Read this history… Why we are free on this 4th of July

Posted by PartyWeDo on Sunday, July 4, 2010

Steven L. Patterson the Vice President & General Counsel of Oregon Mutual Insurance Company, shared this and I want to pass it along.

American_FlagThe temperature in Philadelphia was 72 and the horseflies weren’t nearly so bad in the morning as the delegates to the Second Constitutional Convention met. Independence Hall as we now know it, was a lovely room, very large room with gleaming white walls. The chairs were comfortable and facing the single door were two brass fireplaces, not in use during the hot summer.

After all had assembled the door was shut and it was always kept locked.  As you might imagine,  the room became an oven. The tall windows were also shut so that the loud quarreling voices in the room could not be heard by passersby (the subject of discussions was to be the cause of war). Small openings above the windows allowed for a slight stir of air, and also a large number of horseflies. Thomas Jefferson recorded that “the horseflies were dexterous in finding necks, and the silk of stocking was as nothing to them.” All discussions were punctuated by the slap of hands on necks, legs and other bared skin.

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 (yes, the very same Benedict Arnold that would later determine that he might be on the losing side and betrayed the American cause by arranging to compromise an American Fort) had captured the place, shouting that they were taking it “in the name God and the Continental Congress!”

After some preliminary matters 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 present, members felt he had been somewhat verbose. Congress edited the excess away. Jefferson groaned as they continued what he later called “their depredations.” He was none too pleased by the changes. “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.

In the same hall where Patrick Henry had once thundered: “I am no longer a Virginian, Sir, but an American,” the loud and sometimes bitter argument ended, and without fanfare the vote was taken. While the members were pushing to finish their work by July 2nd, the resolution was formally adopted July 4 and 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.

Have you ever wondered what kind of men were the 56 signers who adopted the Declaration of Independence and who, by their signing, committed an act of high treason against the Sovereign King of Great Britain? To each of you the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Jefferson are familiar.  But who were the other signers. Who were they? What happened to them?    You may be somewhat surprised by the names not on the Declaration: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry. All were elsewhere.

Ben Franklin was the only really old man. Eighteen of the signers were under 40; three were in their 20s. Of the 56, almost half–24–were judges and lawyers. Eleven were merchants, 9 were land-owners 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 (January 23, 1737 – October 8, 1793) is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the Declaration, so much so that “John Hancock” became a synonym for “signature”. But he was more than a signer of the Declaration. John Hancock was the President of the Congress and as President was the first to sign the Declaration. Hancock, one of the richest men in America, already had a price of 500 pounds on his head. He signed in enormous letters and in legend, if not in fact, said while doing 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.” These men knew what they risked. The penalty for treason was death by hanging.  Today politicians take polls to decide how to feel on issues. At this time the majority of colonial citizens, though sympathetic to the sentiments expressed in favor of independence, feared a war with Britain and remained loyal to the King. A great British fleet was already at anchor in New York Harbor.

These were serious men, not detached intellectuals or wild eyed fanatics. They were simply seeking equality with the mother country. It was taxation with representation they sought and in return they got occupation by the forces of the King. They were all successful under the rule of Great Britain, yet they rebelled.

William Ellery, a delegate from Rhode Island, wrote that he was curious to see the signers’ faces as they signed the declaration, knowing what it meant. He saw some men sign quickly, “but in no face was he able to discern real fear.” Stephen 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.”

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.  Some examples:

Francis Lewis, New York delegate, saw his home plundered and his estates,  in what is now Harlem, 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.

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 housed 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 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.

John Morton, a Tory loyalist in his views previous to the Declarations debate, lived in a area of Pennsylvania strongly loyal to the King. 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 of the Declaration] to have been the most glorious service that I rendered to my country.”

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.

Of the 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. 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.

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 the 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 Clark’s 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 despair in this man’s heart, the anguish must touch each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: “No.”

The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence composed one of the most sobering lines 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.”

No idle boast or shallow sentiment indeed.

Have a great Fourth of July Holiday and remember the country we were given through the sacrifices of those who valued and fought for what we should never take for granted.

Information from various sources and articles


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