Standing on the Foot of Giants

Many of us have seen the painting Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull almost too many times to notice again. How many have noticed however that Thomas Jefferson is standing on the foot of John Adams?

Clashes between the men were widely known. Perhaps Trumbull’s brush was a subtle stance on a feud. It was a feud that played out in the early political life of the U.S. Adams defeated Jefferson by just a three vote electoral margin to become the second president. When Jefferson defeated Adams to become the third, Adams left the new Capital as Jefferson rode in, not attending the inauguration.

While Adams had proclaimed he would have the last words saying “I will outlive Jefferson,” his last words were “Jefferson survives.” In actuality, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier, the news of a rival’s demise never reaching either.

The painting was commissioned in 1817, after both had completed terms in office.  The interior depicted is at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The painting is installed in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

4 thoughts on “Standing on the Foot of Giants

  1. I’ve just been looking at a full-screen reproduction of that painting, and it appears to me that Jefferson’s right foot and Adams’s left are simply touching. If Jefferson is actually standing ON Adams’s foot, then Adams must have had unusually long feet for his height! Still, it’s a good story.


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