The Fates of The Signers
The Declaration of Independence, the signing of which we celebrate on July 4th, concludes as follows:
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.
This was no empty promise. Affixing their names to that document in 1776 made all of them enemies of the most powerful state in the world. It was a death warrant. Benjamin Franklin famously called for unity among the Continental Congress by declaring that “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” The smart money would have them hanging by a traitor's noose within a few months.
Of course, we have the luxury of knowing how history unfolded. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock are rightly celebrated as Founders today. But, there were 56 signers to that document and many of them gave exactly what they promised.
Five signers were captured and tortured as traitors. Nine fought in the War for Independence and died of their wounds. Two more saw their sons die in the war. Twelve had their homes looted, burnt, or destroyed.
John Hart of New Jersey was 63 years old in 1776 and could not return home though his wife was near death. His thirteen children were forced to flee as well. He was hunted by Hessian soldiers and eluded capture in the New Jersey wilderness for more than a year. When he finally returned home, his wife was dead, his children scattered and disappeared, and his home and land was stripped and burnt. He never lived to see the war won, dying in 1779.
Thomas Nelson, a Virginian, commanded militia during the Revolution. At the battle of Yorktown, the British made use of his home as its headquarters. Nelson famously ordered artillerymen to fire cannon at his own house. He was never able to rebuild it.
We would do well to remember those not so familiar names as well. Without a doubt they were all saints and sinners. They were men after all, and not angels. Many today would cast all of them aside either for being slaveowners (many were) or being complicit in allowing an institution they knew to be wrong to continue. We pray that America as a whole will reject that childish view of history and celebrate the blessings of liberty these men unleashed despite their failings. The shoulders that we stand on are just as imperfect as our own. God bless the men that risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. May He inspire us to do the same.