The Founding Father with the better character - Adams or Jefferson?

No, I meant John Adams, most of my readings, (not extensive but maybe a dozen books) leaned toward John Adams being the primary focus within the Continental Congress itself.
He tried to outlaw slavery from the start of the Union. (Failed of Course but he continued to try and outlaw it).
I agree Sam was a true Rebel rouser; he was publicly calling for revolution before any of the more famous players. But within the Congress itself, it was Adams and Franklin that were negotiating and pushing the congress towards the direction it eventually took. Adams was the loudest voice and almost jeopardized the signing of the declaration with his calls to end slavery.
I have little tolerance for slave holders and thus the slave holder loses out to the awful Alien and Sedition Acts. Overall I am more than willing to forgive both men their failures as both were very important to the founding of this country.


Fair enough. I’m certianly not about to disagree with your conclusions.

I was basing my earlier misunderstanding upon what seems to be a fundamental difference between you and I about what the words “rabble rouser” might actually mean. To me, the terms rabble rouser and rebel rouser are not synonomous. One implies an person who is trying to generate popular sentiment, usually anger, towards the establishment. A rebel rouser, especially John Adams, isn’t out to generate popular sentiment, he’s trying to recruit people to his plan, which includes rebellion of some kind. A rebel rouser, then, isn’t necessarily trying to speak to masses, but a rabble rouser must.

No matter what good can be said of John Adams, and I agree there is a lot, he was not a man who spoke to the masses.

I see your point, I think you are correct. My usage of the English language is always a little suspect and unfortunately it is the only language I am fluent in.
I am glad I was able to convey my point of view on the second try at least.

Thank You,

I definitely vote for Abigail Adams as the Founding Mother with the best character, for reasons stated above; also: world’s first feminist, AFAIK; the year was 1776 when she wrote

Martha Jefferson died young and never got a chance to make a contribution to the nation’s birth, so it wouldn’t be a fair comparison.

Another point in Adams favor, in my opinion, is his frugality (a endemic characteristic which probably was much reinforced by Abigail - she was by all accounts a most remarkable woman). Jefferson was more than a bit of a spendtrhift and was substantially in debt for most of his life. Adams would gently chide Jefferson from time to time about this in their personal letters.

I’d give Adams the nod. Jefferson probably had higher principles but even he often failed to live up to his own standards. Adams said less and did more.

And if you judge both men by their legacies, compare the descendants of the Adams family, who were a major factor in American public life for a century, with the virtual dead-end of Jefferson’s heirs.

It was my understanding that Jefferson was the only Jefferson family member around at the time Sally’s key child was concieved. Is that now no longer thought to be the case?

I don’t know, but IMO all one has to do is take a stroll through memorial central in D.C. If memory serves correct I don’t remember anything for Adams, but what FDR and concurrent legislature put together for Jefferson is an awesome testimony to what those folks thought about his character. Accurate or inaccurate, I’d say history has already chosen the better of character to be Jefferson.

But that is not the point, is it?

Adams is almost forgotten about, merely a footnote. That does not mean that he did not contribute more to the founding of the country and it does not mean that he a wasn’t a man of higher principles.

This is what the debate here is about.


I’ve read Adams was an arrogant, pompous, ass who could not control his own cabinet. Seems he was more adept at international diplomacy than domestic. Read too, he vacated the White House in the dead of night rather than stick around and ‘turn it over’ graciously to Jefferson. That’s some character for ya.

And while I’m at it, how about THAT Louisianna Purchase? Jefferson roughly doubled the size of the country in one fell swoop, purchasing that chunk of land from Napolean’s France with funds borrowed from the British. Some character, indeed.

From what I’ve read about the fabric of these two fine founding fathers, I’d rather play a round of golf with Jefferson.


For many years, I too had always heard that Adams’ dying words were indeed something like “At least Jefferson still lives.” But recently I was reading a biography, or history text (forget the title), that stated after he mentioned Jefferson, he lapsed into delerium, and woke a few hours later, and said to one of the women attending him something like “Come here, child, help me, please, child” or something like that. This book I read said he spoke no more and died moments later.

Has anyone else heard this? Yes, the famous quote is ironic and iconic, but is it the truth?


Sir Rhosis

Well, Jefferson also kept tunnels for his slaves to use so he wouldn’t have to see them more than necessary while they were going about their day to day tasks.’

Personally I think it’s easy for Jefferson to come off as a more relaxed character, he hardly ever fought for anything in the Continental Congress, while Adams was a famous figure standing upright, passionately arguing his case and driving his cane into the chamber floor to punctuate his points.

It’s sort of like how Colin Powell comes off as the nicest guy in the world, it’s easy to be that way when you’ve never really had to get down and dirty.

You have to admit, though. That is pretty clever.

Also, I’ve long doubted that Adams was “pompous ass.” It fits none of the things we know about the man. Contrast him to Jefferson and Adams was a pauper. Adams had a comfortable home and had periodically expanded his land holdings as his personal fortune increased, but there was no sprawling mansion for himself and he never showed any interest in establishing one either.

Adams had long been a man of principle, and he gave all of his considerable legal abilities to the defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston massacre, eventhough this could have been disastrous for his political career.

Adams was almost everything that we in the modern day want from a politician. He was principled, and he did not engage in double-speak, he said what he thought and meant what he said, and he said so forcefully and coercively. This may be why many have considered him in a negative light, in the 18th century speaking your mind openly wasn’t the behavior of a proper gentleman.

A prime example of the Adams character would be his appointment to deal with Great Britain to negotiate a treaty of peace. Adams was immediately unpopular in France because, in his negotiations with Great Britain he did not meaningfully include France. In Adams mind, as a sovereign state, kowtowing to the French, or asking for their assent or concurrence in the terms of the peace treaty made no sense whatsoever.

When Franklin and John Jay made it over to France Franklin supported the idea of effectively giving France veto power over the treaty, Adams and Jay overruled him and America negotiated its peace treaty with Great Britain not as a French protectorate but as a sovereign state. And I’m sure he came off as “unpleasant” to Ben Franklin in the process.

As for Adams having trouble in his cabinet, that’s more a reflection of the times than anything. Washington didn’t have very good control over his cabinet either, with Hamilton and Jefferson going at each other like children. The idea of the supremacy of the Presidency in the executive branch wasn’t so clear-cut as it was today. The earliest Presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) effectively left their cabinet members to their own devices. For long stretches of time these Presidents may not have even been familiar on a day-to-day basis with what their cabinet officers were doing.

The fact that a President’s VP in those days was the guy he beat in the presidential election also wasn’t a great thing, as Adams VP was the troublesome Jefferson and Jefferson’s VP was the extremely troublesome Aaron Burr.

Adams took unpopular but necessary actions. For example he kept America out of war with France eventhough in the process he upset some of the members of his own party. Adams also made a very important political appointment, that of John Marshall to the Supreme Court (as Chief Justice.) If not for that, who knows what our country would look like today.

Giving Jefferson big applause over the Louisiana Purchase is, in my opinion, akin to giving Richard Nixon great credit for the moon landing. The situation fell in Jefferson’s lap, and almost any man who was President or who sought to be President in Jefferson’s time would have agreed to the land purchase. Jefferson in fact may have been the one person least likely to go through with the deal.