Jefferson & Adams

I söndags fortsatte tv-serien John Adams. I avsnittet figurerade Thomas Jefferson en hel del, vilket fick mig att återvända till en text av Judith Shklar, ”A Friendship”, som behandlar just vänskapen mellan Adams och Jefferson.

Deras relation hade i grunden tre faser. Först vänner i en gemensam kamp för självständighet och för republikens väl under dess barndom, sedan en förbittrad politisk fiendeskap (bl a en presidentvalskampanj mot varandra). Den tredje fasen kom i ålderdomen, då de hittade tillbaka till sin vänskap.

When they had resumed their correspondence and their friendship both were in their eighties and had retired happily enough from public life. Jefferson was delighted to hear from Adams at last, and at once returned to the original source of their former friendship. ”A letter from you calls up recollections very dear to my mind. It carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right to self-government.”

[. . .]

What else did these two former presidents discuss in the dusk of their lives? Religion, moral philosophy, ancient history, education, and political philosophy. As one might expect, Adams tried to go over their old political quarrels, to justify himself, and even to ask for Jefferson’s sympathy for the unpopularity which he still had to endure. Jefferson tended to evade all this in an effort, which was ultimately entirely successful, to build a wholly personal friendship, grounded in affection, common memories, shared experiences, and continued lively interest in books and ideas. He had no competitive spirit left. Yet one somehow feels that it was Adams who really loved Jefferson. ”You and I,” he wrote, ”ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.” He wanted to have his friend see his life as he saw it himself. Jefferson tried as much as his habitual politeness permitted to stick to the happier days of their past and to the many subjects that had always interested him deeply. He felt little need to vindicate himself, not least because he took it for granted that each person must be unique and that differences of belief and opinion were inevitable and even a source of pleasure. But then his had been a more satisfying life. Adams was utterly dumbfounded when Jefferson wrote him that he would very much like to live his whole life over again. Nothing, Adams replied, could ever induce him to go through all that again!

[. . .]

With the years their letters became fonder and fonder. They now had only each other to share their memories, and as both were perfectly ready to die they became detached from everything except perhaps their only friend. [. . .] In their diversity thay had built a perfect friendship. They died on the same day, the Fourth of July, 1826, exactly fifty years after their finest hour, the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Judith Shklar, ”A Friendship”, Redeeming American Political Thought, The University of Chicago Press, 1998, s. 22–3, 27.

2 thoughts on “Jefferson & Adams”

  1. Ja det är onekligen fint. Och man kan ju föreställa sig (eller det kan man kanske inte) hur samtiden måste ha känt och tolkat när båda dessa män avled på samma symbolladdade dag.

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