"We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial.
What will be the outcome, I know not."
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1774
One of my favorite Founding Fathers of the USA is John Adams. We don't hear much about him these days. He's lumped in as just another wig-wearing, buckle-shoed Colonial personage of whom we might have heard of, know little about, and who seemingly has nothing to do with our modern, fast-paced lifestyle.
If you believe that, you are the poorer for it. If you want to learn more about Adams, the absolute finest biography ever penned on his life was written by historian Davd McCullough in 2001 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. It is simply titled, "John Adams." It was later made into an HBO mini-series of the same title.
Adams thought of himself as a simple farmer from Braintree, Massachusetts. But his resume' tells us he was an accomplished attorney, a representative delegate to the Continental Congress, who assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence, represented America in the courts of France and Great Britain, brokered a peace treaty with Great Britain, and secured substantial financial aid from Holland ensuring our nation's early financial survival.
He served as George Washington's Vice-President and was our second President, serving one term. His son, John Quincy, served as the sixth president of the United States.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, however, was marrying Abigail, his life-long advisor and friend (They often began letters to each with, "My dearest friend"). Abigail is worth learning about in her own right. Though not formally educated she was extremely intelligent and studied English and French literature, and was well-versed in both languages. The correspondence between Abigail and John have been well-preserved for us and give us a first-hand view into the lives of those forming a new nation.
During those momentous, sweltering days in Philadelphia, John, commenting on the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, wrote in a letter to Abigail dated July 3, 1776:
"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. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
Among these thoughts we discover that Mr. Adams believed we would celebrate July 2nd as our day of deliverance. Instead, we celebrate on July 4th. Why the difference? The answer is a fairly simple one.
On July 2nd, the Continental Congress, by voice acclamation, voted to declare independence from Great Britain, thus sealing the fate of the 13 colonies. It was between July 2nd and 4th that Congress worked out the final wording of the Declaration, completing their work on the 4th. That's the reason "IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776" adorns the top of the document. (Most of the signing didn't happen until August 2nd.)
John wrote Abigail more than one letter on July 2nd, but nothing on July 4th. And McCullough informs us that on July 4, 1776, another of the great Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, spent his day shopping for ladies gloves and a new thermometer.
The new nation, however, quickly settled into celebrating July 4th as America's birthday.
There's one other interesting item of historical significance surrounding July 4th. It was on that day in 1826, exactly 50 years later, that Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in Virginia and John Adams at his farm in Braintree, both died, only hours apart.
Writing in regard to the passing of these two stalwarts, President John Quincy Adams penned, "The time, the manner, the coincidence ... are visible and palpable marks of divine favor." July 2nd never stood a chance!