Died on the 4th of July

Nathan A. Cunningham
3 min readJul 4, 2023
Photo by Ryan Arnst on Unsplash — National Cathedral in Washington, DC?

John Adams, a chief advocate of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4th, 1826.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4th, 1826.

Yes, they died on the same day! And it was the nation’s 50th birthday.

According to John Quincey Adams (John Adam’s son) it was a “visible and palpable” sign of “Divine favor” that it would be this day. And per Daniel Webster (no relation to Noah the Dictionary guy), in his eulogy, “proof” from above “that our country, and its benefactors, are objects of His care.”

I learned this remarkable fact as I ended my 20 year journey with David McCullough through the life of John Adams. Notably, listening to Mozart’s Requiem as I wrapped the final chapter.

Also notably, I began reading this volume around 9/11/2001 and finished it during another crisis in March 2020.

Surprisingly, I discovered recently that reading this 651 page biography on and off over the course of two decades made Adam’s feel less distant. Almost like someone I’ve been privileged to know over many years. Certainly I have learned from him during different stages of my life. More valuable it seems than had I read it cover to cover when I was a 28 year old first time dad in 2001.

I love that Adams was a reader and learner to the very end and corresponded regularly for many years with his friend and political rival Jefferson. So much to learn from this man. He inspires me to finish well.

His humanity and sensibility can be summed up in this note in the margin of one of his books:

Admire and adore the Author of the telescopic universe, love and esteem the work, do all in your power to lessen ill, and increase good.

At his funeral, officiated by Pastor Peter Whitney who took his text from
1 Chronicles:

He died in good old age, full of days … and honor.

Yes he did.

On this July 4th I commend to you one of the stalwarts of our republic, John Adams.

Some favorite quotes from Adams:

Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics.
— John Adams

In 1805 in a letter to his old friend Benjamin Rush:

Is virtue the principle of our government? Is honor? Or is ambition and avarice, adulation, baseness, covetousness, the thirst for riches, indifference concerning the means of rising and enriching, the contempt of principle, the spirit of party and of faction the motive and principle that governs?

And too his granddaughter Caroline “in response to her quandary over the riddles of life”:

You are not singular in your suspicions that you know but little …. The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know …. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough …. So questions and so answers your affectionate grandfather.

And lastly, on Independence Day:

It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.