I’m keeping this one short in honor of Independence Day today here in the United States. However, I’m also sticking with Independence Day as my theme of choice.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had a lot in common. Both were farmers, of a sort. Both practiced law. Both were delegates to the Second Continental Congress, served on the Declaration committee, and helped pen the document which makes today a national holiday in the States. Both served as vice president (Adams to Washington, Jefferson to Adams), and both served as president (Adams after Washington, Jefferson after Adams). But there is one major thread that ties these two together on July 4 – a thread that has nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence.
For all that they were similar, Jefferson and Adams were different in a lot of ways as well. Adams was short, stocky, and emotional. Jefferson was tall, slender, and quiet. Adams’ religious beliefs were very keen, a result of his father who was a Puritan deacon. Jefferson’s religious beliefs were much more expansive, a result of his studies of philosophy and religion in college. Adams felt that a stronger central government was necessary to ensure the survival of their fledgling nation. Jefferson, on the other hand, saw a strong central government as a potential problem and preferred to see the power more in the hands of the states.
Despite their differences, Adams and Jefferson were friends from the Congress up to the time that both returned from Europe. (Both, coincidentally, were ambassadors to France at one point in time) But after that time, the relationship between the two soured. Adams won a very narrow election to follow Washington as the second President of the United States. Jefferson, by Constitutional Law, became Vice President. In 1800, Adams stood for reelection and the country witnessed the first smear campaigns in its short political history. Jefferson won the election, and Adams left before the inauguration. Neither would talk to each other in person ever again.
Yet in 1812 they began writing to each other, prodded on by a mutual friend (and fellow delegate of the Continental Congress). From 1812 to 1826, the two wrote 158 letters. Many speculate that the letters were written as much for posterity as for each other, and that may be the case. Both believed posterity was very important, even though they would not be around to see how posterity played out.
Now, what is the thread that ties these two together? On July 4, 1826, within hours of each other, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. That it happened on July 4 was remarkable to begin with, considering the importance of the date. That it happened on the same day of the same year? A coincidence that we may never see happen again.
See you tomorrow in preparation for the weekend!