Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Our Independence Day

From Glenn Beck's site, an essay on our nation's independence:

July 2nd, 1776. Continental Congress votes 12-0, New York abstains. July 4th, the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson and heavily edited by congress adopted without dissent. July 8th, the Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Philadelphia. On the 9th it was recited before General George Washington and his troops in New York City. On July 15th congress learns that New York has decided to endorse the Declaration. On August 2nd, a parchment copy presented to the Congress for signature. Most of the 56 men who put their name on the document did so that day. And then what? Well, we tend to forget that to sign the Declaration of Independence was to commit an act of treason and the punishment for treason was death. Signing was a move fraught with danger, so much so that the names of the signers were kept secret for six months. The signers were risking everything. They were risking everything, and they knew it. That's the meaning of the Declaration's last sentence: 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.

Most of the signers survived the war. Several went on to illustrious careers. Two of them became Presidents of the United States. Among the others were future vice presidents, senators and governors. But not all were so fortunate. Nine of the 56 died during the Revolution, never tasted American independence. Five were captured by the British. 18 had their homes, great estates some of them, looted or burned by the enemy. Some lost everything they owned. Two were wounded in battle. Two others were fathers of sons who were killed during the war. Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

You know, we all recognize John Hancock's signature, but whoever notices the names beneath his? Like William Hillary, Thomas Nelson, Richard Stockton, Francis Lewis. Most of us, we here these names and they have no meaning, but they each represent a real human being, some of whom paid dearly for the support of this Declaration and American indep
endence. Louis Morris of New York, for example, must have known when he signed the Declaration that he was signing away his fortune for within weeks the British ravaged his estate, destroyed his vast woodlands, butchered his cattle and sent his family fleeing for their lives.

Another New Yorker, William Floyd, he was forced to flee when the British plundered his property. He and his family lived as refugees for seven years without any income. The strain tolled on his wife. She died two years before the war ended.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, he was a planter who had invested heavily in shipping. He saw most of his vessels captured by the British Navy, his estates largely ruined. By the end of his life, he was a pauper. Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. of Virginia raised more than $2 million for the patriots cause on his own personal credit. The Government never reimbursed him, and repaying the loans wiped out his entire estate. Durin
g the battle of Yorktown, his house which had been seized by the British and occupied by General Cornwallis, Nelson quietly urged the gunners to fire on his own home. They did so destroying it. He was never again a man of wealth. He died, was buried in an unmarked grave. He stopped in a New Jersey Supreme Court, betrayed by loyalist neighbors. He was dragged from his bed, thrown in prison where he was brutally beaten and starved. His lands were devastated, his horses stolen, his library burned and his family lived on charity for the rest of their lives. And then there was John Hart, the speaker of the New Jersey assembly. He was forced to flee in the winter of '76 at the age of 65 from his dying wife's bedside while he hid in forests and caves. His home was demolished, his fields and mill lay waste and his 13 children put to flight. When it was finally safe for him to return, he found his wife dead, his children missing, his property decimated. He never saw any of his family again.

The men who signed that piece of parchment in 1776 were the elite of their colonies. They are men of means and social standing but for the sake of liberty they pledged it all: Their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

Happy Fourth of July, blogging buddies!

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