In a commentary written on July 4, 1974 by radio personality Paul Harvey: The high price paid by the men who signed the Declaration of Independence; even death for some – was explained as a lesson in the cost of liberty.
“They had learned that liberty is so much more important than security, that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor,” Harvey wrote.
“Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, few were long to survive, 5 were captured by the British and tortured before they died, 12 had their homes – from Rhode Island to Charleston – sacked and looted, occupied by the enemy or burned,” Harvey wrote.
“Two of them lost their sons in the Army; one had two sons captured,” Harvey wrote. “Nine of the 56 died in the War from its hardships or from its more merciful bullets.
“I don’t know what impression you’d had of these men who met that hot summer in Philadelphia, but I think it’s important this July 4, that we remember this about them: they were not poor men, they were not wild-eyed pirates; these were men of means, these were rich men, most of them, who enjoyed much ease and luxury in personal living,” Harvey wrote. “Not hungry men, prosperous men, wealthy land owners, substantially secure in their prosperity.
“But they considered liberty – this is as much I shall say of it – they had learned that liberty is so much more important than security, that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor,” Harvey wrote. “And they fulfilled their pledge – they paid the price, and freedom was born.”
Harvey detailed the sacrifices of some of those men, who signed the document on July 4, 1776, declaring their independence from the British and establishing the foundation for a nation where each citizen is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Signer Carter Braxton of Virginia lost his property and fortune and “died in rags,” Harvey wrote. Thomas McKean of Delaware was “so harassed by the enemy that he was forced to move his family five times in five months,” Paul Harvey wrote. “He served in Congress without pay, his family in poverty and in hiding.” Before the American Revolution, Carter Braxton had a huge fortune through inheritance and favorable marriages. While still in his teens he inherited the family estate, which included a flourishing Virginia tobacco plantation, upon the death of his father. He married a wealthy heiress who died when he was just 21, and within a few years he had remarried, this time to the daughter of the Receiver of Customs in Virginia for the King. As a delegate representing Virginia in the Continental Congress in 1776, Braxton invested his wealth in commercial enterprises, particularly shipping, and he endured severe financial reversals during the Revolutionary War when many of the ships in which he held interest were either appropriated by the British government (because they were British-flagged) or were sunk or captured by the British. He was personally targeted for ruin because he had signed the Declaration of Independence, however; he suffered grievous financial losses because most of his wealth was tied up in shipping, “that trade which is so essential to the prosecution of the War” and which was therefore a prime military target for the British.
Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. Among his many offices, McKean was a delegate to the Continental Congress (of which he later served as president), President of Delaware, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and Governor of Pennsylvania. The above-quoted statement regarding his being “hounded” by the British during the Revolutionary War is probably based upon a letter he wrote to his friend John Adams in 1777, in which he described how he had been “hunted like a fox by the enemy, compelled to remove my family five times in three months, and at last fixed them in a little log-house on the banks of the Susquehanna, but they were soon obliged to move again on account of the incursions of the Indians.” He was later targeted by the British, it was quite possibly because he also served in a military capacity as a volunteer leader of militia. In any case, the McKean estate he left behind when he died in 1817 was described as consisting of “stocks, bonds, and land tracts in Pennsylvania.” Which means his heirs were left with some inheritance although not to the level with which it would have been had he just stayed out of politics and not chosen sides.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside while she was dying; their thirteen children fled in all directions for their lives,” Harvey wrote. “His fields and gristmill were laid waste.
For more than a year he lived in forests and caves and returned home after the war to find his wife dead, his children gone, his properties gone,” He died a few weeks later of exhaustion and a broken heart.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. Francis Lewis represented New York in the Continental Congress, and shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence his Long Island estate was raided by the British, possibly as retaliation for his having been a signer to the Declaration of Independence document. While Lewis was in Philadelphia attending to congressional matters, his wife was taken prisoner by the British after disregarding an order for citizens to evacuate Long Island. Mrs. Lewis was held for several months before being exchanged for the wives of British officials captured by the Americans. Her captivity was undoubtedly a hardship when she died.
George Walton was captured after being wounded while commanding militia at the Battle of Savannah in December 1778, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge (three of the four Declaration of Independence signers from South Carolina) were taken prisoner at the Siege of Charleston in May in 1780. Although they endured the ill treatment typically afforded to prisoners of war during their captivity it is not known if they were tortured or not. We do know prison conditions of that day were deplorable.
Richard Stockton of New Jersey was one signer taken prisoner specifically because of his status as a signer of the Declaration, he was dragged from his bed by night by local Tories after he had evacuated his family from New Jersey, and imprisoned in New York City’s infamous Provost Jail like a common criminal.
Abraham Clark of New Jersey saw two of his sons captured by the British and incarcerated on the prison ship Jersey. John Witherspoon, also of New Jersey, saw his eldest son, James, killed in the Battle of Germantown in October 1777.
Lewis Morris (not Norris) saw his Westchester County, New York, home taken over in 1776 and used as a barracks for soldiers, and the horses and livestock from his farm commandeered by military personnel. Shortly afterwards his property was appropriated, looted, and burned by the British when they occupied New York. (Morris and his wife were eventually able to reclaim their property and restore their home after the war.)
Philip Livingston lost several properties to the British occupation of New York and sold off others to support the war effort, and he did not recover them because he died suddenly in 1778, before the end of the war.
“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 line written just above the 56 signatures. These men pledged their lives, Their fortunes and their Sacred Honor.Many of them paid that price.
In 1776 George Washington said “Few people know the predicament we are in” I dare say that is the truth today July 4,2016. I only hope and pray there are enough people who see the predicament we are in who want to do something about it, and continue to hold politicians and the media accountable.
Today as you gather with friends and family to remember this great day of Independence remember to say a prayer for our nation, and Thank God for his mercy and the freedom we have today.