On July 4, we will eat a lot of hamburgers, watch a lot of fireworks, do some shopping, and spend a lot of down time with our families. And I guess that’s the way it should be. But we should also take a moment to think about exactly what we are celebrating tomorrow, and why we are celebrating it.
Two hundred and thirty-six years ago this Independence Day, it was a crime to say out loud that there should be an independent country made up of former British colonies. The name of that crime was treason. The punishment for that crime was death. Anybody who said or wrote that was in danger, not only from the British government, but from angry groups of loyalists who believed that declaring independence from the biggest superpower on earth was irresponsible and insane.
Two hundred and thirty-six years ago, challenging the right of the government to hit you with any tax it wanted to, any time it wanted to, for any reason it wanted to, was something that got your name put on a special list that was maintained by the British government. That list said which American political leaders were supposed to be executed if they were ever captured. John Adams was on that list; so were many others.
Two hundred and thirty-six years ago, if you lived here and you didn’t believe that the King of England was appointed by God to be your sovereign protector, if you complained about having to treat him as God’s representative on earth, you were considered a dangerous radical. Fifty-six of those dangerous radicals got together in Philadelphia that summer. Why? Because they and the citizens they represented had had enough. Those fifty-six radicals risked their lives, their property, and their reputations because they thought you and I, and millions of other people they would never live to meet, deserved to have a country where the people, not the government, had the power.
This Independence Day, we should remember that five of the fifty-six radicals who signed the Declaration were captured by the British. One of them, Richard Stockton, was attacked in the middle of the night by neighbors who were loyal to the King. They ransacked his home, destroyed his livestock, and handed him over to the British, who put him behind bars, beat him, and starved him. He was so badly treated in prison that he died before the war ended. His family had to beg for charity.
Eighteen of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had their homes burned or looted by the British. Two of them were injured in battle. At least one, Thomas Nelson Jr., was driven into bankruptcy after having raised millions of dollars for the American Revolution. Another signer, sixty-five-year-old John Hart, speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, had to run for his life in the winter of 1776. While he was in hiding in the wilderness, his home, farm, and mill were destroyed. He never saw any of his family again. Less than three years after signing the Declaration of Independence, he was dead.
We hear the words “Founding Fathers” and “Freedom” so much that the words become clichés, and we forget what was at stake and how much we really owe those brave people. This July 4, let’s remember how much they sacrificed so that we could have the kind of country we have … and let’s remember how important it is to keep it free.
What freedoms would you fight for? It’s my blog, but your voice. I want to hear from you.