Friday, July 02, 2004

This Day in History

On this day 228 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 brave men.

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 tall, 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.”

Suggested reading:

Who were these men?
Here is an excerpt from James Witt's excellent piece in the Daily News:

In a nation whose history abounds with heroes, the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence must be placed at the top of the list.

Who were these patriots? With few exceptions, they were prosperous members of the colonial elite. A quarter of them were wealthy planters or farmers, four were physicians, eight were merchants, four were ministers and half had been trained in the law.

Yet they signed the Declaration knowing that their property would be confiscated and, if captured, they could face execution.

All paid a terrible price for their patriotism. Nearly a third had their estates destroyed. William Floyd, a signer for New York, fled with his family and his wife became ill and died. John Hart of New Jersey had to flee from the bedside of his dying wife as did his 13 children. His property was methodically destroyed.

At the age of 66, Hart fled to the mountains and lived in caves and the forest for more than a year. Upon returning home he found that his wife had died and his children had vanished. He expired shortly afterwards.

Three others died bankrupt. Among them was wealthy Pennsylvanian Robert Morris, who had helped finance the Revolution. After the war he spent several years in debtors' prison.

At the Battle of Yorktown, the British Gen. Cornwallis was headquartered in the home of a signer, Thomas Nelson Jr.

General Washington had graciously spared his home from destruction. Nelson, however, implored the general to fire on the house. The house was destroyed and Nelson, too, died bankrupt.

Five signers were captured and given the choice of prison under harsh conditions or freedom and other rewards if they recanted their treason against the king. All chose prison.

The signers' families often suffered more than those who had signed the revolutionary document. The wife of New York's Francis Lewis was captured by the British and spent three years in prison. Her health ruined, she died shortly after her release. Two sons of Abraham Clark of New Jersey were captured and imprisoned under horrid conditions.

God Bless the Republic of the United States of America


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