At the end of December 1796, Thomas Jefferson, who had just lost the first contested presidential election in American history, sat down to write a letter to John Adams, the man who had beaten him. The election had been bitter, with clashes over foreign policy and taxes, social class and the structure of government. Yet the two men had known each other for years, serving together in the Continental Congress in the earliest days of the Revolution, and again as diplomats in Europe after the war, where Jefferson charmed Adams’s wife, Abigail, and won the affection of Adams’s eldest son, …
This article appears as “When Character Wasn’t King” in the November 30, 2020, print edition of National Review.
Something to Consider
If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content on the site including the digital magazine and archives, no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (through conference calls, social media groups, and more). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going.