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(By Chris Sharp) A salient aspect of teaching high school students some history is my asking, “How many in this room want to hear another story about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson?”  I could by now comfortably predict that not one hand would go up.

However, I can also comfortably predict that if I were to ask any mixed gathering in any other room, “How many of you would like to find a plan to live more than twenty years past your life expectancy?” I am sure that some hands at least would be raised.

So, this column is not really for those who want to hear another story about Adams and Jefferson.  It is more for a reader who wants to know how in the world Adams lived to be 90 and Jefferson lived to 83 when the average life expectancy in the country was below 50.  And I am not saying I have all the answers for this. I am just saying that my small section of an answer may be just enough to be worth thinking about.

What made the long lives of Adams and Jefferson so remarkable is that they lived in an age where the medical culture was so bad that people may have indeed lived longer if – as Moliere had recommended – they were never to visit a physician at all.  Indeed, if George Washington after catching a bad cold in a snow storm had not had physicians come to treat him, he might never have bled to death from all the leeches they placed on his body.

But things turned out very differently for Adams and Jefferson.  In the autumn of their lives, something basically changed in the compositions of both men.  Until they had both long retired from the presidency and politics in general, Adams and Jefferson were the bitterest political enemies against each other.

It is true that Jefferson had served as the vice president under Adams during the latter’s four year one term presidency.  But in those early years of America, the vice president was not chosen because he was the choice as the best partner for the president.  Rather he was chosen because he came in second in qualifying votes. And so that policy often left the president and the vice president at competitive odds with each other, especially in the case of John Adams as president and Thomas Jefferson as vice president.

If anything, Jefferson as vice president sabotaged President Adams at every chance he could get.  The difficulty of Adams trying to be president with a hostile Jefferson at his side trying to stop the major policies of Adams finally created so much enmity that Abigail Adams -- describing Jefferson as The Devil -- forbade her husband to have any social discourse with him.

But it might be considered that the clash between the two had fundamental causes of division.  Jefferson was the son of an American aristocratic Virginian family, while the Massachusetts-based Adams was the direct descendent who Puritans who landed not far from where Adams was born.  The Jefferson family believed in trading as much science for religion as possible.  The father of John Adams in contrast was a deacon in the local Congregationalist church.  Lingering Puritanism took place in the Adams house in the form of a belief in pre-destination.

However, in contrast, Jefferson traced his personal disbelief in God to an experience he had as a small boy.  One day he was tired of school, and he prayed that the school day would end early so he could work on something more interesting. But the school day did not end early.  From then on, Jefferson “knew there was no God.”

Read more here: A Sharp View: How Adams and Jefferson lived longer by taking longer walks