Deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4th

 The deaths of former U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826–the day of the Jubilee–the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, was an extraordinary and eerie coincidence. Jefferson died shortly after noon at the age of 83 in Monticello, Virginia. Several hours later Adams died in Quincy, Massachusetts at the age of 90. Though the nation’s second and third presidents were friends at the time of their deaths, they had been politically estranged for eleven years after the presidential election of 1800. Jefferson, along with James Madison, formed the Democratic-Republican Party while Adams was a Federalist. Adams wrote a letter to Jefferson on January 1, 1812, the first of many that renewed their friendship that lasted until their deaths. The last letter Jefferson wrote to Adams was on March 23. The last letter written by Adams to Jefferson was dated April 17, 1826The news did not travel fast during this time and the former presidents were not aware of each other’s deaths. Newspapers printed in the days immediately following their deaths included letters from Adams, Jefferson, and other surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence declining their attendance at the July 4th Jubilee celebration in Washington.
Death of John Adams
Sepia scan of the front page of a newspaper with visible text: COLUMBIAN CENTINEL.

Columbian Centinel (Boston, MA), July 8, 1826.

The news of Adams’s death reached Boston by the end of the day. The Columbian Centinel (Boston, MA) was aligned with Federalist sentiment in the Federalist Era and used mourning bars, large dark lines to signify mourning for former president Adams in its July 8, 1826 edition. Mourning bars have been used by newspaper publishers as early as the 17th century to communicate to readers that someone has died. According to newspaper reports, Adams’s last words were, “Jefferson still lives.” In the course of a few days, news of Jefferson’s death arrived from Virginia and the next issue of the Columbian Sentinel included the headline, “Another GREAT MAN is No More! and our columns again are shrowed in respectful mourning.”

Death of Thomas Jefferson

The Constitutional Whig (Richmond, VA) published news of Jefferson’s death in its July 7, 1826 issue.

Black and white image of a newspaper page with dark lines on either side of five columns.

Constitutional Whig (Richmond, VA), July 7, 1826.

Death of Jefferson and Adams

The Wilmingtonian, and Delaware Advertiser (Wilmington, DE) published news of both Jefferson’s and Adams’s deaths in its July 13, 1826 issue.

Black and white image of a newspaper page.

The Wilmingtonian, and Delaware Advertiser (Wilmington, DE), July 13, 1826.

Black and white broadside with visible text: “Funeral Thoughts, Excited by the Death of John Adams and Thos. Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826, the Jubilee of Independence.”

“Funeral Thoughts, Excited by the Death of John Adams and Thos. Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826, the Jubilee of Independence.”  Broadside published in Boston following the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1826.

After the deaths were announced, eulogies were pronounced across the country, and commemorations were printed in newspapers. Statesman Daniel Webster’s eulogy for Adams and Jefferson spoke to the point that many people believed: That something other than coincidence was involved. Yet another odd coincidence: Exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831, former U.S. President James Monroe died.

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