In Honor of Courage

WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s GOD entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, 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, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”

Fifty-six men penned their signature to the Declaration of Independence and in so doing, became a part of history.

The group was quite diverse. The youngest, Edward Rutledge, was 26 and the oldest, Benjamin Franklin, was 70 but most were in their 30s and 40s; they were husbands, fathers and bachelors. Fourteen signers were from New England; 21 from the Middle Colonies and 21 from the South. Only about half received their higher education in colonial colleges or abroad; the others studied at home, in local schools or private academies or with tutors; a few were self-taught.

The men’s wealth varied as well. About one-third of the men were born into wealth but most of the men acquired it on their own and some were self-made. There were some who were of even more humble beginnings such as George Taylor who had been brought to America as an indentured servant.

The men’s vocations were just as different: some were trained in the law, while some were trained in law but didn’t practice. There were merchants and shippers; men who made their living off the land; doctors; ministers and an ironmaster; while one, Samuel Adams, had no real vocation other than politics.

In signing the Declaration of Independence, the signers risked loss of fortune, imprisonment and death for treason not just for themselves but for their families. None died directly at the hands of the British, but Mrs. Francis Lewis died as a result of harsh prison treatment. About one-third of the group served in the militia, with most seeing wartime action. Thomas Hayward Jr., Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, George Walton and Richard Stockton were taken captive. The homes of nearly one-third of the signers were destroyed or damaged, and families were scattered when the British pillaged or confiscated estates.

While a couple of the merchants and shippers profited from the war, most of the men emerged poorer for their public service. Many made donations or loans, most unrepaid, to their colonies or their Government, while some sold their personal property to help finance the war.

There was little or nothing to gain materially and practically all to lose when they penned their name to the Declaration of Independence. By so doing, they earned their place in the annals of history for their courage and commitment to liberty. And after much bloodshed, we gained a Republic, if we can keep it.

These courageous men who stood up against the greatest nation at that time were:

John Adams, Massachusetts
Samuel Adams, Massachusetts
Josiah Bartlett, New Hampshire
Carter Braxton, Virginia
Charles Carroll, Maryland
Samuel Chase, Maryland
Abraham Clark, New Jersey
George Clymer, Pennsylvania
William Ellery, Rhode Island
William Floyd, New York
Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania
Elridge Gerry, Massachusetts
Button Gwinnett, Georgia
Lyman Hall, Georgia
John Hancock, Massachusetts
Benjamin Harrison, Virginia
John Hart, New Jersey
Joseph Hewes, North Carolina
Thomas Hayward, Jr., South Carolina
William Hooper, North Caroline
Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island
Francis Hopkinson, New Jersey
Samuel Huntington, Connecticut
Thomas Jefferson, Virginia
Francis Lightfoot Lee, Virginia
Richard Henry Lee, Virginia
Francis Lewis, New York
Philip Livingston, New York
Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina
Thomas McKean, Delaware
Arthur Middleton, South Carolina
Lewis Morris, New York
Robert Morris, Pennsylvania
John Morton, Pennsylvania
Thomas Nelson Jr., Virginia
William Paca, Maryland
Robert Treat Paine, Massachusetts
John Penn, North Carolina
George Read, Delaware
Caesar Rodney, Delaware
George Ross, Pennsylvania
Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania
Edward Rutledge, South Carolina
Roger Sherman, Connecticut
James Smith, Pennsylvania
Richard Stockton, New Jersey
Thomas Stone, Maryland
George Taylor, Pennsylvania
Matthew Thornton, New Hampshire
George Walton, Georgia
William Whipple, New Hampshire
William Williams, Connecticut
James Wilson, Pennsylvania
John Witherspoon, New Jersey
Oliver Wolcott, Connecticut
George Wythe, Virginia

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