by Curt Kovener
Our nation’s 242nd birthday is tomorrow: the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Other than a day off how many of you know the reason we celebrate the day of our independence.
It wasn’t as simple as 56 congressmen signing a document and we were a free country off to seek our destiny.
Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it so some background into those representatives of the 13 colonies who signed the Declaration of Independence should be shared.
Remember, there was a reason that the war for independence from England was called the Revolutionary War. It had its basis in a revolutionary document—a document that had the support of only a slim majority of the young nation’s residents.
What happened to those men who placed their signatures supporting the revolutionary document?
•Five signers were captured by the British charged as traitors and tortured before they died.
•A dozen had their homes ransacked and burned.
•Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.
•Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their honor.
What kind of men were they?
Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and plantation owners; men of means, well-educated. But they signed the Declaration knowing that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ship captured 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. While he served in Congress his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him and poverty was his reward.
British soldiers looted the properties of signers Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He urged Gen. George Washington to open fire. The Nelson home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed, The British jailed his wife and she died within a few months.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside while she was ill. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to fine his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died of exhaustion.
Signers Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but valued liberty more. Standing tall 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.”
They gave you and me a free and independent early America, paid for by their lives and those of their families, and personal financial sacrifice.
That’s the other part of the story of what happened in the Revolutionary War that we don’t teach in school. The story what happened to most of those men who signed on to a vision of a free county—open to all—where each is permitted—as stated in that over 240-year-old document—unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.