Enhanced from a version published in the Town and Country, July 2, 2009
Before you embark on whatever plans you have for the upcoming holiday weekend, take a moment to think about the treasonous document that was used to throw the gauntlet of independence at the feet of the King of England. Then pause for a moment to remember those who were willing to sign their name to that piece of paper and risk everything for the beginning of what would eventually become the United States of America.
What kind of men were these traitors and rabble that signed the Declaration of Independence? Eleven were merchants, 28 were lawyers or jurists, nine were farmers or large plantation owners and three were physicians. They were men of education and means who knew full well that the penalty for signing this document could be death.
In school, we learn about prominent signers like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. What about the others? What was the price they paid for signing the document?
Five were captured by the British and charged with treason. Two lost their sons in the Continental Army. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Another had two sons captured. Nine of the signers fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the American Revolution.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside when she was near death. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and mill were destroyed. While eluding the British, he often slept in forests and caves. When he returned home in 1777, he found his wife had died and his children had vanished.
The British hounded Thomas McKean to the point where he had to constantly move his family. He kept them in hiding while he served in the Continental Congress without pay.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The British jailed his wife and she died within a few months of her capture.
One by one, the British seized the ships of Carter Braxton. He was forced to sell his plantations and mortgage properties to pay his mounting debts. Eventually, his creditors seized his estate.
At the battle of Yorktown, British General Charles Cornwallis turned the family home of Thomas Nelson Jr. into his headquarters. On the verge of the final siege that would secure the colonies’ independence, Nelson urged General George Washington to open fire on his own home. At one time one of the richest men in Virginia, his home was destroyed in the bombardment and he later died penniless.
With a sizeable award already being offered for his arrest or capture, John Hancock signed the document in large, bold letters declaring that the British Ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward. With those words and his signature, Hancock knowingly thrust his head into a possible noose and never backed down.
The last line of the Declaration of Independence summarizes the uncompromising character of these men by their commitment to each other. A promise that reads, “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
That spirit of commitment to working together seems lost in Washington, D.C. today. Our leaders would do well to recite that line every time they enter the halls of Congress.
Enjoy your holiday – it comes as an expensive gift from old friends you never met, but always knew.