Thomas Jefferson and John Adams just didn’t like each other. They had political difference;
Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican. They locked horns on more than one occasion during the first and second administration while Adams served as Vice President and Jefferson served as Secretary of State. Clashes between the two were widely known, and then, of course, Jefferson beat the incumbent President Adams in a heated election, thereby increasing the friction.
In later years, there may have developed a grudging admiration for each other. However,
Adams was known to have said on many occasions “I will outlive Jefferson.” I guess, in his way, Adams felt that outliving him was the best way to beat him. Beat him at what, I’m not sure.
John Adams died on
July 4, 1826. His last words?
“Thomas Jefferson survives.”
Not “Abigail, I’m coming,” or “Make me proud, J.Q.,” or even “It was a good life.” No, his last thought was about Thomas Jefferson and the fact that he would be outlived by his long time rival.
What John Adams didn’t know as he took that last breath was that Thomas Jefferson was at his
home on that very day doing exactly the same thing that Monticello Adams was doing: dying.
Thomas Jefferson died on
July 4, 1826 as well. He died a few hours before Adams. Adams was unaware of this, and went to meet his maker assuming that he had failed to live up to his proclamation that he would “outlive Jefferson,” when in fact, he had.
I imagine John Adams, standing in line at the Pearly Gates, his head held low, feeling as if he had failed at the one thing he felt important in later life: outliving
Jefferson. Then, he hears a familiar voice ahead as Saint Peter says “state your name” and checks his book. Adams peers around those in front of him, and smiles.
Then I imagine Thomas Jefferson, hearing
Adams laughter, turning and smiling back, taking only a moment from Gate check-in to yell to his old friend:
“I got here first!”