Founding Brothers

What event prompted Abigail Adams to write to Jefferson after years of silence and how did Jefferson respond to her letter and why did his response offend Abigail?



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In 1804, Abigail wrote to Jefferson with condolences for the loss of his daughter, Maria Jefferson Eppes, who died in childbirth. Her motive was personal - she knew Maria, and considered it her duty to write. Jefferson mistakenly assumed the Adamses wanted to reconnect, and he wrote back to Abigail in anticipation of that. In his letter, he insisted that although he and Adams had competed twice for the presidency, that their personal respect had persisted. The one exception that Jefferson noted was Adams's last minute appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Jefferson and Marshall notoriously hated one another, and when Adams appointed Marshall as one of his final acts as president, Jefferson considered it a personal slight. He was, however, more than happy to forgive this grievance for the sake of a reconciliation with Adams.

Abigail was outraged by Jefferson's tone. She defended her husband’s right to appoint Marshall to the Supreme Court, and condemned Jefferson’s own treachery and slander during the election of 1800. She even mentioned Jefferson’s liaison with Sally Hemings. Jefferson had never received such a letter in his life, and he responded by denying any and all wrongdoing, insisting he had never slandered Adams through James Callender or anyone else. Abigail neither trusted nor believed his protestations. Months later, Adams read this brief correspondance between his wife and Jefferson for the first time, but did not add to it. Silence between Monticello and Quincy endured for another eight years.