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Presidents Jefferson and Adams Reconcile Before Death

Two devoted friends and brilliant minds—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—fell out with each other over politics, personal slights, and both feeling betrayed by the other. The feud not only embittered both, causing them to abandon all correspondence and relationship of any kind for many years, but it troubled their closest companions who could not imagine these giants of the Revolution becoming estranged for the rest of their lives.

In 1809 a mutual signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, had a dream about the two former Presidents, wrote it down, and sent it to both men. In the dream he saw the alienated statesmen renew their friendship and begin corresponding with each other. John Adams, again in the dream, addressed a short letter to Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson responded. These two brief letters were "followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country." Both Jefferson and Adams politely but separately acknowledged their friend's account of the dream and thought no more about it.

Three years later, at Rush's urging, Thomas Jefferson sent a very tentative letter to John Adams who responded with a guarded reply. One letter followed another until John Adams wrote to Jefferson on July 15, 1813: "Never mind it, my dear Sir, if I write four letters to your one; your one is worth more than my four … You and I ought not to die, before we have explained ourselves to each other."

Bitter enemies prodded by a friend's dream were brought back together for the last several years of their lives until they died—both on the same day and only three hours apart: July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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