Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Jefferson and Adams ... Carter and Mondale?

From this morning's "The Note":

"Today is a red-letter day for former President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. They have lived one day longer after leaving office than any other pair. Today marks 25 years and 123 days since Carter and Mondale left office. The only other president/vice president team to last more than 25 years were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson."

Of course, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the nation's second and third Presidents, respectively, were not allied in the public mind the way Carter and Mondale were. Though they had served their new nation ably as two of the key leaders of the American revolution -- Adams as one of its earliest and craftiest political operators, and Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence -- they had split following Independence.

Adams had served the new nation as its first Vice President from 1789-1797 -- a job he disliked so much that he famously wrote his wife Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Jefferson served during the same time frame as the new nation's Minister to France.

In 1796, Adams ran for President as a Federalist. His opponent: Thomas Jefferson, the Republican. Adams won -- by a margin of 71 electoral votes to 68 (69 votes were needed to win an outright majority) -- and Jefferson served a term as his Vice President. (In those days, the Vice Presidency went to the candidate who polled the second-highest number of votes in the Electoral College. The concept of a Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate running together as a "ticket" didn't emerge until several elections later.)

But in 1800, the tables were turned, and Jefferson again competed for the Presidency against Adams. This time, the two tied in the Electoral College, with 73 votes each; the election went to the House of Representatives, which chose Jefferson.

So on March 4, 1801, the post-White House clock started ticking on the Adams-Jefferson pairing. The two began a correspondence which survives to this day as an example of brilliant nation-building and commentary on political philosophy.

That the two remained rivals, even in retirement and right up to the very moment of death, was never in doubt -- and was proven when, with his dying breath, Adams uttered his famous lament: "Thomas Jefferson survives."

But Adams was wrong: Unbeknownst to him, Jefferson had died earlier that very day.

The date? July 4, 1826 -- exactly fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Top THAT, Messrs. Carter and Mondale.


Post a Comment

<< Home