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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.

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