On this day in 1813, former President Thomas Jefferson writes former President John Adams to let him know that their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, has died.
Rush’s passing caused Jefferson to meditate upon the departure of the Revolutionary generation. He wrote, We too must go; and that ere long. I believe we are under half a dozen at present; I mean the signers of the Declaration.
Although Jefferson and Adams were bitter political enemies by the time of the presidential election of 1800, in which Jefferson narrowly defeated Adams, the two leading intellectuals and politicians of Virginia and Massachusetts had been allies and confidants during the heady, revolutionary days of the late 1770s. Following 12 years of bitter silence caused by their disagreement over the role of the new federal government, the two old friends managed to reestablish the discourse of their younger years spent in Philadelphia, where they both served in the Continental Congress, and Paris, where they served together as ambassadors to France. In 1812, Benjamin Rush, a Patriot and physician from Philadelphia, initiated a renewed correspondence and reconciliation between his two friends and ex-presidents. The correspondence continued until Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence that all three friends had signed in 1776.
Rush and Jefferson had also had their differences. Where Adams and Jefferson had disagreed over politics, Rush and Jefferson had been forced to cease their conversations about religion when they reached an impasse. Although Rush believed in universal salvation and was friendly with Universalist Judith Sargent Murray and Unitarian Joseph Priestly, he accepted Jesus as his savior. Jefferson, a deist, would never see Jesus as anything but a man.