Remembering Our Cause For Independence
A weird coincidence happened on July 4, 1826… the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. They were two of the last three of the signers of the Declaration. Jefferson had been in and out of consciousness for days. Each time he would wake, he would ask if it was the fourth yet. When he was told that the day was finally there, he quietly slipped away. In Massachusetts, Adams had started the day like any other. He was well aware of the significance of the day, but being in his 90s, he had refused to attend any public ceremonies. Sometime around midday, about the time that Jefferson passed away, Adams’s health took a turn. He would go in to rest, but his health continued to deteriorate quickly and the family gathered by his bedside with the exception of his eldest son, John Quincy Adams, who was President and was attending official ceremonies in Washington. Just before he passed, Adams spoke his final words. “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Unlike today, news didn’t travel very quickly, and there was no way for him to know that Jefferson had died hours before. Adams would mutter something inaudibly and then closed his eyes.
It signified the end of a chapter of American history. The two last giants of the revolutionary era were gone in a single day… and on the most significant of days. Both had served in the Continental Congress, both had served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence (it was Adams who insisted that Jefferson write the Declaration), both had served as ministers overseas… both to France at one time before Adams was transferred to England, both would serve as Vice-President after the Constitution went into effect (Adams under Washington and Jefferson under Adams), and both would eventually be elected President. They became bitter enemies during the years of the Washington administration up through Jefferson’s own administration. They had ended up on opposing ends of the political spectrum. However, at the urging of a mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, both recaptured their friendship through a correspondence that still stands the test of time today. Here were two men who were great friends, became bitter rivals (Adams didn’t even attend the inauguration of Jefferson in 1801), only to recapture that lost friendship again… which would last until their dying day.
In a letter to John Adams dated June 27, 1813, Jefferson wrote, “Men have differed in opinion, and been divided into parties by these opinions, from the first origin of societies, and in all governments where they have been permitted freely to think and to speak.” […]
“To me … it appears that there have been differences of opinion and party differences, from the first establishment of governments to the present day, and on the same question which now divides our own country; that these will continue through all future time; that every one takes his side in favor of the many or of the few, according to his constitution and the circumstances in which he is placed; that opinions, which are equally honest on both sides, should not affect personal esteem or social intercourse; that as we judge between the Claudii and the Gracchi, the Wentworths and the Hampdens of past ages, so of those among us whose names may happen to be remembered for a while, the next generations will judge, favorably or unfavorably, according to the complexion of individual minds and the side they shall themselves have taken.”
Jefferson is correct in that aspect. As much as we detest the political parties of today, it would foolish of us to think that society does not devolve into them. We all tend to group with people that think like we do. We may not all agree on everything, but for those important things than we do (core values), we tend to form some sort of party around. Even as independents, we tend to group ourselves together, spark debate, bring about compromise or entirely new ideas. In the end, we can still be the same as a political party. We just try to allow ourselves more political freedom instead of adhering to one political ideology.
In a letter dated November 13, 1815, Adams wrote to Jefferson, “The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical.” Essentially, the republican form of government belongs to the people but it can degrade into despotism if the people become complacent instead of forcing the government and those that we elect to it to high standards and to uphold the law of the land (the US Constitution).
In our modern times, we have become very complacent and seem to turn a blind eye to our elected officials when they violate the Constitution. That complacency just tends to build up more and more, and our elected officials aren’t being kept in check so they are ruling however they so choose. Working together is no longer a way to get things done. They have a “my way or the highway” attitude about them, and they will bring down the government, the economy, the entire country until they get what they want. Either they do not care of the consequences of their actions (or inaction) or they are completely unaware. And as much as we like to blame Congress for the problems and their inability to solve our problems or get anything done, but we are still the ones that continue to elect them regardless of what they are doing… or not doing.
As we celebrate this Independence Day, let us also declare our own independence… not from the political parties that we have grown to detest, but rather from our own complacency. We are the ones that must restore order where chaos had ensued. Even despite all the money that is spent on elections now, we are still the people, and we still have the final say. Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia, “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.” But we the people must stand up for the rule of law and for liberty for all. We cannot do so if we are complacent and allow our government to run amok.
These two men, who we now see as larger than life, were anything but complacent. They stood up to their government and even helped to declare independence from said government when it was no longer representing them. They worked to secure that independence and establish a new nation… depending on citizen involvement and republican ideals. And throughout these turbulent times, they believed in the rule of law above all others. In his notes for an oration he would give in Braintree in the Spring of 1772, Adams wrote, “The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.” We should always be aware of the actions of those we elect to government. They should realize that upholding the law is second to none. The “Spirit of ’76” doesn’t just belong in our history books. It is something that we must continually practice so that our government does not devolve into the very thing we sought our independence from.