Do you know the story about the day Thomas Jefferson died? It was just a few hours before John Adams also died, July 4, 1826. Jefferson and Adams were lifelong friends and, at times, bitter philosophical rivals. Jefferson and Adams are also the putative fathers of the modern Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. It's such a great story but it needs an introduction.
Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, but wasn't as eloquent a speaker as Adams, who delivered it and won its approval in the Congress. Over time, the two drifted apart regarding the role of the federal government.
Adams won the presidency after George Washington, beating his opponent, Jefferson. Jefferson was Adams' secretary of state. Then, Jefferson challenged and unseated Adams to become our third president.
These titans of American democracy wrote storied letters to each other over the years which were critical of the other's political opinions. Gentlemen in those times quarreled in poetic verse, and Adams famously declared, "I will outlive Jefferson."
Fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was ratified, both men died on the national observance of our freedom, neither knowing that the other also lay dying. Adams' final words were "Thomas Jefferson survives."
He was mistaken. Of course, Adams' former boast likely meant that, in time, his political ideas would prevail over Jefferson's in the shaping of this great nation. As Adams drew his last breath, his dying words contained not animosity but admiration. Still, the week of our glorious American holiday, it seems clear both views are alive and well, and (we are delighted to see) spreading around the world.
Both men's opinions and both recent U.S. administrations are partially responsible for democratic elections in Iraq and Iran.
Though the results are in question and may please neither American citizens nor their democracy-loving fellow citizens in the Middle East, they are yet our brothers and sisters in freedom. They peacefully and insistently, silently and deafeningly stand up and demand free elections. By the thousands, they pay for their hopes and dreams with their very lives, the only words on their lips, "where is my vote?"
This is not a recent phenomenon. Free-thinking people throughout history have tragically given all to release the oppressed. Think of Moses leading the Israelites from slavery circa 1500 B.C.; William Wallace's battle to free Scotland, circa 1305; and the brave, anonymous Chinese pro-democracy student who faced down a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Perhaps Adams' last breath should have been, "democracy lives."
As we have enjoyed our families this past weekend and on holidays to come, let us remember all God's children, foreign and domestic, who have fought and died for the most precious of all natural rights.
As Wallace thundered, "What will you do without freedom?"
Arturo Corso is a Gainesville attorney.