Independence Day 2000, a good day for celebration on two
First, we celebrate the birthday of our nation, conceived in
rebellion against the abuse of power. None can describe it and the costs it entailed better than Jeff Jacoby did in his Boston
Globe column of yesterday.
Barbara and I saw "The Patriot" staring Mel Gibson last
night. You should not miss it; it would be a great way for you and your family to celebrate American independence!
Second, yesterday we sorted and counted all the signatures
on petitions which were picked up or delivered to us and I'm thrilled to report that we are pushing very close to 27,000
certified (we expect a few more in the mail tomorrow morning). That's almost three times what is required and more than enough
to ward off even the most frivolous of challenges, if the forces of darkness even dare to consider such a
We will turn them in to the Secretary of State tomorrow --
our own Declaration of Independence -- with great satisfaction and wide grins.
It took us four years and two attempts to get The Promise
past the teachers union and the Gimme Lobby and onto the ballot, but by god, we have accomplished it!
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted 12-0 -- New
York abstained -- in favor of Richard Henry Lee's resolution "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free
and independent States." On July 4, the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson -- heavily edited by
Congress -- was adopted without dissent. On July 8, the Declaration was publicly proclaimed in
Philadelphia. On July 15, Congress learned that the New York Legislature had decided
to endorse the Declaration. On Aug. 2, a parchment copy was presented to the Congress for signature. Most of the 56
men who put their name to the document did so that day.
We tend to forget that to sign the Declaration of Independence was to commit an act of treason -- and the
punishment for treason was death. To publicly accuse George III of "repeated injuries and usurpations," to
announce that Americans were therefore "Absolved from all Allegiance to the
British Crown," was a move fraught with danger -- so much so that the names of the signers were kept secret for six months.
They were risking everything, and they knew it. That is the
meaning of the Declaration's soaring last sentence:
"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
Most of the signers survived the war; several went on to
illustrious careers. Two of them became presidents of the United States, and among the others were future vice
presidents, senators, and governors. But not all were so fortunate.
Nine of the 56 died during the Revolution, and never tasted
Five were captured by the British. Eighteen had their homes
-- great estates, some of them -- looted or burnt by the enemy. Some lost everything they owned. Two were wounded in battle.
Two others were the fathers of sons killed or captured during the war.
"Our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." It was not
just a rhetorical flourish.
We all recognize John Hancock's signature, but who ever
notices the names beneath his? William Ellery, Thomas Nelson, Richard Stockton, Button Gwinnett, Francis Lewis -- to most of
us, these are names without meaning. But each represents a real human being, some of whom paid dearly "for the support of
this Declaration" and American independence.
Lewis Morris of New York, for example, must have known when
he signed the Declaration that he was signing away his fortune. Within weeks, the British ravaged his estate, destroyed his
vast woodlands, butchered his cattle, and sent his family fleeing for their lives.
Another New Yorker, William Floyd, was also forced to flee
when the British plundered his property. He and his family lived as refugees for seven years without income. The strain
told on his wife; she died two years before the war ended.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, an aristocratic planter who had
invested heavily in shipping, saw most of his vessels captured by the British navy. His estates were largely ruined, and by
the end of his life he was a pauper.
The home of William Ellery, a Rhode Island delegate, was
burned to the ground during the occupation of Newport.
Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge, and Arthur Middleton,
three members of the South Carolina delegation, all suffered the destruction or vandalizing of their homes at the hands of
enemy troops. All three were captured when Charleston fell in 1780, and spent a year in a British prison.
"Our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia raised $2 million for the
patriots' cause on his own personal credit. The government never reimbursed him, and repaying the loans wiped out his
entire estate. During the battle of Yorktown, his house, which had been seized by the British, was occupied by General
Cornwallis. Nelson quietly urged the gunners to fire on his own home. They did so, destroying it. He was never again a man of
wealth. He died bankrupt and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Richard Stockton, a judge on New Jersey's supreme court, was
betrayed by loyalist neighbors. He was dragged from his bed and thrown in prison, where he was brutally beaten and starved. His
lands were devastated, his horses stolen, his library burnt. He was freed in 1777, but his health had so deteriorated
that he died within five years. His family lived on charity for the rest of their lives.
In the British assault on New York, Francis Lewis's home and
property were pillaged. His wife was captured and imprisoned; so harshly was she treated that she died soon after her
release. Lewis spent the remainder of his days in relative poverty.
And then there was John Hart. The speaker of the New Jersey
Assembly, he was forced to flee in the winter of 1776, at the age of 65, from his dying wife's bedside. While he hid in
forests and caves, his home was demolished, his fields and mill laid waste, and his 13 children put to flight. When it was
finally safe for him to return, he found his wife dead, his children missing, and his property decimated. He never saw any
of his family again and died, a shattered man, in 1779.
The men who signed that piece of parchment in 1776 were the
elite of their colonies. They were men of means and social standing, but for the sake of liberty, they pledged it all --
their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. We are in their debt to this day.
Jeff Jacoby is a Globe columnist.