John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe all died on July 4.

  • Adams, Jefferson & Monroe
Adams, Jefferson & Monroe
Library of Congress/ Unsplash

Since 1777, the Fourth of July has been celebrated as the day the United States of America formally broke from Great Britain and became an independent nation. It’s a pretty stunning coincidence, then, that the day of the nation’s birth is also marked by the deaths of three separate Founding Fathers and early U.S. Presidents: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe. More unlikely still, Adams and Jefferson died just hours apart on the exact same day: July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of American independence. 

The fact that America’s second, third, and fifth Presidents all died on the same day has sparked a certain degree of speculation. In eulogies for Jefferson, mourners suggested he had willed himself to survive through illness until reaching the significant 50th anniversary milestone of the nation’s independence. (According to various people who were with him when he died, on the night of July 3 Jefferson said, “Is it the Fourth?” or a similar phrase.) Statesman Daniel Webster suggested divine intervention had played a role in the timing, to signal to the world that the United States was favored by heavenly providence. Others have offered a more sinister theory: that doctors deliberately prolonged Jefferson’s life until July Fourth and even had a hand in determining Adams’ final day, making sure that it fell on the historically significant date. Whatever the explanation, the coincidence has become woven into the history and mythology of the birth of the United States.

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