As we all prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, it is appropriate to reflect on the two men who were central in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Jefferson was the author but Adams, known as the Colossus of the Debate, served on the drafting committee and argued tirelessly for passage of the Declaration.
They were friends and fellow Patriots but had a falling out while Adams was President and Jefferson was Vice President. They both believed in the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but they disagreed on how that would happen and the role of government in the lives of Americans. Adams was hot tempered and difficult while Jefferson was gentile and soft spoken. Adams believed in a strong central government and Jefferson believed the Federal government should defer to the individual states.
When Jefferson ran for President against Adams, each engaged in a particularly nasty campaign and each slandered the other. After Adams’ defeat, it appeared that the two friends and former Patriots would always be bitter enemies. Adams retired to his home in Massachusetts convinced that he and Jefferson would never repair the rift between them.
Several years after Jefferson left office both he and Adams expressed to others that they wished to renew their friendship. Adams wrote to Jefferson to wish him a happy New Year in 1812. That overture was all that was needed and they began exchanging letters and renewed a friendship that lasted until their death in 1826.
July 4, 1826, fifty years after the adoption of the Declaration, a 90-year-old Adams lay dying at his home in Braintree, Massachusetts, while the country celebrated 50 years of independence. His last words were “Jefferson still survives.” What Adams could not have known was that Jefferson died at his home in Monticello, Virginia five hours earlier. Jefferson was 82.