PATSY R. BRUMFIELD: Fourth of July auspicious for two greats

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

My mother said she couldn’t get off work, so that’s why I was born on the Fourth of July.
Of course, this is a colossal fib, but we Brumfields often prefer to spice up reality. Yet reality can be profound.
As most of us know, July 4, 1776, was the day The Declaration of Independence was published, compliments of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Mr. Adams was our second president and Mr. Jefferson his vice president and successor.
They both died on July 4, 1826.
Three men left written accounts of Jefferson’s: Robley Dunglison, the attending physician; Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson’s grandson; and Nicholas Trist, the husband of Jefferson’s granddaughter, Virginia Randolph. Although there are some minor discrepancies, each is reliable. Taken together they provide a relatively full view of Jefferson’s death.
According to the folks at monticello.org, they recall that Jefferson slept through the day July 3 and woke in the evening, evidently thinking it was morning. According to Dunglison, Jefferson asked on waking, “Is it the Fourth?” To which Dunglison replied, “It soon will be.” Dunglison then says these were the last words he heard Jefferson utter.
Trist records Jefferson’s question in a slightly different form: “This is the Fourth?” (a question Trist pretended not to hear so he wouldn’t have to inform Jefferson that it was still July 3). But Jefferson was insistent: “This is the Fourth?” he asked again. This time Trist nodded in assent, though he says he found the deception “repugnant.”
In Randolph’s version there is no questioning. Jefferson remarks on waking, “This is the fourth of July.” Randolph goes on to say that Jefferson was roused a few hours later, at 9 p.m., to be given a dose of laudanum. But Jefferson refused the opiate, saying, “No, doctor, nothing more.”
Dunglison’s omission of this exchange should not cast any doubt on the veracity of his account.
Jefferson died about 12:50 p.m. on July 4.
As for Adams, he too was misinformed.
“Thomas Jefferson still survives,” he is quoted as saying with his final breaths. Incorrectly, Jefferson had died five hours earlier.
Both men apparently strongly desired to live to see the 50th anniversary of their country’s founding.
A Jefferson biographer tells us that the great man desired to live until July 4 so “that he might breathe the air of the Fiftieth Anniversary.”
Mr. Adams spent his final days at his home in Quincy, Mass. On the morning of July 4, he remarked, “It is a great day. It is a good day.”
Historians affirm the tremendous respect each had for the other even as political adversaries. The timing of their deaths has forever linked them together.
“They were great and glorious in their lives; in death they were not divided,” writes Jefferson biographer B.L. Rayner. “It was indeed a fit occasion for the deepest public feeling. Happening singly, each of these events was felt as supernatural; happening together, the astonishment which they occasioned was general and almost overwhelming.”
PATSY R. BRUMFIELD writes a Thursday column. Contact her at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.