Wade’s Wednesday

Famous Last Words

On July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence first asserted American sovereignty, former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both passed away.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ vice president and successor in office, had worked with each other to draft the Declaration of Independence, published on July 4, 1776. Fifty years to the day, the 90-year-old Adams and 83-year-old Jefferson died just hours apart.

Jefferson desired to live until July 4 so “that he might breathe the air of the Fiftieth Anniversary.” His last words, spoken the night before his death in the early afternoon of July 4, are traditionally given as some variation of “Is it the Fourth?”

Adams spent his final days at his home in Quincy, Mass. On the morning of July 4, 1826, he remarked, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” He died in the early evening, hours after Jefferson. According to tradition, Adams uttered the final words, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” unaware of the fact that his longtime friend had just passed away a few hours before.