Signers of the Declaration or “You want me to sign what?”
History in general and particularly American history has always been of great interest to me. The way I read history changed when I read or heard an interview of Stephen Ambrose who pointed out that the perspective of the historian should be from the time described, looking forward— not from the present looking back. In other words try to put yourself in the shoes of those who lived it.
We know that we won WWII, and of course, we were sure to have done so from the beginning—right?. Actually the people who lived it did not know that for sure. The secret press release that General Eisenhower wrote at the outset of D-day poignantly shows that victory was not a sure thing: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duly could do. If any blame or fault is attached to the attempt it is mine alone.” Fortunately he did not have to use that message. The entire perspective changes when one places oneself in June of 1944, in the General’s shoes when there was a very distinct possibility of failure and a prolonged war whose outcome was far from certain.
And of course the United States won the Revolutionary War and the outcome from the start was never in doubt because obviously right was on our side. In fact going back to the year 1776 the chance for victory for 13 States (colonies according to world view at the time) against the British Empire was far from clear. If there were a Las Vegas at the time the odds in favor would have been distinctly in favor of Britain even if you could get someone to take a bet in favor of those States that United. From that perspective the decision to sign a document called a Declaration of Independence becomes hugely risky. There were 56 people who were willing to take the bet which came down to this—if you win you get you’re own country to govern as you please, but if you lose, you, definitely, and probably all of your family—die.
Five of those people who signed the declaration were captured and tortured. Some lost all there property. The price paid is exemplified in the story of signer, Richard Stockton, a New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice, “who rushed back to his estate near Princeton after signing the Declaration of Independence to find that his wife and children were living like refugees with friends. They had been betrayed by a Tory sympathizer who also revealed Stockton’s own whereabouts. British troops pulled him from his bed one night, beat him and threw him in jail where he almost starved to death. When he was finally released, he went home to find his estate had been looted, his possessions burned, and his horses stolen. Judge Stockton had been so badly treated in prison that his health was ruined and he died before the war’s end. His surviving family had to live the remainder of their lives off charity”, http://www.self-gov.org/liberator/”Destinies of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence”. This is the sacrifice of just one of the signers. Many others also paid the price.
It is interesting that 24 of the signers were lawyers or jurists. It is not often today that we attorneys are asked to sign a document that literally puts our life on the line. I think today the question “you want me to sign what?” most likely would be asked. I have no doubt that Americans would rise to the occasion again today if necessary—
Just another example on this July 4th of the untold thousands who have paid the price, many, the ultimate price, for this country and all of us enjoying our freedom. Happy barbeque, fellow countrymen!