In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to demean the men known simply as America’s “Founding Fathers.”
These were men critical to the original 13 colonies successful revolt against oppressive British rule. Critics have characterized the “Founders” as men of white privilege who often owned slaves, and whose decisions were based on maintaining their elite status within society. They included such names as: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. Yet although they played instrumental roles in securing America’s independence, none of them were signers of perhaps the most impressive document in our history: the Declaration of Independence.
On Aug. 2, 1776, 56 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to endorse a declaration that Congress previously approved on July 4, 1776, proclaiming that the 13 former British colonies were now independent states. These signers, though largely lacking in the celebrity attached to others in leadership roles, still included the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin and John Hancock. But in truth, most of them were names that are given short shrift in the formation of our nation.
Men such as these made a mutual pledge to sacrifice their lives, wealth and sacred honor in the name of independence. They truly were men of character who took their responsibility to America seriously. The Heritage Foundation’s Michael Sabo examined exactly who these men were and documented the individual costs they paid as patriots.
Of the 56 signers to the declaration, 12 fought in battles as members of state militias, five were captured and jailed during the war, 17 lost property in British raids, and five more lost their fortunes in helping fund the Continental Army and state militias. Their individual stories are heartbreaking.
Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton were members of the South Carolina militia. They were ultimately captured during the siege of Charleston in 1780 and held for nearly a year before being released. Heyward almost drowned during the prisoner exchange. During the British occupation of Charleston, the estates of Heyward and Rutledge were among those seized. Heyward’s wife died during his imprisonment, and his estate and property were heavily damaged. Rutledge’s family was forced to sell many of their belongings to reunite with him following his release. Middleton’s estate was spared, but his collection of rare paintings was destroyed during the British occupation of his home.
Thomas Nelson Jr. was appointed by Governor Patrick Henry as commander-in-chief of the Virginia militia in August 1777. Nelson used much of his vast family fortune to support the war effort. He personally paid for the journey home of 70 troops he had led against the British in Philadelphia in 1778. He also took out a $2 million loan in 1780 to purchase provisions for the French naval fleet that was coming to assist America. Then as governor of Virginia, during the Battle of Yorktown, he ordered American troops to fire on his own mansion which had been captured by General Cornwallis.
George Clymer’s Pennsylvania estate was destroyed, yet he risked his entire fortune for the war by turning it into continental currency. Another Pennsylvanian, Robert Morris, spent over $1 million for supplies to insure George Washington’s victory at Yorktown.
Ben Franklin was the oldest of the signers. Prior to leaving for France in 1776 to plead for war assistance, he gave his entire fortune to help fund the revolution.
Richard Stockton. George Walton. Lewis Morris. Caesar Rodney. Oliver Wolcott. William Whipple. Thomas McKean. Francis Lewis. John Hart. William Ellery. Joseph Hewes. James Smith. Benjamin Harrison. William Floyd. William Hooper. Lyman Hall. All were targeted by the British for signing a powerful declaration, enduring loss of homes, wealth and family in the process.
While lesser men would have surrendered or given up, the signers only grew more determined to achieve independence as the war raged on. This was all the more remarkable considering the fact that the revolution’s outcome was often seriously in doubt.
Like all of mankind, America’s founding fathers were imperfect while possessing the typical human frailties commonly associated with all men. Yet the honor and perseverance they displayed in the name of freedom has never been exceeded in the history of the world. And that will never be altered by historical revisionists.
Mark Figley is a political activist and guest columnist from Elida. Reach him a firstname.lastname@example.org