Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Decline of Jefferson/Rise of Adams

Over the past few years, I can't help but take not of the fact that there seems to have been a major shift in the way both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams have been perceived. Obviously the hit HBO drama on the life of John Adams has done much to bolster this one time self-defeating founder. As Adams himself put it, "History will remember very little of me...I will have no monuments."

While it is true that John Adams was once considered a "lesser" of the Founding Fathers, recent events and research have propelled Adams to a higher level of recognition and appreciation. On the flip side, the once prominent Thomas Jefferson has witnessed a decrease in his popularity. The man who was once hailed as the greatest political mind of his era is now being remembered more for his views on religion and slavery. Jefferson's lack of Christian orthodoxy, combined with his views on slavery (not to mention the huge impact of the Sally Hemmings affair) have caused Jefferson to slip a little.

Is this fair? Should we promote Adams at the expense of Jefferson?

If there is one thing I've learned from these two men it's that they are virtually polar opposites from one another. When we compare Adams and Jefferson, we are often comparing North v. South, Puritan v. Anglican, Federalist v. Republican, aristocrat v. farmer, passionate v. reserved. I guess it would only be natural for one man's stock to go down as the other's went up. With that said, however, I feel that both men deserve to be judged not against one another, but solely on their own merits.


Lori Stokes said...

Nice article. I myself used to be in a distinct minority in favoring Hamilton over Jefferson. I agree that Jefferson and Adams need to be judged on their own merits, but they did compete with each other, each trying to prove that his position was better than the other's, particularly as presidents. So we can fairly compare them.

I side with Adams in the end, because I admire his principles and his awareness of the fact that democracy has constantly to be defended and adopted by each generation. It isn't handed down intact generation after generation with no effort. Adams saw the fight to maintain democracy as more difficult than the fight to establish it, and recognized the battle in things large and small.

Carly said...

Good post. I agree that Adams is being recognized more lately for all he truly accomplished, but I don't think that anyone is really discounting Jefferson. He is still looked upon by millions of Americans as one of our foremost founding fathers, and it's not like we're going to run out and change the silhouette on the nickel from Mr. J to Mr. A. (Even though since the mint started the Presidents series last year, Adams actually is on the $1 coin.)
No, I think Thomas Jefferson will still get more attention in general, but it's good to know that their will always be a good amount of people who have discovered Adams's true value to our past, and defend his relevance.