The Price of Freedom

January 7, 2003

Have you ever wondered what happened to those men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British and suffered at their hand.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  One lost his son in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.  One fought and died from wounds received in battle.

What kind of men were they?  Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists.  Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners.  These were men of means and well educated.  They signed the Declaration of Independence knowing that it would be deemed an act of treason by the Crown and that the penalty for doing so might well be death if they were ever captured.  Yet they signed and in so doing pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the American cause.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw many of the ships in which he held interest appropriated by the British government, captured at sea, or sunk in combat with the British navy.  Thomas McKean described in a letter to John Adams being hunted by the British and compelled to move his family often.  Vandals or soldiers—or both—looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton.  At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis would likely take over the Nelson home to use for his headquarters.  The owner is said to have directed cannoneers to bombard the home.  Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed and his wife briefly jailed by the British.  John Hart, still grieving from the recent loss of his wife, fled his home before the advancing British forces.  His fields and his grist mill were laid waste.  Norris and Livingston are said to have suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians.  There 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 a 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 us an independent and free America.  As you travel home this evening, ask yourself, "What price would I be willing to pay to keep it so?"

Good night, gentlemen.

Note: There are many versions of this story on the Internet.  Some of it truth.  Some of it, no doubt, fiction.  What is important to take away from this story is that these men signed the declaration knowing full what their fates might be  But note too, that many more than the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence risked, suffered, and gave the ultimate sacrifice to support the American revolutionary cause.  The hardships and losses endured by Americans during our struggle for independence were not visited upon the signers of the Declaration of Independence alone; ordinary men (and women) like yourselves suffered, sacrificed, and died to give our great nation its birth right.