Thursday, June 20, 2013

JULY 4, 1826

“Monticello is my poem in brick and mortar".
Bachelor's Quarters, Monticello, VA

“If you ever find yourself environed with difficulties and perplexing circumstances out of which you are at a loss how to extricate yourself, do what is right, and be assured that that will extricate you the best out of the worst situations. Though you cannot see when you take one step what will be the next, yet follow truth, justice and plain dealing, and never fear their leading you out of the labyrinth in the easiest manner possible…Be assured that nothing will be so pleasing as your success.”

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing”.

I had the good fortune recently to visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in neighboring Virginia and learn more of his legacy. I had planned my trip to allow an entire afternoon to roam the grounds as Jefferson had done two hundred years ago. When he was just a boy, the top of this mountain was his favorite retreat to read books and gaze out as I did upon the plum colored ragged mountains on the horizon. The initial excavation in 1769 became the cellar of Monticello’s South Pavilion, a one room brick cottage that was eighteen feet square which he called his “bachelor’s quarter’s”.

Nearly sixty years later, Jefferson would breathe his last at this beloved mountain top home. But this consummate renaissance man of American history first was recognized as a student, architect, revolutionary, legislator, warrior, slaveholder, diplomat, statesman, president, educator, planter, husband and father. Besides his presidency and the founding and design of the University of Virginia, Jefferson’s legacy has perhaps been most defined by his creation of America’s Declaration of Independence. The new Continental Congress appointed a committee that included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to write the declaration. Jefferson proposed that Adams write the first draft but he objected, reasoning that he was obnoxious, suspected, unpopular, not a Virginian and Jefferson could write ten times better. So Jefferson secluded himself in his second story Philadelphia apartment and emerged with the now infamous document two weeks later. The final wording was agreed upon and approved on July 4, 1776.

Jefferson’s Dr. Dunglison was at his bedside on July 3, 1826 when Thomas awoke and asked, “Is it the fourth”? The good doctor replied, “It soon will be”. Those were his last words and he died at 12:50 on Tuesday afternoon on July 4, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, who had become a good friend and correspondent of Jefferson’s died just a few hours later in Quincy, Massachusetts. Neither man was aware of the other friend’s passing, but both men left an indelible mark on the country they founded and a legacy that challenges us all.

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