Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were allies and partners who helped create the greatest experiment in representative democracy in the history of mankind.
But Jefferson, the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, and Adams, the second president, were not always cordial.
Jefferson defeated Adams in a rancorous presidential campaign in 1800. As president, Adams made flagrantly anti-Jefferson political appointments immediately prior to Jefferson’s swearing-in. Jefferson was infuriated.
Jefferson and Adams stopped speaking for more than a decade. But the old men still shared the history of July 4, 1776.
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Adams told one of Jefferson’s neighbors visiting Adams in Massachusetts that he had always loved Jefferson. This so moved Jefferson that he asked Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the declaration and mutual friend, to help them reconcile.
Adams wrote his old colleague. This led to a renewed and fascinating set of correspondence on religion, politics, philosophy and their personal lives that lasted almost until the day each man died.
That day happened to be July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the declaration’s signing.
Now that this is nation is 239 years forward from the sweltering heat of the Philadelphia summer of 1776, let’s take a moment from our picnics and fireworks to reflect on the state of our independence.
In these momentous past few weeks, 6.4 million more Americans are free from the crushing worry of not having health insurance. Millions more Americans are free to marry whomever they choose. That’s more independence.
In some ways, we are falling behind. We are not independent from fossil fuels and face a changing climate that could alter our lifestyle and where we live.
The United States is the leader of the free world, but we have a long way to go to maintain our security from Islamic State, al-Qaida, North Korea and Russia, to name some.
Jefferson and Adams would not have recognized the thus-far mostly silly 2016 presidential campaign, except for the rancor.
The Founding Fathers would be baffled by Sen. Ted Cruz doing his Simpsons impressions; Gov. Bobby Jindal bizarrely and blithely calling for the elimination of the U.S. Supreme Court; and, good grief, Donald Trump’s mere presence. Thankfully, they couldn’t tweet in 1776: #thisistooseriousforCruzJindalandTrump.
Nor could Jefferson and Adams probably have envisioned the battle flag of a secessionist movement flying over state capitols 150 years after the defeat of the rebels.
Adams presciently wrote in an 1812 letter to Jefferson that “the Union is Still to me an Object of as much Anxiety as Independence ever was.” Still, the Union stands, regardless of the Stars and Bars, which are now being taken down faster than a fireworks stand on July 5th.
On July 4, 1826, the 83-year-old Jefferson asked, “Is it the Fourth yet?” After saying: “I resign my spirit to God, to my daughter, to my country,” he died.
The same day, 90-year-old John Adams was asked if he knew what day it was.
He said: “Oh, yes. It is the glorious Fourth of July. It is a great day. It is a good day. God bless it. God bless you all.” Adams’ final words were, “Thomas Jefferson.”
Regardless of our nation’s frailties and flaws, it is a glorious day, a great day, a good day.