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Friday, July 4, 2014

Adams and Jefferson: the End of an Era

By Kathleen Rice Adams

As the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence dawned on July 4, 1826, only three of the fifty-six signatories of the noble document still lived: John Adams (second president of the U.S.), Thomas Jefferson (third President of the U.S. and principal author of the Declaration), and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. By the end of the day, only Carroll remained.
Thomas Jefferson
(portrait by Rembrandt Peale, 1800)

Jefferson, whose health had been deteriorating since July the previous year, was confined to his bed at Monticello in June 1826, felled by a combination of kidney failure and penumonia. In the evening on July 3, he spoke his last words: "Is it the fourth yet?" His grandson and his doctor assured him the fourth was only hours away. Seventeen hours later, at 1 p.m. July 4, 1826, Jefferson passed away at the age of 83.
John Adams
(portrait by Asher B. Durand, c. 1800)

Adams, who maintained a close friendship with Jefferson until the vicious politics of the 1800 presidential election drove a wedge between them, had reconciled with Jefferson in 1812. The two men corresponded frequently and were well aware of one another's ill health. On July 4, 1826, at his home in Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams gave a toast to the country he helped found: "Independence forever." Later that evening, after suffering a heart attack and unaware his friend had died several hours earlier, 91-year-old Adams breathed his last words: "Thomas Jefferson survives."

The nearly concurrent deaths of two Founding Fathers on such a momentous day seemed preordained and fitting. Carroll survived for another six years, closing the book on an extraordinary chapter in history with his death at age 95 on Nov. 14, 1832.

The Declaration of Independence

Fifty-six remarkable men from thirteen disparate, but united, colonies signed a document that indicted them as traitors and changed the course of history:

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. 
A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled. 
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress,

  • New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
  • Massachusetts: Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
  • Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
  • Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
  • New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
  • New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
  • Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
  • Delaware: George Read, Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean
  • Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
  • Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
  • North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
  • South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
  • Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Fireworks at the Washington Monument, Washington D.C., July 4, 1986
(courtesy U.S. Air Force)


  1. Love this topic!! Thanks for sharing it -- and Happy 4th to everyone! I have to do a little bragging as my mother's family descends from William Williams listed on your Connecticut lineup! My grandmother, an avid historian, had many family sisters and I have continued to do research. Can't believe how many Williams settled in America in those early days.

    I do think in this crazy world of ours, it is critical we are reminded of what our forebears went through to establish this country! I recently read a biography of Ben Franklin and was so impressed with his contributions. We have him painted as party boy and inventor, but he was critical in his ability to moderate and mediate between the factions that grew up around the Constitution and its history.....fascinating! BTW -- has anyone else been watching the Revolutionary War series on TV?

    Again, Happy 4th!!!

    1. Thanks for coming by, Gail! How cool that your family is descended from a Declaration signer. Your ancestor was a very brave man.

      Have you read JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough? Wonderful biography, and quite thorough. The HBO series based on the book is wonderful, too.

      Have a great 4th of July! :-)

  2. Excellent article, Tex. I've always thought it fitting that the two men passed on the same day. They'd been both the closes of friends and the bitterest of enemies. I'm glad they died friends, but you know there was still that bit of competition there.

    Happy 4th to you and all the Roses!

    1. I've always found the circumstances of their deaths intriguing too, Trail Boss. Like you, I'm glad they renewed their friendship.

      Politics not only makes strange bedfellows, but also hogs the blankets. I wish there was some way around that unfortunate situation. No matter how our political ideologies differ, if you strip away all the external guff, we all want the same thing. It's just sad that people get mired in the "I know better than you do" mindset instead of working together to craft a compromise with which everyone can live.

      Happy 4th to you, too!

  3. Kathleen,

    I have always resonated with that story. The beginnings of this country are full of details that make the document you included even more precious. I thank you for sharing it.

    Politics makes for interesting reading and it can be vicious, but when push come to shove, we can usually work it out. Sometimes...sigh.

    Wishing everyone a wonderful 4th. I get to work and tell people where to go, so it is a really good one for me. Doris

    1. I wish we could work things out more often, don't you? Surely if people could remember the spirit of the Declaration and the Constitution we'd be able to find some kind of compromise to benefit us all.

      Keep the faith, Doris. The pendulum swings. Eventually, it'll move back to the middle. :-)

      Have a great 4th! Be careful telling people "where to go." ;-)

  4. And by the way, one of my favorite musicals of all time is "1776" which is about the writing of the Declaration. Doris

    1. I enjoy that musical, too!

      HUGS, sweetheart!

    2. What a great piece of trivia to add to your blog today Kathleen. Imagine Jefferson and Adams dying just hours apart and on the 4th of July. It's kind of eerie. Adding a copy of the Declaration of independence on this day is a great reminder of what makes our country great. I do have to take issue with one line though. the part about my having a right of pursuit of happiness----I've not been pursuing much happiness in recent years. Like some Americans we suffered job losses in the economic downturn which led me to not being to happy. Have a great 4th.

  5. Kathleen, I have always thought that was so ironic. Here's another bit--James Monroe also died on the 4th of July, but in 1831. Is there a story in this somewhere? My mind is working...LOL

    It's too bad so many of our younger people will never know or understand what it took for those men to sign their names to such a document.

    Happy Fourth of July!

    1. Oh, I know, Okie! It's so sad that kids aren't required to learn this stuff anymore. I think they miss out on a lot by doing little more than skimming the surface of history.

      I remember having to memorize the preamble to both the Constitution and the Declaration when I was in school. I'll be you do, too. I'm not a huge fan of rote memorization for memorization's sake, but in some cases, I think it can encourage us to think about what we're memorizing.

      Hope you and yours have a wonderful 4th! HUGS!!!!

  6. I was so emotionally moved by this post, Kathleen. The combination of the celebration of our country's freedom, and the passing of two of our most beloved founders is so profound, it almost seems ordained. Thomas Jefferson is one of my favorites, his spirit, his leadership, his intelligence, and his love of the violin. Great post. It's one in which the subject is dear to me.