Tag Archives: Abigail Adams

Would honest Democrats and honest Republican today agree?

both of our political parties, at least the honest portion 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 fears most the ignorance of the people: the other the selfishness of rulers independant of them. which is right, time & experience will prove … with whichever opinion the body of the nation concurs, that must prevail…
I conclude with sincere prayers for your health & happiness that yourself & mr Adams may long enjoy the tranquility 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 Abigail Adams, September 11, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders agree on the goals, differ on the means to achieve them.
The President and former First Lady exchanged nine letters after Adams’ initial condolences on the death of Jefferson’s daughter, Maria. Each sought to explain (or justify) their position to the other. Jefferson was more conciliatory, separating political differences from personal ones. Mrs. Adams was more combative and unrelenting, unable to divorce the political from the personal.
Jefferson made three points about their differences:
1. Honest political leaders had the same goal, the public good, differing only in how to achieve that goal.
2. One party feared people incapable of self-government. The other feared self-seeking leaders unaccountable to the voters.
3. “time & experience” would prove which position was right, as determined by a majority vote of the citizens.

He concluded, as always, with a strong expression of his regard and hopes for the Adamses. It is unlikely he had an effect on Mrs. Adams. She did not respond, as she had three times before. This was the final letter between the two of them. Eight years later, Jefferson and John Adams would resume their long-derailed friendship.

“I sincerely appreciate and thank you for your outstanding
and motivation[al] presentation and for providing inspiration to our audience.”
Chair, Seattle Federal Executive Board
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Forgiven! Friends again? Part 4 of 4

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.

As a meeting planner, it was a pleasure to work with you…
I look forward to working with you in the future.”
Legislative Services Manager, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives
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That really hurt! (But it was the only hurt.) Part 3 of 4

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 embarrasment of acting thro’ 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.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should a leader deliberately handicap his successor?
After appreciating her condolences on the death of his daughter and affirming his unflagging respect for Mrs. Adams, he turned to the differences between himself and her husband, the former President, John Adams. Those differences he described as political, not personal … except in one instance.

When Adams had been defeated for re-election by someone of the opposite party (Jefferson), but before he left office, he filled a number of vacancies with men he knew would be strong opponents of the new President. That left Jefferson in a no-win situation. He could try to work with people who would deliberately undermine him, or dismiss them and experience considerable public backlash.

Jefferson considered it “but common justice” to let him choose his own officers. That her husband sought to deprive him of that choice was the “one act of mr Adams’s life … and one only” that was “personally unkind.”

” … the Society received more favorable comments and inquiries …
than we have had about any other program …”
First Vice President, Boone County Historical Society
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Death has opened a door for me. Part 2 of 4

… [I] am thankful for the occasion … 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 honoured me has ever been valued, and fully reciprocated; & altho’ 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, have ever been lessened for a single moment, although doubts whether it would be acceptable may have forbidden manifestations of it.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek to restore damaged friendships.
Earlier in this letter, Jefferson expressed his appreciation for Adams’ condolences on the recent death of his daughter, Maria. He used that opening to address another subject, his regret about any damage to their friendship which resulted from his replacing her husband as President.

He expressed appreciation for the honor of her friendship. He esteemed her highly. Although political differences took their toll on some friendships, he did not believe it had affected theirs. He had no doubts about the quality of her character, and his high regard for her remained unchanged.

He waffled a little at the end when he expressed doubt whether she would have received any earlier affirmation of his esteem. That doubt “may have forbidden” his making that position known. In other words, he had said nothing out of concern that she wouldn’t accept it, rather than taking the initiative to repair any misunderstandings.

“We have used Mr. Lee on various trips over the last five years …
We intend to use Patrick Lee on future trips …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
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On the death of our children … Part 1 of 4

The affectionate sentiments … in your letter of May 20. towards my dear departed daughter, have awakened in me sensibilities natural to the occasion, & recalled your kindnesses to her which I shall ever remember with gratitude & 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…
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Suffering leaders value encouragement from fellow sufferers.
Still smarting over grievances between her husband, the previous President, and his successor, the current President, Abigail Adams delayed acknowledging the death of his daughter. Finally overwhelmed by her affections for Maria Jefferson, she wrote a sincere letter of condolence. Three of her six children preceded her in death, and she knew what her former friend was experiencing. (Maria’s passing marked the fifth of Jefferson’s six children to die.)

Jefferson thanked Abigail, reminiscing about when she and Maria became close. Maria never waned in her affection for Mrs. Adams and always asked her father for news about her. Acknowledging Adams’ kindness to his daughter allowed him to “perform a sacred duty for her…”

The President had more to express to the former First Lady. That will be the subject of future posts.

” … please accept this letter of thanks and appreciation
for your outstanding presentation … “
Staff Advisory Council Chair, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
University of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson addressed the staff in a huge garage amidst multiple farm machines.
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We are old, good and about done.

… could I … count backwards a score of years, it would not be long before [my grand-daughter] Ellen and myself would pay our homage personally to [you and Mr. Adams in] Quincy [Massachusetts]. But those twenty years! Alas! where are they? … Our next meeting must then be in the country to which they have flown,—a country for us not now very distant … I heard once a very old friend, who had troubled himself with neither poets nor philosophers, say … that he was tired of pulling off his shoes and stockings at night, and putting them on again in the morning …
On the whole, however, perhaps it is wise and well to be contented with the good things which the master of the feast places before us, and to be thankful for what we have, rather than thoughtful about what we have not. You and I, dear Madam, have already had more than an ordinary portion of life, and more, too, of health than the general measure. On this score I owe boundless thankfulness.
 … that life and health may be continued to you as many years as yourself shall wish, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate and respectful friend.
To Abigail Adams, January 11, 1817
Selected Writings of TJ, by Koch & Peden, Pages 618-9

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Old and thoughtful leaders cherish friendships and remain grateful.
The 73 year old Jefferson wrote to the 72 year old wife of his friend John Adams. The two men had put their differences aside when they resumed their friendship in 1813, but Abigail may never have completely forgiven Jefferson for the offenses her husband suffered at Republican hands. Still, Jefferson enjoyed the company of intellectual women, and Abigail certainly fit that mold.
Always seeking common ground, he turned to their shared experience in old age. Jefferson appreciated the full lives and good health both had enjoyed. He repeated a common theme of gratitude for what he did have rather than longing for what he lacked. For those blessings, he credited “the master of the feast.”
There would be a final business-like correspondence several months later. Abigail requested letters of introduction for a young friend traveling to France. Jefferson responded as best as he could. Though his benediction wished her many more years, Abigail Adams died 21 months later, October 28, 1818.

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