Monday, December 17, 2007

America's Jubilee


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.

8 comments:

Lindsey Shuman said...

I think that the story of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams should be applied to modern politicians. Here were two men that hated one another, but put aside their differences and became friends. By the way, this is what David McCullough's new book will be on.

Uncle said...

Hey! Where's something about Evacuation Day?? The biggest holiday in the new country!! fvp

Uncle said...

And another comment on Jefferson and Adams..With respect, I don't think they can be said to be friends, Jefferson stabbed Adams in the back, sabotaged his presidency..While they might be said to have reconsiled late in life, friends is probably an overstatement..fvp

Brad Hart said...

I think it is more than fair to call them friends in the latter parts of their life. Sure they fought during the majority of their public life. One they patched up their differences, Jefferson and Adams shared over 150 letters with each other. For the last 14 years of their lives both Jefferson and Adams considered each other, "with the most tender feelings of friendship and admiration." Sounds like friendship to me.

Brad Hart said...

In addition to my last comment, Uncle is absolutly right that Jefferson stabbed Adams in the back during his presidential campaign of 1800. The exchange of letters between Abigail and Jefferson on this matter are pretty comical actually!

Uncle said...

Hmmm, I'm guessing those salutations were more the stuff of polite society then real chumship..But then, I thought the Dodgers would win the World Series this year! (sigh) My take on those letters is that the Adams were trying to figure Jefferson out, and Jefferson was looking for absolution..But then, there's the Dodger thing...fvp

Brad Hart said...

That's ok...I thought the Rockies would win the series and I was wrong. You bring up an important point. There is little doubt that both Jefferson and Adams knew that posterity would be reading their letters. I think much of what they said is indicative of this.

Brad Hart said...

That's ok...I thought the Rockies would win the series and I was wrong. You bring up an important point. There is little doubt that both Jefferson and Adams knew that posterity would be reading their letters. I think much of what they said is indicative of this.