National Educational Fraternity
Established 1892


History Rewritten by Those with Little Regard for the Truth

Glurge:   The signers of the Declaration of Independence paid a heavy price for putting their names to that document.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1999]



Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Flag

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

Standing talk straight, and unwavering, they pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

They gave you and me a free and independent America. The history books never told you a lot about what happened in the Revolutionary War. We didn't fight just the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government!

Some of us take these liberties so much for granted, but we shouldn't.

So, take a few minutes while enjoying your 4th of July Holiday and silently thank these patriots. It's not much to ask for the price they paid. Remember: Freedom is never free!

I hope you will show your support by please sending this to as many people as you can. It's time we get the word out that patriotism is NOT a sin, and the Fourth of July has more to it than beer, picnics, and baseball games.


Origins:   A better opening question for this piece might be: "Have you ever wondered why history is so often transformed into glurge?" Why does an account of honorable men of exemplary moral courage who risked life and limb for a higher principle need to be transformed into a tale full of exaggerations, distortions, and fabrications? What purpose is served when the admirable qualities of these men are undermined by wrapping their deeds in a layer of fiction? Apocryphal stories about a young George Washington's admitting to chopping down a cherry tree or a youthful Abraham Lincoln's walking sixteen miles to repay a ten-cent debt are fine inspirational stories to impress upon children the importance of values such as honesty and responsibility, but they're not tales to present to mature adults as the literal truth. As adults we're supposed to be able to appreciate that human beings are complex creatures motivated by a variety of (often conflicting) wants and desires; we don't need to be spoon-fed reductio ad glurgum history rewritten in black and white, in which all characters are indisputably heroes or villains, their motives provably pure or base, their actions unambiguously right or wrong.

The main point of this glurge is to impress upon us that the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were relatively well-educated and wealthy men who were also well aware they had much to lose by putting their names to that document, yet after much careful consideration and thought they signed it anyway, "knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured" (although the article omits mentioning that support for independence was far from unanimous, that some of the colonies voted against adopting the Declaration of Independence, and some of the delegates didn't affix their signatures to the document until several years later). The signers were courageous men who risked everything in the service of what they perceived to be a common good, and for that they are genuinely worthy of honor, respect, and admiration. Unfortunately, this article attempts to commemorate them with a train of glurge that jumps the track of truth at the very beginning and finally pulls into station bearing a simplified version of history in which all the incongruities that get in the way of a good story are glossed over. (We're still puzzling over exactly which history books "never told us a lot about what happened in the Revolutionary War," and if any history books failed to stress the obvious point that "we were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government," it was probably because they reasonably assumed their readers could infer as much from the constant repetition of words such as "revolution" and "independence.")

One of the major flaws in this glurge is that the concept of "risk" has been confused with the concept of "sacrifice," as exemplified by the title: "The Price They Paid." The price who paid? The implication of the article is that many of the Declaration's signers were killed, injured, or tortured; suffered serious illness due to mistreatment; or were stripped of their wealth and possessions for having dared to put their names on that famous document. The truth is that only one man, Richard Stockton, came to harm at the hands of the British as a direct result of his having signed the Declaration of Independence, and he isn't even mentioned here. The omission of anything having to do with Stockton is probably deliberate: After he was "dragged from his bed by night" by royalists and imprisoned in New York, he repudiated the Declaration of Independence and swore allegiance to Great Britain, thereby becoming the only one of the signers to violate the promise that appeared just above their signatures, the pledge to support the Declaration and each other with "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." Stockton was eventually released by the British after he recanted, although the poor treatment he received during his captivity likely shortened his life.

The signers certainly believed that "the penalty would be death if they were captured," but that didn't prove to be the case. Several signers were captured by the British during the Revolutionary War, and all of them were released alive by the end of the war. Certainly they suffered the ill treatment often afforded to prisoners of war, but they were not tortured, nor is there any evidence that they were treated more harshly than other wartime prisoners who were not also signatories to the Declaration. Some signers were killed or injured because they took an active part in fighting the war for independence, some of them lost their wealth or their property because they used their assets to support the revolutionary cause, and some of them suffered losses simply because they (or their property) got in the way of a war that was being waged on American soil, but all of this was the result of the fortunes of war, not of their having signed a piece of paper. George Walton, a colonel in the revolutionary army, would have been taken prisoner at Battle of Savannah whether or not he signed the Declaration of Independence. The ships that Carter Braxton used to aid the revolutionary cause would have been sunk by the British whether or not he signed the Declaration of Independence. Property was often seized or destroyed as part of the spoils of war, and many men who did not sign the Declaration of Independence saw their homes ransacked. Yet most of the signers' homes were not looted at all, even though British troops had ample opportunity to do so.

None of this is to say that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were any less courageous because they suffered fates no worse than others who did not sign. They did take a huge risk in daring to put their names on a document that repudiated their government, and they had every reason to believe at the time that they might well be hanged for having done so. But "risk" and "sacrifice" are not the same thing, and it cheapens the latter to equate it with the former. Would any of us dare to suggest to those who have seen their children and spouses killed during military service that the fortunate servicemen who made it home safely "sacrificed" just as much as their sons and husbands?

The most disturbing concept offered here is the one most inimical to what America supposedly stands for: the notion that those of wealth and privilege have more to give up than the common man and are therefore more noble for risking it all. To paraphrase some of our notable patriots, we're all created equal, and we all have but one life to give. Did the farmer of modest means who lost his home and barn make any less of a sacrifice than the well-off man who lost a plantation? Many men other than the fifty-six signers Declaration of Independence -- some famous and most not -- risked and sacrificed much to support the revolutionary cause. What about them? If the most admirable aspect of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was that they were well-educated and wealthy men who risked their lives and property to "fight their own government" because they felt it too restrictive of their liberties, should we not honor the leaders of the Confederacy just as highly?

So yes, "the Fourth of July has more to it than beer, picnics, and baseball games," but that date would also have been long since forgotten were it not for the efforts of many more than the fifty-six men who dared to sign a treasonous document. We suspect that if they truly believed the words on the parchment they signed, they'd be rather embarrassed to find themselves the subjects of red, white and blue glurge.


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