable offence.—To Dr. Benjamin Rush. v, 558. Ford
ed., ix, 299. (M., Jan. 1811.)


For omitted clause, see quotation 89.—Editor.


Quotations 77, 78; 83 and 88 give the continuation of the text.—Editor.


Quotations 72 and 60, read consecutively, supply the omission in the text.—Editor.

[To Dr. Benjamin Rush.]

I communicated to you the correspondence which had parted Mrs. Adams and myself, in
proof that I could not give friendship in exchange for such sentiments as she had recently
taken up towards myself, and avowed and maintained in her letters to me. Nothing but a
total renunciation of these could admit a reconciliation, and that could be cordial only in proportion
as the return to ancient opinions was believed sincere. In these jaundiced sentiments
of hers I had associated Mr. Adams, knowing the weight which her opinions had with him,
and notwithstanding she declared in her letters that they were not communicated to him. A
late incident has satisfied me that I wronged him as well as her, in not yielding entire confidence
to this assurance on her part. Two of the Mr.——, my neighbors and friends,
took a tour to the northward during the last summer. In Boston they fell into company with
Mr. Adams, and * * * passed a day with him at Braintree. He spoke out to them everything
which came uppermost, * * * and seemed most disposed to dwell on those things
which happened during his own administration. He spoke of his masters, as he called his
Heads of departments, as acting above his control, and often against his opinions. Among
many other topics, he adverted to the unprincipled licentiousness of the press against myself,
adding, “I always loved Jefferson, and still love him”.

This is enough for me. I only needed this knowledge to revive towards him all the affections
of the most cordial moments of our lives. Changing a single word only in Dr. Franklin's
character of him, I knew him to be always an honest man, often a great one, but sometimes
incorrect and precipitate in his judgments; and it is known to those who have ever heard me
speak of Mr. Adams, that I have ever done him justice myself, and defended him when, assailed
by others, with the single exception as to political opinions. But with a man possessing
so many other estimable qualities, why should we be dissocialized by mere differences of
opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, or anything else? His opinions are as honestly
formed as my own. Our different views of the same subject are the result of a difference
in our organization and experience. I never withdrew from the society of any man on this
account, although many have done it from me; much less should I do it from one with whom
I had gone through, with hand and heart, so many trying scenes. I wish, therefore, but for
an apposite occasion to express to Mr. Adams my unchanged affections for him. There is an
awkwardness which hangs over the resuming a correspondence so long discontinued, unless
something could arise which should call for a letter. Time and chance may perhaps generate
such an occasion, of which I shall not be wanting in promptitude to avail myself. From this
fusion of mutual affections, Mrs. Adams is, of course, separated. It will only be necessary
that I never name her. In your letters to Mr. Adams, you can, perhaps suggest my continued
cordiality towards him, and knowing this, should an occasion of writing first present itself to
him, he will, perhaps, avail himself of it, as I certainly will, should it first occur to me. No
ground for jealousy now existing, he will certainly give fair play to the natural warmth of his
To Dr. Benjamin Rush. Washington ed., vi, 30. Ford ed., ix, 299. (P.F., Dec. 1811.)