John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
- John Adams’ “frenemy rival” status with Thomas Jefferson is well-known – the two even died on the same day (July 4th, at that). But did you know that the two toured England together, including a stop at Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home – and cut a souvenir wood chip out of Shakespeare’s chair?
- Granted, the practice was common at the time, and Jefferson acknowledged the probable inauthenticity in a sly note, now displayed at Monticello: “A chip cut from an armed chair in the chimney corner in Shakespeare’s house at Stratford on Avon said to be the identical chair in which he usually sat. If true like the relics of the saints it must miraculously reproduce itself.”
- Adams found the house “small and mean,” while Jefferson noted the high costs of visitation. That said, Abigail Adams later wrote that the 1786 visit was profound on our third president, stating in a letter that Jefferson had kissed the ground in Stratford in homage to the Bard.
- While this may be a dubious claim, it’s true that Jefferson did appreciate and recommend Shakespeare’s work, writing that “a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity that were ever written.”
Imagine: What were the conversations like between Adams and Jefferson as they played tourists in England? Whose idea was it to take a souvenir from the chair?