President Adams and President Jefferson

Though he wasn't a popular war hero like his predecessor, John Adams had participated in framing the Declaration of Independence (although Jefferson was the author), and had served as a diplomat in Europe. When John Adams became our second president in 1797, Great Britain and France were at war, and to his credit, Adams kept the United States out of the conflict. In an attitude of preparedness, however, Adams did establish a naval department and ordered warships to be built. During this time, the USS Constitutionsailed for the first time.

The White House

John and Abigail Adams were the first president and first lady to enjoy the newly created presidential mansion as Washington, D.C., became the nation's capital in 1800. Adams is reported to have written during his second night in the President's House (what would come to be known as the White House), “I pray Heaven to bestow the best Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.”

Thomas Jefferson succeeded Adams as president. He felt that “the government that governs best governs least.” Indeed, he was a proponent of limited power, and a protector of individual and state rights. Jefferson is one of the most learned men in American history, with early patriot ties, diplomatic tenure abroad, and a keen interest in architecture. He spoke six languages, designed his own home at Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, and founded the University of Virginia.

The Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, Jefferson seized the opportunity to purchase a vast expanse of land from France for $15 million (no doubt one of the greatest real estate bargains in U.S. history), even though the Constitution did not authorize him to do so. France was willing to sell the land from Louisiana in the south to present-day Montana in the north because of the fear that it was about to fall into British hands anyway. Jefferson then sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the newly acquired territory. The Louisiana Purchase made westward expansion possible and effectively doubled the size of the country.

In 1808, Congress prohibited the import of slaves from Africa. Having been re-elected to a second term, Jefferson stepped down with the belief that no president should govern longer than eight years. He retired to Monticello where he died on July 4, 1826, just hours before John Adams passed away. Buried at the estate, Jefferson left behind his own epitaph which read:“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and the Father of the University of Virginia.” He chose to leave out the detail of being the nation's third president.

  1. Home
  2. American History
  3. Shaping a New Nation and Government
  4. President Adams and President Jefferson
Visit other sites: