Their Remarkable Death Teaches Us How to Live
On July 4th, 1826 — two great men lay on their deathbed.
They were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams was the primary advocate and Thomas Jefferson was the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence.
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.
It was the 50th anniversary of the signing of that great document and both men were slowly sliding into the next life.
Thomas Jefferson had been bedridden for weeks, struggling to make it to the sacred anniversary, where the night before his fever spiked and people believed he would die then.
But he reawaken the next day to ask, “Is it the 4th?”
Upon receiving confirmation, Thomas Jefferson slipped into a coma for which he would never return.
Hundreds of miles to the north lay John Adams who was also gasping for his last breath.
With friends and family around him, he uttered his last words, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died that day.
An era had come to an end.
The President of the United States at the time, John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, said the coincidence of their deaths on the nation’s anniversary were “visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor”.
As we look back on that day a few lessons come to mind…
Iron Will + Divine Will = Success
When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. — Thomas Jefferson
Despite being in immense pain, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson clung to life long enough to die on Independence Day.
Average men often don’t see the point to things therefore lacking the desire to exert themselves in anything meaningful.
But these men deeply valued their legacy because of the tone it set for the future of the republic. They wanted their death to irrevocably be linked to the birth of the nation they helped create.
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. — Thomas Jefferson
But as much as they believed their willpower contributed to the creation of the United States they also believed they received divine assistance, which seems feasible given their poetic passing.
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Friendship > Pride
A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man. – John Adams
In the end they were the greatest friends just as they had been during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
After all, it was John Adams who insisted Jefferson write it.
But as they got older and the nation matured, politics became more of a dividing force.
John Adams became the de facto leader of the federalists and Thomas Jefferson became the de facto leader of the republicans.
John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson for the presidency in a close election, but then 4 years later Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams.
John Adams was so hurt by the loss that he didn’t attend Jefferson’s presidential inauguration.
They didn’t talk for many years after that.
In a letter to his wife, John Adams vented about Jefferson…
Instead of being the ardent pursuer of science that some think him, I know he is indolent, and his soul is poisoned with ambition!
But as the founding generation slowly died out, they were encouraged by mutual friends to rekindle the ol’ flames of friendship.
On New Year’s Day, John Adams sent a brief, but friendly note to Jefferson including a two-volume collection of lectures by John Quincy Adams (This makes me laugh because to offset what must have been a hit to his ego he braggadociously puffed out his chest as a proud father).
Jefferson immediately replied with a cordial letter, which revived the friendship, and for the next 14 years until their death they kept up a steady stream of correspondence, which totaled 158 letters.
The letters indulge in reliving the glory years, complaining about the current generation, and stroking each other’s egos, while trying to soften some of the persisting lines of political and philosophical disagreement.
Their mutual respect for each other, shared history, and acknowledgement that the other’s intentions were pure (although sometimes disagreeable), was enough to overcome their differences.
Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. . . . Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. . . . We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address
Know How to Make an Exit
Do you know who you are? Do not ask: act! Action will delineate and define you — Thomas Jefferson
They had a flare for the dramatic. They understood their role in history and wanted to end the final chapter of their life in a way that was worthy of the life they lived.
They were showmen to the end.
Thanks for reading! Anthony Galli writes about the greats so that we may become great. Watch his series @ The Great Life.