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John Adams' Letter on Thomas Jefferson: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

John Adams wrote a letter explaining why he asked Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. In this lesson, you'll learn about his ideas and how he made his case.

The Declaration of Independence

When you think about important dates in the history of America, what comes to mind? Probably the Fourth of July 1776, because that's when the United States declared their independence. Now, imagine all the writing assignments you've ever done for school. Which one carried the most weight? Was there a time when your grade was riding on a single paper? Compare the pressure you felt to the pressure you imagine Thomas Jefferson must have felt when he was asked to write the Declaration of Independence. That's some serious pressure! He had a brand new country to establish!

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

The expression The Founding Fathers refers to a group of men who were instrumental in creating the United States. Among them were John Adams, who was the second President, and Thomas Jefferson, the third President. Before the United States was officially a country, Adams and Jefferson were on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence, and although Adams was the more senior member of the group, he campaigned successfully to allow Thomas Jefferson to write it. Adams wrote a letter decades later explaining why he supported Jefferson.

Summary of the Letter on Thomas Jefferson

Adams begins his letter by explaining Jefferson's positive qualities. He notes that Jefferson was a man who understood science, literature, and communication. Adams explains that Jefferson, although he kept quiet when Congress was in session, was vocal in smaller committees and was known for being a powerfully persuasive speaker. He also greatly admired Jefferson's writing ability.

John Adams
John Adams

John Adams goes on to give three main reasons why Jefferson was suited to write the Declaration of Independence.

1. Jefferson is from Virginia, and Adams believed that a Virginian ought to write the document.

2. Jefferson is popular while Adams is not.

3. Jefferson is an excellent writer, better than Adams. (Adams says that Jefferson writes ''ten times better''!)

Adams accomplished his goal of convincing Jefferson to take the weighty responsibility of writing the Declaration of Independence.

Analysis

The central idea of the letter is Thomas Jefferson was the best man for the job. Adams uses logos or logical reasoning to make his point. Adams shows that Jefferson was from the right place, had the popular support, and he had the necessary writing skill. Adams also carefully chose the words in his letter to paint a positive picture of Thomas Jefferson. In the first paragraph of the letter, he remarks on the ''peculiar felicity of expression'' in Jefferson's writing, meaning that Jefferson was an expert in putting the right words in the right order. In this case ''peculiar'' doesn't mean strange, it means unique. Adams was saying that Jefferson had a writing style that no one else could copy.

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