The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams

The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams

The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams

The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams

Synopsis

An intellectual dialogue of the highest plane achieved in America, the correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson spanned half a century and embraced government, philosophy, religion, quotidiana, and family griefs and joys. First meeting as delegates to the Continental Congress in 1775, they initiated correspondence in 1777, negotiated jointly as ministers in Europe in the 1780s, and served the early Republic--each, ultimately, in its highest office. At Jefferson's defeat of Adams for the presidency in 1800, they became estranged, and the correspondence lapses from 1801 to 1812, then is renewed until the death of both in 1826, fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence.

Lester J. Cappon's edition, first published in 1959 in two volumes, provides the complete correspondence between these two men and includes the correspondence between Abigail Adams and Jefferson. Many of these letters have been published in no other modern edition, nor does any other edition devote itself exclusively to the exchange between Jefferson and the Adamses. Introduction, headnotes, and footnotes inform the reader without interrupting the speakers. This reissue of The Adams-Jefferson Letters in a one-volume unabridged edition brings to a broader audience one of the monuments of American scholarship and, to quote C. Vann Woodward, 'a major treasure of national literature.'

Excerpt

No correspondence in American history is more quotable or more readily recognized for its historical significance than that of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Yet, only now, a century and a third after their deaths in 1826, is their exchange of letters presented in full. Publication was first anticipated in their lifetime but never encouraged by them. During the political controversies which cast a long shadow over their public careers, they suffered embarrassment from the unauthorized printing of occasional letters written in confidence. the years of retirement, they hoped, would provide a partial escape from the virulence of party strife and the publicity of high office. But statesmen, even in retirement, still belong to the public, as Jefferson learned from personal experience. He concluded in 1815 that his correspondence with Adams had been observed in the post offices, because a printer “has had the effrontery to propose to me the letting him publish it. These people think they have a right to everything however secret or sacred.”

If idle curiosity or selfish motives often aroused the momentary interest of the public, the intelligent citizen had some appreciation, however limited, of the writings of these statesmen as records of historical events. Adams and Jefferson, who lived long enough to acquire perspective on their own times, had become historical figures to the younger generation. As actors on the Revolutionary stage, they were asked innumerable questions about that heroic period, scarcely a half-century removed, which had already acquired the aura of history

1. tj to ja, Aug. 10, 1815, June 1, 1822, below, 453, 578.

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