The Fourth of July

Today we should remember those fifty-six brave souls who signed the Declaration of Independence. Twenty-five of them were lawyers. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin at seventy, the youngest were Thomas Lynch Jr. and Edward Rutledge at twenty-six. Seven of them were immigrants from England, Scotland and Ireland. Historians believe that seven of the signatures were placed on the original document sometime after the fourth of July, 1776. But it mattered not when it was signed for those names would be singled out by the British for capture and punishment.

Brave men indeed, for each was essentially signing his own death warrant and if the newly formed states did not achieve independence then surely each of them would dance the dead man’s jig from the gibbet, the gallows with a trap door not being invented until the 1870s. One of them would not live another year: Button Gwinnett, Provisional Governor of Georgia and commander of the Georgia Militia would die in a duel with another immigrant General Lachlan McIntosh in May of 1777.

Other signers would end the war destitute, their fortunes (land, homes, jobs) having been lost in the war. There would be no recompense but the glory of their names living on for people like me to occasionally call them up as examples of courage and the desire to be free of tyranny.

Mind you, the Declaration was not a declaration of war. The war had been in progress for some time. There had been Lexington and Concord, “One if by land and two if by sea and I on the opposite shore will be. Ready to ride and spread the alarm to every middlesex, village and farm.” (Longfellow) For those of you pondering the use of Middlesex it was an area north and west of Boston. The name taken from the county of Middlesex in England which became part of greater London. Of course, it was not Revere who should have been memorialized but William Dawes who actually made it through to Lexington and Concord. Revere was stopped at a British checkpoint just outside the city.

Yes, Lexington and Concord are remembered in yore but what of the acts of treason committed by the members of the Sons of Liberty. Who doesn’t remember the Boston Tea Party in 1773. But did you know they were also variations of Boston in eight other cities. Some like New York dumped the tea into the harbor. Others burned the ship with its cargo. Even before the famous tea parties Americans were resisting British tax and customs laws.The ever belligerent citizens of Rhode Island in 1764, 1768 and in the infamous Gaspee Affair of 1772, seized and burned British Revenue cutters.

The revolution had been growing as a series of individual acts against the tyranny of the British Crown but the misguided act of attempting to disarm the citizenry was the deed that broke the dam and released the flood of revolution on the British and their Hessian mercenaries.

The Declaration of Independence was simply a letter to King George III listing the reasons the thirteen colonies had decided to sever governmental ties with the British realm. When King George received it he thought, somehow, it was just trouble in the Massachusetts colony and he dismissed it out of hand.

So, today when you’re enjoying the hotdogs, sweltering in the July heat and humidity and then oohing and ahhing at the fireworks. Take a moment and remember the signers of the Declaration as well as those who came before and after them in the battle to demand the ability to create the democratic republic of The United States of America.

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