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 expression of it, I forgave it cordially, and returned to the same state of esteem & respect for him which had so long subsisted … I have thus, my dear Madam, opened myself to you without reserve, which I have long wished an opportunity of doing; and, without knowing how it will be recieved, I feel relief from being unbosomed … that you may both be favored with health, tranquility and long life, is the prayer of one who tenders you the assurances of his highest consideration and esteem.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Choosing to forgive is an empowering leadership trait.
In previous posts from this letter, Jefferson thanked Adams for the condolence for his deceased daughter, reaffirmed his esteem for her, and then described the only act of her husband, former President John Adams, that he considered personally unkind. He continued that thread in this post.
Most, but not all, of John Adams’ actions Jefferson could attribute to political foes. Yet, Adams himself was responsible in some smaller measure. Jefferson admitted brooding over Adams’ offenses, even speaking of those offenses with others. And then, “I forgave it cordially,” he wrote and resumed his long-held esteem for Mr. Adams.
Jefferson had the desire to preserve friendship despite political differences. He was able to forgive most offenses and knew the futility of holding a grudge. He was far more inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt and move on.
Abigail Adams would have none of it. Her reply contained a full-throated justification of her husband’s actions, the ones Jefferson found personally unkind. She condemned Jefferson’s involvement with the scandal-monger journalist, James Callendar. She also bore a personal offense for his denying her son John Quincy Adams, a federal position.