The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Other Adams-Jefferson Correspondence

Two hundred years ago today, August 22,1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his old friend, Abigail Adams; the first he had directed to her since 1804. While Jefferson’s incredible correspondence with John Adams has rightly acquired fame, Jefferson and Abigail maintained a warm relationship and a notable correspondence as well following their joint stay in Europe in the 1780’s, interrupted, during the often personal political conflict and mistrust of the 1790s and early 1800s.

The renewed friendship between Jefferson and the Adamses is evident in Jefferson’s playful tone. “I have compared notes with mr Adams,” Jefferson teased, “on the score of progeny, and find I am ahead of him, and think I am in a fair way to keep so. I have 10 1/2 grandchildren, and 2 3/4 great-grand-children; and these fractions will ere long become units.”

Jefferson concluded, “under all circumstances of health or sickness, of blessing or affliction, I tender you assurances of my sincere affection and respect; and my prayers that the hand of time and of providence may press lightly on you, till your own wishes shall withdraw you from all mortal feeling.”

What Jefferson could not know, however, was that it was under sickness and affliction that he was writing to his two old friends. Abigail Adams Smith, better known as Nabby, the only daughter of John and Abigail Adams, had passed away on August 14 at her parents’ home after a recurrence of breast cancer, ending a difficult adult life generated by her husband’s financial misadventures. In her reply to Jefferson, “your kind and Friendly Letter found me great affliction for the loss of my dear and only daughter, mrs smith . . . I have the consolation of knowing, that the Life of my dear daughter was pure, her conduct in prosperity and adversity, exemplary, her patience and Resignation becomeing her Religion— you will pardon by being so minute, the full Heart loves to pour out its sorrows, into the Bosom of sympathizing Friendship.”

Abigail closed her letter with her own assurances of friendship, “altho, time has changed the outward form, and political ‘Back wounding calumny’ for a period interruped the Friendly intercourse and harmony which subsisted, it is again renewed, purified from the dross. with this assurance I beg leave To subscribe myself your Friend.”

While the letters written between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson certainly deserve the recognition they have received, Abigail’s independent friendship with the third president, one built on mutual respect and shared sorrows, fostered a correspondence equally as fascinating.

permalink | Published: Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 1:00 AM


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