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Highlights from Previous Speakers

May 5, 2015: Peyton Dixon & Steve Edenbo

“We Disagreed as Rational Friends”
– a debate between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson & Adams Photo courtesy of Jennifer McMenamin, Valley Forge NHP

Almost two hundred people filled the theater of Valley Forge National Historical Park on a beautiful May evening as John Adams (portrayed by Peyton Dixon) and Thomas Jefferson (portrayed by Steve Edenbo) engaged in a fascinating, spirited debate over some of the important issues relevant to the founding of a new nation. The audience, very much caught up in the spirit of the evening, asked probing questions, then adjourned to the Visitors Center for a delightful reception to continue the discussion with our second the third Presidents.

During the debate, these two great men of the 18th century recalled their bumpy collaboration on the Declaration of Independence, for they parted ways on its final content and even the appropriate date for commemorating American independence. (Adams argued for July 2; Jefferson favored July 4.) The gentlemen also clashed on what should be in the Constitution, and Jefferson declared that it should be rewritten every generation. (Adams did not.) In a rare moment of accord, both stated they found the office of President of the United States to be difficult and decried the assault of the press on those who held the office. But they did disagree on the term of office for the Presidency. While Jefferson argued that no president should hold the office for more than one term, Adams vigorously argued that no term limits should be placed on the Presidency.

The lively and emotional debate was fueled by a shared love of the United States, yet spiced with opposing notions of how best to protect and foster the new nation. At its core was the fundamental difference between the two patriots: Adams believed in a strong central government, while Jefferson supported states’ rights. Jefferson, who served as Adams’ vice-president, was particularly furious over Adams’ approval of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The two former presidents detested each other for years, but finally mellowed and began a brilliant correspondence that lasted for fourteen years.

Ironically, both Thomas Jefferson (then 82) and John Adams (at the age of 90) died on July 4, 1826, Jefferson five hours earlier than his “rival friend.”

This debate was sponsored by the Sherrin H. and Bruce A. Baky Foundation, presented by The Friends of Valley Forge Park and Washington Memorial Heritage, and hosted in cooperation with the American Historical Theater (AHT).