Independence Day Reflections
This morning I was sitting here sipping my first cup of coffee as the first rays of the sun began to gleam in the sky to the east. I could hear the crickets chirping their song, joined by a chorus of frogs down by the creek, and some birds overhead in their trees. I probably wasn’t entirely awake; my mind was wandering around to nowhere in particular, sort of carried away by the warm and humid breeze as I was taken to a place far away and long ago.
I found myself sitting in the front passenger seat of my Dad’s 1964 Ford Galaxy as we drove slowly through a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. I had a clipboard in my hands as we drove and I was on the lookout for houses that were flying the flag; it was another Fourth of July, July 4, 1968− exactly 50 years ago.
I began waking up in earnest at the thought of that: Fifty Years Ago!
It was my first ever experience at working in a political campaign: 50 years ago today. Can I possibly be that old?
1968 was a tumultuous year in America, and outward shows of patriotism were not at all in vogue. Vietnam, Civil Rights, demonstrations, riots, violence, assassinations, long hair, beards, flower power… Even I knew that things were a mess; it wasn’t quite a month since Senator Kennedy had been assassinated right there in LA: In LA! Things like that simply did not happen in my hometown…
Congressman Corman had a very smart idea. He would ask volunteers to go through ever precinct in his district and take down the addresses of every house that flew the flag on the Fourth of July, and then he would send each one a personal thank you, and that was what I was doing with a little help from my Dad that day, my first time as a campaign volunteer… 50 years ago today.
I took another sip of coffee, and that’s when it came to me: July 4th, 50 years, Adams and Jefferson.
Back in 1776 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were both members of the Continental Congress, they both served on the Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence along with Benjamin Franklin. Adams and Jefferson became very good friends in the years that followed, both served in the Administration of George Washington, Adams as Vice President, Jefferson as Secretary of State. Yet they fell out over political differences in the second term, and after Washington shocked the world by stepping down they ran against each other for president.
It got a bit nasty if I’m honest. Adams won the election, but Jefferson defeated him four years later, and they did not speak for many years. Yet as the years went by, both regretted their estrangement, and finally Adams sent a letter to Jefferson, and they renewed their friendship as pen pals. By 1826 both men were in poor health, but as the morning of July 4th dawned, each man had the other on his mind; it was 50 years to the day since the Declaration of Independence.
About mid-morning Jefferson slipped into eternity. A few hours later, Adams joined him. Not knowing what had taken place earlier that day, his last words were, “Jefferson survives.” Thus, the last two living men who signed the Declaration of Independence both died on the fourth of July, 50 years after its signing.
What were the chances of that happening?