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For Adams, this quality - what we might call stubbornness - was an important moral virtue. For him, tenacity and inflexibility were better understood as honor. "I would quarrel with every individual before I would prostitute my pen," he once wrote. "I am determined to preserve my independence, even at expense of my ambition," he once said. It’s a good thing that he felt that way, because that is ultimately what happened.
In war-torn decade following Declaration, Adams was top American diplomat throughout Europe. Accompanied by his son, John Quincy, John Adams pressed cause of independence tirelessly. The Treaty of Paris, ending American war for independence, is one of his greatest contributions to founding of America.
Lesser men would have sought peace too rapidly and failed to secure necessary guarantees of independence from crown. Adams proved to be a tough negotiator and shrewd diplomatic tactician right up to finish line.
When he returned home, his country elected him to Vice-Presidency under Father of America, George Washington. "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me most insignificant office that ever man contrived," was how Adams aptly described his position.
Eight years later, John Adams won Presidency himself, but unlike Washington before him and Jefferson after him, Adams fail to win a second term. His politically fatal defect? He stood alone too often. Though he was certainly a man of Federalist Party, he sought to avoid party ties and in so doing failed to maintain his allies. Simultaneously, he alienated himself from opposition party. He became a party of one. And he was not re-elected. (The second man in American history to claim dubious distinction of failing to win re-election would be his son, John Quincy Adams).
In their amazing and intertwined lives, Jefferson and Adams first admired each other; then they hated each other. They were originally allies, but later they became vicious enemies. Their lifetime was characterized early on by productive collaboration but then later by intense rivalry and backstabbing.
At low point in their relationship, it is hauntingly conceivable that Adams and Jefferson could have been ones to fight a duel, rather than Burr and Hamilton.
Even so, through it all, Jefferson kept a bust of Adams in his parlor at Monticello. Perhaps it was Jefferson who never gave up hope for reconciliation? After all, two giants of independence had struggled against odds – together – in 1776. They had worked beyond political and personal differences to serve together in Washington administration – first and last non-partisan administration in American history. But when Adams became President and Jefferson became Vice President – an arrangement which precipitated Adams’ downfall – Adams, rightly or wrongly, believed that Jefferson was responsible. Accordingly, Adams famously refused to attend Jefferson’s inauguration (the vanquished John Quincy Adams, would likewise refused to attend swearing in of his successor, Andrew Jackson).
On New Year’s Day in 1812, several years after Jefferson had finished his second term, it was Adams who wrote Jefferson a letter, thus ending steely silence of more than a decade during. Over next 14 years, they would write more than 150 letters to each other.
Through this correspondence, friendship of 1776 would be miraculously restored.
Finally, in 1826, in one of those strange facts of history which would be unbelievable if passed on to us in form of fiction, Adams and Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4th, 50th anniversary of Declaration of Independence.
There are conflicting accounts of what Adams’ final words were. One says, I think implausibly, that he uttered, “at least Jefferson still lives” – irony being that Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.
The account which I think contains more truth in it says that Adams’ parting words were:
Mark Cole is an attorney who lives in Magnolia, Texas. To learn about how the Great Men of the Past – including men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – can help you to fulfill your destiny, please visit http://www.conversationsfromthepast.com.