By Mike Wilcox, Publisher
Many of us look forward to the celebration of July 4th. It means time off work, parades, picnics, boating, warm weather, hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, bonfires and fireworks. But how many of us know the true meaning of the 4th and how the holiday began?
For Americans few dates are more profound. The 4th of July, or Independence Day, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was a document that declared the thirteen American colonies were a new nation, no longer a part of the British Empire.
Two of the signers of that document became our nation’s second and third presidents. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (the primary author of the Declaration of Independence) were bitter rivals in real life, having squared off twice for the presidency- Adams winning the first election by a razor-thin 3 electoral vote margin and Jefferson besting him in the second, in what historians call the “dirtiest election” in American history.
Adams remained angry about the loss even slipping out of town the morning of Jefferson’s inauguration, choosing not to attend or welcome Jefferson as the new president. The bitterness was harbored for years by both founders until Benjamin Rush, another signor of the Declaration, was able to facilitate a mending of the fences. Jefferson told Adams, “We were fellow laborers in the cause of independence and I salute you with unchanged affections and respect.”
On July 4th, 1826, a coincidence that looms large in American history occurred. The year was marked by several celebrations noting the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, who was suffering from rheumatism and an enlarged prostate declined an invitation to attend the July 4th celebration in Washington D.C. Adams also declined a similar invitation to attend a Boston gala due to poor health.
Early on July 4th, Adams lost consciousness. He recovered slightly a bit later but was pronounced dead a few hours later at 6 p.m. His final words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
Ironically Jefferson had died a few minutes earlier.
Amazingly, two great founding fathers, our second and third presidents, died within minutes on the same day, which happened to be the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which they both had signed. July 4th indeed was and is a remarkable day in America’s history.
Adding further to the coincidental nature, five years later in 1831, James Monroe, our fourth president, passed away on July 4th a, marking the third president in a row to die on the date of America’s birth. Truly amazing indeed.
One president, Calvin Coolidge, was born on the 4th of July. That was in 1872.
So while you are beachside, toes in the sand, your favorite beverage in your hand, remember you can enjoy the fireworks and the bonfires because men like Adams and Jefferson made it possible. They stood beside George Washington in battle and in Congress to deliver independence to us 241 years ago.. Please give them a hearty cheer on this very special day.