Adams and Jefferson had been revolutionaries together, diplomats in Paris together and close friends. Jefferson was Adams’ vice president, until Adams infuriated him by signing the Alien and Sedition Acts. Congress passed the acts in 1798 when tensions ran high with France. They gave Adams the power to deport aliens deemed dangerous and to restrict criticism of the government. Jefferson viewed them as an attempt to silence his Democratic-Republican Party and stormed home to Monticello.
Jefferson decided to run against Adams, who was seeking a second term. He ran a vicious campaign against Adams, and Adams gave as good as he got. Jefferson won the presidency in 1800, Adams went home to Quincy and the two men didn’t speak or correspond until that New Year’s Day in 1812.
Adams penned a short, lighthearted note. He began by telling Jefferson he was sending him a gift.
“Dear Sir,” he wrote. “As you are a friend to American manufactures under proper restrictions, especially manufactures of the American kind, I am sending you by the post a packet containing two pieces of homespun lately produced in this quarter by one who was honored in his youth with some of your attention and much of your kindness.” He finished with, “I wish you Sir many Happy New Years.”
The ‘two pieces of homespun’ were actually two books written by his son, John Quincy Adams. Jefferson replied with a letter fondly recalling when they were fellow laborers in the same cause. The two ex-presidents resumed their correspondence for the next 14 years. On July 4, 1826, the 90-year-old Adams lay on his deathbed. His last words were “Jefferson still survives.” He was wrong; Jefferson died five hours earlier.