Members of the Continental Congress signed a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson 237 years ago today.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it said, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The document pointed out that colonists had repeatedly petitioned King George for redress of their grievances and had 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 document read.
It then declared the colonies to be free and independent states, “absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.”
“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,” the statement concluded.
It was, to put it mildly, a bold declaration, and for many of the 56 signers, that final sentence proved all too true.
Robert Morris literally put his money where his mouth was, financing a good bit of the war effort from his own pocket. He lent the fledgling government $10,000 early in the war, and he continued throughout the war to underwrite the privateers sneaking supplies past the British naval blockades. Ten years after signing the Declaration of Independence, Morris died in relative poverty at the age of 73.
When New Jersey was overrun by the British in November of 1776, Richard Stockton managed to move his family to safety, but he was captured and imprisoned by the British. He lost all of his extensive library, his writings and all of his property, and he died a pauper in Princeton at the age of 51.
And then there was Carter Braxton, who lost nearly all of his wealth in the course of the Revolution, and Thomas Heyward Jr., who was taken prisoner by the British while in command of a militia force during the siege of Charleston.
Or Arthur Middleton, who spent more than a year as a prisoner of war and then lost most of his fortune during the Revolution.
During a day of picnics and get-togethers, we would do well to pause for a moment to reflect on the bravery of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence and ponder their legacy of freedom.
Happy birthday, America.