On July 4, 1776, the Congress of the 13 United States of America voted to give their full approval to a declaration that severed the newly formed nation forever from its mother country. Fifty-six men affixed their signatures to the bottom of the document called, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.”
Reading about the founding fathers, two certainties become obvious. They knew their dream of an independent and democratic nation would not exist without the help of Almighty God, and they were keenly aware that the personal price each signer of the Declaration of Independence would pay could be costly. Hence the conclusion of the document that birthed this nation says, “… with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, & our sacred Honor.”
Jefferson wrote the latter portion of the closing phrase that affirmed their pledge. The congress inserted “with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence ….”
More than 50 years ago commentator Paul Harvey wrote a small book that summarized the price paid by many of the 56 signers. He said they had everything to lose and nothing to gain, except a free nation. Most of these men never enjoyed the benefits of their costly price. These were the best men from each of the colonies, well-educated, gifted leaders who had prospered in the New World of America.
Public domain image
John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
The most expedient path for them would have been to bow to England, pay their taxes, continue to live under the domination of the motherland and enjoy their achievements. Instead, these 56 men chose to sign their names to a document that would significantly cause them great pain, yet change the history of the whole world. King George III declared the action of these traitors to be treason. The punishment was hanging.
They had nothing to gain materially but everything to lose when they signed that historic document. Yet, they persevered for the cause of liberty.
The Declaration of Independence cites 27 serious grievances the colonists held against England and their King. The list closes with this conclusion: “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.”
The king had stretched the colonists to the boundaries of their convictions. It was time for principle to overpower patience. They would no longer tolerate the tyranny and injustice of a self-absorbed king. We look at the document today as a beautiful piece of framed art. It is far from art. It is a piece of legal evidence that condemned each signer. It was so incriminating at the time that the names of these men were kept secret for six months.
I wonder how many sleepless nights these men endured as they continually rehearsed the final phrase of the document that contained their signatures, “… our lives our fortunes, our sacred honor.”
With the stroke of their pen these successful men cast their votes in favor of independence with a combination of fear, reluctance and probably sadness. What had they done? Were they willing to pay the price? What impact would this have on their families?
Harvey reports, “Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas. To pay his debts he lost his home and all his properties.” He was captured, and his properties were destroyed by the British.
Aristocrat and large plantation owner Thomas Lynch Jr. became very ill in military service and became a partial invalid. In an attempt to regain his health, Lynch and his wife traveled by ship toward the West Indies. They were never heard from again.
According to Harvey, “Thomas Mc-Kean of Delaware was so harassed by the enemy that he was forced to move his family five times in five months.”
Thomas Nelson of Virginia raised $2 million in loans to support the war. He personally repaid the full loans. He was never reimbursed by the government.
Francis Lewis saw the complete destruction of his home and possessions in the war. His wife was imprisoned. She was released before her death in 1779.
Richard Stockton and Thomas Heyward were captured. Their properties were looted and destroyed. Vandals looted the properties of eight signers.
Philip Livingston’s home was used as barracks for the British. Another home was used as a hospital, and his business interests were confiscated.
John Hart lived in forests and caves to evade the British. When he returned home his wife was dead; their 13 children were scattered and his properties were gone.
All of these men lived up to their pledge. Five of the signers were captured by the British. Nine of the 56 died as a result of the hardships of the war. Two of their sons were captured by the enemy; two other sons died in the army.
Today, we are a free people. But do we understand the expensive price of the freedoms we take for granted?
I am convinced that many elected leaders, government workers and certainly most in the media are not well-educated in history.
Likely many have been indoctrinated in a revisionist’s view of history, oblivious to the high cost of freedom.
Once again, America faces tyranny, but this time it comes from within. Politicians and influential people have imposed unthinkable regulations on businesses, churches and individual Americans in unprecedented measure. The mainstream media has sacrificed truth and integrity by ignoring government scandals. Religious freedom and personal liberties are on the chopping block.
American culture has gone from a Christian focus, to a non-Christian leaning, to an anti-Christian crusade.
Like the Founding Fathers, we must also exercise complete dependence on the Almighty God of Creation. The church must be a praying church. The pastor must be a praying pastor. The people must be praying people.
The time has come both to speak up and to make hard choices. We cannot afford to decide our present or future direction based on comfort, pleasure or convenience. The course we take must be like that of the founders, “… our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.”