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A July 4th Mystery Or Strange Coincidence?

Remarkedly, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two signatories of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as presidents of the United States, both died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.

And although not a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, James Monroe, another Founding Father who was elected president, also died on July 4, 1831, making him the third President who died on the anniversary of independence. But was it just a mystery or strange coincidence?

Adams, 90, and Jefferson, 83, were elderly, and both were ill, though Adams had been in comparatively robust health until just a few months earlier and Jefferson had been ill for an extended period.

They had been rivals, indeed enemies, for some time; Jefferson had defeated Adams in the presidential election of 1800. But they had repaired their differences and pursued an active correspondence with each other in the years before their deaths. On that final day, Adams died at his home in Quincy, MA, and Jefferson died at his home in Monticello, VA, the two separated by hundreds of miles and by many days of overland travel time.

Monroe, 73, had been ill for some time and newspapers reported on his illness before his death saying his July 4 passing was a “remarkable” coincidence, at the least, since Jefferson and Adams had also both died on July 4, 1826.

A variety of theories concerning the strange “same day deaths” have evolved since. Some sources said it was a coincidence, a “hanging on,” being allowed or caused to die by others, allowing or causing one’s self to die, or simply Divine intervention.

In 1826, Daniel Webster’s eulogy for Adams and Jefferson spoke to a point that many people believed: that something other than coincidence was involved:

“The concurrence of their death on the anniversary of Independence has naturally awakened stronger emotions,” Webster said. “It cannot but seem striking and extraordinary, that these two should live to see the fiftieth year from the date of that act, that they should complete that year, and that then, on the day which had fast linked forever their own fame with their country’s glory, the heavens should open to receive them both at once.”

Webster concluded: “As their lives themselves were the gifts of Providence, who is not willing to recognize in their happy termination, as well as in their long continuance, proofs that our country and its benefactors are objects of His care?”

The oddness of the events wasn’t lost on a variety of news sources. The New York Evening Post on July 5, 1831, called it a “coincidence that has no parallel. Three of the four presidents who have left the scene of their usefulness and glory,” the Post continued, “expired on the anniversary of the national birthday, a day which of all others, had it been permitted them to choose [they] would probably had selected for the termination of their careers.”

The New York Commercial Advertiser wrote on July 5, 1831: “It would be difficult to find a parallel in history, three of them have been called away in a good all age, on the same proud anniversary.”

And the Boston Traveler wondered about the coincidence on July 8, 1831: “Again, our national anniversary has been marked by one of those events, which it may be scarcely permitted to ascribe to chance.”

The Frederick, MD Town Herald marked Monroe’s passing on July 9, 1831, by also noting the “presidential coincidence:” “Thus have three of our revolutionary presidents departed this life on the anniversary of our independence; presenting the most remarkable issue of coincidences that have marked the history of nations.”

The death of these three presidents on the same day of the year is a long shot. So, what’s your answer? I would ascribe it to Divine intervention and label it a coincidence.

Finally, did you know the only U.S. president born on Independence Day was Calvin Coolidge in 1872? But let’s not even go there!

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer