PROPERTY OF A NEW YORK COLLECTOR
"I inclose you a letter I received lately from Mrs Adams. The sentiments expressed in it are sincere. Her attachment was constant. Although all of them point to another object directly, yet the expressing them to me is a proof that our friendship is unbroken on her part. It has been a strong one, and has gone through trying circumstances on both sides. Yet I retain it strongly both for herself and Mr Adams. He & myself have gone through so many scenes together, that all his qualities have been proved to me, and I know him to possess so many good ones, as that I have never withdrawn my esteem, and I am happy that this letter gives me an opportunity of expressing it to both of them. I shall do it with a frank declaration that one act of his life, & never but one, gave me personal displeasure, his midnight appointments. A respect for him will not permit me to ascribe that altogether to the influence of others, it will leave something for friendship to forgive..."
Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles, had died nineteen years before he became president. His two daughters, Maria Eppes and Martha Randolph, each married to talented Virginia politicians, shared hostess duties at the White House. Maria, however, died on 17 April 1804, leaving behind a grieving husband and a devastated father. In the present letter Jefferson counsels his son-in-law on the upbringing his now motherless granddaughter Maria, and assures Eppes that he will remain part of his family. Jefferson demonstrates this by discussing the continuing renovations of Monticello and neighboring Pantops, to which John and Maria were destined to move before her death. Pantops had been Jefferson’s dowry to the couple on their wedding day in 1797.
The “midnight appointments,” to which Jefferson refers, were John Adams’s appointments of several dozen judgeships in his last hours of his presidency. Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison chose not to deliver the commission of one such appointment, William Marbury, which had been accidentally misplaced. This commenced the famous case of Marbury v. Madison, where Chief Justice John Marshall, also an Adams appointee and an inveterate enemy of Jefferson, pronounced the doctrine of judicial review. Jefferson felt that Adams had spitefully named Federalists to these positions, where they could only be removed by impeachment, when he should have allowed them to remain vacant until he assumed the office.
Abigail Adams had been a surrogate mother to Maria (“Polly”) Jefferson, and her death affected Adams deeply. Despite the rift between Thomas Jefferson and her husband, she wrote: "the powerful feelings of my heart have burst through the restraint, and called me to shed the tear of sorrow over the departed remains of your beloved and deserved daughter, an event which I most sincerely mourn.” But Jefferson was wrong to think that Abigail had changed her feelings towards him, and wrong in thinking that his frank admission about the midnight appointments would clear the air. Indeed, these only provoked a scathing letter from Abigail, in which she decided to be frank about the resentment she harbored for Jefferson.
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