THOMAS Jefferson and John Adams. Two men who helped frame the world's most moving picture. Presidents and political rivals, yet friends. Old men who died on the same day — July 4, 1826, the jubilee birthday of the United States of America.
And two other presidents, both Midwest natives who faced hostility, one from his rebellious fellow countrymen and the other from the claws of the Russian bear.
Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan commemorated the nation's birthday 118 years apart, Lincoln in 1863 after the Union victory at Vicksburg and Reagan in 1981 in his first year in office. Lincoln's remarks were impromptu, yet his words bore a mark that would be stamped into the permanent record later that year in the Gettsyburg Address. Reagan's scripted remarks wafted with the optimism for which he was famous. Below are excerpts from what these two men had to say.
Abraham Lincoln, 1863:
How long ago is it? Eighty odd years since, upon the Fourth day of July, for the first time in the world, a union body of representatives was assembled to declare as a self-evident truth that all men were created equal. That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the fourth day of July has had several very peculiar recognitions.
The two most distinguished men who framed and supported that paper, including the particular declaration I have mentioned, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the one having framed it, and the other sustained it most ably in debate, the only two of the 55 or 56 who signed it, I believe, who were ever president of the United States, precisely 50 years after they put their hands to that paper it pleased the Almighty God to take away from this stage of action on the Fourth of July. This extraordinary coincidence we can understand to be a dispensation of the Almighty Ruler of Events.
Another of our presidents, five years afterward, was called from this stage of existence on the same day of the month, and now on this Fourth of July just past, when a gigantic rebellion has risen in the land, precisely at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow that principle “that all men are created equal,” we have a surrender of one of their most powerful positions and powerful armies forced upon them on that very day ... on the fourth the enemies of the declaration that all men are created equal had to turn tail and run.
Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme and a glorious occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the theme and worthy of the occasion. I would like to speak in all praise that is due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of this country from the beginning of this war, not on occasions of success, but upon the more trying occasions of the want of success. I say I would like to speak in praise of these men, particularizing their deeds, but I am unprepared ... And now I have said about as much as I ought to say in this impromptu manner, and if you please, I'll take the music.