Feature

7 of John Adams' greatest insults

"What a poor, ignorant, malicious, crapulous mass."

A man whose wit was matched only by the looseness of his tongue, the combative John Adams quickly acquired a hefty reputation for articulate jabs and razor-sharp put-downs at the expense of his allies and (numerous) rivals alike, including some of the most celebrated figures in American history (Bob Dole once described him as "an eighteenth-century Don Rickles"). Here are some of his best zingers.

1. ON BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
"His whole life has been one continued insult to good manners and to decency."

2. ON ALEXANDER HAMILTON
"That bastard brat of a Scottish peddler! His ambition, his restlessness and all his grandiose schemes come, I'm convinced, from a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn't find enough whores to absorb!"

(Hamilton certainly wasn't above returning the fire.)

3. ON THOMAS PAINE'S COMMON SENSE
"What a poor, ignorant, malicious, crapulous mass."

(For more on their relationship, head here.)

4. ON GEORGE WASHINGTON
"That Washington is not a scholar is certain. That he is too illiterate, unlearned, unread for his station is equally beyond dispute."

5. ON THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
"Phyladelphia [sic], with all its trade and wealth and regularity, is not Boston. The morals of our people are much better; their manners are more polite and agreeable... Our language is better, our taste is better, our persons are handsomer; our spirit is greater, our laws are wiser, our religion is better, our education is better. We exceed them in every thing, but in a market."

6. ON THOMAS JEFFERSON
"His soul is poisoned with ambition."

7. ON JOHN DICKINSON
While working as a member of the American revolution's Continental Congress, Adams referred to one of his less-radical colleagues as "a piddling genius" in one of his letters — an insult which caused a good deal of uproar when the British intercepted and published the candid document. For a fictionalized account of the pair's tense relationship, check out this clip from HBO's 2008 John Adams miniseries:

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