Lives, Fortunes and Honor
Monday is the 235th anniversary of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. As such, I'm dispensing with the regular, weekend chart update. Today, I'd like you to consider the words of The Declaration as well as the events that led to its signing.
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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, 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, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.
So, who were these guys, anyway? Legions of fuzzy-headed politicos with an agenda would have you believe they were nothing but filthy rich, old white guys who didn't want to pay their taxes. Is that true? Do you even know whether or not it's true?
Below is the best summary I have ever found on the history of America's "Founding Fathers". It was written some fifty years ago by the father of radio host Rush Limbaugh. Regardless of your opinion of Rush the Third, please take a few moments to read and reflect upon the words and wisdom of Rush the Second. A link to the full page is here:
"The Americans Who Risked Everything", by Rush Limbaugh, Jr.
It was a glorious morning. The sun was shining and the wind was from the southeast. Up especially early, a tall bony, redheaded young Virginian found time to buy a new thermometer, for which he paid three pounds, fifteen shillings. He also bought gloves for Martha, his wife, who was ill at home.
Thomas Jefferson arrived early at the statehouse. The temperature was 72.5 degrees and the horseflies weren't nearly so bad at that hour. It was a lovely room, very large, with gleaming white walls. The chairs were comfortable. Facing the single door were two brass fireplaces, but they would not be used today.
The moment the door was shut, and it was always kept locked, the room became an oven. The tall windows were shut, so that loud quarreling voices could not be heard by passersby. Small openings atop the windows allowed a slight stir of air, and also a large number of horseflies. Jefferson records that "the horseflies were dexterous in finding necks, and the silk of stockings was nothing to them." All discussing was punctuated by the slap of hands on necks.
On the wall at the back, facing the president's desk, was a panoply -- consisting of a drum, swords, and banners seized from Fort Ticonderoga the previous year. Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured the place, shouting that they were taking it "in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!"
Now Congress got to work, promptly taking up an emergency measure about which there was discussion but no dissension. "Resolved: That an application be made to the Committee of Safety of Pennsylvania for a supply of flints for the troops at New York."
Then Congress transformed itself into a committee of the whole. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud once more, and debate resumed. Though Jefferson was the best writer of all of them, he had been somewhat verbose. Congress hacked the excess away. They did a good job, as a side-by-side comparison of the rough draft and the final text shows. They cut the phrase "by a self-assumed power." "Climb" was replaced by "must read," then "must" was eliminated, then the whole sentence, and soon the whole paragraph was cut. Jefferson groaned as they continued what he later called "their depredations." "Inherent and inalienable rights" came out "certain unalienable rights," and to this day no one knows who suggested the elegant change.
A total of 86 alterations were made. Almost 500 words were eliminated, leaving 1,337. At last, after three days of wrangling, the document was put to a vote.
Here in this hall Patrick Henry had once thundered: "I am no longer a Virginian, sir, but an American." But today the loud, sometimes bitter argument stilled, and without fanfare the vote was taken from north to south by colonies, as was the custom. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
There were no trumpets blown. No one stood on his chair and cheered. The afternoon was waning and Congress had no thought of delaying the full calendar of routine business on its hands. For several hours they worked on many other problems before adjourning for the day.
Much To Lose
What kind of men were the 56 signers who adopted the Declaration of Independence and who, by their signing, committed an act of treason against the crown? To each of you, the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock and Jefferson are almost as familiar as household words. Most of us, however, know nothing of the other signers. Who were they? What happened to them?
I imagine that many of you are somewhat surprised at the names not there: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry. All were elsewhere.
Ben Franklin was the only really old man. Eighteen were under 40; three were in their 20s. Of the 56 almost half - 24 - were judges and lawyers. Eleven were merchants, nine were landowners and farmers, and the remaining 12 were doctors, ministers, and politicians.
With only a few exceptions, such as Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, these were men of substantial property. All but two had families. The vast majority were men of education and standing in their communities. They had economic security as few men had in the 18th Century.
Each had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it. John Hancock, one of the richest men in America, already had a price of 500 pounds on his head. He signed in enormous letters so that his Majesty could now read his name without glasses and could now double the reward. Ben Franklin wryly noted: "Indeed we must all hang together, otherwise we shall most assuredly hang separately."
Fat Benjamin Harrison of Virginia told tiny Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: "With me it will all be over in a minute, but you, you will be dancing on air an hour after I am gone."
These men knew what they risked. The penalty for treason was death by hanging. And remember, a great British fleet was already at anchor in New York Harbor.
They were sober men. There were no dreamy-eyed intellectuals or draft card burners here. They were far from hot-eyed fanatics yammering for an explosion. They simply asked for the status quo. It was change they resisted. It was equality with the mother country they desired. It was taxation with representation they sought. They were all conservatives, yet they rebelled.
It was principle, not property, that had brought these men to Philadelphia. Two of them became presidents of the United States. Seven of them became state governors. One died in office as vice president of the United States. Several would go on to be U.S. Senators. One, the richest man in America, in 1828 founded the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. One, a delegate from Philadelphia, was the only real poet, musician and philosopher of the signers. (It was he, Francis Hopkinson not Betsy Ross who designed the United States flag.)
Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, had introduced the resolution to adopt the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. He was prophetic in his concluding remarks: "Why then sir, why do we longer delay? Why still deliberate? Let this happy day give birth to an American Republic. Let her arise not to devastate and to conquer but to reestablish the reign of peace and law.
"The eyes of Europe are fixed upon us. She demands of us a living example of freedom that may exhibit a contrast in the felicity of the citizen to the ever-increasing tyranny which desolates her polluted shores. She invites us to prepare an asylum where the unhappy may find solace, and the persecuted repost.
"If we are not this day wanting in our duty, the names of the American Legislatures of 1776 will be placed by posterity at the side of all of those whose memory has been and ever will be dear to virtuous men and good citizens."
Though the resolution was formally adopted July 4, it was not until July 8 that two of the states authorized their delegates to sign, and it was not until August 2 that the signers met at Philadelphia to actually put their names to the Declaration.
William Ellery, delegate from Rhode Island, was curious to see the signers' faces as they committed this supreme act of personal courage. He saw some men sign quickly, "but in no face was he able to discern real fear." Stephan Hopkins, Ellery's colleague from Rhode Island, was a man past 60. As he signed with a shaking pen, he declared: "My hand trembles, but my heart does not."
"Most Glorious Service"
Even before the list was published, the British marked down every member of Congress suspected of having put his name to treason. All of them became the objects of vicious manhunts. Some were taken. Some, like Jefferson, had narrow escapes. All who had property or families near British strongholds suffered.
· Francis Lewis, New York delegate saw his home plundered -- and his estates in what is now Harlem -- completely destroyed by British Soldiers. Mrs. Lewis was captured and treated with great brutality. Though she was later exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died from the effects of her abuse.
· William Floyd, another New York delegate, was able to escape with his wife and children across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees without income for seven years. When they came home they found a devastated ruin.
· Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home. Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for the cause.
· Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years he was barred from his home and family.
· John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart, 65, slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside. When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home, he found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away. He never saw them again. He died a broken man in 1779, without ever finding his family.
· Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The British occupied the town of Princeton, and billeted troops in the college. They trampled and burned the finest college library in the country.
· Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegate signer, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and children. The family found refuge with friends, but a Tory sympathizer betrayed them. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten by the arresting soldiers. Thrown into a common jail, he was deliberately starved. Congress finally arranged for Stockton's parole, but his health was ruined. The judge was released as an invalid, when he could no longer harm the British cause. He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. His family was forced to live off charity.
· Robert Morris, merchant prince of Philadelphia, delegate and signer, met Washington's appeals and pleas for money year after year. He made and raised arms and provisions which made it possible for Washington to cross the Delaware at Trenton. In the process he lost 150 ships at sea, bleeding his own fortune and credit almost dry.
· George Clymer, Pennsylvania signer, escaped with his family from their home, but their property was completely destroyed by the British in the Germantown and Brandywine campaigns.
· Dr. Benjamin Rush, also from Pennsylvania, was forced to flee to Maryland. As a heroic surgeon with the army, Rush had several narrow escapes.
· John Martin, a Tory in his views previous to the debate, lived in a strongly loyalist area of Pennsylvania. When he came out for independence, most of his neighbors and even some of his relatives ostracized him. He was a sensitive and troubled man, and many believed this action killed him. When he died in 1777, his last words to his tormentors were: "Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [the signing] to have been the most glorious service that I have ever rendered to my country."
· William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his property and home burned to the ground.
· Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had his health broken from privation and exposures while serving as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies and on the voyage, he and his young bride were drowned at sea.
· Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., the other three South Carolina signers, were taken by the British in the siege of Charleston. They were carried as prisoners of war to St. Augustine, Florida, where they were singled out for indignities. They were exchanged at the end of the war, the British in the meantime having completely devastated their large landholdings and estates.
· Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front in command of the Virginia military forces. With British General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, fire from 70 heavy American guns began to destroy Yorktown piece by piece. Lord Cornwallis and his staff moved their headquarters into Nelson's palatial home. While American cannonballs were making a shambles of the town, the house of Governor Nelson remained untouched. Nelson turned in rage to the American gunners and asked, "Why do you spare my home?" They replied, "Sir, out of respect to you." Nelson cried, "Give me the cannon!" and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it to bits. But Nelson's sacrifice was not quite over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates. When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson's property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.
Lives, Fortunes, Honor
Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is still intact.
And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark.
He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to that infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York Harbor known as the hell ship Jersey, where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons' lives if he would recant and come out for the King and Parliament. The utter despair in this man's heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: "No."
The 56 signers of the Declaration Of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed the most magnificent curtain line in history. "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."
As you enjoy your 3-day weekend with friends and family, please take time to remember the sacrifices made by these courageous men and their families. Ask yourself, "would I have been willing to make the same commitment"? "Which principles do I hold so dearly as to risk everything for their maintenance"? "Should the time come again, will I be willing to speak out and lead or will I stand idly by and watch freedom slip away"?
I leave you this weekend with the words of Abraham Lincoln, written some 90 years after The Declaration. Please have a safe and joyous holiday. TF
"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."