The Glorious Fourth

by Hal Shurtleff, Camp Constitution

Mrs. Wolf, my eight-grade history teacher in a Boston Public School, ensured that her students not only knew the reasons why the 13 colonies united against Great Britain, and declared their independence from Great Britain but had her students memorize a good portion of the Declaration of Independence.

They also had to know about the men who signed what could have been their death warrant if they were unsuccessful, and the sacrifices they made. As a means of honoring the memory of those brave men and my beloved history teacher, I felt that I had an obligation to share this information.

Over the years, I would help man information tables on the Boston Common with a sign that reads “Honoring the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  How Many Can You Name?’

Many of the people who stopped by our table were in town to attend the Boston Pops annual concert which would end with an incredible fireworks display.

Few of them could rattle off more than two or three signers, but they left the table with a copy of the Declaration with all the names of the signers.

July 2, 1776, is the day that the Second Continental Congress voted for independence and for two days, delegates debated and edited the Declaration written over a three-week period by Thomas Jefferson.

John Hancock as the President of Congress was the only delegate to sign the Declaration on July 4th.

Delegate John Adams of Massachusetts, the man who probably did more to get independence declared said this prior to the vote:‘Sink or swim, live or die, survive of perish, I give my hand and heart for this vote…. You and I indeed may rue it. We may not live to the time when this Declaration shall be made good. We may die; die colonists; die slaves; die, it may be ignominiously and on the scaffold. Be it so, be it so

“If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready…. But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country and that of a free country…“Sir, before God, I believe the hour is come. My judgement approves the measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it, and I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment and by the blessings of God, it shall be my dying sentiment, Independence now and Independence forever.”

 

The Lives of the Signers
One of the best books about the signers of the Declaration of Independence isBiographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence by B. J. Lossing published in 1848 and reprinted by Wall Builders.  In this excellent book, we get the true historical background of the signing of the document and a brief biographical sketch of the men who signed it.  One of the most compelling facts is that not one of the signers betrayed the new nation.  Not one “flip-flopped” or became “politically correct.  When they pledged their lives and sacred honor, they meant it.  

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration, several of them and their family members died from their wounds or hardships. Five were captured and imprisoned under harsh conditions. Twelve had their homes burned to the ground, and 17 were impoverished.  And, no, none of them made these sacrifices to promote the institute of slavery.  Indeed, the Declaration of Independence helped pave the way for the ultimate abolition of slavery in the United States.

The New York delegates Francis Lewis, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, and Lewis Morris bore a good portion of the British brunt losing their wealth and their property destroyed.  Francis Lewis’ wife was imprisoned and died shortly after her release due to the brutal treatment she received. Philip Livingston had his businesses and home confiscated, and he died in 1778 broke and separated from his family.

Today, in some circles, the term “sacred honor” is considered a silly anachronism of a less enlightened era and regard the signers as “dead white European males whose values must be demeaned.  However, we at Camp Constitution-staying true to our motto “Honoring the Past… Teaching the Present… Preparing the Future, along with, what I believe to be most Americans will never forget the true meaning of Independence Day.

Happy Birthday United States of America-the greatest nation in the history of the world.  May you have many more birthdays, and may its citizens never forget the brave men and woman that have helped keep our nation free.(The Glorious 4th A Presentation by historian Richard Howell: