I first posted this story a few years ago but have been asked to re-post for this 4th of July. The concept is just as valid today as ever.
During my senior year at Laconia High School, I, like my other classmates had to write a term paper. Truth be told, I began this particular paper during my junior year to fulfill a similar requirement for that year’s class. It wasn’t long into researching the project before I realized I had bitten off more than I could do in one year. So I quickly banged out a term paper on ‘Hurricanes.’ Having been through a few in my young life, I found the subject matter fascinating. That allowed me to continue to work on the main project throughout the summer prior to my senior year.
Come my senior year, I was already fully engrossed in the subject matter. My treatise was centered on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to know the personal price that each signer paid for signing that document. My paper was simply called, ‘The Price.’ Understand, there were no books on that subject matter at that time. It was all, pretty much, original research. Although that is not the subject matter of this piece I will tell you these were remarkable men and the prices they paid individually were dear.
The American Revolution is one of my favorite periods of American History. I have read many books and biographies of the people and times. i grew up where much of it happened. Resilience and perseverance are two words that immediately come to mind to describe the players on that stage. Courageous doesn’t begin to describe them.
One of my favorite holidays all year has always been the 4th of July. Like most folks, I love the fireworks, family gatherings, cookouts, hamburgers, hot dogs, a cold beer and apple pie. It’s not the 4th of July without hearing Sousa’s ‘Stars & Stripes Forever.’ Throw in a Red Sox game too. I also like to take time to gaze upon some of Norman Rockwell’s stirring paintings too. Yet, that is not what I love and admire most.
If you look back at those 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence you see a collection of men who were the right men at the right place at the right time. Think about it. These were landowners, lawyers, merchants, physicians, ministers and well-educated self-made men. Men who stood to sacrifice virtually everything they held dear. They put it all on the line.
The process of deciding what to put into the declaration was a contentious one from beginning to end. It was oppressively hot. The meetings were held behind closed windows and doors in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I have stood in the very room where the negotiations took place. The room is relatively small. As I recall, at no point were all the delegates present at the same time. I doubt they could all sit in that room at the same time. There just wasn’t that much room. The bothersome flies were a constant source of distraction. It was extremely uncomfortable but yet they pressed on until an agreement and Jefferson’s wording was approved. It was a momentous document. Nothing like it had ever been written before.
Sometimes it is easy to look back at those individuals and think of them as people who lived in a time we really cannot understand or relate to. We learned about them in school but probably never really thought of them as ‘real’ people. Consciously, we know they were real but they are so far removed from our lives, it’s hard to relate to them.
As I look back at that collection of actual living breathing men, I began to appreciate even more what they did, how they went about it and how incredibly dangerous that process was. Yet undaunted, they pushed forward to make a statement for a people. Some started off dead set against Independence while others, like John Adams, could see no other path. Benjamin Franklin was already an old man. He long surpassed the average life expectancy of the day. There were struggles within the struggle. This was hard work. Everything was on the line for them.
Had they been caught, hanging was an automatic sentence; not to mention other indignities including nothing short of drawn and quartering. Many of these men lost their personal fortunes, families and properties. One even escaped the British out the back door in his night shirt and lived in a cave with a dog for an extended period of time. One of their wives, already near death was captured and put on a prison ship. She was fed through a key hole by her fellow prisoners. These were extraordinary individuals. How many of us today would dare do that?
I have always felt this country was formed through none other than the grace of GOD. I believe, he saw to it that we had those 56 courageous individuals at the right place at the right time. In many ways this whole event was so improbable that it defies all logic. I believe it happened because GOD had his hand in it and gave his blessing. For me it is the single most remarkable event in our history. None of us would be so fortunate to live in this country today had this event not happened.
There is one other oddity about this event that has always fascinated me. In the years after the declaration was signed, the Revolutionary War fought and the Constitution ratified, John Adams & Thomas Jefferson became estranged for many years but after both had served as President, they began to correspond with each other again near the end of their lives.
They had tremendous respect for each other. On July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day, sometime near four in the morning, Thomas Jefferson passed away at Monticello. Later that afternoon in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams awoke on his death bed. Among his last words were, “Jefferson survives.” He passed near 6:20 that evening thinking that Jefferson was still alive. Two of the most important players in the design and delivery of that document, died the same day, fifty years to the day. For me that is one of the most amazing quirks of American History.
Yes, the 4th of July means so much more to me than parades, patriotic music & speeches. It is something I feel deep in my heart. I have been so proud to grow up and live my life as an American. Again, I feel blessed by GOD as if granted with a gift. I am an American. I love my country. I love her history and I love ‘Old Glory’ too. It is one of the greatest stories told on earth.
Are we perfect? No, not by a long shot. I think one of the reasons that Americans get criticized so often around the world is because we have a very well defined vision of who we are. We are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what must be done; even if sometimes we have to have our backs pushed to the wall before we act. Our American character should never be doubted. I can trace it all the way back to 56 men of vision & courage in Philadelphia in 1776. They set the original course for us. We ARE an exceptional nation because they were.exceptional individuals. Thank you GOD for those 56 lives that helped us become a nation. Happy 4th of July.