Friday, November 10, 2006

Adams, Jefferson, and the Revolution

John Adams
In 1812, John Adams sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson, along with some homespun, in the hopes of rekindling a correspondence that the two men broke off due to events surrounding the election of 1800. A mutual friend suggested to Adams that he try to renew the friendship. Adams began the correspondence partly to lure Jefferson into a dialogue about the history of their relationship. At the very least, he hoped that he and Jefferson could explain themselves to each other.
Adams wanted to discover why their intellectual relationship and friendship soured over the years. Adams and Jefferson were friends and among the more radical members of the group that signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Despite this fact, by 1800 they found themselves on opposite sides of the political debates plaguing the country. The presidential campaign, Adams’ loss to Jefferson, and much else broke all communication between the two great founders and led to Adams’ retreat from public life.
Among the topics that Adams sensed were potential causes for their break-up, was each man’s reaction to and interpretation of the events and aftermath of the French Revolution. This led to disagreement over what the French Revolution and its philosophy meant for the United States, and what was the purpose in general of revolution for a culture and society. Adams was critical of the French Revolution before, during, and after it happened. That is to say, before the French Revolution he was critical of the political theorists that he thought were behind it. During the French Revolution, he was immersed in political efforts to prevent the United States from becoming another revolutionary France. After the French Revolution, he feared revolutionary philosophy and practices influencing the United States and ruining its government.
On a most basic level, the events leading up to the Revolution led to difficulties over getting a book translated and published. In the late 1780s, men were writing books about the American constitution and preparing to write a new Constitution for France. Turgot, Godwin, and Malby all wrote essays or books critiquing America for installing a constitution that allowed for three branches at the Federal level and also divided power between the federal and state level.
The French critics were more enamored with the idea of a country with a single parliament and centralized federal power. Adams read the works that critiqued his own ideas and wrote a response, __________________. At the time, Jefferson was in Paris. Adams asked Jefferson if he could get the book translated and published in France. But, Jefferson’s social group was made up of those who were critical of Adam’s ideas. And so, Jefferson did nothing. That summer, he went on a wine-tasting tour in Bordeaux. It seems that, at the time, Adams did not think that Jefferson was at fault for his book not getting published.
But, a few years later, in 1791, Jefferson inadvertently had published an introduction to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man a critique of the work of Adams. Did Adams read this critique? What were the details of the 1790s that led to the break up? Surely, the FR had something to do with it.


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