July 2nd, 1826. Thomas Jefferson lay in his bed at Monticello, his life force quickly dwindling to the final hours. He looked down, to the polished oak floor as the early morning sun cast warm light through his bedroom window, and pondered his last hours. No one knows what he was thinking but he knew the historical significance of this day....a day when a young red-head from the mountains of Virginia sat quietly in the back of Freedom Hall and listened as others spoke. The other delegates often talked about the quiet spoken fellow who expressed himself better with pen and paper. Earlier in June, it was the fiery John Adams who suggested Jefferson should write the Declaration of American Independence. Though Adams and Franklin joined Jefferson as a committee of three to write it, it would be Jefferson who sat alone in his room and penned the document that would be praised, indeed worshipped, by people not yet free...living in the darkness.
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Those words had such elegance that it would be copied in over a hundred other national declarations over the next two centuries.
The vote for independence was actually voted on, on July 2nd, but it would not be ratified and published until the 4th.
No doubt Jefferson, as he lay on his death bed, was well aware of the day. And surely, his mind roamed over the events since; the death of his wife, of children, of political sparring with Adams and Hamilton over the philosophies of supremacy of the individual over the state. He would remember his election as President in 1801, and the second American revolution as Jefferson tore down much of the monarchial laws instituted by Adams. And it would take years for Jefferson and Adams to patch up their differences and re-new their friendship.
While Jefferson lay dying in Monticello, John Adams lay dying up in Quincy, Massachusetts. Storm clouds had hovered all day above Peace Field Farm, Adam's beloved home. Adams, bedridden as well, must have thought some on his old friend down in Virginia. They had resumed their correspondence, shared their griefs, pondered the state of the nation, spoke of their own imminent deaths and the promise of reunion with their loved ones. Even Jefferson, most of his life a religious skeptic, seemed to embrace the idea of a heaven in his later years.
On the 3rd both old freedom warriors drifted in and out of a stupor. While Adams slept fitfully through his night, Jefferson awoke at 9PM of the 3rd and asked "is it the 4th?" "Nearly so", he was told. Jefferson awoke again at 4AM but didn't speak. On the 4th, around noon, as church bells in Charlottesville rang out in celebration of the 4th, Jefferson rallied for a few moments, spoke briefly to his loved ones, then died.
Up in Quincy, John Adams was also in his last hours. Adams passed at 6:20 PM on the 4th, and not knowing of Jefferson's death, uttered "Jefferson survives." Within moments of Adams' death a violent thunderstorm began; it shook the old farm house and rattled the eaves, and left the family gathered around his death bed awestruck at its timeliness.
In those times it would be several days before the nation learned of the two deaths, within hours, on the glorious 4th. Once it reached the newspapers, the nation's citizens were stunned by the happenstance of the two founding fathers. People took it as a sign from God, a "divine providence" as if God were saying "I am well pleased"...by their work and in the infant nation's direction. It set off a hail storm of parlor talk; about Washington's miraculous escape from the British in New York, about the Christmas night crossing of the Delaware, the attack on the Hessians and the first American victory. A new appreciation was offered for a rag tag army of patriots who defeated the world's greatest power and securing a form of government of and for the people.
No doubt, the statisticians today would fire up their super computers, and proclaim two founding giants dying on the same day, mere coincidence. I'm just naive and stupid enough to believe it was indeed "divine providence"...that our Creator was telling us, if we stay on the right track, if we maintain a degree of morality and goodness, His favor is unlimited. How could I not? For two hundred years after the death of Jefferson and Adams America has advanced and prospered and became the envy of the world. Alas, these days our "divine providence" is very much in jeopardy. God help us all.