The Later Years and Last Words of John Adams

John Adams, Second President of the United States
Independence National Historical Park

"Thomas Jefferson still survives." These were the famous last words of America's second president of the United States, John Adams. He died on July 4, 1826 at the age of 92, on the same day as President Thomas Jefferson. Little did he realize that he actually outlived his former rival who turned into great friend by a few hours. 

The relationship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams started cordially with both working on the draft of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson often visited with Adams and his wife Abigail after the death of Jefferson's wife Martha in 1782. When both were sent to Europe, Jefferson to France and Adams to England, Jefferson continued to write to Abigail.

However, their budding friendship would soon come to an end as they became fierce political rivals during the early days of the republic. When new president George Washington was to choose a Vice President, both Jefferson and Adams were considered. However, their personal political views were quite different. While Adams supported a stronger federal government with the new Constitution, Jefferson was a staunch advocate of state's rights. Washington went with Adams and the relationship between the two men began to wane. 

President and Vice President

Ironically, due to the fact that Constitution did not originally differentiate between president and vice president candidates during presidential elections, whoever received the most votes became president, while the second most voter became the vice president. Jefferson became Adams' Vice President in 1796. Jefferson then went on to defeat Adams for reelection in the significant election of 1800. Part of the reason why Adams lost this election was due to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. These four acts were passed as a response to the criticisms that Adams and the federalists were receiving by their political opponents. The 'Sedition Act' made it so that any conspiracy against the government including interference with officers or riots would result in a high misdemeanor. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were fiercely opposed to these acts and in response passed the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. In Jefferson's Kentucky Resolutions, he argued that the states actually had the power of nullification against national laws which they found unconstitutional. Right before leaving office, Adams appointed a number of Jefferson's rivals to high positions in the government. This was when their relationship was truly at its lowest point. 

In 1812, Jefferson and John Adams began to rekindle their friendship through correspondence. They covered many topics in their letters to each other including politics, life, and love. They ended up writing over 300 letters to each other. Later in life, Adams vowed to survive until the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Both he and Jefferson were able to accomplish this feat, dying on the anniversary of its signing. With their death only one signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, was still alive. He lived until 1832. 

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Kelly, Martin. "The Later Years and Last Words of John Adams." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Kelly, Martin. (2021, February 16). The Later Years and Last Words of John Adams. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "The Later Years and Last Words of John Adams." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).