Jefferson and Adams: A Comparison of Two Candidates

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are two of America’s most famous men. Their choices helped form this nation of ours. The two men were friends and compatriots for a long time, united by their desire to create this new nation. Jefferson called Adams “the Colossus of independence” (“John Adams”). Then they were political rivals and enemies. Both ran for president. Both became president. Both made their mark on the nation. But despite their many and strong similarities these two men, friends or enemies, were very different.

The two men were very different in regard to their attitude towards slaves. Thomas Jefferson kept slaves. He had one hundred eight-seven of them. One, Sally Hemings, is the most famous of his slaves. She was Jefferson’s wife’s half-sister, begotten by Jefferson’s father-in-law with a slave woman; she was also Jefferson’s mistress. Sally Hemings had five children whom Jefferson freed either in his life or in his will. That will also provided for Sally Hemings, freedom and money (Sloan). Jefferson kept slaves, used slaves, and freed slaves on his whim. Adams, on the other hand, had a different attitude toward slavery. He declined to have slaves and did not use slave labor (“John Adams”). Adams wrote in a letter about the current condition of slavery “it is a subject to which I have never given any very particular attention…” (“Equality”). He went on to say that there was much support for abolition, but the support was because poor whites wanted the jobs rich people bought blacks for. He did not appear to have any sympathy for the slaves, but neither did he agitate to keep them slaves. He did note the practice of the courts of his day; “I never knew a jury, by a verdict, to determine a negro to be a slave. They always found them free” (“Equality”). So Adams did not keep slaves nor did he think any person should, but Jefferson had slaves and children by a slave. They were clearly very different in their attitude towards slavery.

Jefferson and Adams were also different in their political views after the Revolution which had brought them together. Adams became president after Washington stepped down (“Biography”). Jefferson was his Vice President and the two men “disagreed on almost everything” (Katz). Adams supported a strong central government. Jefferson opposed this Federalist ideal (Coates). Adams increased taxes, expanded the military, and created the Alien and Sedition Act which punished anyone who verbally opposed the government. When Adams ran for a second term as a Federalist, Jefferson created the Democratic-Republican party and opposed him, winning the presidency (“Thomas”). Their political views pushed them apart when they were both in public office, because they differed so greatly from one another.

When Adams retired, however, he sent letters to Jefferson and Jefferson responded, rekindling a friendship that had fractured when both were in the political arena. The two men were both strong proponents of liberty, though they disagreed on what that looked look, in large for the whole government and in small on the issue of slavery. Despite their disagreements, despite their politics, these men are famous for how they came together with other men of their era to found the United States of America.


“Biography of John Adams.” The White House. 20 February 2008

Coates, Eyler Robert, Sr. “How Did Jefferson Differ from Adams?” The Thomas Jefferson FAQ. 2001. 21 February 2008

“Equality: John Adams to Jeremy Belknap.” Chapter 15, Document 53. The Founder’s Constitution. Ed. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner. 2000. 21 February 2008

“John Adams.” Wikipedia. 21 February 2008. 21 February 2008

Katz, Kevin. “July 4, 1826: Goodbye to Adams and Jefferson.” American History 101. 5 July 2007. 21 February 2008

Sloan, Samuel H. “The Slave Children of Thomas Jefferson.” Ishi Press. 21 February 2008

“Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States and Author of the Declaration of Independence.” American Revolution. 2005. 21 February 2008

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