First posted on July 4, 2011 by James Browning
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled… solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown…
Ever wondered what happened to the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Here are examples of the price some of them paid:
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships resulting from the Revolutionary War.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Perhaps one of the more inspiring examples of “undaunted resolution” was at the Battle of Yorktown. Thomas Nelson, Jr. returning from Philadelphia noted that British General Cornwallis had taken over his home, but that the patriots were directing their artillery fire all over the town except for the vicinity of his beautiful home. Nelson asked why they were not firing in that direction and the soldiers replied, “Out of respect to you, Sir.” Nelson quietly urged General Washington to open fire, and stepped forward to the nearest cannon, aimed at his own house and fired. The other guns joined in, and the Nelson home was destroyed. Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis’s Long Island home was looted and gutted, his home and properties destroyed. His wife was thrown into a damp dark prison cell without a bed. Health ruined, Mrs. Lewis soon died from the effects of the confinement. The Lewis’s son would later die in British captivity, also.
“Honest John” Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay dying, when British and Hessian troops invaded New Jersey just months after he signed the Declaration. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and his grist mill were laid to waste. All winter, and for more than a year, Hart lived in forests and caves, finally returning home to find his wife dead, his children vanished and his farm destroyed. A few weeks later, John Hart was dead from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
New Jersey’s Richard Stockton, after rescuing his wife and children from advancing British troops, was betrayed by a loyalist, imprisoned, beaten and nearly starved. He returned an invalid to find his home gutted, and his library and papers burned. He, too, never recovered, dying a broken man.
William Ellery of Rhode Island, who marveled that he had seen only “undaunted resolution” in the faces of his co-signers, also had his home burned.
Only days after Lewis Morris of New York signed the Declaration, British troops ravaged his 2,000-acre estate, butchered his cattle and drove his family off the land. Three of Morris’ sons fought the British.
When the British seized the York house of the wealthy Philip Livingston, he sold off everything else, and gave the money to the Revolution. He died in 1778.
Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward Jr. went home to South Carolina. In the British invasion of the South, Heyward was wounded and all three were captured. As he rotted on a prison ship inSt. Augustine, Heyward’s plantation was raided, buildings burned, and his wife, who witnessed it all, died. Other Southern signers suffered the same general fate.
These were men who believed in a cause far beyond themselves. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing straight and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
My entire way of life and the freedom to live it I owe to those 56 men. I am deeply grateful for their courage, fortitude and sacrifice.
Read the full Declaration of Independence at: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence.
It is force; like fire, a troublesome servant
and a fearful master. Never for a moment
should it be left to irresponsible action.