July 4th, 2021


Independence Day

John Adams was off by two days. He predicted that in the future, Americans would celebrate the 2nd July as the most momentous anniversary in the history of their nation. On July 3, 1776, he wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he said:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

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Technically the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain in 1776 actually occurred on July 2, 1776 when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed the previous month by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. The resolution called for a Declaration that the United States were now independent from Great Britain's rule. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision. A Committee of Five of those in attendance at the meeting were tasked with preparing this declaration, but Thomas Jefferson was selected as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration. So while the decision to become independent of Great Britain was passed on July 2nd, it took another two days before the Declaration of Independence was finally approved. That motion was passed on July 4.

Adams got everything else right, except the day on which the celebration would be marked. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, because this was the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.

There is still some debate among historians as to whether members of Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4. There is considerable evidence that it was in fact signed on that day. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all later wrote that they had signed it on that day. Some other historians have concluded that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed. In 1796, signer Thomas McKean wrote that some signers were not present in Philadelphia on July 4th. Several were not even elected to Congress until after that date.

In 1821 the Secret Journals of Congress were published. They contained two previously unpublished entries about the Declaration. The Secret Journals entry for July 19 reads: "Resolved That the Declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America' & that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress." The entry for August 2 states: "The declaration of Independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members."

In 1884, historian Mellen Chamberlain wrote that these entries confirm that the famous signed version of the Declaration had been created following the July 19 resolution, and was not signed by Congress until August 2. Subsequent research suggests that many of the signers were not present in Congress on July 4, and that some delegates may have added their signatures even after August 2.

However both Jefferson and Adams always stated that the signing ceremony took place on July 4. But even renowned historian and Adams biographer David McCullough concludes that Adams is mistaken. He wrote" "No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."

In 1986 legal historian Wilfred Ritz concluded that about 34 delegates signed the Declaration on July 4, and that the others signed on or after August 2. Ritz argues that it was implausible that Adams, Jefferson and Franklin are all mistaken. Ritz concludes that historians had misinterpreted the July 19 resolution. According to Ritz, this resolution did not call for a new document to be created, but rather for the existing one to be given a new title, which was necessary after New York had joined the other 12 states in declaring independence. Ritz reasoned that the phrase "signed by every member of Congress" in the July 19 resolution meant that delegates those who had not signed the Declaration on the 4th were now required to do so.

Whichever scenario is correct, Independence Day is a national holiday marked by patriotic displays. It is a federal holiday, and all non-essential federal institutions are closed. Independence Day is marked with fireworks displays and patriotic songs.


Coincidentally, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.

Remembering John Adams

On July 4, 1826 (195 years ago today) John Adams, the second President of the United States and the first Vice-President, died at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, at the age of 90, a ripe old age indeed for those times, as well as today.

Adams was born on October 30 (October 19 according to the old Julian calendar then in use) of 1735 in Braintree (later named Quincy) in what was then the British Colony of Massachusetts. Adams was a statesman, diplomat, and a leading advocate of American independence from Great Britain. He was well educated, and believed in a strong central government, He wrote prolifically, both in published works and in letters to his wife and closest adviser Abigail Adams.

Adams was a lifelong opponent of slavery. He never owned a slave in his life. He became a lawyer and in 1770, despite the unpopularity of doing so, he successfully defended British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

When the American Revolution began, Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, and he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence. In 1775, he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its primary advocate in the Congress. He later became a diplomat in Europe and he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain. He was also responsible for obtaining vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780.

Adams served two terms as George Washington's vice president and he was elected President in 1796. During his one term as president, he encountered ferocious attacks by the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party led by Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy especially in the face of an undeclared naval war (called the "Quasi-War") with France, 1798–1800. The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In 1800, Adams was defeated for re-election by Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. Depressed when he left office, he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration, making him one of only four surviving presidents (i.e., those who did not die in office) not to attend his successor's inauguration. He later resumed his friendship with Jefferson. His son John Quincy Adams became the sixth President of the United States.

On Tuesday, July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, at approximately 6:20 PM, Adams died at his home in Quincy. Told earlier that it was the Fourth, he answered clearly, "It is a great day. It is a good day." Relatives who were at his bedside reported that his last words were "Jefferson survives". This was not in fact correct, but news of Jefferson's death earlier that day did not reach Boston until after Adams' death. Adams and Jefferson are the only two Presidents to die on the same day.

Remembering Thomas Jefferson

On July 4, 1826 (195 years ago today), Thomas Jefferson died, on what was the 50th anniversary of his beloved Declaration of Independence, of which he was the primary author. Jefferson was the third President of the United States serving from 1801 to 1809. He was also the first Secretary of State and the founder of one of the first two political parties, then known as the Democratic Republicans, later to evolve into the Democratic Party.


Jefferson was born in Shadwell in the British Colony of Virginia on April 13, 1743 (at the time the nation was using the old Julian Calendar, and the date was marked as April 2). At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781. After the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State from 1790 to 1793 in the Cabinet of President George Washington. In opposition to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party, Jefferson and his close friend, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and he later resigned from Washington's cabinet.

Jefferson was elected Vice President in 1796, when he finished second to President John Adams of the Federalists. Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts which were passed under Adams.

He was elected president in the hotly contested election of 1800. As President he oversaw acquisition of the vast Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, and he sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition and later three others, to explore the new west. Jefferson doubled the size of the United States during his presidency.

His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. Jefferson faced escalating trouble with Britain who was challenging American neutrality and threatening American shipping at sea. He tried economic warfare with his embargo laws, but these just damaged American trade. In 1803, President Jefferson initiated a process of Indian tribal removal to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, having opened lands for eventual American settlers. In 1807 Jefferson drafted and signed into law a bill that banned slave importation into the United States.

Jefferson was a very intelligent man. John F. Kennedy once quipped, at a White House gathering of Nobel Prize winners, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Jefferson spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy and was an active member and later president of the American Philosophical Society. These interests led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello, and the University of Virginia's original buildings. Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his life.

Jefferson expressed opposition to slavery, but his actions did not match his words on this front. He owned hundreds of slaves and freed only a few of them. There were allegations that he fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings. DNA tests in 1998, together with historical research, suggest he fathered at least one.

In his later life he resumed his friendship with John Adams and the two men enjoyed a lively correspondence together. In June of 1826 Jefferson's health took a turn for the worse and he was unable to accept an invitation to attend a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On the night of July 3rd, after sleeping, Jefferson later awoke at eight o'clock that evening and spoke his last words, "Is it the fourth yet?". His doctor replied, "It soon will be".

On July 4, at ten minutes before one o'clock in the afternoon, Jefferson died at the age of 83, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He died just a few hours before John Adams, whose own last words were said to be "Thomas Jefferson survives."

Jefferson's funeral was held July 5, performed by Reverend Charles Clay. The funeral was a simple and quiet affair, in accordance with Jefferson's wishes. Jefferson wrote his own epitaph, which reads:


Remembering James Monroe

Three of the first five Presidents of the United States died on the 4th of July. The last in this set was James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, who died at the home of his daughter Maria in New York City on July 4, 1831 (190 years ago today.) Monroe is one of my favorite Presidents, because he was so accomplished, and yet so underrated.

Monroe was the last president to be considered a Founding Father and the last president from the Virginia dynasty. He was born on April 28, 1758 in Monroe Hall, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His father Spencer Monroe died when James was 16 and young James became the man of the house at an early age. He attended the College of William and Mary, but left school to fight in the American Revolutionary War. He served under George Washington and was wounded in the Battle of Trenton by a musket ball to his shoulder.

After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress. As an anti-federalist delegate to the Virginia convention that considered ratification of the United States Constitution, Monroe opposed ratification, claiming it gave too much power to the central government. He was defeated by his friend James Madison, but the two men exemplify how to have a political disagreement without taking it personally. Monroe took an active part in the new government, and in 1790 he was elected to the Senate of the first United States Congress, where he joined the Jeffersonians. He gained experience as an executive as the Governor of Virginia and rose to national prominence as a diplomat in France, when he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, as well as the release of the Marquis de Lafayette from a French prison. During the War of 1812, Monroe held the critical roles of Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison. He predicted that the British would attack Washington, but was over-ruled by Madison's previous Secretary of War John Armstrong.

Monroe faced little opposition from the fractured Federalist Party when he ran for President in 1816 and he was easily elected, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote. As president, he bought Florida from Spain and sought to ease partisan tensions by embarking on a tour of the country that was generally well received. Under the successful diplomacy of his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the United States extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific, giving America harbor and fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest. The United States and Britain jointly occupied the Oregon Country. In addition to the acquisition of Florida, the landmark Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 secured the border of the United States along the 42nd Parallel to the Pacific Ocean. As nationalism surged, partisan fury subsided and the "Era of Good Feelings" ensued. In spite of the Panic of 1819, and a dispute over the admission of Missouri which resulted in the compromise of 1820, Monroe won near-unanimous reelection in 1820.

Monroe supported the founding of colonies in Africa for free African Americans that would eventually form the nation of Liberia. That country's capital, Monrovia, is named in his honor. In 1823, Monroe announced that the United States would oppose any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas in what had become known as the Monroe Doctrine, a landmark in American foreign policy.

Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties. He had operated the family farm from 1788 to 1817, but sold it in the first year of his presidency to the University of Virginia. He served on the university's Board of Visitors almost until his death.

Monroe had racked up many debts during his years of public life. He sold off his Highland Plantation. It is now owned by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, which has opened it to the public as an historic site. He and his wife lived in Oak Hill, Virginia, until Elizabeth's death on September 23, 1830. In August 1825, the Monroes had received the Marquis de Lafayette and President John Quincy Adams as guests there.

When Elizabeth died in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur in the White House. Monroe's health began to slowly fail by the end of the 1820s and John Quincy Adams visited him there in April 1831. Adams found him alert and eager to discuss the situation in Europe, but in ill health. Adams cut the visit short when he thought he was tiring Monroe.

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Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, thus becoming the third president to have died on Independence Day, July 4. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and 5 years after the death of two other Founding Fathers who became Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Monroe was originally buried in New York at the Gouverneur family's vault in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Twenty-seven years later in 1858 his body was re-interred to the President's Circle at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Monroe is the subject of a recent book by Tim McGrath, reviewed here in this community.


Happy Birthday Calvin Coolidge

Three presidents died on the 4th of July, but only one has a birthday today. John Calvin Coolidge Jr., the 30th President of the United States, was born on July 4, 1872 (149 years ago today).


Coolidge had a remarkably successful career. Born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, Coolidge became a lawyer and began practicing law in Northampton, Massachusetts. Coolidge worked his way up the ladder of Massachusetts state politics, serving as a City Councillor, the City Solicitor, Clerk of Courts for the county, State Representative, State Senator, Mayor of Northampton, State Senator again, Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts, and finally in 1918 he became Governor of that state. His conduct during the Boston Police Strike of 1919 thrust him into the national spotlight and gave him a reputation as a man of decisive action.

In 1920 he was selected as Warren Harding's running mate and he was elected as the 29th Vice President. Coolidge became President upon the sudden death of Warren G. Harding in August of 1923. He was elected in his own right as President in 1924, and he gained a reputation as a small-government conservative, and also as a man who said very little. Coolidge restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor's administration, and left office with considerable popularity.

After he retired Coolidge published his autobiography in 1929 and wrote a syndicated newspaper column entitled "Calvin Coolidge Says" from 1930 to 1931. Faced with obvious defeat in the 1932 presidential election, some Republicans spoke of dumping Herbert Hoover as their party's nominee, and drafting Coolidge to run, but Coolidge was not interested in running again, and that he would publicly repudiate any effort to draft him. Hoover was renominated, and Coolidge made several radio addresses in support of him.

Coolidge died suddenly from coronary thrombosis at his Northampton home known as "The Beeches", at 12:45 pm, January 5, 1933 at the age of 60.


In 2013, historian Amity Schlaes wrote a wonderful biography of the man, simply titled Coolidge, (reviewed in this community here) in which she made this assessment of him:

"Perhaps the deepest reason for Coolidge's recent obscurity is that the thirtieth president spoke a different economic language from ours. He did not say "money supply"; he said "credit." He did not say "the federal government"; he said "the national government." He did not say "private sector"; he said "commerce." He did not say "savings"; he said "thrift" or "economy." Indeed, he especially cherished the word "economy" because it came from the Greek for "household." To Coolidge the national household resembled the family household, and to her displeasure he monitored the White House housekeeper with the same vigilance that he monitored the departments of the federal government. Our modern economic lexicon and the theories behind it cannot capture Coolidge's achievements or those of his predecessor, Warren Harding.

"It is hard for modern students of economics to know what to make of a government that treated economic weakness by raising interest rates 300 basis points, cutting tax rates, and halving the federal government; so much at odds is that prescription with the antidotes to recession our own experts tend to recommend. It is harder still for modern economists to concede that that recipe, the policy for the early 1920s advocated by Coolidge and Harding, yielded growth on a scale to which we can aspire today. As early at the 1930s, Coolidge's reputation and way of thinking began their decline. Collectives and not individuals became fashionable. Sensing such shifts, Coolidge at the end of his life spoke anxiously about the "importance of the obvious." Perseverance, property rights, contracts, civility to one's opponents, silence, smaller government, trust, certainty, restraint, respect for faith, federalism, economy and thrift: these Coolidge ideals intrigue us today as well. After all, many citizens today do feel cursed by debt, their own or their government's. Knowing the details of his life may well help Americans now turn a curse to a blessing or, at the very least, find the heart to continue their own persevering."