Adams wrote Jefferson that the future would "depend on the Union" and asked how that Union was to be preserved. "The Union is still to me an Object of as much Anxiety as ever Independence was," he confided.
He was right to worry. The union has always been difficult, from the first fears that the 13 separate states would behave as competing countries or bickering groups, through a brutal and painful civil war whose wounds have yet to entirely heal, to a vast, modern land whose residents, taking for granted the blessings bestowed upon them, are deeply divided and quick to vilify each other.
More tragically, some seem to enjoy vilifying America, everything it has been and stands for, seeking and finding fatal shortcomings. Adams and Jefferson were not blind to those shortcomings. "We think ourselves possessed or at least we boast that we are so of Liberty of conscience on all subjects and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment, in all cases and yet," Adams admitted, "how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact." Recent moments of real unity after 9/11, when members of Congress stood together on the steps of the Capitol and sang "God Bless America," have been fleeting.
In 1825 Jefferson wrote to congratulate Adams on the election of his son John Quincy to the presidency--an election so close it was decided in the House of Representatives. "So deeply are the principles of order, and of obedience to law impressed on the minds of our citizens generally that I am persuaded there will be as immediate an acquiescence in the will of the majority," Jefferson assured him, "as if Mr. Adams had been the choice of every man." He closed: "Nights of rest to you and days of tranquility are the wishes I tender you with my affect[iona]te respects."
On July 4 the following year, as the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, its two frail signers died within hours of each other. Their cause, "struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government," continues in the nation they launched,
still fraught with aspirations and anxieties, flaws and divisions but, one hopes, with the ability to reconcile as they did, to work together for the joint venture.
I recommend reading all of this piece and the one cited a few days ago from Bill Bennett in my post "The Neglect of US History."
Please take time out this holiday for a few minutes alone to really think about these United States of America, its history, how we are today, and our future.