July 4 In 1826

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The United States came of age in the summer of 1826, not because of any magic in the number fifty, but because the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson awakened in every thoughtful citizen a consciousness of the republican ideals the two patriots had exemplified. The collaborators of 1776—one from the North and the other from the South—had in their later years come to be regarded as “the embodied spirit of the revolution itself, in all its purity and force, diffusing its wholesome influence through the generations that have succeeded, rebuking every sinister design, and invigorating every manly and virtuous resolution.” They had of course long since surrendered to younger men the active control of public affairs. But they had been onlookers and advisers, and their successors had frequently turned to them. Now their intellectual and moral guidance was withdrawn. But was it really? Not if the citizens and their leaders were willing to study the careers and writings of the two departed leaders and to absorb from them the lessons of personal sacrifice in the interest of public good, wisdom derived from reading and observation, courage to do the right rather than the merely expedient thing, magnanimity toward opponents, sympathy for the oppressed, national rather than sectional views, and the advancement of free institutions. So long as these were the lessons the American people desired to study and to apply, the guidance of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was a living force, and they both survived.