When Great Men Die
On July 4, 1826 two of the greatest men in the history of the United States of America died. They lived during the time that included the Revolutionary War. In that war the 13 original colonies won their independence from Great Britain in 1776. Before that war each of them loomed, as giants in the planning for what would become the United States. During that war each of them were giants in the planning and the fighting of that war. After that war each of them were giants in the life of the new nation. They held the nation’s highest political offices. They made decisions that impacted the entire nation then. They made decisions that impact all of us 240 years later. Their names are John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Adams was the second President of the United States. Jefferson was the third.
Both men were Vice Presidents of the United States. Both men represented their country as foreign diplomats. Both men were directly involved in crafting the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. And this is a partial list of their service and accomplishments. The influence of these men in our nation’s history is staggering. It’s almost impossible to overstate.
However, they were divided on what would be the defining issue of the day. It had to be addressed before a war could be fought or a nation could be formed. It had to be addressed before a declaration could be made or a constitution could be written. That issue was Unpaid Labor. Adams was against it and Jefferson was for it.
Ten of the first twelve presidents of the United States owned slaves but John Adams was not one of them. Neither was his son John Quincy Adams, our sixth president. Thomas Jefferson’s slave holdings would make him one of the wealthiest men in American history. John Adams’ opposition to slavery would cost dearly. He never bought a slave and he declined on principle to utilize slave labor. He said "I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave, though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character, and when it has cost me thousands of dollars for the labor and subsistence of free men, which I might have saved by the purchase of negroes at times when they were very cheap."
On every 4th of July this leaves each of us to ponder what the true meaning of greatness might be in each of us. The issue that separated these two giants of American history remains unresolved. Returning the honor, dignity, and standing belonging rightly to Unpaid Labor and their descendants for their contribution to the United States becoming the most successful nation in the world in modern history is a good place to start to come together.