This Monday is Independence Day, Save Jerseyans, and far too many contemporary U.S. citizens have been brought up to believe that the American Founders were little more than self-interested aristocrats.
Aristocrats? Yes, in most cases. Self-interested? To an extent… the entire population had much to gain by ending the British Crown’s gross mismanagement of its most prosperous colonies. But to suggest that they didn’t have deeper convictions backed up by extraordinary personal sacrifices is just plain incorrect.
Every year this blog seeks to help set the record straight by reprinting a speech that was once delivered by radio legend Rush Limbaugh’s father (who happened to be a prominent legal professional in Missouri):
“My father, Rush H. Limbaugh, Jr., delivered this oft-requested address locally a number of times, but it had never before appeared in print until it appeared in The Limbaugh Letter. My dad was renowned for his oratory skills and for his original mind; this speech is, I think, a superb demonstration of both. I will always be grateful to him for instilling in me a passion for the ideas and lives of America’s Founders, as well as a deep appreciation for the inspirational power of words which you will see evidenced here.”
You’ll find his speech below the fold and it’s definitely worth forwarding to every patriot on your political blast list!
“Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor”
By Rush H. Limbaugh, Jr.
It was a glorious morning. The sun was shining and thewind was from the southeast. Up especially early, a tallbony, redheaded young Virginian found time to buy anew thermometer, for which he paid three pounds,fifteen shillings. He also bought gloves for Martha, hiswife, who was ill at home.
Thomas Jefferson arrived early at the statehouse. Thetemperature was 72.5 degrees and the horsefliesweren’t nearly so bad at that hour. It was a lovelyroom, very large, with gleaming white walls. The chairswere comfortable. Facing the single door were two brassfireplaces, but they would not be used today.
The moment the door was shut, and it was always keptlocked, the room became an oven. The tall windowswere shut, so that loud quarreling voices could not beheard by passersby. Small openings atop the windowsallowed a slight stir of air, and also a large number ofhorseflies. Jefferson records that “the horseflies weredexterous in finding necks, and the silk of stocking wasnothing to them.” All discussion was punctuated by theslap of hands on necks.
On the wall at the back, facing the President’s desk,was a panoply-consisting of a drum, swords, andbanners seized from Fort Ticonderoga the previous year.Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured the place,shouting that they were taking it “in the name of theGreat Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”
Now Congress got to work, promptly taking up anemergency measure about which there was discussionbut no dissention. “Resolved: That an application bemade to the Committee of Safety of Pennsylvania for asupply of flints for the troops at New York.”
Then Congress transformed itself into a committee ofthe whole. The Declaration of Independence was readaloud once more, and debate resumed. Though Jeffersonwas the best writer of all of them, he had beensomewhat verbose. Congress hacked the excess away.They did a good job, as a side-by-side comparison ofthe rough draft and the final text shows. They cut thephrase “by a self-assumed power.” “Climb” was replacedby “must read,” then “must” was eliminated, then thewhole sentence, and soon the whole paragraph was cut.Jefferson groaned as they continued what he latercalled “their depredations.” “Inherent and inalienablerights” came out “certain unalienable rights,” and to thisday no one knows who suggested the elegant change.
A total of 86 alterations were made. Almost 500 wordswere eliminated, leaving 1,337. At last, after three daysof wrangling, the document was put to a vote.
Here in this hall Patrick Henry had once thundered: ” Iam no longer a Virginian, Sir, but an American.” Buttoday the loud, sometimes bitter argument stilled, andwithout fanfare the vote was taken from north to southby colonies, as was the custom. On July 4, 1776, theDeclaration of Independence was adopted.
There were no trumpets blown. No one stood on hischair and cheered. The afternoon was waning andCongress had no thought of delaying the full calendar ofroutine business on its hands. For several hours theyworked on many other problems before adjourning forthe day.
Much To Lose
What kind of men were the 56 signers who adopted theDeclaration of Independence and who, by their signing,committed an act of treason against the crown? Toeach of you the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock, andJefferson are almost as familiar as household words.Most of us, however, know nothing of the other signers.Who were they? What happened to them?
I imagine that many of you are somewhat surprised atthe names not there: George Washington, AlexanderHamilton, Patrick Henry. All were elsewhere.
Ben Franklin was the only really old man. Eighteen wereunder 40; three were in their 20s. Of the 56 almost half-24- were judges and lawyers. Eleven were merchants,9 were landowners and farmers, and the remaining 12were doctors, ministers, and politicians.
With only a few exceptions, such as Samuel Adams ofMassachusetts, these were men of substantial property.All but two had families. The vast majority were men ofeducation and standing in their communities. They hadeconomic security as few men had in the 18th century.
Each had more to lose from revolution than he had togain by it. John Hancock, one of the richest men inAmerica, already had a price of 500 pounds on his head.He signed in enormous letters so “that his Majesty couldnow read his name without glasses and could nowdouble the reward.” Ben Franklin wryly noted: “Indeedwe must all hang together, otherwise we shall mostassuredly hang separately.” Fat Benjamin Harrison ofVirginia told tiny Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: “Withme it will all be over in a minute, but you , you will bedancing on air an hour after I am gone.
These men knew what they risked. The penalty fortreason was death by hanging. And remember: a greatBritish fleet was already at anchor in New York Harbor.
They were sober men. There were no dreamy-eyedintellectuals or draft card burners here. They were farfrom hot-eyed fanatics, yammering for an explosion.They simply asked for the status quo. It was changethey resisted. It was equality with the mother countrythey desired. It was taxation with representation theysought. They were all conservatives, yet they rebelled.
It was principle, not property, that had brought thesemen to Philadelphia. Two of them became presidents ofthe United States. Seven of them became stategovernors. One died in office as vice president of theUnited States. Several would go on to be U.S. Senators.One, the richest man in America, in 1828 founded theBaltimore and Ohio Railroad. One, a delegate fromPhiladelphia, was the only real poet, musician andphilosopher of the signers (it was he, Francis Hopkinson- not Betsy Ross who designed the United States flag).
Richard Henry Lee, A delegate from Virginia, hadintroduced the resolution to adopt the Declaration ofIndependence in June of 1776. He was prophetic in hisconcluding remarks:
“Why then sir, why do we longer delay? Why stilldeliberate? Let this happy day give birth to an AmericanRepublic. Let her arise not to devastate and to conquerbut to reestablish the reign of peace and law. The eyesof Europe are fixed upon us. She demands of us a livingexample of freedom that may exhibit a contrast in thefelicity of the citizen to the ever increasing tyrannywhich desolates her polluted shores. She invites us toprepare an asylum where the unhappy may find solace,and the persecuted repost. If we are not this daywanting in our duty, the names of the AmericanLegislatures of 1776 will be placed by posterity at theside of all of those whose memory has been and everwill be dear to virtuous men and good citizens.”
Though the resolution was formally adopted July 4, itwas not until July 8 that two of the states authorizedtheir delegates to sign, and it was not until August 2that the signers met at Philadelphia to actually put theirnames to the Declaration.
William Ellery, delegate from Rhode Island, was curiousto see the signers’ faces as they committed thissupreme act of personal courage. He saw some men signquickly, “but in no face was he able to discern real fear.”Stephan Hopkins, Ellery’s colleague from Rhode Island,was a man past 60. As he signed with a shaking pen, hedeclared: “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”
“Most glorious service”
Even before the list was published, the British markeddown every member of Congress suspected of havingput his name to treason. All of them became the objectsof vicious manhunts. Some were taken. Some, likeJefferson, had narrow escapes. All who had property orfamilies near British strongholds suffered.
– Francis Lewis, New York delegate saw his homeplundered and his estates in what is now Harlem,completely destroyed by British soldiers. Mrs. Lewis wascaptured and treated with great brutality. Though shewas later exchanged for two British prisoners through theefforts of Congress, she died from the effects of herabuse.
– William Floyd, another New York delegate, was able toescape with his wife and children across Long IslandSound to Connecticut, where they lived as refugeeswithout income for seven years. When they came homethey found a devastated ruin.
– Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in NewYork confiscated and his family driven out of their home.Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for thecause.
– Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all histimber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years hewas barred from his home and family.
– John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life toreturn home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rodeafter him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wifelay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm andwrecked his homestead. Hart, 65, slept in caves andwoods as he was hunted across the countryside. Whenat long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able tosneak home, he found his wife had already been buried,and his 13 children taken away. He never saw themagain. He died a broken man in 1779, without everfinding his family.
– Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of theCollege of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The Britishoccupied the town of Princeton, and billeted troops inthe college. They trampled and burned the finest collegelibrary in the country.
– Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegatesigner, had rushed back to his estate in an effort toevacuate his wife and children. The family found refugewith friends, but a Tory sympathizer betrayed them.Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night andbrutally beaten by the arresting soldiers. Thrown into acommon jail, he was deliberately starved. Congressfinally arranged for Stockton’s parole, but his health wasruined. The judge was released as an invalid, when hecould no longer harm the British cause. He returnedhome to find his estate looted and did not live to seethe triumph of the revolution. His family was forced tolive off charity.
– Robert Morris, merchant prince of Philadelphia,delegate and signer, met Washington’s appeals andpleas for money year after year. He made and raisedarms and provisions which made it possible forWashington to cross the Delaware at Trenton. In theprocess he lost 150 ships at sea, bleeding his ownfortune and credit almost dry.
– George Clymer, Pennsylvania signer, escaped with hisfamily from their home, but their property wascompletely destroyed by the British in the Germantownand Brandywine campaigns.
– Dr. Benjamin Rush, also from Pennsylvania, was forcedto flee to Maryland. As a heroic surgeon with the army,Rush had several narrow escapes.
– John Martin, a Tory in his views previous to thedebate, lived in a strongly loyalist area of Pennsylvania.When he came out for independence, most of hisneighbors and even some of his relatives ostracized him.He was a sensitive and troubled man, and many believedthis action killed him. When he died in 1777, his lastwords to his tormentors were: “Tell them that they willlive to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [thesigning] to have been the most glorious service that Ihave ever rendered to my country.”
– William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his propertyand home burned to the ground.
– Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had hishealth broken from privation and exposures while servingas a company commander in the military. His doctorsordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies and onthe voyage he and his young bride were drowned atsea.
– Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and ThomasHeyward, Jr., the other three South Carolina signers,were taken by the British in the siege of Charleston.They were carried as prisoners of war to St. Augustine,Florida, where they were singled out for indignities. Theywere exchanged at the end of the war, the British in themeantime having completely devastated their largelandholdings and estates.
– Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front incommand of the Virginia military forces. With BritishGeneral Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, fire from 70heavy American guns began to destroy Yorktown pieceby piece. Lord Cornwallis and his staff moved theirheadquarters into Nelson’s palatial home. While Americancannonballs were making a shambles of the town, thehouse of Governor Nelson remained untouched. Nelsonturned in rage to the American gunners and asked, “Whydo you spare my home?” They replied, “Sir, out ofrespect to you.” Nelson cried, “Give me the cannon!”and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it tobits. But Nelson’s sacrifice was not quite over. He hadraised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledginghis own estates. When the loans came due, a newerpeacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson’sproperty was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. Hedied, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.
Lives, fortunes, honorOf those 56 who signed the Declaration ofIndependence, nine died of wounds or hardships duringthe war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in eachcase with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons orentire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives werebrutally treated. All were at one time or another thevictims of manhunts and driven from their homes.Twelve signers had their homes completely burned.Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not onedefected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor,and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is stillintact.
And, finally, there is the New Jersey Signer, AbrahamClark.
He gave two sons to the officer corps in theRevolutionary Army. They were captured and sent tothat infamous British prison hulk afloat in New YorkHarbor known as the hell ship “Jersey,” where 11,000American captives were to die. The younger Clarks weretreated with a special brutality because of their father.One was put in solitary and given no food. With the endalmost in sight with the war almost won, no one couldhave blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the Britishrequest when they offered him his sons’ lives if he wouldrecant and come out for the King and Parliament. Theutter despair in this man’s heart, the anguish in his verysoul, must reach out to each and every one of us downthrough 200 years with the answer: “No.”
The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independenceproved by their every deed that they made no idle boastwhen they composed the most magnificent curtain linein history. “And for the support of this Declaration with afirm reliance on the protection of divine providence, wemutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes,and our sacred honor.”