Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jefferson & Adams: America's First Frenemies?

Frenemy: I'd like to start out by saying that I was incredibly relieved to discover that that horrible bastion of pseudo-feminist mediocrity* and shitty storytelling Sex and the City is not the origin of this useful little word. So I'm going to feel free to use it in this instance. See, John Adams (did you know that he was a Junior?) and Thomas Jefferson were both pretty instrumental in shaping the United States as we know it, both served as President (#2 and #3), but they had a long history of political disagreements, and didn't really come together as friends until later in life. Ex-Presidents don't really have that much going on, from what I gather, so why not reconcile?

Born in 1725 in Massachusetts, John Adams attended Harvard and later chose a career as a lawyer. He represented Massachusetts at the various Continental Congresses, and was one of the major figures in the logistical execution of the American Revolution (securing money, foreign partnerships, etc.). He mostly wrote Massachusetts' constitution himself, was on Jefferson's Declaration of Independence back-up committee, and served as our nation's first ambassador to Great Britain after the Revolutionary War. Also, he did not own slaves and was a second cousin to American beer patriarch Samuel Adams. As George Washington's VP, Adams was constantly hanging around in the Senate, influencing legislation, breaking ties, and earning ridiculous nicknames. Due to his size and pompous tendencies, he was dubbed "His Rotundity" by his senatorial colleagues.

Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in Virginia and was a fucking genius. Blahblahblah, philosophy, French, Greek, violin, architecture, archaeology, etc., etc. Obviously he was super-cool and outshone Adams in pretty much every way because he has a fucking monument (Remember kids, no silent raves!). Jefferson went to the College of William and Mary where he was in the Flat Hat Club (god I love secret societies), studied lots of philosophy, and developed a taste for wine. He eventually decided on a law career, though he never really liked presenting in court; he much preferred writing. Know why? Because THOMAS JEFFERSON HAD A LISP (so did Jimi Hendrix, FYI). So he was Governor of Virginia for a while, pretty much wrote that whole Declaration of Independence thingy, served as minister to France in the 1780s, and argued with Alexander Hamilton about money and shit.

ANYWAY, so Adams and Jefferson had been working with each other for a few decades when the election of 1796 happened. Jefferson was like, "I'm bored hanging out at Monticello fucking my slaves, I should probably be President since I'm like, really good at everything." And Adams was like, "Oh no, you didn't." But the Electoral College had a silly rule back then that forced the runner-up in the presidential election to serve as Vice President. HAHA. So though Adams squeaked past Jefferson for the win, he was stuck with Ol' Thomas "Man of the People" as his #2. AWKWARD. Luckily, Vice Presidents have no real power or authority, and Adams ignored Jefferson as much as possible (just like Washington had ignored Adams). But Jefferson was all, "I'm going to work on this Democratic-Republican Party and fight with Hamilton," and Adams was like, "Hey, Hamilton is on my team (the Federalists), but we don't actually really like each other all that much, so this whole situation is really awkward for me." It didn't help that Britain and France were at war at this time. Jefferson and the Republicans were pro-French, but the Federalists were on Team Brit. There was this whole naval Quasi-War with France, the XYZ Affair that I'm too lazy to explain, but you know I'd just link to Wikipedia anyway so do it yourself if you care, but luckily Adams sent a guy to talk to Napoleon, and it eventually ended.

But the Federalists still had troubles. They were pissed off that an opposition party even existed, so they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to muzzle the Republicans and screw over their immigrant-heavy base. Adams wasn't really involved in the writing of these laws, but he did sign them. And Jefferson was NOT PLEASED, to say the least. George Washington, the unifying figure of the Federalists, died in 1799, just in time for the party to drop the ball in the "Revolution of 1800." After a hotly contested election stuck in the House of Representatives (thanks again for the Electoral College, Founding Fathers!), Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans proved that the United States could peacefully transfer power across party lines.

We all know that as President, Thomas Jefferson got lucky and was able to purchase most of America for like $.002/acre from Napoleon, and also he achieved some other things and promoted religious tolerance and its separation from government and blahblahblah. Adams was so depressed about losing, that he didn't even go to Jefferson's inauguration. I've got to admit, that's a pretty pathetic move. Take it from me, avoiding social situations like that just makes you look immature. But I guess they didn't have photo ops back then, so it was maybe for the best to just bypass any tense situations during the swearing-in. Adams did get one final jab into Jefferson, however: his midnight judicial appointments. Jefferson was stuck with Chief Justice John Marshall, who made the Supreme Court equal with the other branches of government. Jefferson was totally pissed again, but lifetime appointments are a bitch like that.

Anyway, Jefferson passed the executive baton to Madison after two terms, and eventually was reconciled with his old rival Adams. They became friends and wrote each other a bunch of letters. Jefferson founded UVa, Adams' son became President in 1824, and the two ex-Presidents both died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Competitive bastards until the end.

P.S. Don't you just want to pinch John Adams' little cheeks? Okay, just me.

*To play on a phrase coined by the Pretentious Ex-Boyfriend.


  1. I am quite impressed with the effort and research done for this Histo-Thursday Post. I think you argued the point well with great info. Now if I could only get a frenemy. You know, I'm taking applications. It isn't a bad deal and way easier to apply for than grad school. There are no assistantships though.

  2. I only go where the money is, friend. You're going to have to keep looking on the frenemy front. Unless, of course, I decide your blog is in direct competition with mine; in which case I will wage a silent and passive-aggressive battle to destroy you while maintaining a facade of friendship and politeness on the surface. So we could maybe try and work that out after all.