They were, as a whole, a most unusual assortment of individuals. For what they did on that day long ago was not potentially dangerous, as we sometimes remember, but several of them actually paid the price for their boldness, as well.
Nine of them, for instance, died of wounds or hardships suffered during the long and bloody conflict with the enemy. Another five were captured or imprisoned, a fate almost worse than death because of the brutality which they then endured. The houses of twelve men were burned to the ground, and seventeen lost everything that they owned.
What was surely the hardest of all to take, however, was that the retribution for their actions fell not just upon themselves, but upon the ones whom they loved. For the wives, sons, and daughters of several were killed, jailed, mistreated, persecuted, or left penniless. One was even driven from his wife’s deathbed and subsequently suffered the greatest pain of all, the loss of all of his children.
And all of it was simply because each of them signed their names to a piece of paper. A paper which dared to not only challenge the mightiest empire in the world at the time, but to question the fundamental convictions about how a society is structured, as well. For the declaration which they made spoke of higher ideals and greater loyalties than subjugation to any earthly king or power:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”
Those who signed that proclamation were thus branded as traitors and everyone of them was hunted. Their enemies even tried to bribe them back, offering immunity, freedom, rewards, property, and their lives to break their pledged oaths and take the King’s protection.
But the amazing truth is that even in the darkest hours, not a single one of those who signed the American Declaration of Independence defected or changed their stand. Instead, they chose to forfeit their fortunes and their futures, but never their honor or the cause in which they believed– freedom, liberty, and justice for all.
To be sure, they were not perfect men and their vision was far too narrow and even myopic when it came to the rights of minorities and women. But they nevertheless understood that though the cost of caring for the common good may be high, it is yet worth pursuing.
Two hundred and forty-one years later,we still enjoy the fruit of their sacrifice. As we celebrate yet another Fourth of July, perhaps it is time thus that we begin to put aside the partisanship and consider how to join together once more in the common cause that is America.
Likewise, when you sit down tomorrow at the table and say grace over all of your grilled goodies, perhaps it’s worth giving thanks to God as well for those extraordinary patriots whose signatures cost them so much in order to give us even more.