56 Men: “Pledge…our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
What happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? What kind of men were they?
The men were lawyers, jurists, merchants, farmers, large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well what they were putting at risk. They were British subjects at the time, and knew that the penalty for treason was death by hanging.
They were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousers, but mostly soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but valued liberty more. Each one surely had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it. But they stood tall, and unwavering and pledged:
“For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Here are the fates of the signers:
Nine fought and died from wounds or hardships during the war.
Five were captured by the British, charged with treason and were tortured before they died.
Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army
Another had two sons captured.
Several lost wives, sons or entire families.
One lost his 13 children.
Two wives were brutally treated.
All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes.
Seventeen lost everything they owned.
Yet not one of them defected or went back on his pledged word.
Of note is the New Jersey Signer, Abraham Clark. He had two sons serving in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to the infamous British prison boat known as the hell ship “Jersey” in New York Harbor where 11,000 Americans were to die.
The sons received extra brutal treatment because of their father. One was in solitary and given no food. With the war almost over and won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark if he had accepted the British offer of sparing his sons’ lives if he would recant and come out for the King and Parliament. Certainly with utter despair and anguish in his heart and soul, his answer was “No.”
The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed that magnificent pledge. They ultimately gave us a free and independent America whose liberties should never be taken for granted.
Freedom is never free.