John Adams Late Life

Author: Sean Lawler Publish Date: September 30, 2014

Portrait of John Adams circa 1816
Portrait of John Adams, Samuel F.B. Morse, 1816. Brooklyn Museum.

Following his defeat to Jefferson, Adams returned to his family’s farm at Peacefield in Quincy, Massachusetts. Adams was delighted to return to the life of a simple New England farmer, he wanted nothing more, and nothing less. It was at the end of his presidency that Adams learned of the untimely death of his thirty year old son, Charles Adams, who died from complications arising from alcoholism. John Adams would never stop mourning the loss of his son, and neither would Abigail. But both Abigail and John were determined to carry on. In a letter to her son Thomas, Abigail wrote “For myself and my family, I have few regrets…I shall be happier in Quincy.”

While removed from public life, John Adams continued to write. He exchanged letters with his old friend Benjamin Rush, and through Rush, Adams would be reunited through correspondence with his old friend, Thomas Jefferson in 1812. The former presidents would exchange regular correspondence for the next fourteen years, until the two of them passed away in 1826. In addition to private correspondence, Adams did not shy away from dealing with the legacy of his career as a public servant. At the urging of his son, he undertook the task of writing an autobiography.

Portrait of Mercy Otis Warren circa 1763
Mercy Otis Warren, John Singleton Copley, 1763. ABC Gallery.

In 1806, Mercy Otis Warren published the History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution in which she criticized Adams for betraying the Revolution. As Mercy Warren was an old friend, Adams was deeply offended. In the years ahead, he took it upon himself to publish a series of weekly contributions to the Boston Patriot in which he defended himself for the decisions he made, and glorified his contributions to the success of the American Revolution. But after three years, Adams realized that his appeal was in vain. Dejected, he would write “Voltaire boasted that he made four presses groan for sixty years, but I have to repent that I made the Patriot groan for three.”

Adams spent the remainder of his life completing his autobiography, and spending ample time with his family. His son John Quincy moved to Peacefield, spending five years there. Thomas, whose legal practice in Philadelphia had failed to take off also move back to Quincy to be closer with John and Abigail. In 1818, Abigail Adams would die from typhoid, much to the distress of John. Both Adams and Thomas Jefferson would pass away on July 4, 1826 only hours part on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. According to witnesses, John’s final words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.”