Died On The Fourth Of July (Podcast)


Three Presidents, One Date, Zero Coincidences

 

We explore the unbelievable “coincidence” of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both dying on the Fourth of July on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the uncomfortable fact that James Monroe also died on the Fourth of July five years later, and the circumstances surrounding James Madison’s deliberate choice to break with this weird tradition.

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Show Notes

George Washington was the first president, and the first president to die – on December 14, 1799.

After that, it would be more than 26 years before another presidential death, and on July 4, 1826, two presidents died – Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Jefferson passed away in his alcove bed at Monticello in Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson’s alcove bed separating his bedroom and office.

Adams died at his home, often known as Peacefield but which he then called Montezillo, meaning “little hill,” a play on Jefferson’s “little mountain” Monticello.

This amazing coincidence – if it was a coincidence at all – was widely referred to as some kind of divine intervention. How else could the nation explain how two of its founders responsible for the Declaration of Independence should die on the same day – the fiftieth anniversary of its founding.

Then, exactly five years later, James Monroe got in on the Fourth of July death day action and died on July 4, 1831. In my original post about these deaths, I called him a copycat dier. Whether he had any role in choosing his death, the coincidence is too much to bear. It just seems uninspired and uncomfortable.

In this episode, we explore some details of each death and dig into bioethicist and professor Margaret P. Battin’s theories on these non-coincidental deaths – including the roles their doctors played.

Robley Dunglison, potions professor [citation needed] and physician to both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

Then, we look at how five years later, in late June 1836, James Madison was knocking at death’s door and the pressure was on to get him to the Fourth. He managed to break with this weird tradition and prevent the Fourth of July from becoming the official Death Day of the Presidents of the United States.

James Madison if he had taken his doctors’ advice about stimulants. And a whole lot of steroids.

Correction: My math is a little off when I say that the length of time between Monroe and Madison’s deaths was 4 years and 9 months; it’s just 6 days short of 1 year. To be fair, I did this math in the year 2020 which has been about a decade even though it still feels like March. Also, our apologies to Dennis Hopper who died in 2010.

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Sources:
July 4, 1826: Explaining the Same-day Deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Margaret P. Battin, Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society, July/August 2005
Can sheer willpower keep patients alive in their dying hours? by Bob Tedeschi, Stat, September 23, 2016
James Madison by Richard Brookhiser
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
John Adams by David McCullough
James Monroe: A Life by Tim McGrath
What Really Killed William Henry Harrison? by Jane McHugh and 
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