Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Story for the Ages: July 4th...

I love a good story whether it be from a book or watching a movie. Stories that have an interwoven plot with compelling characters always captivate my attention. For instance this story about two friends accomplishing great things together who eventually found themselves as bitter enemies. Then as age and circumstances changed their ill will toward each other softened and they rekindled a friendship that had once shaped a nation. Many might know the story to be about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams but how much of the end of this story do you know. 

This unique friendship and story started at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. John Adams was a representative of the Massachusetts delegates with Thomas Jefferson being his Virginian counterpart. Jefferson was young and known for being the silent thinker among the group. Many knew of his skill with the pen however that went greatly unnoticed in a sea of colonists who wanted to be the one seen and heard more than anything else. Adams was easily the most outspoken of all the delegates in Philadelphia. When the time came for colonies to seek independence from Great Britain, Jefferson and some others believed that Adams was the logical choice to pen the document but Adams had the foresight to know anything he wrote and presented to the delegation would be cut up and more than likely rejected. Adams knew that a declaration of independence should be written by a Virginian, being the largest colony at the time, and Jefferson was a skilled enough to do it. They collaborated together along with Benjamin Franklin and worked on getting the declaration approved by the Continental Congress in 1776. After its signing Adams stated, 

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Although the vote occurred on July 2, 1776 the document was finished on July 4, 1776 which gave us the day of our independence. As the American Revolution began Jefferson and Adams were asked to continue to use their political savvy overseas in persuading other countries to join our cause. Adams and Jefferson met back up in France near the end of the American Revolution where by this point Abigail Adams, John's wife, had become good friends with Jefferson as well. Their friendship continued to blossom throughout the years even while they were apart as they exchanged letters. 

The two leaders' paths crossed again during George Washington's administration when Adams was elected as the first Vice-President and Jefferson was appointed as Secretary of State. This is where the friendship of Adams and Jefferson begins to decline. The political feelings and positions of Jefferson and Adams had never been eye to eye however their goals had always been the same so they were able to accomplish great things. However as their endeavors changed from revolution to politics their stances on issue created a massive rift in their relationship. This rift grew even further when Adams was elected as the second President of the United States and Jefferson was elected as his Vice-President. Jefferson continually undermined Adams efforts especially when a conflict sprang up between France and the United States. Then as the election of 1800 approached Jefferson used all means necessary to get elected by placing negative stories in papers around the country that vilified his old friend and angered Adams to the point that he could not control himself. Then as the final dagger in their friendship Adams did something that angered Jefferson to no end. Adams appointed judges of his political leaning to the courts right before Jefferson took office. The biggest of these was John Marshall, a man that was a thorn in the side of Jefferson throughout his 8 years as President. 

During most of Jefferson's presidency Adams laid low and did not try to take the political spot light away from Jefferson. Once Jefferson left the Presidency in 1808 he retired to his home in Monticello, Virginia. Much time passed when these two men refused to communicate to each other. It took a Benjamin Rush, a close friend of both Jefferson and Adams, to push him to rekindle his friendship with Jefferson and breakdown their old barriers that had been built up over the last 25 years. Adams decided it was time and sent a letter on January 1, 1812 sending him a gift and wishing him a happy new year. From there Jefferson responded attempting to truly reconcile their relationship.
"A letter from you calls up recollections very dear to my mind. It carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ever ahead threatening to overwhelm us and yet passing harmless under our bark, we knew not how, we rode through the storm with heart and hand, and made a happy port. Still we did not expect to be without rubs and difficulties; and we have had them. First the detention of the Western posts: then the coalition of Pilnitz, outlawing our commerce with France, and the British enforcement of the outlawry. In your day French depredations: in mine English, and the Berlin and Milan decrees: now the English orders of council, and the piracies they authorise: when these shall be over, it will be the impressment of our seamen, or something else: and so we have gone on, and so we shall go on, puzzled and prospering beyond example in the history of man. And I do believe we shall continue to growl, [i.e., grow] to multiply and prosper until we exhibit an association, powerful, wise and happy, beyond what has yet been seen by men. As for France and England, with all their pre-eminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, and the other of pirates. And if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest and estimable as our neighboring savages are." - January 21, 1812  Adams-Jefferson Letters
From this point their correspondence was able to continued for the next 14 years. By itself this is a compelling story. Two great intellectuals of our nations history who were political enemies yet able to put that aside and be great friends. What a great lesson we could learn from these two great men. However this story is not yet over. To be a great story it has to have that truly unique moment that captivates our attention and helps us always remember why it was special. That unique moment is in the death of these two great men. How much more poetic can you get in a story in that on the 50th anniversary of these men founding our country they pass away together. It is almost as if these two greats of our nations history held out to die on the date of their life greatest accomplishment.

On this July 4th we need to reflect on our founding. The very purpose of this day is to celebrate where we came from and where we are today. Believe once again that our country truly is a great one and we have so much to offer the world. I encourage anyone who finds this story compelling to read more about their story. I promise you will not be disappointed in their story and they greatness of these two men.


  1. This is a great story, thank you!

  2. Definitely one of my favorites... thanks for reading.


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