Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, 5 December 1811

To Benjamin Rush

Poplar Forest Dec. 5. 11.

Dear Sir

While at Monticello I am so much engrossed by business or society that I can only write on matters of strong urgency. here I have leisure, as I have every where the disposition to think of my friends. I recur therefore to the subject of your kind letters relating to mr Adams and myself, which a late occurrence has again presented to me. I communicated to you the correspondence which had parted mrs Adams and myself, in proof that I could not give friendship in exchange for such sentiments as she had recently taken up towards myself, and avowed & maintained in her letters to me. nothing but a total renunciation of these could admit a reconciliation, and that could be cordial only in proportion as the return to antient opinions was believed sincere. in these jaundiced sentiments of hers I had associated mr Adams, knowing the weight which her opinions had with him, and notwithstanding she declared in her letters that they were not communicated to him. a late incident has satisfied me that I wronged him as well as her in not yielding entire confidence to this assurance on her part. two of the mr Coles, my neighbors and friends, brothers to the one who lived with me as Secretary at Washington, took a tour to the Northward during the last summer. in Boston they fell into company with mr Adams, & by his invitation passed a day with him at Braintree. he spoke out to them every thing which came uppermost, & as it occurred to his mind, without any reserve; and seemed most disposed to dwell on those things which happened during his own administration. he spoke of his masters, as he called his heads of departments, as acting above his controul, & often against his opinions.1 among many other topics, he adverted to the unprincipled licenciousness of the press against myself, adding ‘I always loved Jefferson, and still love him’—this is enough for me. I only needed this knolege to revive towards him all the affections of the most cordial moments of our lives. changing a single word only in Dr Franklin’s character of him, I knew him to be always an honest man, often a great one, but sometimes incorrect & precipitate in his judgments: and2 it is known to those who have ever heard me speak of mr Adams, that I have ever done him justice myself, and defended him when assailed by others, with the single exception as to his political opinions. but with a man possessing so many other estimable qualities, why should we be dissocialized3 by mere differences of opinion in politics, in religion in philosophy, or any thing else. his opinions are as honestly formed as my own. our different views of the same subject are the result of a difference in our organisation & experience. I never withdrew from the society of4 any man on this account, altho’ many have done it from me; much less should I do it from one with whom I had gone thro’, with hand & heart, so many trying scenes. I wish therefore but for an apposite occasion to express to mr Adams my unchanged affections5 for him. there is an awkwardness which hangs over the resuming a correspondence so long discontinued, unless something could arise which should call for a letter. time and chance may perhaps generate such an occasion, of which I shall not be wanting in promptitude to avail myself.6 from this fusion of mutual affections, mrs Adams is of course separated. it will only be necessary that I never name her. in your letters to mr Adams you can perhaps suggest my continued cordiality towards him, & knowing this, should an occasion of writing, first present itself to him, he will perhaps avail himself of it, as I certainly will should it first occur to me. no ground for jealousy now existing, he will certainly give fair play to the natural warmth of his heart. perhaps I may open the way in some letter to my old friend Gerry, who I know is in habits of the greatest intimacy with him.

I have thus, my friend, laid open my heart to you, because you were so kind as to take an interest in healing again revolutionary affections, which have ceased in expression only, but not in their existence. God ever bless you and preserve you in life & health.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNPM: Heineman Collection); at foot of first page: “Dr Rush.” PoC (DLC). Tr (MHi: Adams Papers); extract quoted in Rush to John Adams, 16 Dec. 1811.

In May 1857 Edward coles wrote TJ’s biographer Henry S. Randall a detailed description of his visit to John Adams: “In the summer of 1811, while Secretary to President Madison, I, accompanied by my Brother John, made a tour through the northern States, and took letters of introduction from the President to many of the most distinguished men of that section of the Union—among others, to Ex President John Adams, with whom we spent the greater part of two days, and were treated by him and his Wife with great civility & kindness. Mr Adams talked very freely of men and of things, and detailed many highly interesting facts in the history of our Country, and particularly of his own Administration, and of incidents connected with the Presidential election of 1800. This, and his knowledge of my being a neighbour, and intimate with Mr Jefferson, led him to converse freely, and by the nature of his remarks to open the door to expose his grievences, and to invite explanations of the causes of them. He complained, and mentioned several instances in which he thought he had reason to complain, of Mr Jeffersons treatment of him. I told him I could not reconcile what he had heard of Mr Jeffersons language and conduct to him, with what I had heard him repeatedly say, and that too to friends who were political opponents of Mr Adams. Upon repeating some of the complimentary remarks thus made by Mr Jefferson, Mr Adams not only seemed but expressed himself highly pleased.” After describing their discussion of the first interview between Adams and Jefferson following the election of 1800, in which he attempted to show Adams that Jefferson had been sensitive to his friend’s anger at being turned out of office, Coles continued: “In the course of the many long conversations I had with Mr Adams, he displayed, in general, kind feelings to Mr Jefferson, and an exalted admiration of his character, and appreciation of his services to his Country, as well during the Revolution as subsequently; frequently making complimentary allusions to them, and displaying friendly feelings for him, in such expressions as, I always loved Jefferson & still love him; expressing in strong terms his disapprobation and mortification at the course pursued by some of his (Adams) friends in their scurrilous abuse of Mr Jefferson &c &c” (Coles to Randall, 11 May 1857 [NjP: Coles Papers]; printed in Randall, Life description begins Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1858, 3 vols. description ends , 3:639–40).

According to Benjamin franklin’s characterization, Adams “means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses” (Franklin to Robert R. Livingston, 22 July 1783, Albert Henry Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin [1907], 9:62).

1Tr begins here.

2Sentence to this point omitted in Tr.

3Tr: “seperated.”

4Preceding three words omitted in Tr.

5Tr: “affection,” with this and preceding word underscored.

6Tr ends here.

Index Entries

  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); and E. Coles’s visit search
  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); correspondence with TJ search
  • Adams, John; and E. Coles’s visit search
  • Adams, John; resumes correspondence with TJ search
  • Adams, John; TJ on search
  • Coles, Edward; as J. Madison’s secretary search
  • Coles, Edward; visits J. Adams search
  • Coles, Isaac A.; as secretary to TJ search
  • Coles, John; visits J. Adams search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; on J. Adams search
  • Gerry, Elbridge (1744–1814); and J. Adams search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Family & Friends; relations with J. Adams search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; A. Adams search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. Adams search
  • Madison, James; and E. Coles search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • Randall, Henry S.; and E. Coles’s visit to J. Adams search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and resumption of correspondence between TJ and J. Adams search
  • Rush, Benjamin; letters to search