ONLY THREE signers of the Declaration of Independence, out of the original 56, were still alive when the nation began the celebration of its 50th anniversary with prayers and picnics, sports and speeches, bells and bonfires. Only three were left to attest on that hallowed day in 1826 that "the great experiment" in sell-government was still viable.
Two of them, John Adams, the Federalist, and Thomas Jefferson, the Republican, had been bitter rivals, champions of conflicting ideologies. Adams, the pessimist, was concerned that power would be abused and wanted checks on tyranny. Jefferson, the optimist, believed science would help perfect the human race and promote democracy. In their declining years, both mellowed as an exchange of letters showed. But both were apprehensive about the future.