1 day ago
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Our Sacred Honor...
"Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor"
by Paul Harvey
The "how" and "why" of our beloved Republic are so much better known and understood than the "who".
The United States was born in 1776. But it was conceived 169 years before that.
The earliest settlers had watered the New World with much sweat, and had built substantial holdings for themselves and their families. When the time came to separate themselves from a tyranny an ocean away, at best it meant starting all over again after the ravages of war.
Researching what you are about to hear gave a new dimension to my reverence for our nation's first citizens.
All other of the world's revolutions before and since were initiated by men who had nothing to lose.
Our founders had everything to lose, nothing to gain, except one thing.
You remember the cherry tree story a long time after you forget the more earth-shaking, history-making episodes in the life of George Washington.
You've misplaced in your memory the details of Ben Franklin's statesmanship, but you remember his flying a kite.
Joyce Kilmer was a great military hero, but the only thing you personally recall about him is his poetic tribute to trees.
Maybe of this current decade, that which will be best remembered will not be its wars and its moon rockets or its giants who lived and died. Maybe all that will survive to linger in the day-by-day vocabulary of generations yet unborn will be a song about a Tennessee frontiersman or the incident at the window that night a speck of dust blew in and penicillin was discovered.
But for any eve of the Fourth of July, I, Paul Harvey, do bequeath unto you something to remember.
You may not be able to quote one line from the Declaration of Independence at this moment; henceforth, you will always be able to quote at least one line.
It's in the last paragraph where you will recall, when I remind you, it says:
"We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor".
You recognize those impressive words, but you don't understand them until you know the rest of the story.
In the Pennsylvania State House that's now called Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the best men from each of the colonies sat down together. It was a fortunate hour in our nation's history, one of those rare occasions in the lives of men when we had greatness to spare.
These were men of means, well educated. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Nine were farmers and owners of large plantations.
On June 11, a committee sat down to draw up a declaration of independence. We were going to tell our British fatherland, no more rule by redcoats! Below the dam of ruthless foreign rule, the stream of freedom was running shallow and muddy. We were lighting the fuse to dynamite that dam.
This pact, as Burke later put it, "was a partnership between the living and the dead and the yet unborn". There was no bigotry, no demagoguery in this group. All had shared hardships.
Jefferson finished a draft of this document in seventeen days. Congress adopted it in July. So much is familiar history.
Now, King George III had denounced all rebels in America as traitors. Punishment for treason was hanging.
The names now so familiar to you from the several signatures on that Declaration of Independence; the names were kept secret for six months. For each knew the full meaning of that magnificent last paragraph, in which his signature pledged his life, his fortune and his sacred honor.
Fifty-six men placed their names beneath that pledge. Fifty-six men knew - when they signed - that they were risking everthing. They knew if they won this fight, the best they could expect would be years of hardship in a stuggling nation. If they lost, they'd face a hangman's rope.
But they signed the pledge. And they did, indeed pay the price. That is the rest of the story.
Here is the documented fate of that gallant fifty-six.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas. To pay his debts he lost his home and all his properties and died in rags.
Thomas Lynch Jr. who signed that pledge was a third-generation rice-grower; aristocrat; large plantation owner. After he signed his health failed. With his wife he set out for France, was never heard from again.
Thomas McLean of Delaware was so harassed by the enemy that he was forced to move his family five times in five months. He served in Congress without pay, his family in poverty and in hiding.
Vandals looted the properties of Ellery and Clymer and Hall and Gwinnett and Walton and Heyward and Rutledge and Middleton.
And Thomas Nelson, Jr. of Virginia, raised two million dollars on his own signature to provision our allies, the French fleet. After the war he personally paid back the loans, wiped out his entire estate. He was never reimbursed by his government.
In the final battle for Yorktown he, Nelson, urged General Washington to fire on his, Nelson's, own home, which was occupied by Cornwallis. It was destroyed. He died bankrupt and was buried in an unmarked grave. Thomas Nelson, Jr. had pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.
The Hessians seised the home of Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey.
Francis Lewis had his home and everything destroyed, his wife imprisoned. She died within a few months.
Richard Stockton, who signed that Declaration, was captured and mistreated and his health broken to the extent that he died at fifty-one. His estate was pillaged.
Thomas Heyward, Jr. was captured when Charleston fell.
John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside while she was dying. Their thirteen children fled in all directions for their lives. 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.
Lewis Morris saw his land destroyed, his family scattered.
Phillip Livingston died within a few months from the hardships of the war.
John Hancock history remembers best due to a quirk of fate rather than anything he stood for. That great sweeping signature attesting to his vanity towers over the others. One of the wealthiest men in New England, he stood outside Boston one terrible night of the war and said, "Burn Boston, though it makes John Hancock a beggar if the public good requires it". He, too, lived up to the pledge.
Of the fifty-six, few were long to survive.
Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes; from Rhode Island to Charleston; sacked, looted, occupied by the enemy, or burned. Two lost their sons in the army. One had two sons captured.
Nine of the fifty-six died from the war, from its hardships or from its more merciful bullets.
I don't know what impression you had of the men who met that hot summer in Philadelphia. But, I think that it is important that we remember this about them.
These were not poor men or wild-eyed pirates. They were men of means, rich men, most of them, who enjoyed much ease and luxury in their personal living; not hungry men; prosperous men, wealthy landowners, substantially secure in their prosperity.
But they considered liberty - and this is as much as 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.
And they fulfilled their pledge.
They paid the price.
And freedom was born.
"Our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor." Our Founding Fathers paid the price for the United States of America.
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist
Copyright 2000 Boston Globe