The Signing of the Declaration of Independence was a magnificent moment in human history. The document boldly announced to the world the separation of the American colonies from the British Kingdom, and gave detailed, powerful justification for the action taken. It was the first, formal assertion, by a whole people, of their right to a government of their own choice.
Who were the Signers of this magnum opus? They were fifty-six men, real men. Not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians, but men of means: well-educated, successful in life, committed to freedom. Twenty-four were lawyers; eleven were merchants; nine were plantation owners; four were physicians. Every one of them knew, when they Signed, that if caught by the British, their penalty would be a swift and sure death as traitors to the Crown. They put their “life on the line.”
Carter Braxton of Virginia, an international trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the English navy. He sold his properties to pay his debts. It was not enough; he died 1n rags.
John Hart, a prosperous farmer and miller, had his fields burned and his mlll destroyed, right before his eyes. He sought refuge 1n woods and caves for more than a year. On returning home, his wife had died and his children had vanished. He died shortly after…of exhaustion, grief and a broken heart.
Of the fifty-six men, twelve had their homes ransacked and burned; nine fought and died in the Revolutionary War; five were captured by the Redcoats and tortured before they perished. A few had it better, and went on to fame and fortune. But all were national heros. They valued liberty more than security, truth more than pretense. Fully aware of the possible consequences, still they signed. They pledged their life, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Every American ones them a huge debt of gratitude.
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