In the midst of America’s current summer of discontent, this is an appropriate time to reflect on the nation’s founding, some 244 years ago. On Independence Day, July 4, let us not forget to think about the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence – and the prices many paid for their respective commitments to forming a new nation.

The Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They’d been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2 and finally agreed on all of the edits and changes.

• Five of the 56 Declaration signers were captured by the British and tortured as traitors.

• Nine of the 56 Declaration signers fought and died in the American Revolution.

• Four other of the 56 Declaration signers lost their sons in the Continental Army or had sons who were captured.

• At least a dozen of the 56 Declaration signers had their homes looted and destroyed.

• Declaration signer Richard Stockton, a New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice, returned to his Princeton estate to find that his wife and children were living like refugees after being betrayed by a Tory (an American colonist who supported the British) sympathizer who also revealed Stockton’s location. British troops captured him and threw him in jail, where he almost starved to death.

When he was finally released, he went home to find his estate had been looted and burned. He had been so badly beaten in prison that he died before the war’s end. His surviving family lived the rest of their lives off charity.

• At the Battle of Yorktown on the York River in Virginia, Thomas Nelson, Jr.’s home had been overrun by British Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. Nelson urged Gen. George Washington to open fire on his own home. This was done, and the home was destroyed. Cornwallis later surrendered the British forces at Yorktown in 1781, ending the fighting in the American Revolution.

Nelson, one of the brave and noble 56 signers, died bankrupt.

The 56 Declaration of Independence signers in July 1776 came from various walks of life. Most were considered well-educated for the time. They 56 included lawyers, store merchants, farmers, teachers, one surveyor (Abraham Clark) and even one poor soul who was a printer (Ben Franklin).

All knew without a doubt what would happen if they were caught by the enemy or exposed by a traitor. Still, they signed that wonderful and (thus far) lasting document that, along with the U.S. Constitution, is the basis for the greatest nation on earth.

Let’s read from the National Archives for a moment as we observe and celebrate Independence Day 2020 and remember our nation’s Founding Fathers:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

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.

The brave and noble 56

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton.

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry.

Rhode Island:
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.

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross.

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean.

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, 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., Arthur Middleton.

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton.

By the way, George Washington was not one of the 56 signers, as he was otherwise occupied. Gen. Washington and his troops were in New York preparing for the British invasion.
All Americans ought to respect, appreciate and try to emulate the efforts of these Founding Fathers.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.