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.
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