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Food for Thought:

Patriotic Articles & Clinton's Final Days
Tuesday, July 4, 2000

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NHNE: Food For Thought: Patriotic Articles & Clinton's Final Days
Tuesday, July 4, 2000
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Hello Everyone,

First of all, a happy Fourth of July to those of you who, like me, have been born in America and/or who have been affected by the ideas and ideals that gave birth to the United States. Each step that empowers people to think for themselves and throw off the chains that enslave them -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually -- is, I believe, a step in the right direction.

Another step in the right direction is stripping away, as much as possible, the layers of myth and legend that tend to distort history -- American and otherwise.

Every year at this time, I typically receive several copies of an article entitled, "Our Lives, Our Fortunes, And Our Sacred Honor". Although quite stirring, I haven't passed them on because the article always arrives without identifying the author or providing a way to verify the information. This year, after receiving a half a dozen more copies of it, I contacted Jeff Jacoby, a columnist with THE BOSTON GLOBE, who recently published an edited version of the article. I asked him for information concerning his sources. He responded by sending a letter which mentions some of the myths contained in the popular version of the article and apologizes for unintentionally passing on others in his version. He also provided a list of resources and links to help those who are interested separate fact from fiction (see below).

Finally, in the spirit of blending an honest appreciation for the birth of America with a good dose of self-effacing humor, I'm including the URL to a six minute movie that President Clinton (and friends) produced concerning Clinton's last days in the White House. The fact that a sitting U.S. President would take time to make a movie like this is, I think, very refreshing. With all the politics, controversy, and high drama that normally surrounds everything the U.S. (and U.S. President) does, it's nice to see someone in Washington can take themselves lightly on occasion.

President Clinton's Final Days:

And that's it for now. I send you all my very best.

With Love & Best Wishes,
David Sunfellow


Jeff Jacoby
Columnist for The Boston Globe
Jewish World Review
July 3, 2000/30 Sivan, 5760


ON JULY 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted 12-0 -- New York abstained -- in favor of Richard Henry Lee's resolution "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States." On July 4, the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson -- and heavily edited by Congress -- was adopted without dissent. On July 8, the Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Philadelphia. On July 9, it was recited before General Washington and his troops in New York City. On July 15, Congress learned that the New York legislature had decided to endorse the Declaration.

On August 2, a parchment copy was presented to the Congress for signature. Most of the 56 men who put their name to the document did so that day.

And then?

We tend to forget that to sign the Declaration of Independence was to commit an act of treason -- and the punishment for treason was death. To publicly accuse George III of "repeated injuries and usurpations," to announce that Americans were therefore "Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown," was a move fraught with danger -- so much so that the names of the signers were kept secret for six months.

They were risking everything, and they knew it. That is the meaning of the Declaration's last sentence:

"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."

Most of the signers survived the war; several went on to illustrious careers. Two of them became presidents of the United States, and among the others were future vice presidents, senators, and governors. But not all were so fortunate.

Nine of the 56 died during the Revolution, and never tasted American independence.

Five were captured by the British.

Eighteen had their homes -- great estates, some of them -- looted or burnt by the enemy. Some lost everything they owned.

Two were wounded in battle. Two others were the fathers of sons killed or captured during the war.

"Our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." It was not just a rhetorical flourish.

We all recognize John Hancock's signature, but who ever notices the names beneath his? William Ellery, Thomas Nelson, Richard Stockton, Button Gwinnett, Francis Lewis -- to most of us, these are names without meaning. But each represents a real human being, some of whom paid dearly "for the support of this Declaration" and American independence.

Lewis Morris of New York, for example, must have known when he signed the Declaration that he was signing away his fortune. Within weeks, the British ravaged his estate, destroyed his vast woodlands, butchered his cattle, and sent his family fleeing for their lives.

Another New Yorker, William Floyd, was also forced to flee when the British plundered his property. He and his family lived as refugees for seven years without income. The strain told on his wife; she died two years before the war ended.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, an aristocratic planter who had invested heavily in shipping, saw most of his vessels captured by the British navy. His estates were largely ruined, and by the end of his life he was a pauper.

The home of William Ellery, a Rhode Island delegate, was burned to the ground during the occupation of Newport.

Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge, and Arthur Middleton, three members of the South Carolina delegation, all suffered the destruction or vandalizing of their homes at the hands of enemy troops. All three were captured when Charleston fell in 1780, and spent a year in a British prison.

"Our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia raised $2 million for the patriots' cause on his own personal credit. The government never reimbursed him, and repaying the loans wiped out his entire estate. During the battle of Yorktown, his house, which had been seized by the British, was occupied by General Cornwallis. Nelson quietly urged the gunners to fire on his own home. They did so, destroying it. He was never again a man of wealth. He died bankrupt and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Richard Stockton, a judge on New Jersey's supreme court, was betrayed by loyalist neighbors. He was dragged from his bed and thrown in prison, where he was brutally beaten and starved. His lands were devastated, his horses stolen, his library burnt. He was freed in 1777, but his health had so deteriorated that he died within five years. His family lived on charity for the rest of their lives.

In the British assault on New York, Francis Lewis's home and property were pillaged. His wife was captured and imprisoned; so harshly was she treated that she died soon after her release. Lewis was never the same man thereafter and spent the remainder of his days in relative poverty.

And then there was John Hart. The speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, he was forced to flee in the winter of 1776, at the age of 65, from his dying wife's bedside. While he hid in forests and caves, his home was demolished, his fields and mill laid waste, and his 13 children put to flight. When it was finally safe for him to return, he found his wife dead, his children missing, and his property decimated. He never saw any of his family again and died, a shattered man, in 1779.

The men who signed that piece of parchment in 1776 were the elite of their colonies. They were men of means and social standing, but for the sake of liberty, they pledged it all -- their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

We are in their debt to this day.


In response to inquires concerning the above column, Jeff Jacoby sent out the following letter today:

Tuesday, July 4, 2000

To all:

Several readers of my recent column on the signers of the Declaration of Independence have pointed out that these stories have been written about before. A few have wondered about my sources for this material. Still others have written to let me know that everything in the column has long since been debunked. Worst of all, some readers charged me with plagiarizing the column from, variously, Rush Limbaugh or Paul Harvey or an anonymous email that has been circulating on the Internet.

Limbaugh, Harvey, and the anonymous emailer have indeed commented on the fates of some of the signers, as have American writers, orators, and historians for almost 200 years. Many books have been published with the title "Signers of the Declaration of Independence" or something very similar. In 1829, Rev. Charles Goodrich published "Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence" (much of which has been reproduced online). Eight years earlier, John Sanderson had produced "Lives of the Signers." In 1859, B.J. Lossing wrote "Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence." More recently, Dorothy McGee's "Famous Signers of the Declaration" appeared in 1955; Katherine and John Bakeless's "Signers of the Declaration" was published in 1969; and Meldrim Thomson, the former governor of New Hampshire, Meldrim Thomson, wrote "100 Famous Founders" in 1992. And there are many more. I know this from consulting online inventories of booksellers, as well as from the extensive bibliography that appears at James Elbrecht's remarkable site on the myths and facts surrounding the signers -- a site I wish I had learned of before doing this column:


In short, whatever-happened-to-the-signers is an old, old theme in American inspirational writing. It didn't start with Paul Harvey, Rush Limbaugh, or the author of that nameless email. And it won't end with me. These stories have been repeated so often, and by so many people, that they have risen to the level of American legend. Which is why it didn't occur to me to take up valuable space in the column with footnotes or citations to earlier versions (many of which I didn't know about when I was writing.)

As a columnist, I don't undertake original historical research, but I care greatly about accuracy. Knowing that previous treatments of the lives-of-the-signers theme contained mistakes and exaggerations, I tried to take pains not to repeat anything untrue. As best as I could given the constraints of a deadline, I double-checked the biographical information I had, using encyclopedias of American history, books on the American Revolution, and relevant web sites, such as the one at <http://www.colonialhall.com>. That enabled me to eliminate several falsehoods that earlier versions of this subject had repeated, such as the myth that five signers were captured by the British and tortured to death for endorsing the Declaration. (Five signers were captured, but none was tortured or died in captivity.) I have since learned from Elbrecht's detailed research that I have unwittingly perpetuated some of the myths myself. (For instance, Thomas Nelson did not, on the evidence of his will, die a pauper, and the home occupied by the British during the Battle of Yorktown was not his but that of his uncle, who bore the same name.)

In retrospect, I wish I had noted in the column that I am only the latest in a long line to write about the fate of signers of the Declaration after July 4, 1776. I would certainly urge anyone who is interested in knowing more about the subject to read some of the longer and more detailed works that have been written about them. Sometimes a newspaper column conveys all that needs to be said on a topic. At other times, like this one, a column can only scratch the surface.

Jeff Jacoby
Columnist for The Boston Globe








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