The Simultaneous Deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

On July 4, 1826 the last surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence died. Adams was 90 and Jefferson was 82. As he lay dying, Adams was supposed to have said, “Jefferson lives.” He was wrong. Jefferson had died 5 hours earlier. Adams was the second president of the United States and Jefferson, the third. It was the 50th anniversary of their signing of the Declaration of Independence from British rule. In his eulogy Daniel Webster recounted the previous dramatic parallels of these intensely intertwined compatriots:

“…our patriots have fallen; but so fallen, at such age, with such coincidence, on such a day, that we cannot rationally lament that the end has come, which we knew could not be long deferred.”

“There were many points of similarity in the lives and fortunes of these great men. They belonged to the same profession, and both were learned and able lawyers. . . . Both were not only decided but early friends of independence. Where others doubted, they were resolved; where others hesitated, they pressed forward. They were both members of the committee for preparing the draft of the Declaration of Independence; both have been public ministers abroad; both Vice-Presidents and both Presidents of the United States. These coincidences are now singularly crowned and completed. They have died together, and they died on the anniversary of liberty.”

Webster felt the significance of the coincidence and seemed to want to explain it but could not. Were Jefferson and Adams so entwined that Jefferson could not live without Adams? It may have been “just a coincidence,” but their simultaneous deaths have inspired us to look more closely at the mystery.   

“While still indulging our thoughts on the coincidence of the death of this venerable man with the anniversary of independence, we learn that Jefferson, too, has fallen, and that these aged patriots, these illustrious fellow-laborers, have left our world together.”

Their historic, surprising simultaneous deaths and the many parallels of their lives expanded the meaning of the word “coincidence” from the scientific and mathematical to the events of daily life.

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