Friday, January 19, 2007

Adams, Jefferson, and Revolution

After dealing with Pius VI, I am turning to the figures that my book will deal with before Pius VI, specifically, John Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft, Immanuel Kant, and Edmund Burke. The French Revolution had a great impact not only on the presidency of John Adams, but also on his literary career and his friendships. Perhaps more than any other, the friendship between Adams and Jefferson was most affected by the ideas, events, and effects of the French Revolution.

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.

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