Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Asker tdperrin Asks:
I've been reading Tributes and Trash Talk (available on Amazon) and one of the more interesting things I've noticed so far is a few Presidents had an intense dislike for Jefferson. I imagine JQA's distaste is born somewhat out of his father's defeat by him, but Theodore Roosevelt also has little good to say about the man. Was there any sort of anti-Jeffersonian thought going around in the 19th century?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Awesome job working the plug in there for Tributes and Trash Talk!

I’ve always found the JQA/Jefferson relationship fascinating.  Obviously, the John Adams/Thomas Jefferson relationship is one of the most historic and interesting dynamics ever, especially since a lot of it is recorded through their letter to each other or about each other to others. 

With JQA, though, what is interesting is that there was a great respect between them and must have been some sort of affection because John Adams, in one of his last letters to Jefferson, half-jokingly referred to JQA, who was President at that point, as “our John” and said that “I call him our John, because, when you were at the Cul de sac at Paris, he appeared to me to be almost as much your boy as mine.”

Like you said, there must have been some animosity on JQA’s part because Jefferson defeated his father.  George W. Bush openly admitted to feeling the same way after Bill Clinton beat HIS father for the Presidency.  Yet, there were many things that JQA and Jefferson agreed on politically and Jefferson’s protege, James Monroe, was half-mentor, half-partner to John Quincy Adams when Monroe was President and JQA was Secretary of State.  Most interesting to me is that, in his personal diary shortly after Jefferson died, JQA eviscerated Jefferson while savagely critiquing Jefferson’s autobiography.  It’s a strange relationship - more of a rollercoaster ride, in my opinion, than the off-and-on relationship between JQA’s father and Jefferson.

TR was an especially brutal critic of Jefferson.  It’s kind of ironic that the incredibly wealthy Roosevelt saw Jefferson as something of an elitist.  I think Roosevelt’s biggest issue was he despised hypocrites and he saw Jefferson as one of the most glaring hypocrites of them all because of slavery.  There’s also the fact that Roosevelt looked down on men who didn’t fight when there was a battle to be joined.  As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson fled when it appeared the British were on their way to capture him, and Roosevelt saw that as cowardice — even though Jefferson probably couldn’t have lasted 60 seconds in a battle in which he would have been vastly outnumbered by the British and likely would have been summarily executed for treason if he had been captured.  Jefferson, as head of government in Virginia, made the right move by fleeing, but Roosevelt couldn’t forgive that or see it as anything but weakness.

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