The price the Founding Fathers paid

By Stephan Drew

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Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about our Founding Fathers. Most of it is criticism and includes the demand to tear down their statues and erase their existence. However, since it is almost Independence Day, I thought it might help to look at who these men really were and what made them special. Previously, all other revolutions in the history of the world were initiated by men who had nothing to lose. Not ours. Our founders were wealthy, well-educated, well-traveled men, secure on their estates and in their businesses. Twenty-four were lawyers, jurists or magistrates. Eleven were successful merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners. All were men of considerable means. They had everything to lose and nothing to gain … except one thing. But, in the summer of 1776, the 13 colonies sent their best and brightest to Philadelphia for the Continental Congress. On June 11, the committee met to create a document that declared our intention to withdraw from the rule of Great Britain and form our own independent, sovereign nation. Thomas Jefferson completed a draft in 17 days and submitted it to the Congress. After a full description of our grievances, demands and intentions, there is one line in the last paragraph which fully explains the seriousness of the people and all delegates present. It also exhibits the true nature and character of the signers. It reads, “To these ends, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” King George III had announced that anyone who rebelled against British rule was branded a traitor and they would pay with their lives. Fifty-six men signed that oath. Fifty-six men knew that, when they put pen to parchment, they were signing their death warrant. There could only be one of two outcomes — if they won, the best they could hope for was years of hardship and a struggling new nation. If they lost, they would face the hangman’s noose. Yet, they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to make this country happen. The revolution was won and America was created. But many people may not know what happened to these men after they signed their names. The following information has long been freely available in the public record but, discovering it certainly increased my respect and admiration for our Founding Fathers: Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, had his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and all of his property to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas Lynch Jr.’s health failed soon after signing. He and his wife set out on a ship for France so he could recover. The ship was never spotted and they were never seen again. Thomas McKean of Delaware was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family five times in five months. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and he died in poverty. Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Elloree, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton. Richard Stockton was captured and tortured by the enemy. His health broken, he died at 51. Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia raised $2 million on his own signature for military provisions. After the war, he personally paid back the loans, losing all his property and his entire fortune. He was never reimbursed by our government. At the final battle of Yorktown, Nelson noted that the British Gen. Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged Gen. George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. He had pledged his life, his fortune and his sacred honor. He kept his word. The Hessian mercenaries seized Francis Hopkinson’s home and he was forced to flee for his life. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed and mistreated his wife. She died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside while she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives in different directions. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Thomas Heyward Jr. was captured when Charleston fell. Lewis Morris had his land destroyed and his family scattered. Philip Livingston died within a few months after signing, from poverty and hardship. John Hancock, known for his signature, was one of the wealthiest men in the country. When he saw the British advancing on Boston (where his ships, docks, warehouses and barns were stocked full of goods), he told the American military commander, “Burn Boston, even though it makes John Hancock a beggar, if the public good requires it.” He, too, lived up to the pledge. Of the 56 men who signed the declaration, few were long to survive. Five were captured and tortured to death. Twelve had their homes (from Rhode Island to Charleston) sacked, looted, occupied by the enemy or destroyed. Two lost sons in the army. One had two sons captured and tortured. Nine died during the war from hardships, injuries or (more mercifully) from bullets. Now, I don’t know what impression you previously had of the men who met that summer in Philadelphia but, I think it’s important that we remember something. They were not poor men. They were not wild-eyed pirates. These were men of considerable means. Most of them were very rich and had enjoyed much ease and luxury in their personal lives. Not hungry men and certainly not terrorists or fanatical incendiaries. These men were prosperous men. Wealthy landowners, they were substantially secure in their prosperity. They had everything to lose, except for one thing … liberty. They had learned that liberty was so much more important than security and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They kept their word. They fulfilled their pledge. They paid the price and American freedom was born. I wonder if any of our present leaders, after making a promise, would be willing to risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor just to keep their word?

Author: Rachel Howell

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