JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826). Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson"), as President, to J. W. Eppes, his son-in-law, Washington, 4 June 1804. 2 pages, recto and verso, 4to, slight stains and wear at creases, catching one letter of text. Mounted and framed alongside a copy of the recto. Not examined out of frame.
PRESIDENT JEFFERSON ON PRESIDENT ADAMS: "ONE ACT OF HIS LIFE, & NEVER BUT ONE, GAVE ME PERSONAL DISPLEASURE, HIS MIDNIGHT APPOINTMENTS"
"...I HAVE NEVER WITHDRAWN MY ESTEEM..." A famous Jefferson letter, written after the April 1804 death of his daughter Maria Jefferson Eppes, in childbirth, not yet age 26. He recounts to his grieving son-in-law his failed attempt at reconciliation with Abigail Adams. "I inclose you a letter [not included] I received lately from Mrs. Adams. The sentiments expressed in it are sincere. Her attachment was constant. Although all of them point to another object directly, yet the expressing them to me is a proof that our friendship is unbroken on her part. It has been a strong one, and has gone through trying circumstances on both sides. Yet I retain it strongly both for herself and Mr. Adams. He & myself have gone through so many scenes together, that all his qualities have been proved to me, and I know him to possess so many good ones, as that I have never withdrawn my esteem, and I am happy that this letter gives an opportunity of expressing it to both of them. I shall do it with a frank declaration that one act of his life, & never but one, gave me personal displeasure, his midnight appointments. If respect for him will not permit me to ascribe that altogether to the influence of others, it will leave something for friendship to forgive. If Patsy [Martha Jefferson] is with you, communicate the letter to her, and be so good as to reinclose it to me..."
Abigail Adams had been a surrogate mother to Maria or "Polly" Jefferson, when the little girl stayed with the Adamses for in London in the mid 1780s, when both Jefferson and Adams were diplomats. Hearing of Polly's death, Abigail wrote: "Reasons of various kinds withheld my pen" from writing Jefferson sooner, "until the powerful feelings of my heart have burst through the restraint, and called me to shed the tear of sorrow over the departed remains of your beloved and deserved daughter, an event which I most sincerely mourn." But Jefferson was wrong to think that Abigail had changed her feelings towards him. He was disastrously wrong in thinking that his frank admission about the midnight appointments would clear the air. They only provoked a scathing letter from Abigail, in which she decided to be frank about her resentments against Jefferson--and there was more than one. By the time their exchange of letters finished five months later, relations were as bad between Monticello and Quincy as they had been on midnight 3 March 1801.
Sadly, by the time Jefferson and John Adams finally reconciled in 1811, Abigail was dead, and so was the baby Maria. In this letter to Eppes, Jefferson also includes some poignant hopes about her future happiness. "We consented to consign little Maria [the motherless newborn] to the entreaties of Mrs. Eppes until August when she promised to bring her back herself. Nature's law will in time deprive her of all her older connections. It will then be a great comfort to have been brought up with those of her own age, as sisters & brothers of the same house, knowing each other in no other relation, and ready to become the parent of each other's orphan children..."
A remarkable, poignant letter from a crucial chapter in Jefferson's personal life, anticipating the famous reconciliation between Jefferson and Adams that "became the principal pleasure and resource of each," obeserves one historian: "the country, the world, and man with all his foibles passed in review through a correspondence wonderfully rich in wisdom, humor, and insight..." (Page Smith, John Adams, New York, 1962, 2:1082-1085).