Jefferson and Adams as Icons for Today

Karen Karacsony
When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826-exactly 50 years after the signing the Declaration of Independence-he died a poor man.  His lavish lifestyle culminated in net debts of more than $100,000 at his death.  Consequently, Jefferson's slaves and Monticello were sold.  Only five of the slaves who had so faithfully served him were freed.

What a contrast to the financial state of affairs of Jefferson's friend and co-patriot, John Adams!  Like Jefferson, Adams died on July 4, 1826.  Unlike Jefferson, however, John Adams, an abolitionist, died a man free of debt, a man with an estate worth more than $100,000.  The reason?  John Adams had lived a life of "sobriety and industry," believing that thrift was a virtue and unfunded extravagance a vice.

The fact that Adams' financial affairs were in such good order is made even more remarkable by the fact that John Adams gave up his lucrative law practice to serve America, before, during, and after the Revolution.  Because of his selfless, tireless service to his country, John Adams subsistence came not from the bar, but instead from his farm, which Abigail Adams maintained during John's many-years absence in Philadelphia (where he served in the Continental Congress) and in Europe (where he served as an American diplomat).

Although we may admire John Adams for his fiscal discipline, that is not what we admire the most about the man (generally speaking, that is).  Instead, we admire his work ethic that pushed him to spend 14-hour days in the Continental Congress, paving the way for the Declaration of Independence (John Adams was the voice of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, its pen).  We also admire his willingness to put country above self-even when it meant spending grueling years in Europe away from his beloved Abigail. And we honor his opposition to the nefarious institution of slavery and his championing of the rights of blacks in Massachusetts.  Additionally, we are grateful that he wrote the oldest constitution in the world (the Massachusetts Constitution), and that he penned A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, which helped to guide the Constitutional Convention delegates when crafting of our Founding document.  The list goes on, but we'll stop here, acknowledging (I hope!) that there was a lot more to John Adams than his sterling financial conduct.

Had John Adams been fiscally prudent to the exclusion of all else that is worthy in life, he would have a mere Ebenezer Scrooge, a man whose focus was money, who consistently put self above others.   Adams was no Scrooge and America is a better place because of it. 

The Democrats claim Thomas Jefferson as their founder. Adams came before the GOP, but perhaps he ought to be considered one of the Republican Party's spiritual godfathers, among the founders.
When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826-exactly 50 years after the signing the Declaration of Independence-he died a poor man.  His lavish lifestyle culminated in net debts of more than $100,000 at his death.  Consequently, Jefferson's slaves and Monticello were sold.  Only five of the slaves who had so faithfully served him were freed.

What a contrast to the financial state of affairs of Jefferson's friend and co-patriot, John Adams!  Like Jefferson, Adams died on July 4, 1826.  Unlike Jefferson, however, John Adams, an abolitionist, died a man free of debt, a man with an estate worth more than $100,000.  The reason?  John Adams had lived a life of "sobriety and industry," believing that thrift was a virtue and unfunded extravagance a vice.

The fact that Adams' financial affairs were in such good order is made even more remarkable by the fact that John Adams gave up his lucrative law practice to serve America, before, during, and after the Revolution.  Because of his selfless, tireless service to his country, John Adams subsistence came not from the bar, but instead from his farm, which Abigail Adams maintained during John's many-years absence in Philadelphia (where he served in the Continental Congress) and in Europe (where he served as an American diplomat).

Although we may admire John Adams for his fiscal discipline, that is not what we admire the most about the man (generally speaking, that is).  Instead, we admire his work ethic that pushed him to spend 14-hour days in the Continental Congress, paving the way for the Declaration of Independence (John Adams was the voice of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, its pen).  We also admire his willingness to put country above self-even when it meant spending grueling years in Europe away from his beloved Abigail. And we honor his opposition to the nefarious institution of slavery and his championing of the rights of blacks in Massachusetts.  Additionally, we are grateful that he wrote the oldest constitution in the world (the Massachusetts Constitution), and that he penned A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, which helped to guide the Constitutional Convention delegates when crafting of our Founding document.  The list goes on, but we'll stop here, acknowledging (I hope!) that there was a lot more to John Adams than his sterling financial conduct.

Had John Adams been fiscally prudent to the exclusion of all else that is worthy in life, he would have a mere Ebenezer Scrooge, a man whose focus was money, who consistently put self above others.   Adams was no Scrooge and America is a better place because of it. 

The Democrats claim Thomas Jefferson as their founder. Adams came before the GOP, but perhaps he ought to be considered one of the Republican Party's spiritual godfathers, among the founders.