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A Fateful Day for Presidents

Three Founding Fathers met their maker on July 4

By strange coincidence, three of the first five U.S. presidents died on July 4 — with our second and third presidents dying within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of ­Independence Day.
    Our second and third presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, forged a friendship as original American revolutionaries during our nation’s formative years. Though both men believed in democracy, their political philosophies were as divergent as their personalities. Adams, the conservative, believed in a strong central government; the more radical Jefferson thought power belonged within each state.
    Jefferson was John Adams’ vice president, but between 1797 and 1800 party politics came between them. In the election of 1800, they ran against one another. When Jefferson won, Adams returned home to Massachusetts, both men locked in enmity.
    Jefferson served two terms as president, from 1801 to 1809.
    On New Year’s Day of 1812, after 11 years of silence, Adams extended an olive branch. He penned a fond letter to Jefferson at Monticello. Jefferson responded warmly, with a note reminiscing about their days as fellow patriots. Friendship resumed. The two former presidents continued to correspond until their deaths on July 4, 1826, 50 years after the first Independence Day.
    On that fateful day, Adams and Jefferson lay on their deathbeds, each unaware of the other’s decline. Adams’ last words were Thomas Jefferson still survives. Jefferson, however, had died five hours earlier in Virginia.
    The third president to die on July Fourth was Jefferson’s protégée James Monroe, the last among the Founding Fathers. He fought with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War before beginning his long political career. Monroe served as fifth U.S. president from 1817 to 1825 and passed away in New York on July 4, 1831. His legacy included resolution of the first conflict over slavery through the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the acquisition of Florida from Spain. In what became known as the Monroe Doctrine (1823), he strengthened America’s foreign policy by warning European nations against expansion into the Western Hemisphere.