In 1826, as the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence approached, Thomas Jefferson was invited to Washington, DC to join the only two surviving members of the group of signers, John Adams and Charles Carroll of Maryland. Jefferson was unable to attend due to his poor health—in fact, both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4th of that year—but he did reply with a letter, a portion of which is below. In our current climate of political and cultural uncertainty, Jefferson’s words are as important today as they were 191 years ago.

I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band [of original signers], the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Library of Congress