Today, the Left tries to mischaracterize the Founding Fathers as a group of rich elitists, but the signers were an eclectic group coming from all walks of life. Some of the diverse professions represented by them included:
• SCHOOLTEACHER (John Adams)
• ATTORNEY (Samuel Chase)
• COLLEGE PROFESSOR (George Wythe)
• GOSPEL MINISTER (John Witherspoon)
• BUSINESSMAN (Francis Lewis)
• MUSICIAN (Francis Hopkinson)
• PHYSICIAN (Benjamin Rush)
• VETERAN (Arthur Middleton)
• POLITICIAN (Elbridge Gerry)
• FARMER (Carter Braxton)
• SCIENTIST (Benjamin Franklin)
• SHERIFF (Abraham Clark)
• SURVEYOR (John Morton)
• JUDGE (Stephen Hopkins)
Despite the wide diversity, the one characteristic common to them all was an uncompromisingly pure integrity. Their pledge to give their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" was not merely extravagant rhetoric—a fact affirmed by a simple exchange on the day they signed the Declaration.
When the Declaration was approved on July 4, it was signed by only two individuals: John Hancock and Charles Thomson.
On July 19, Congress ordered that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment in beautiful script so that it could be inscribed by the entire body. On August 2, 1776, fifty-six members of Congress put their hands to that document, signing it in the form that is now so recognizable to the entire nation.
The exchange was recorded by signer Benjamin Rush in his diary; after the close of the Revolution, Rush wrote his friend John Adams to relive the incident with him. It involved Benjamin Harrison of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts — two signers who, physically speaking, were exact opposites. Harrison was big-bodied, strong, and heavy, standing 6’4” tall and weighing some 250 pounds; Gerry was short, frail, and tiny, weighing perhaps 100 pounds. Secretary of Congress CHARLES THOMSON called each signer to the table to in-scribe his name on the Declaration. The entire proceeding was somber and silent; one after another approached the table, dipping the quill in ink, then penning his signature. Each understood the gravity of what he was doing; many of them had been British attorneys and judges and were very familiar with the penalty for treason, which was certainly what the British would consider their actions.
Elbridge Gerry was finally called to the table. Like the others, he dipped his pen, but before he was able to affix his signature, Harrison interjected a gratuitous
comment. Recalling this incident, Rush asked 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 to what was believed by many at that time to be our own 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 distinct advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are 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 an hour or two before you are dead!” This speech procured a transient smile, but it was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted.
Even in their joking, the signers understood
that what they were doing would probably result in their deaths. And it is a remarkable fact unparalleled in history
that, of the 56 signers, not one broke his personal pledge to sacrifice his life, fortune, or sacred honor, regardless of the duress or danger each faced.
In fact, 19 of the 56 put on a military uniform and went to war; two signers died at the hands of the British (seven others died during the war); two were wounded in battle; five were made prisoners of war; 17 lost their estates or fortunes; five incurred heavy debt by personally financing the war; 14 lost their families or were separated from them; two lost children; and three lost their wives. Securing our independence was costly for the signers. As John Adams acknowledged:
Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it! If you do not, I shall repent it in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it!
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