July 4th is celebrated as independence day in the U.S. because it is the day America’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence from British rule. In a strange coincidence of U.S. history, two of the Americans who signed the Declaration died within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of signing that famous document.
On July 4, 1826, America’s second president John Adams died at the age of 90. According to History.com, Adams remarked on his deathbed that he had been outlasted by his fellow founding father and later political rival, Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president. Little did Adams know, Jefferson had died around five hours earlier at his Monticello estate in Virginia at the age of 83.
Both Adams and Jefferson played key roles in the creation and passage of the Declaration of Independence, though the two later became political adversaries. As president, Adams was a proponent of a stronger centralized government, while Jefferson advocated for a federal government that took a more relaxed approach and would differ instead from individual states’ rights.
Jefferson is credited with writing the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” formed the famous first sentence of the Declaration and it has been alluded to in many instances throughout U.S. history, such as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address when he said “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
According to the National Constitution Center, Adams credited himself with selecting Jefferson to write the Declaration, though Jefferson disputed the claim.
Adams has been described as one of the key proponents of American Independence. According to documents compiled by the Massachusetts Historical Society, Jefferson himself referred to Adams as “our Colossus on the floor,” and said, “He was not graceful or elegant, nor remarkably fluent, but he came out occasionally with a power of thought and expression, that moved us from our seats.”
History.com noted that after both men completed their presidential terms the two politicians made amends. In a January 1, 1812 letter to Jefferson, Adams wished Jefferson a happy new year and wished him many more years to come. Jefferson reportedly responded with his own letter recalling his and Adams’s work for the cause of American independence and the two maintained their communication over the ensuing 14 years before they died.
America’s fifth President James Monroe also died on July 4, 1831, five years after Adams and Jefferson passed. The National Constitution Center documented that contemporary news publications noticed the coincidence following Monroe’s death. The New York Evening Post wrote an obituary noting the death of all three presidents as a “coincidence that has no parallel” noting “Three of the four presidents who have left the scene of their usefulness and glory expired on the anniversary of the national birthday.”