On July 4th, 1826, what could have been considered an amazing coincidence, had we not known the history of the two men involved, took place. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third Presidents of the United States, died.
As these men lay on their death beds what thoughts ran through their minds? The difficulties that they had faced, the glorious accomplishments they had both enjoyed, fear of what was to come, concern for the fate of the young nation that they had helped create, the United States of America? Fortunately we do not have to wonder, for we know.
The final words of John Adams were these: “Jefferson survives.”
Jefferson’s last words were: “Is this the Fourth?”
Adams, ever the pragmatist worried that the young nation would be deprived of the intellectual power that Thomas Jefferson brought to the nation to which each had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
Jefferson, the intellectual who had written the document that to this day guards and guarantees the freedom of every American, the document that both had signed, knowing that signing their name to such a document would guarantee their being hung at the hands of the British, as had been others who had but one life to give for their country, gave his last breath to his country knowing that this day was the anniversary of the day that the first step into freedom had been taken.
Both of these giants of American freedom left us within hours of one another. Who will fill their shoes in time of need? Where are the American giants today? Are there men and women the equal of Adams and Jefferson? Can we find them in our sports “heroes”? In our rap singers, our movie stars, our leaders of finance and business, our politicians?
They are not found here. The American giants are found on street corners directing traffic, in hospitals caring for the sick, the hurt; they are found dead under tons of rubble, they are found in the black night of a desert where they serve with their brothers and sisters.
The giants of America are all of the body of the people, the mothers and fathers who have seen their sons and daughters go to war, some never to return, the brothers who have laid down their lives on the green at Concord and in the mud of Bunker Hill, in the hellfire of Antietum, on the battle-scarred fields of Verdun, the lava-strewn island called Iwo Jima, in the frigid shell holes of Pork Chop Hill, in the sweltering jungles of Viet Nam, and in thousands of unnamed places where they made the ultimate sacrifice to give to us their ultimate gift – freedom!
The giants are each of us who raise their voice and stand proud, who speak loud enough for those less free to hear our pledge: One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, that knows in that most American of American places, our hearts, that the words In God We Trust are more than words, they are our creed, our faith, and our salvation when freedom is threatened.
It is all of us, the American people who carry on the belief, the undying, unstoppable belief in freedom that our forefathers lived, fought, and died to protect.
Though Jefferson left us on July 4th, 1828 his words still resonate, and will always strike a resonate chord as long as we the people are free: “The tree of Liberty must, now and again, be watered by the blood of patriots!”
J. Terry Riebling