By Emily Cyr, Special Report Summer Associate
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are two men with a great deal in common: they both signed the Declaration of Independence, they both spent time as diplomats in Europe and both served as president as well as VP. One of the lesser known facts they have in common is that they both died on July 4th 1826.
50 years after both men had signed the Declaration of Independence, Adams and Jefferson had not only witnessed the birth of a great nation but also a great friendship. They met in July 1775 at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and a bond developed quickly, with Adams writing about his friendship with Jefferson as one “one of the most agreeable Events in [his] Life”.
The two often had diverging political ideologies, which they were able to overcome most of the time. Unfortunately, their friendship could not survive the presidential election of 1800, where Adams, as the incumbent Federalist, faced off against his vice-president, Jefferson, representing the Democratic - Republican Party. Jefferson proved victorious, but during his last days in office, Adams made multiple political appointments that Jefferson called the “one act of Mr. Adams’ life, and only one, ever gave [him] a moment’s displeasure”.
Their friendship went on hiatus during Jefferson’s two terms in office but in 1812, their correspondence resumed for the remaining 15 years of their lives. In these letters (many of which are chronicled in the Library of Congress), they discussed everything from politics to religion, philosophy and family. Though they still had their differences, Jefferson attributes their time as “fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government” as the foundation of their friendship.
When on July 4th, 1826 at the ripe old age of 90, Adams passed away, according to the records of his family, his last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives”. But unbeknownst to him, Jefferson had passed away five hours earlier at the age of 83.
The nation put great emphasis on the fact the two men died the same day, with John Quincy Adams, then president himself, writing about his father’s death: “The time, the manner, the coincidence with the decease of Jefferson, are visible and palpable marks of divine favor, for which I would humble myself in grateful and silent adoration before the Ruler of the Universe”.
Whether this was divine favor or not, it is a great story to share at a barbeque this weekend, Happy Fourth of July!