For lovers of statistics, the Declaration of Independence is a document of 1,322 words; if you are a stickler for accuracy, the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776 and signed on August 2 by 51 men (five more would sign later).
The final sentence; the uniting statement likely designed to cement the seriousness of the signers’ resolve, reads, “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.”
Nine of the 56 signers lost their lives during the Revolutionary War, six of them as a direct or indirect result of the war. Twelve served actively in the war; four, including a civilian (Richard Stockton of New Jersey), were captured by the British.
The counts vary, but many gave their fortunes. For instance, William Paca of Maryland used his own money to provide uniforms for the Continental Army. Ten lost their homes and another seven suffered almost total loss of their property.
One, Thomas Nelson of Virginia, realized British officers occupied his home. He told American forces to fire upon it, and they did. Nelson’s home was destroyed, a reminder of what Nelson pledged when he signed the Declaration.
As for sacred honor, not one signer reneged on his pledge. That’s good enough for me.
I could go on; American Heritage has so much more here.
Today some harp on the idea that the signers were just a bunch of “rich, white guys.” This is mostly true (all were white, most were wealthy), but it misses the point.
They pledged their lives. They knew if their new country lost the war, each of them would be rounded up and hanged. This is why they delayed the release of their names on the document for six months; they knew if they published their names immediately, they would be quickly captured. They needed the revolution to gain strength first.
They pledged their fortunes. Yes, most were men of means. But this only tells us they had something—a lot, in fact—to lose. Some lost everything they had, as noted by Paul Harvey in this great piece we can still find on You Tube.
Which makes me wonder, “Could I do something like that if I had to?” Could I risk my life, my family’s financial security—all that I have–to put my name on the line for a greater good?
I’m not brash enough to say yes. I would hope that, should the need arise, I would be sober enough to understand the consequences and yet selfless enough to offer all.
I saw a glimpse of this courage one day several years ago in the Baltimore Airport; where WWII Veterans were arriving on an Honor Flight to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. Their number is dwindling; an 18-year-old who stormed Normandy on June 6, 1944 would be 91 today.
I was thanking those I could, and leaned down to greet one Honor Flight veteran in a wheelchair, being pushed by his son, a Vietnam Veteran.
As I reached out to shake the WWII veteran’s hand, this steely, blue-eyed mountain of a man gripped me firmly and said only three words; “Omaha Beach, sir.”
Omaha Beach. Casualties among the first who landed on Omaha Beach were 3,000 killed, wounded or missing. The man I met in Baltimore probably volunteered and signed a simple document of enlistment. He didn’t sign a Declaration of Independence; but he too, pledged his life, his fortune and his sacred honor.
This year we are celebrating Independence Day with five more family members hanging out in our home, a trip over to a friends’ home for fireworks on the 3rd and a community fireworks display on the 4th—just as Declaration signatory John Adams hoped when he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin (and who can forget Hancock?) and 51 more lit the torch. So many others, like the hero I met in a busy airport, carried it.
With so many political battles today, keeping our Republic can be a contentious and bitter endeavor. But when all is said and done, it’s my responsibility to find something within me to keep this torch shining as a beacon among the nations of the world.
On July 4 then, we celebrate. And on July 5, together we resolve to keep the promise of our founders, who pledged their “lives, their fortunes,” and their “sacred honor.”