The Declaration of Independence ends with one of the most passionate appeals ever put to words and memorized by yesterday’s grade school child. “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 Honor.”
This document would bring on war against the then greatest power on earth, and no European strategist gave the Patriots a ghost of a chance of winning — yet they stood. Signers would be seen as traitors to the mother country and could expect the harshest treatment when caught. They could count on no one but God and themselves.
And, of course, a goodly number did suffer loss of life and property as a result. Most paid a remarkably high price for taking their stand. In a wrathful spirit of revenge, the enemy singled them out for harsh vengeance. Five were captured and imprisoned and two others barely escaped captivity. Richard Stockton, one of those captured after his whereabouts was betrayed by a loyalist informer, was “dragged from bed in the middle of the night, severely beaten and thrown into prison” where he underwent continual abuse and also suffered malnourishment. By the time the Congress arranged for his exchange, he was broken physically and never recovered. He had also lost almost all his property.
Unable to capture Abraham Clark, another signatory, the British took their wrath out on his two sons, who were imprisoned on the notorious prison ship Jersey. “Word was sent to Clark that his boys would be freed if he would disown the revolutionary cause and praise the British Crown. At his refusal, his sons were singled out for cruel treatment. One was placed in a tiny cell and given no food. Fellow prisoners kept him alive by laboriously pushing tiny bits of food through a keyhole. Both sons somehow survived their ordeal.”
The British had a particular zeal for destroying the homes and property of the signers. Those suffering this fate included Benjamin Harrison, George Clymer, Dr. John Witherspoon, Philip Livingston, William Hooper and William Floyd. The sacrifices of John Hart and Francis Lewis are particularly noteworthy. “While his wife lay gravely ill, Redcoats destroyed Hart’s growing crops and ripped his many grist mills to pieces. Bent on taking him, they chased him for several days. They almost nabbed him in a wooded area, but he hid in a cave. When he returned home with his health broken, he found his wife dead and their 13 children scattered.”
The story of Francis Lewis was equally tragic. “When the British plundered and burned his home at Whitestone on Long Island, they took his wife prisoner. She was thrown into a foul barracks and treated cruelly. For several months she had to sleep on the floor and was given no change of clothing. George Washington was able eventually to arrange for her exchange for two wives of British officers the Continental Army was holding prisoner. Her health was so undermined that she died two years later.”
Thomas Nelson Jr., another signatory, made one of the most unusual sacrifices of the war. At Yorktown the British had selected his residence as headquarters. Washington, reluctant to destroy his compatriots beautiful home, was directed to do so by Nelson himself.
Probably John Quincy Adams, a son of one of the 55 patriots making the above pledge and later a president of the United States, said it best. “Posterity — You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.” Let us never forget that liberty is not free. It was purchased and maintained by the blood of those before us.
Today many believe that the biggest enemy to our liberty is from within. Certainly we have let the Constitution dwindle in its ability to protect us from federal overreach. If the cause of the American Revolution was excessive government, as historians say, and school children once memorized all the offending new rules and regulations documenting such, what can we say today when the rules are multiplied by perhaps a thousand? For most of us it is hard to argue that we are more free than they under British tyranny when our government tells us with whom we must share a bathroom or shower.
Let this be a warning to those who would take freedom from us now. We too are standing “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” mutually pledging “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
To read more of Dr. Harold Pease’s weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.