Independence Day: America’s birthday, the most terrifying 24 hours of the year for dogs, and the day that American presidents are most likely to kick the bucket.
That’s right. The Fourth of July has the strange distinction of being the day that three presidents died. Two of them—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—passed just five hours apart in 1826. The third, James Monroe, died exactly five years later. The fact that the men were all founding fathers, and served as the second, third and fifth U.S. presidents makes the coincidence even more odd. (The fourth president, James Madison, died on June 28, 1836. Imagine if he’d held on for six days!)
While Harry S. Truman and Gerald Ford both died on December 26 (in 1972 and 2006, respectively), and Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft both died on March 8 (the former in 1874; the latter in 1930), the close cluster of July 4 deaths is definitely stranger. Especially given the historic importance of the day.
The first to go, Thomas Jefferson, was 83 at the time of his death and had been bedridden for a month with a variety of physical ailments. He caught a fever on July 3 and succumbed the next day, at 12:50pm at home in Monticello, Virginia. Meanwhile, 569 miles away in Quincy, Massachusetts, 90-year-old John Adams was also on his death bed. He died soon after his friend, entirely unaware of Jefferson’s passing. Adams’ oblivious last words were reportedly: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” It was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
President John Quincy Adams, struck by his father and Thomas Jefferson dying not just on the same day, but on such a historic occasion, called the timing “visible and palpable remarks of divine favor.” Senator Daniel Webster agreed, remarking in a eulogy a month after Adams’ and Jefferson’s deaths that they were “proofs that our country and its benefactors are objects of His [God’s] care.”