Fifty-six congressional delegates in total signed the document, including some who were not present at the vote approving the declaration. The delegates signed by state from North to South, beginning with Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire and ending with George Walton of Georgia. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and James Duane, Robert Livingston and John Jay of New York refused to sign. Carter Braxton of Virginia; Robert Morris of Pennsylvania; George Reed of Delaware; and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina opposed the document but signed in order to give the impression of a unanimous Congress. Five delegates were absent: Generals George Washington, John Sullivan, James Clinton and Christopher Gadsden and Virginia Governor Patrick Henry.
Have you ever considered what it meant for those 56 men – an eclectic group of ministers, business men, teachers, university professors, sailors, captains, farmers – to sign the Declaration of Independence? This was a contract that began with the reasons for the separation from Great Britain and closed in the final paragraph stating “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.”
“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 death warrants? The silence and gloom of the morning was interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by Colonel Harrison of Virginia (a big guy) who said to Mr. Gerry (small in stature) 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 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.”
These men took this pledge seriously. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania is an example of the highest level of integrity. He was chosen as the financier of the American Revolution. What an honor, except that there was no bank willing to give any loans to help fund the revolution. It was three years and the Battle of Saratoga before America got any kind of funding at all. After winning that battle, foreign nations like France, Holland, and others decided maybe we weren’t such a bad risk and began loaning us money. So where did we get money for the first three years? Congress, at that time, could not have obtained a loan of one thousand dollars, yet Robert Morris effected loans upon his own credit, of tens of thousands. In 1781, George Washington conceived the expedition against Cornwallis, at Yorktown. He asked Judge Peters of Pennsylvania, “What can you do for me?” “With money, everything, without it, nothing,” he replied, at the same time turning with anxious look toward Mr. Morris. “Let me know the sum you desire,” said Mr. Morris; and before noon Washington’s plan and estimates were complete. Robert Morris promised him the amount, and he raised it upon his own responsibility. It has been justly remarked, that:
“If it were not demonstrable by official records, posterity would hardly be made to believe that the campaign of 1781, which resulted in the capture of Cornwallis, and virtually closed the Revolutionary War, was sustained wholly on the credit of an individual merchant.”
America couldn’t repay him because there was no money and yet Robert Morris never complained because he had given his word.
You see the same thing in the life of John Hart. He was a strong Christian gentleman and Speaker of the House of Representatives in New Jersey. He promised to help provide them with guidance and leadership. There were three things that were important in his life; his Savior, his family and his farm. Because of his signature on the Declaration, the British were seeking him (and the rest of the signers) to execute as traitors. John Hart fled his home after which his farm was ravaged, his timber destroyed, his cattle and stock butchered for the use of the British army. He did not dare to remain two nights in the same location. After Washington‘s success at the battle of Trenton, he finally returned home to find that his wife had died and his children scattered. He lost almost everything that was important to him but kept his word.
John Hancock, a very wealthy individual lived in a mansion reflecting his princely fortune – one of the largest in the Province of Massachusetts. During the time the American army besieged Boston to rid it of the British, the American officers proposed the entire destruction of the city. “By the execution of such a plan, the whole fortune of Mr. Hancock would have been sacrificed. Yet he readily acceded to the measure, declaring his willingness to surrender his all, whenever the liberties of his country should require it.” A man of his word, he demonstrated his integrity.
Preserving American liberty depends first upon our understanding the foundations on which this great country was built and then preserving the principles on which it was founded. Let’s not let the purpose for which we were established be forgotten. The Founding Fathers have passed us a torch; let’s not let it go out.
RHODE ISLAND: Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
CONNECTICUT: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
NEW YORK: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
NEW JERSEY: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
DELAWARE: Ceasar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
MARYLAND: Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone, William Paca, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
VIRGINIA: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
NORTH CAROLINA: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
SOUTH CAROLINA: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Authur Middleton
GEORGIA: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton