On this 242d anniversary of the nation’s founding, sharing Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Roger Weightman (Mayor of Washington), regretfully declining due to poor health his invitation to attend the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in Washington. Jefferson’s letter - his last - reminds all Americans of what the 4th of July really means.
Jefferson writes his letter on the 24th of June. Two days later he is bedridden. Eight days later he dies at Monticello on 4 July 1826, only hours before his old revolutionary friend and erstwhile political foe John Adams dies, 600 miles away in Quincy, Mass.
In a society and culture that’s becoming increasingly driven by the hyper-partisan 24/7 cable news cycle, it is well for all of us to remember that despite our political differences we are all Americans. Jefferson’s powerful letter is a reminder of what was won, and what can be easily lost, if not taught to and defended by future generations of Americans. As Ronald Reagan wrote, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” That is our sacred responsibility, owed to not only the great men who gave us this wonderful gift called self-government, but to every patriot who fought and died defending it.
Monticello June 24. 26
The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th. anniversary of American independence; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. but acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. may it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the City of Washington and of its vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. with my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.
[Shared by Manuel Sarmina, a dear friend of editor Paul Hayden.]