John Adams’ Last Words

There’s something fascinating about the stories of how our young country came to be....

by - Posted on Jul 3, 2014

J.L.G.Ferris' rendering of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson

I've always been a bit of a history nerd. In college, I studied history and even taught high school U.S. history at one point. And, if prompted, I will talk anyone's ear off about James Madison–you've been warned!

There's just something fascinating about the stories of how our young country came to be. And one story in particular has always tickled my fancy–one about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

It's a well-known tale. Adams and Jefferson were fierce political foes in our nation's early days, though they became good friends in later years. Both men played an important role in the development of our government.

So it's kind of an amazing coincidence that they died on the very same day in 1826–July 4th. Exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The fact that these two founding fathers passed away on such a significant day is one thing (though they're not the only presidents who have died on July 4th; President  #5, James Monroe, did too), but there's something curious about it all when you consider Adams' purported last words–"Thomas Jefferson survives."

The strange thing? Adams got it wrong. He didn't know it, but Jefferson had died five hours earlier in Virginia.

So what did Adams mean by those words? Could it be he still resented his former opponent?

Maybe. But I like to think Adams meant something completely different. That our nation's second president was actually commenting on what he saw ahead of him. A glimpse of wonder that he perceived before he took his last breaths. "Thomas Jefferson survives." Perhaps not in this world, but in another one entirely.

Of course, I could be wrong. The history nerd in me tends to get carried away! What do you think? Is there some greater meaning behind Adams' last words? Share your interpretation below.

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