The Eerie Connection of 2 Founding Fathers to the 4th of July
Two of our greatest founding fathers died the very same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Ironically enough, they were both on the drafting committee assigned to write that fateful document and one of these men was the principal author, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was also our 3rd President. He shares his death day with our 2nd President, John Adams. How fitting it is that they departed on our 50th Independence Day.
John Adams was our 2nd President and our 1st Vice President under George Washington. He was part of the five-man committee charged with writing the Declaration of Independence and a leading advocate of American independence. A statesman from Massachusetts, he had seen firsthand the problems with British rule and why independence was imperative. He had seen the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, as well as Concord and Lexington.
Oddly enough, one of the most influential events in Adams’ life, that helped launch him on his revolutionary journey, was as the defense attorney for the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. He argued, successfully, that the facts of the case exonerated the soldiers regardless of “our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion”. His impartiality in the face of the backlash he received from his fellow Bostonians, including his cousin Samuel Adams, garnered him a position in the Massachusetts colonial legislature in 1770.
From this body, Adams proceeded to the Continental Congress in 1774. From here, he argued vehemently for independence from British rule. In June 1775, he nominated George Washington as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army. And in 1780, was largely responsible for the Massachusetts Constitution which served as a blueprint for future state constitutions.
Adams’ revolutionary pedigree earned him the position of George Washington’s Vice President as well as winning him his own election in 1796 as the second president. He was the first president to live at the White House. He was also the president who built back up the navy and army in response to the outcry to become involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Most Americans wanted to assist France after she had helped the US win independence, but France saw the US as a trading partner with their enemy and began attacking merchant ships. Adams built up the navy to fight back and the army as a back-up in case of French invasion. Napoleon eventually backed off and Adams won neutrality from European affairs.
Adams and Jefferson may have seen eye-to-eye on the necessity of breaking from Great Britain, but they most certainly did not agree on how to run the country afterward. Adams advocated a strong central government while Jefferson favored states’ rights. Jefferson’s Republicans were the more popular party and they secured him the presidency in 1801.
After drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson served as the wartime governor of Virginia and then as the first United States Minister to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin. He was also the first Secretary of State and served as John Adams’ vice president. Jefferson was truly a product of the Enlightenment. He founded the University of Virginia and invented several items still in use today, such as the swivel chair. His mansion, Monticello, still stands as a marvel in engineering and architecture.
Jefferson oversaw the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new additions to the american territory while welcoming Ohio as a new state. His presidency wasn’t all glowing accomplishments however. He was faced with growing troubles with Britain over US neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars. He also initiated the process of Native American removal to the west of the Mississippi River.
As president, Jefferson saw the first war declared on his infant nation by Tripoli. The First Barbary War was one of economics: the US had been paying tribute to ensure safe passage in the Mediterranean from pirates. Tripoli wanted more money, Jefferson refused and war broke out. However, being the consummate statesman, Jefferson ended the conflict by bombarding Tripoli while simultaneously convincing its’ allies to stand down.
In life, these two men fought side by side and face to face. They were both instrumental in forming this nation from its inception. They authored the guidelines for breaking from imperial Europe, a heretofore unthinkable concept. They also argued vehemently over how to run the new nation afterwards. What they always agreed upon however was their love of the new country they helped found and fostered. That is why it is so fitting that these two men, friends and enemies both, met their end on the same day - a day that marked the 50th anniversary of their fateful Declaration of Independence.