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John Adams’ Dying Report of Thomas Jefferson Misunderstood

Posted on 04 December 2013, 9:47

One of the most astonishing coincidences in world history was the deaths of John Adams, (below) America’s second president, and Thomas Jefferson, its third.  They both died, 500 miles apart, on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


But it’s not this improbable—many would say miraculous—event that I will write about today.  During the last twenty years of their lives, the two great founding fathers had grown to be fast friends, with many letters going back and forth between them.  So historians were not totally surprised by what they would hear from bedside witnesses.  On the afternoon of the fourth, at about the same time that Jefferson was dying, possibly an hour or two later, Adams stirred and said in a faint voice, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

Every Adams biographer of course mentions this utterance, but none seems to understand it.  One of them, Charles Francis Adams, Adam’s grandson, positively misinterprets it.  “But he was mistaken,” he says of his grandfather.  “The fact was not as he supposed.  Thomas Jefferson did not survive.”

John Adams, in my view, was not claiming that Jefferson was still alive, that he “lived,” but that he had “survived”—survived death.  And how did he know?  Given what we know today about “parting visions,” and how common they are, Adams knew because he had a vision of Jefferson.

Did Jefferson (below) come to pay his old friend a visit as he, Jefferson, was leaving this world?  That is a decided possibility—and I would say a likelihood.


Stafford Betty is a professor of religious studies at California State University, Bakersfield, and author of The Imprisoned Splendor and The Afterlife Unveiled. His latest book Toward the Top of the Mountain: Religion in the Afterlife will be published in June 2014 by White Crow.


I know of someone who told the story about the sudden passing of his father Dennis.  His family always called him “Den”.  So Dennis passed suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack.  Dennis’ sister had terminal cancer at that time and was not expected to live much longer, so she was not told about the passing of her brother Dennis in order to spare her any sadness or anxiety about it during her last days. As she lay on her deathbed, she was so lucid that she was telling the family members who were gathered around her about who she was seeing there in the room that were family members already deceased. Then she asked the living family ... “What is DEN doing here?”  And with that ...  she took her last breath.  There was no doubt in her family’s mind that she had indeed seen everyone she reported to them as being present to greet her and accompany her to the Other Side when she expressed her confusion about her brother Dennis also being there.

Phoebe Moody, Tue 5 Jul, 23:19

Sheer nonsense!

Dr. Mark A. Holowchak, Tue 13 Jun, 18:07

a quick glance suggests that the majority of the posters are the standard type of denial critic.

jack, Mon 9 Dec, 17:01

I’ve personally witnessed terminal lucidity in both my husband and my mother. For many first hand accounts of this very common phenomanum go to where there are 13 pages of accounts by nurses and hospice staff, so far.

tamsin, Sat 7 Dec, 05:53

It is universally acknowledged that Jefferson died around 1 p.m. and that Adams died around 6:00 P.M. July 4, 1826.  It is almost certain, then, that Jefferson was deceased when Adams made his statement an hour or two (it is generally thought)  before his own death.

Stafford Betty, Fri 6 Dec, 03:28

Shalom & Boker tov…it remains a pity that a detailed history of spiritism prior to 1800 does not exist. Barbara Goldsmith’s 1998 Other powers: the age of suffrage, spiritualism, & the scandalous Victoria Woodhull (Alfred A. Knopf), 531pp covers ca. 1835-1927—never mentioning Cora Richmond, but exploring most of the major figures of Spiritualism here.
Ann Braude’s 2001 Radical spirits: spiritualism & women’s rights in nineteenth century America (Indiana University Press, 2nd edn. [with new introduction]), 268pp covers 1848ff, does mention Cora Richmond (albeit without the degree of thoroughness desired by other researchers).
And so, we have a situation where pre-1800 North American (one could say AmeroEuropean) Spirit realm experiences undoubtedly transpired, but the historical documentation remains largely unexplored. The non-christianist literature, similarly, is quite unknown (I am speaking specifically of Yehu’di (‘Jewish’) testimonials). Franklin, Jefferson, Paine et al. were ‘free-thinkers’, but, so far as I know, none left discussions of spiritist orientation (Walter Isaacson’s excellent Franklin biography records no such data). STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim benAvraham
Torah   עֲלִילָה Yehu’di Apikores / Philologia Kabbalistica Speculativa Researcher
לחיות זמן רב ולשגשג


Stephan Pickering / Chofetz Chayim benAv, Thu 5 Dec, 22:40

I think both men had the gift of natural foresight, and I think being an Adams Descendant, I have found and utilized that intuitive trait within my own self as well.

A. Edward Moch, Thu 5 Dec, 15:42

Interesting interpretation, it would be interesting to know if Jefferson did officially die before Adams said that.  It doesn’t seem implausible, considering the frequency of such deathbed statements.  Considering the speed of the mail, the ages of the two men, the days or weeks delay in receiving news of the deaths of people, it would be odd for Adams to have speculated on Jefferson being alive at just that time.  I’ve looked into the religious content of their correspondence with each other and, considering some of that, Adams being visited by the spirit of Jefferson - the more resistant of the two to the idea of survival after death - would have been more noteworthy.

Anthony McCarthy, Thu 5 Dec, 14:51


Very interesting.  I agree with you. Jefferson was probably there in his spirit form to check on Adams.  It would be interesting to know the exact time of death of each, although that wouldn’t prove anything one way or the other, since even if Jefferson expired after Adams, his spirit body could have departed or could have been traveling around.

Michael Tymn, Thu 5 Dec, 05:31

I would agree that there is indeed a likelihood. I have heard first-hand testimony for two similar deathbed visions, both from very reliable witnesses. In both cases, the percipients died a few hours after their visions. I am sure that neither would have been reported had I not heard of them, so I suspect there may be many more such instances of ‘terminal lucidity’ that are never made public.

Guy Lyon Playfair, Wed 4 Dec, 23:43

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Facing the Final Choice by Michael Grosso The editor of my first book suggested I call it The Final Choice (1985). I thought the title was overdramatic and a bit grandiose. I did in part write the book in response to what seemed like the growing threat of nuclear war. Read here
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