Fireworks and Friendship

July 5, 2008

Last night we drove down our street to park in full view of a glorious fireworks display, on the campus of the University of Massachusetts. From 8:30-ish to nearly 10, we sat surrounded by hundreds of neighbors, oohing and ahhing.

It made me think of Adams and Jefferson.

John Adams, the scrappy lawyer from Massachusetts, and Thomas Jefferson, the gentleman-farmer from Virginia, were two of the three principal architects (with Benjamin Franklin) of the Declaration of Independence. They were also temperamental opposites, as near-perfect a human example of yin and yang as you could wish for.

Through the years of the “war for independency,” Adams and Jefferson become exceptionally close friends. However, in one of those peculiarly human twists of plot, they later became bitterly estranged political enemies, running fierce campaigns against one another for the presidency and spearheading the opposing camps of the nation’s emerging two-party paradigm.

Jefferson even hired a hit-man-journalist to publish vituperative attacks against Adams in a vicious character-assassination campaign — all while Jefferson was serving as his former friend’s vice president.

And yet — evidence of a peculiarly human capacity for redemption — the friendship miraculously healed itself decades later. After both were long out of public life, Adams wrote Jefferson a letter, and they not only reconciled but proceeded to engage in one of the greatest long-running correspondences in American history.

At the end, the one in Quincy and the other in Monticello, the two were so psychically connected to one another that they held onto life in tandem, each saving his last breath for the appointed day. On July 4, 1826, one half-century to the precise day after that fateful signing that had first brought the friendship (and the nation) together, Adams died at the age of ninety. His last words were reported as “Jefferson lives!” — although in fact, his friend from Virginia had given up the ghost just a few hours earlier.

Here’s to independency — and good friendship.


  1. Bob

    Powerful story and one of my all-time favorites. Lessons on so many levels, including how friendships can be lost due to specific agendas and then regained when strength of character (in this case, “characters”) allows it.

    Finally, the exchange of letters the two wrote once their friendship was once again on (many of these letters highlighting huge philosophical disagreements) perfectly displayed how two people can disagree without being disagreeable.

    Thank you, John, for another terrific lesson

  2. linda dewing

    This story of friendship reminds me of two of my all time favorite sayings/quotes:

    “Never underestimate the capacity of a human being to change.”

    And from Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis:

    “A friend is someone who knows your song and plays it back to you when you forget how it goes.”

    I hope you all had a lovely weekend.


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