Monday, December 17, 2007
President John Quincy Adams, the Republic’s 6th executive chief, awoke around 7:00a.m. to a rainy, but sunny day in the nation’s capital. The thermometer read 78 degrees, and the clouds looked as though they would soon disappear. Today was going to be a beautiful day. After a brief breakfast, the President met with his cabinet in the Executive Mansion and then made his way via the Presidential carriage to the capital building. A large procession, complete with military escort, trumpeters, cavalry, and a military band accompanied the President. An energized crowd gathered to watch the spectacle, eager to commence the day’s festivities. After all, today was no ordinary day. Today was America’s Jubilee: July 4, 1826!!!
"America's Jubilee" was arguably the most festive July 4th our country has ever celebrated. Parades, festivals, dances, etc. were held all throughout the infant nation in celebration of America's 50th birthday. Even the legendary Marquis de Lafayette was welcomed back with the highest of pomp and circumstance. A countless number of songs and poems were written to commemorate this landmark day. Here is one of my favorite that I found on an old broadside. The poem was written by a woman from Philadelphia named K.A. Ware:
The deeds of our heroes, their courage sublime,
Have long been the pride, and the theme of our story
And their triumphs shall mark the divisions of time,
And be hallow’d as the Epochs of National glory!
On this festival Day,
Our glad homage we’ll pay
To the God of the Pilgrims! who lighted their way,
And ne’er shall his flame on our altars decline,
Till earth shall to chaos her empire resign!
As the festivities commenced and the congregations assembled, two aristocratic patriots were about to cross the ultimate threshold between this world and the next. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the most important figures of the American Revolution, would expire on the very same day...America's Jubilee.
Of course it would take some time for the news of their deaths to spread across the countryside, but when it did Americans were left in shock. for Jefferson and Adams to die on the 50th anniversary of American independence was almost too surreal to believe. As one historian put it, "It was as if god himself had put his final stamp of approval on the great American experiment."
America's Jubilee is one of those rare instances when divine fate seemed to sweep across the nation like a wildfire. Even Jefferson, who was never one for divine intervention or religious rhetoric, seemed to get caught up in the spirit of "America's Jubilee." In one of his last letters to John Adams, Jefferson seems to support the notion that America's destiny was sanctioned by deity. In almost prophetic form, Jefferson wrote:
"We shall have our follies without doubt. Some one or more of them will always be afloat. But ours will be the follies of enthusiasm, not bigotry. Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders and hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings."
America's Jubilee is one of those stories that is both captivating and mindboggling. I'm amazed that it hasn't received more attention by the historical community.