Consider the ironic fate of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Both men helped write and revise the Declaration of Independence and were among those who signed it—Jefferson representing Virginia and Adams representing Massachusetts.
Adams went on to be the second President of the United States, and Jefferson was the third. Both are Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
And they both died on July 4, 1826—on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration and the birth of our country.
Both men’s lives were irrevocably altered by the actions they took in 1776. It is oddly appropriate that we take note of the coincidence of their deaths on the very day most closely identified with the nation they helped to found and to which they dedicated their lives.
It is a day and a celebration inextricably linked with the freedoms that we hold sacred and fundamental to our country. If July 4 was quite literally the day that marked out the lives of Jefferson and Adams, it is at least figuratively the day that encircles each of our own histories, because the freedoms that it represents are the pillars that uphold our society—they define the United States; they are the DNA of all Americans.
Certain of the history that was being written, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, about how the day should be remembered:
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
So John Adams predicted the varied celebrations that we will have on this July 4 holiday. But leave it to Thomas Jefferson to have the last word. Just two days before his death in 1826, in the last letter he ever wrote, Thomas Jefferson spoke of the importance of the day: “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
Happy July 4! Happy Independence Day!