On July 4, 1826, during America’s Golden Jubilee, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 243. The two political rivals were two of the last three surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence, leaving only Charles Carroll of Maryland alive. Id. President John Quincy Adams, learning of his father’s death and Jefferson’s death, remarked that it was a “‘visible and palpable mark of Divine favor,’ to the nation, and most of his countrymen agreed.” Id. quoting James Morton Smith, The Republic of Letters (New York, 1995), II, 1973-74.
President John Quincy Adams, seeing the Founding Fathers fade, must have felt like the heir to them. He recognized that Americans had a responsibility to preserve their “precious inheritance” and that America would continue to demonstrate the merits of “representative democracy.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 243 quoting John Quincy Adams, “Inaugural Address,” Presidential Messages, II, 294, 296.
The second generation of Americans had known the Founding Fathers for their talent and virtue, which set the example for the qualities leaders should embody. The Founding Fathers also encouraged an environment that fostered improvement of both self and society. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 244.
President John Quincy Adams would dedicate his presidency to these values. Id. citing Daniel Walker Howe, Making the American Self (Cambridge, Mass., 1997), 123. He would ensure the continuation of these values for the second generation of Americans, but meanwhile, a young Abraham Lincoln was studying these ideals and learning the values that would perpetuate the spirit of the Founding Fathers. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 244.
With the passing of two titans, Adams and Jefferson, America’s change from revolutionary state to young republic was complete. President John Quincy Adams undoubtedly felt that he was a heir of the Founding Fathers as a collective and must carry on their ideals to the fullest extent possible. This reverence and appreciation for the Founding Fathers has carried on, in varying degrees, for two centuries.
President Quincy Adams was setting the example for subsequent generations of Americans, making admiration for the Founding Fathers a piece of American life. With the passing of Jefferson and Adams on July 4, 1826, Americans felt thankful to have been the beneficiaries of their contributions to American society. Modern Americans should feel no less thankful, as modern Americans are equally beneficiaries as those who lived in the early Republic.