According to Proverbs 13:20, “You are the company you keep,” but if you looked at the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, you could not find men so different. Jefferson was a political radical and envisioned himself as a champion of democracy, he was an aristocrat and a planter, he was a Southerner and a slaveowner. Adams, on the other hand, came from New England’s rising middling classes, and while he was a revolutionary, he was a much more conservative thinker, and at his core was a political skeptic and a pessimist about human nature.
But in the crucible of revolution, an unlikely friendship was born and continued to blossom while the pair were in France together. But ultimately, their profound differences would lead to a fundamental crisis, in their friendship and in the nation writ large, as they became the figureheads of two entirely new forces, the first American political parties. It was a bitter breach, lasting through the presidential administrations of both men, and beyond.
But as the early 19th century came into focus and the Age of Jackson began to dawn, these two men were nudged into reconciliation.
To explain this fascinating tale of friendship, division, and resolution is Gordon S. Wood.
Dr. Gordon S. Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History at Brown University. He was the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 won a 1970 Bancroft Prize. In 2010 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal. His other works include Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, Revolutionary Characters, The Purpose of the Past, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, and The Idea of America. His most recent work is Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and is published by Penguin Press. Friends Divided also available as an audiobook with Audible.