Jubilee, July 4, 1826
The day was scheduled to be a special day of rejoicing, looking backward and forward at the same time. The new nation had survived its birth pangs and, nurtured by the founding fathers, was growing steadily, finally on a more or less steady course toward its goal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a free nation and toward maturity as an emerging world power.
The bells rang, the cannons sounded but before nightfall this Jubilee observance of the Declaration of Independence would go down in history as a day of such phenomenal coincidences that it was unlikely ever to be repeated. Years before, in 1776, John Adams had written to his wife the day after the Resolution of Independence was passed that he believed that in the future that day would be commemorated by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty as the Day of Deliverance.
The eighty-three year old Thomas Jefferson’s deteriorating health had prevented his appearing in Washington for this observance. The night before the fourth he was in a semiconscious state, perhaps existing solely by his strong desire to be alive for that significant day. His very last words asked whether it was the fourth yet. When just after noon on the great day his heartbeat stopped, he had achieved his final wish.
Had Jefferson known of his lifelong friend John Adams’ failing health and imminent death, he might have induced in his wish that Adams, too, would see that day. But there would have been no necessity, for in late afternoon of that same day, hundreds of miles to the north in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams surrendered his ninety year old frame to death after his final words “and Thomas Jefferson still lives” were erroneously but distinctly spoken.
The friends would have been pleased to know that in death they shared yet another common date even as in life their similarities were evident. These giants of their times each had a keen intellect fed and constantly stimulated by the best books available at that time; each had a burning zeal for freedom and justice for this young country; each had signed that
memorable document denoting a turning point in history and forming a new nation; each had married at age twenty-eight; each had accepted difficult overseas diplomatic assignments during the Revolutionary War; each ascended to the Vice Presidency at age fifty-three and the Presidency immediately after. Their lives that had spanned two centuries filled with mutual friendship, mutual friends, mutual enemies and mutual national concerns were ended.
The bells tolling throughout the twenty-four states assumed a triple significance that day, July 4, 1826, announcing the end of an era and the end of their mutual pledge to each other, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor as set forth in the Declaration of Independence.
And so they passed from the living, even as a period passes at the end of a paragraph before the next sentence begins.
Waltraut H Geiger (aka “Mom”)