John Adams Death


Michael Benton, Contributor

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john adams deathJohn Adams died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence which he helped to write. On the same day as the death of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams' death was a double blow to the number of remaining Founding Fathers with only one signee of the Declaration of Independence left alive. For John Adams, Thomas Jefferson's death hours earlier was news that did not reach him in time and his last words were recorded as, "Thomas Jefferson survives." The men had been fierce political rivals between earlier and later years of friendship and had shared over 300 letters throughout their lives. John Adams' date of death is a remarkable coincidence that has made this event memorable as a piece of United States history and folklore.

How did John Adams die? John Adams' cause of death was recorded as debility at the age of 90 years and was likely due to heart failure related to arteriosclerosis. He died during the second year of his eldest son's presidency, living just long enough to see John Quincy Adams triumph in the 1824 election. John Adams had spent the last years of his life at his family home in Quincy, Massachusetts. His wife, Abigail Adams, had died of typhoid in 1818 and his third son, Thomas Boylston Adams, along with his wife and children had moved in to live with John Adams and care for the family home. John Adams' birth and death were both in the same area as Quincy had only recently been incorporated from a section of Braintree, his hometown. Born as a Congregationalist with a Puritan heritage and the son of a Deacon, Adams converted to Christian Unitarianism in his middle age and was vocal about his personal beliefs on the divinity of Jesus Christ. Adams was a strong critic of the Roman Catholic Church but attacked Thomas Paine for his criticism of Christianity as a whole. Adams was buried first at the Hancock Cemetery before being reinterred across the road at the United First Parish Church. Eventually this church would be known as the Church of the Presidents because John Quincy Adams was also buried here along with both of the former Presidents' wives.

By the time of John Adams' death, his own Federalist Party had folded but their principles lived on in the republicanism of some Whigs. Andrew Jackson had formed the modern Democratic party in the election of 1824 based on the anti-federalist principles of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party in years past. John Adams son, John Quincy Adams, only defeated Jackson in the election because the electoral college was split into pluralities and the vote went to Congress. John Adams himself refrained from entering the fray of politics in his later years, preferring to wax philosophically in letters to Thomas Jefferson about the problems of the time and the upholding of the Founding Fathers' ideals. Just before his death, he penned a warning to contemporary and future Americans that the choices they made with the great power they inherited would either make them the greatest or the worst nation in the world.