In June 1826 Thomas Jefferson was invited to a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signature of the Declaration of Independence in Washington. He was in very poor health and had only one remaining ambition: to live until that day, as indeed he, and John Adams, did. This was his reply. Emphasis added.
Monticello June 24. 26
The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of
Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th. anniversary of American
independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the
fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment
proposed for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be
deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. but acquiescence is a
duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should,
indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with
the small band, 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
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.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my
ancient neighbors of the City of Washington and of it's vicinities, with whom I passed so many
years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of
the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be
forgotten. with my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be
pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest
respect and friendly attachments.