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On July 4th, Fifty Years Later

A recent poll showed that only about 70 percent of the people in the US know that England is the country we declared our independence from on July 4th in 1776.

John Adams

John Adams

It’s a good bet that even fewer know that former presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were bitter political enemies,  later in life carried on a correspondence with each other that ended only at  their death, which was on the same day, July 4th, 1826 — precisely fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. That they should both die on that famous day is an astonishing historical fact. And why John Adams ever reconciled with Thomas Jefferson is equally astonishing.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Yes, it’s true that Adams and Jefferson had been close friends, and that Jefferson took a kind interest in young John Quincy Adams, and that Jefferson’s daughter lived for a time with the Adamses in England. But Jefferson, probably our most duplicitous president, carried out such sly and malicious attacks on Adams that a rapprochement between the two is remarkable. Furthermore, while Jefferson was a landed slave owner, Adams was a lawyer who worked his own farm. Adams was happily married to an intelligent, hard working woman; Jefferson’s wife died young, a  shattering blow to Jefferson who never remarried and apparently fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. But they were certainly matched in one regard; both were brilliant men, free thinkers in the best Enlightenment tradition, who loved to read, to talk, to argue and debate ideas. There weren’t a lot of others of their kind to write to.



More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.