Happy 231st Birthday to the United States of America!
I’ve always felt a bit of pity for John Adams. He is the most boring and overlooked of the Founders: during the Revolution he was an unglamourous Ambassador, he never owned or slept with any slaves, he couldn’t write as well as Jefferson, he didn’t kill anyone or die in a duel, he was fat, obnoxious, balding with poofs of hair on either side of his head, and had a nagging wife. Hopefully, recent biographies will help to spice up his image.
I bring him up on this day because no matter how much our respect for this man grows, he’ll always be the guy who made these two quickly-proven-wrong predictions regarding the Fourth:
First: On July 3, 1776, the day after the Declaration was adopted by the Continental Congress, John wrote to his wife Abigail that
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. [emphasis added]
His confidence in American victory was admirable–especially that early in the war–but he should’ve waited to see when the celebrations would actually take place.
Second: His dying words, uttered July 4th, 1826, were “Thomas Jefferson survives” or “Thomas Jefferson still survives” or “Thomas Jefferson lives—Independence forever!” Whichever quote is accurate, Adams was wrong. Jefferson died earlier that day at Monticello. Oh well.
Imagine opening a newspaper in early July of 1826 to find that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had died not merely on the same day, but on the fiftieth anniversary of the Founding itself. I’ll bet that as much as any event in our history ever had or would, the occasion of their deaths heightened the American sense of being watched over by what Jefferson called “Divine Providence.”