On July 4, 1826, former presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away in Massachusetts and Virginia respectively. The two men died on the 50th anniversary of their greatest achievement — the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Serving in the Second Continental Congress in 1776, Adams and Jefferson, along with Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York, had been appointed to the Committee of the Five. The committee had been charged with writing a declaration that stated the reasons and justifications for the American colonies' separation from England.
The main job of writing fell to Jefferson, who, though the youngest member of the committee, was considered the best writer. Franklin and Adams contributed most of the ideas and worked closely with Jefferson as the document was prepared. Though the congress approved the declaration on July 2, it was not formally ratified and announced to the public until July 4.
Adams and Jefferson went on to play key roles in the American Revolution and after. Adams journeyed to Europe and, working with Franklin, conducted diplomacy in Paris. Eventually, Adams was key in negotiating French and Dutch loans to help finance the United States' war effort. After Great Britain had recognized American independence in 1783, Adams served as the American ambassador to London.
Jefferson served in Virginia state politics, eventually serving as governor for two one-year terms. After the revolution, he served again in Congress where he was involved in many early political questions, and drafted the Northwest Ordinance, and was eventually made a law in 1787. It set the groundwork for admitting new states to the Union, rather than simply expanding existing states westward. In 1784, he was appointed ambassador to France.