John Adams and Thomas Jefferson first met at the 1775 Continental Congress in Philadelphia. They became close friends despite the “different conclusions we had drawn from our political reading,” as Jefferson put it.
In fact, they worked together on the “Committee of Five” to draft the Declaration of Independence.
The two founders maintained their friendship until Jefferson became president in 1801. Outgoing President Adams, hoping to ease the transition of power, made political appointments consisting of Jefferson’s ‘Hamiltonian’ political rivals.
Then, in 1809, Jefferson retired from the presidency, and Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, worked for two years to revive the friendship between the two. Jefferson lived in Virginia, and Adams in Massachusetts. Even so, the resulting correspondence is legendary, and they did not shy away from discussing political issues, philosophy, and religion.
Fittingly, on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other.
Letters, Life, and Liberty
Though often opposed politically, they shared critical common ground regarding the source of our liberty, as evidenced by the following quotes. The first is from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Next, from a letter that Adams wrote to Jefferson on June 28, 1813:
“Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.”
This combined quote is inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial:
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Finally, from the founder that helped mend a broken friendship, Benjamin Rush:
“Without [religion], there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”