Daily Jefferson: June 24, 1826 Letter Declining Invitation to Celebrate 50th Year of Independence in Washington

In late June of 1826, Thomas Jefferson was in decline. He knew he was ill but continued to carry on correspondence until he died on July 4, 1826.
Jefferson had been invited to attend a 50 year celebration in Washington DC by Roger Weightman and, despite his ill health, declined the invitation with a remarkable letter about the rights of mankind.

Monticello June 24. 26
Respected Sir
The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th. anniversary of American independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. but acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. may it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the City of Washington and of it’s vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. with my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.
Th. Jefferson

Jefferson hoped that the American action would stimulate enlightenment around the world. It is disturbing that his eloquence was not equaled by his action of removing saddles from the backs of his slaves. Even at his death, Jefferson did not free all of his slaves. Those saddles remained.
In the letter to Weightman, Jefferson did not locate the origin of his grand ideas. To Henry Lee, just over a year prior to his letter to Weightman (May 8, 1825), Jefferson provided similar thoughts about the Declaration of Independence and gave insight into the source of his beliefs as expressed in the Declaration of Independence:

[W]ith respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects.

When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. …

David Barton preaches that the Declaration of Independence was “nothing more than” a collection of sermons preached before 1763. Watch:


The man who is most responsible for the Declaration of Independence referred to older authorities than American preachers. Inasmuch as the preachers expressed the same ideas as the conversations, essays, and correspondence among supporters of independence, they no doubt added to the “harmonizing sentiments of the day.” However, Barton’s claim about the Declaration of Independence is contradicted by the author.

Anniversary of the Deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826; Happy Independence Day!

In addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who together served on the committee that constructed the Declaration of Independence, but later became political rivals during the 1800 election. Jefferson felt Adams had made serious blunders during his term and Jefferson ran against Adams in a bitter campaign. Two men stopped communicating and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush wanted to encourage them to reconcile. Rush was on good terms with both Adams and Jefferson and set about to help them mend the distance. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish that Adams and Jefferson would again resume communications. This letter is part of a remarkable sequence of letters which can be read here. In this portion, Rush suggests his “dream” of a Jefferson-Adams reunion.

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.
“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,

It is not clear to me that Rush had an actual dream. He may have used the device of a dream to prod his friend into reconciliation with Jefferson. On more than one prior occasion, Rush communicated his views via writing about them as dreams. For instance,  Rush responded to a political question from Adams in a February 20, 1809 letter via a dream narrative.  Adams responded on March 4, 1809 praising Rush’s wit and asked for a dream about Jefferson:

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.
Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

Another reason that I question whether it was an actual dream is because a draft of this letter demonstrates that Rush considered another literary device for his prophecy. A footnote in Lyman Butterfield’s  compilation of Rush’s letter reads:

In the passage that follows, BR [Benjamin Rush] made his principal plea to Adams to make an effort toward reconciliation with Jefferson. That pains were taken in composing the plea is shown by an autograph draft of the letter, dated 16 Oct. in Hist. Soc. Penna., Gratz Coll. In the draft BR originally wrote, and then crossed out, the following introduction to his dream history: “What would [you omitted] think of some future historian of the United States concluding one of his chapters with the following paragraph?” The greater verisimilitude of the revision adds much to the effectiveness of this remarkable letter. (Butterfield, L.H., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Vol. II, 1793-1813, Princeton Univ. Press, 1951, p. 1023)

Apparently, Rush wanted to get this message to Adams and chose to use a device already requested by Adams, instead of an appeal to legacy via the reference to the history books.
In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c
Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship. Although it took awhile (1812), Adams and Jefferson did resume correspondence. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political lives. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”*
Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.

Happy Independence Day – 2011

Over at Crosswalk, I posted the full text of the Declaration of Independence. Yesterday, my rising 5th grader and I read and discussed it, and I asked him if he had read it before in school. He said — to my and the school’s shame — he didn’t remember ever reading it before.
David Barton says that the schools today teach that the American Revolution was only about “taxation without representation.” I don’t know if that is true, but he says that the Declaration was about much more than that, citing religious freedom, judicial activism and slavery as principle reasons.

An obvious example of the secularization of history occurs each year around the Fourth of July. Americans are taught that “taxation without representation” was the reason America separated from Great Britain; yet “taxation without representation” was only reason number seventeen out of the twenty-seven reasons given in the Declaration of Independence – it was not even in the top half, yet it’s all that most ever hear. Never mentioned today are the numerous grievances condemning judicial activism – or those addressing moral or religious or other issues.

Barton says that Samuel Adams and Charles Carroll got involved in the revolution to seek religious freedom and that the

…desire to end slavery in America was a significant motivation not only for Franklin and Rush but also for a number of others; but the end of slavery in America could be achieved only if they separated from Great Britain – which they were willing to do (and six of the thirteen colonies began abolishing slavery following the separation).

I have no doubt that some signers of the Declaration opposed slavery but I think it would not be accurate to say that ending the practice was a motivation for all of them. Great Britain outlawed the practice before we did and we fought a horrible war to decide the issue.
Barton recently told Focus on the Family that

As a matter of fact, of the 56 individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence, 27 had seminary degrees. That’s not bad for a bunch of atheists to have seminary degrees. (Laughter) That’s fairly impressive. I mean, that’s like saying the U.S. Congress today is made up of half pastors.

If you count Harvard, Yale and the College of William and Mary, you might get close to those numbers but it is misleading to say that these were seminaries in the theological sense. These schools were founded to help seek religious aims, in addition to providing a well rounded education. By the 1700s, these schools were liberal arts institutions and those who attended were not of necessity studying to be pastors. Only one signer — John Witherspoon — held that vocation. Calling the degrees “seminary degrees” is surely misleading since the first theological seminary in the United States was not formed until 1808 at Andover, MA.
And so, it seems good, to offset neglect from some and zeal from others, to read the Declaration, especially today. Here again is the link at Crosswalk, and then to the government source as well.