The Strangely Ironic Words John Adams Said Before His Death

In the late afternoon of July 4, 1826, John Adams lay dying in his bed. At 90 years old, Adams had lived a full life. According to PBS, Adams had fathered six children (four of whom survived to adulthood) and had well over a dozen grandchildren. Plus, as Adams took his final breaths, his son John Quincy Adams was serving as the sixth president of the United States — a fact that would make any father proud.

But, rather than reflecting on his family or his own career, John Adams' final thoughts instead drifted to his friend and longtime rival Thomas Jefferson.

Per Monticello, Adams and Jefferson's friendship began when they met at the 1775 Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The following year, they collaborated on drafting the Declaration of Independence. And, once independence from Britain was secured, both men served as American diplomats in Europe, where they often traveled together and kept up an intimate personal correspondence.

Yet, that's not to say that things were always smooth sailing between the two men. As Jefferson politely put it, the two men were separated by "different conclusions we had drawn from our political reading." After George Washington stepped down as president, both Adams and Jefferson ran to replace him — Adams as a Federalist and Jefferson as a Democratic-Republican. Per Encyclopedia Britannica, Adams won the presidency by a slim margin and, at that time, the runner-up became vice president. So, the two "frenemies" had to share the White House and were forced to collaborate.

John Adams' final words were for Thomas Jefferson

For many years, the rivalry between Adams and Jefferson overshadowed their friendship. Jefferson won the presidency in the election of 1800, making Adams a one-term president. In revenge, Monticello reports, Adams carried out a number of last-minute appointments, filling Jefferson's incoming government with, in Jefferson's words, "my most ardent political enemies." From that point forward, the men broke off all correspondence with one another.

In 1811, however, a mutual friend was able to smooth things over between Adams and Jefferson. With their friendship renewed (and both men largely retired from politics), the two kept up a detailed correspondence that lasted until their deaths.

So, as John Adams lay on his deathbed, he uttered what is said to be his final phrase: "Thomas Jefferson survives." But, as it turns out, Adams was mistaken. Just five hours earlier, per History, Jefferson had died in his Virginia home at the age of 83.

Adams' final words are a testament to the goal of the founding fathers: Form a country where friendship and patriotism outweighs ideological differences. Likewise, it seems quite fitting that both Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.