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Death Of Adams And Jefferson On The Same Day [1826]
By Thomas H. Benton

 

Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson—two of the most eminent political men of the Revolution, who, entering public life together, died on the same day —July 4th, 1826—exactly fifty years after they had both put their hands to that Declaration of Independence which placed a new nation upon the theater of the world. Doubtless there was enough of similitude in their lives and deaths to excuse the belief in the interposition of a direct providence, and to justify the feeling of mysterious reverence with which the news of their coincident demise was received throughout the country.

The parallel between them was complete. Born nearly at the same time, Mr. Adams the elder, they took the same course in life—with the same success—and ended their earthly career at the same time, and in the same way: in the regular course of nature, in the repose and tranquillity of retirement, in the bosom of their families, and on the soil which their labors had contributed to make free.

Born, one in Massachusetts, the other in Virginia, they both received liberal educations, embraced the same profession (that of the law), mixed literature and science with their legal studies and pursuits, and entered early into the ripening contest with Great Britain—first in their counties and States, and then on the broader field of the General Congress of the Confederated Colonies. They were both members of the Congress which declared Independence—both of the committee which reported the Declaration - both signed it—were both employed in foreign missions—both became Vice Presidents—and both became Presidents. They were both working men; and, in the great number of efficient laborers in the cause of Independence which the Congresses of the Revolution contained, they were doubtless the two most efficient—and Mr. Adams the more so of the two. He was, as Mr. Jefferson styled him, "the Colossus" of the Congress—speaking, writing, counseling—a member of ninety different committees, and (during his three years' service) chairman of twenty five—chairman also of the board of war and board of appeals: his soul on fire with the cause, left no rest to his head, hands, or tongue.

Mr. Jefferson drew the Declaration of Independence, but Mr. Adams was "the pillar of its support, and its ablest advocate and defender," during the forty days it was before the Congress. In the letter which he wrote that night to Mrs. Adams (for, after all the labors of the day, and such a day, he could still write to her), he took a glowing view of the future, and used those expressions, "gloom" and "glory," which his son repeated in the paragraph of his message to Congress in relation to the deaths of the two ex-Presidents, which I have heard criticized by those who did not know their historical allusion, and could not feel the force and beauty of their application. They were words of hope and confidence when he wrote them, and of history when he died. "I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and to support and defend these States; yet through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory !" and he lived to see it—to see the glory— with the bodily, as well as with the mental eye. And (for the great fact will bear endless repetition) it was he that conceived the idea of making Washington commander-in-chief? and prepared the way for his unanimous nomination.

In the division of parties which ensued the establishment of the federal government, Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson differed in systems of policy, and became heads of opposite divisions, but without becoming either unjust or unkind to each other. Mr. Adams sided with the party discriminated as federal; and in that character became the subject of political attacks, from which his competitor generously defended him, declaring that "a more perfectly honest man never issued from the hands of his Creator"; and, tho opposing candidates for the Presidency, neither would have anything to do with the election, which they considered a question between the systems of policy which they represented, and not a question between themselves.

Mr. Jefferson became the head of the party then called Republican— now Democratic; and in that character became the founder of the political school which has since chiefly prevailed in the United States. He was a statesman: that is to say, a man capable of conceiving measures useful to the country and to mankind—able to recommend them to adoption, and to administer them when adopted. I have seen many politicians—a few statesmen— and, of these few, he their preeminent head. He was a republican by nature and constitution, and gave proofs of it in the legislation of his State, as well as in the policy of the United States. He was no speaker, but a most instructive and fascinating talker; and the Declaration of Independence, even if it had not been sistered by innumerable classic productions, would have placed him at the head of political writers. I never saw him but once, when I went to visit him in his retirement; and then I felt, for four hours, the charms of his bewitching talk. I was then a young senator, just coming on the stage of public life—he a patriarchal statesman just going off the stage of natural life, and evidently desirous to impress some views of policy upon me—a design in which he certainly did not fail. I honor him as a patriot of the Revolution—as one- of the Founders of the Republic—as the founder of the political school to which I belong; and for the purity of character which he possessed in common with his compatriots, and which gives to the birth of the United States a beauty of parentage which the genealogy of no other nation can show.