The 4th of July has come and gone. We celebrated, waved the flag, wore red, white and blue, ate and drank too much and set off some dandy fireworks. But, did we stop to consider the event that’s being commemorated or the 56 men who signed their names to the document that would be the starting point for the changes in government and the establishment of our cherished freedoms?
I’ve always believed we should celebrate Independence Month instead of a single day.
First of all, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776, the signing took place over several weeks.
The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on July 1, 1776 to hear Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence from England. The next day, 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor of independence. For the next two days, the delegates debated and made revisions to the document originally submitted by Thomas Jefferson.
On July 4, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, but it would be almost another month before the actual signing of the document. New York’s delegates didn’t officially give their support until July 9 because they did not have authorization from their home assembly to vote in favor of independence.
It took two weeks for the Declaration to be written on parchment in a clear hand. Most of the delegates signed on August 2, but several—Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean and Matthew Thornton—signed on a later date. John Dickinson and Robert R. Livingston, never signed at all.
Dickinson was a Quaker who served as a representative for both Pennsylvania and Delaware during his career. He wanted a non-violent solution to the conflict between the colonies and England. Livingston was one of the five men who drafted and presented the Declaration of Independence to the 2nd Continental Congress.The other four members of the “Committee of Five” were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman.
The complete list of the signers of the Declaration of Independence include:
John Hancock (president of the Continental Congress), Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross, Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton.
These men were influential, wealthy, popular, educated, and talented. They represented leading authorities in many professions. Thomas Jefferson was a lawyer, agronomist, musician, scientist, philosopher, author, architect, inventor, and statesman. These men had everything to lose and yet they took a stand for the rights of all American colonists.
There was a 44-year age difference between the youngest and oldest signers.
At 70 years old, Benjamin Franklin, was the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence. The youngest signer was Edward Rutledge, a lawyer from South Carolina. The 26 year old Rutledge was four months younger than fellow South Carolinian Thomas Lynch Jr.
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, eight were born in Britain.
Gwinnett Button and Robert Morris were born in England. Francis Lewis was born in Wales. James Wilson and John Witherspoon were born in Scotland and George Taylor and Matthew Thornton were born in Ireland. James Smith was from Northern Ireland.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence also signed away their protection and anonymity from British forces. John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, was the leader of the revolution against the British. In early 1776, the British offered a large reward for his capture and the capture of several other leading figures in the colonies.
After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned, losing all of their earthly possessions. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Richard Stockton, a lawyer from Princeton, New Jersey, became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to recant his support of the revolution. On November 30, 1776, he was captured by the British and thrown in jail. After months of harsh treatment and meager rations, Stockton repudiated his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III. A broken man when he regained his freedom, he took a new oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in December 1777.
Nine of the fifty six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
Sources consulted for this article:
"Who Signed The Declaration of Independence?." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 9 Aug. 2007. Web. 15 Jul. 2018. <https://www.surfnetkids.com/independenceday/258/who-signed-the-declaration-of-independence/ >.
Photo of Liberty Bell: By Tony the Misfit on Flickr () [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons