A Little History On July 4th
Jefferson’s dying days, spent in his home of Monticello, were recounted by B. L. Rayner in his 1829 biography “Life of Thomas Jefferson.” Jefferson expressed his concern for the future of his university and his country without him; one of his last statements was, “Warn the committee to be on their guard,” a warning to his descendents to be ever vigilant in defending freedom.
Jefferson desired to live until July 4 so “that he might breathe the air of the Fiftieth Anniversary.” His last words, spoken the night before his death in the early afternoon of July 4, are traditionally given as some variation of “Is it the Fourth?”
Adams spent his final days at his home in Quincy, Mass. On the morning of July 4, he remarked, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” He died in the early evening, hours after Jefferson. According to tradition, Adams uttered the final words, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” unaware of the fact that his longtime friend had just passed away.
According to a journal entry by John Quincy Adams, who returned home 13 days after his father’s death, “About one afternoon [1 pm] he said ‘Thomas Jefferson survives,’ but the last word was indistinctly and imperfectly uttered. He spoke no more.”
Louisa Smith, Adams’ niece and possibly the only person in the room at the time of his death, said that she “could not catch the meaning” of what he said about Jefferson.
Though there may be doubt over Adams’ final words, there is no doubt that he and Jefferson maintained tremendous respect for each other even as stood as political adversaries. The timing of their deaths has forever linked them together.
“The extraordinary coincidence in the death of these great men is without a parallel in the records of history,” wrote Rayner. “Were any doubt harbored of their sincere devotion to their country while living, they must surely be dissipated forever by the time and manner of their death. … They were great and glorious in their lives; in death they were not divided. It was indeed a fit occasion for the deepest public feeling. Happening singly, each of these events was felt as supernatural; happening together, the astonishment which they occasioned was general and almost overwhelming.”