As is well-known but often forgotten, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on this day in 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of their signing of the Declaration of Independence. Adams’ last words were purported to be, “Thomas Jefferson lives,” reflecting their friendship, rivalry and differences over those many years. Tony M. Hodge wrote yesterday of their mutual story in the Charleston Gazette.
The two men could not have been more different in temperament, and their political views diverged as well in the early years of the republic. Adams was outspoken and suspicious, while Jefferson was prickly. They chose opposite political sides, and Jefferson actually ran against Adams for President.
The correspondence between the two men transcended those differences, and they ultimately developed a mutual, but still competitive, respect for each other. Such is perhaps the sign of truly great men, and certainly of women as well: to have strong views, but to respect those with whom one differs.
I would offer their relationship as a lesson for our times, but I wonder if we have become so divided that truth and decency has been sacrificed on the altar of hate. Perhaps the celebration that we share today is a reminder that the freedom to differ is a rare one in this world but that such freedom also requires responsibility from those who enjoy it.