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.”