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.”
These are the words that close out the Declaration of Independence. The men who signed the document that paved the way for our nation knew the possible consequences of their actions.
John Hancock encouraged his fellow delegates to hang together in their task of signing. To which the Benjamin Franklin, in all his wit and wisdom gave his famous reply, “We must all hang together, or we will most assuredly hang separately.”
Years later Benjamin Rush remembered how incredibly serious the moment was, as well as the gallows humor these great men expressed in a letter to John Adams.
Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at the time to be our death warrants? The silence and the gloom of the morning were interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by Colonel Harrison of Virginia, who said to Mr. Gerry at the table; “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air for an hour or two before you are dead.” This speech produced a transient smile, but was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was concluded.
There is some debate as to how much the signers actually suffered during the war with the British that resulted from their signing. There is no doubt, however that several of the men did endure hardships because of their convictions.
John Adams had a firm belief in the rightness of the cause and its ultimate victory. He also had an incredibly clear vision of the importance of the day. The very next day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted he wrote his wife and told her about the future of the day.
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
The bottom line is that the course of events was far from certain on that hot July day in Philadelphia. Yet these great men went forward anyway with the force of their convictions in spite of the risks.
And in what was perhaps one of the greatest coincidences of history on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, both Thomas Jefferson (its author) and John Adams (arguably its leading advocate) died on the same day. Adams was 91 when he died that evening. His last words were, “Jefferson still survives.” He was unaware that Jefferson himself was gravely ill and had passed away earlier that afternoon at 83 years old.
There is definitely a Divine Symmetry to the events surrounding this historic document. Folks can argue the place of the US in modern history and the pros and cons of current foreign policy. But few would dispute the revolutionary ideals put forth in the Declaration of Independence or the passion and determination of the men who signed that amazing document.
Enjoy today. Celebrate in the manner Adams envisioned. Honor those who sacrificed and went before.
For a short summary of the signers, what kind of people they were and what happened to them check out this article. And you can find short biographies of each of the signers here.