“Quite at My Leisure”
Jefferson and Adams on the
Eve of the Battle in 1796
EARLY IN 1796 Washington told his cabinet that he planned to retire at the end of his term. 1 Adams already knew of Washington's plans, as Martha Washington had informed him a couple of weeks earlier. Having all along considered himself to be Washington's legitimate successor, Adams immediately informed Abigail that he would be a candidate in the election of 1796. 2 Jefferson appears not to have known what Washington had divulged to his closest associates, and if he did divine anything of the president's intention, he said nothing when he and Adams briefly resumed their correspondence that year.
Adams wrote to Jefferson in January, his first correspondence with the Virginian in years. He envied Jefferson's retirement, he began, then unctuously exclaimed that he too planned to leave public life when his term expired in fourteen months. It is unlikely that Jefferson believed this tripe. 3 Although he said nothing about the coming election, Adams coyly dilated on the “foul Fiend” of electoral degeneracy, and went on to descant on how he and Jefferson would be able to close their careers with their “Hearts pure and hands clean of all Corruption in Elections.” It appears that Adams, who expected Jefferson to run against him, was obliquely exhorting his likely foe to renounce the base partisanship that had characterized the newspaper wars and, increasingly, local elections in recent years. 4 Jefferson did not take the bait.