Every year on the 4th of July I think about the extraordinary fact that John Adams, our second President, and Thomas Jefferson, our third, died on the same day, July 4th, 1826. A fitting end to the lives of two giants of our history. They must have made quite a pair–Jefferson, red haired and lanky, some say bony; Adams short, nearly bald, and eight years older than Jefferson. Both men were passionate about their politics and fiercely independent in their thinking. It is said that Jefferson sat a horse beautifully, he played the violin, he was interested in everything from agriculture to architecture. He was not, however much of a people person. Adams on the other hand adored his wife Abigail and their children and kept up a lively correspondence with them when the business of the county kept them apart. Jefferson once wrote that Mr. Adams was “so amiable that it was impossible not to warm to him”.
Though they became bitter rivals, in old age they wrote to each other until the very end. In March of 1826, Jefferson wrote to Adams that his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph was coming to New England and that if the young man did not see Adams, it would be as if he had seen nothing. Mr. Adams replied, in a letter dated April 17, 1826, that he had enjoyed young Randolph’s visit and remarked upon how tall the boy was. This was to be their last exchange.
On July 2, at Monticello, Mr. Jefferson lapsed into a coma but awoke some hours later to say, “This is the Fourth.” Told that it was still the 3rd he slept again and died at one o’clock in the afternoon of July 4th. In Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams lay in his bed listening to a gentle rain pattering on the roof. Late in the afternoon, he whispered, “Jefferson survives” unaware of course that Mr. Jefferson had died just hours earlier. Adams’s heart stopped at six twenty that evening.
The fact that both men died on the same day, July 4, was not interpreted as a mere coincidence. Mr. Adams’s son, John Quincy wrote in his diary that night that their simultaneous passing was “a visible and palpable” manifestation of “Divine favor,” a feeling that was echoed again and again as word spread. In a two hour eulogy in Boston on August 2, Daniel Webster said their deaths on the same day, and on the nation’s 50th birthday was “Proof from on high that our country and its benefactors, are objects of His care.”
May it ever be so. Here’s hoping you had a lovely 4th.