July 4th Remembrance: The Courage of the Founders

The following is a portion of the transcript of Thom Hartmann talking about the Founders on his radio program, on election day, November 7, 2006:

“A dozen of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were politicians, doctors or ministers. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers. Ben Franklin was hard to define. I always called him the ADD one – 36 different careers in his life. He was in his 80s; Jefferson was 33 – about the average age – some of them were in their 20s. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were the most idealistic and determined among the colonists, while the conservatives of their day said America should remain a colony of England forever. These liberal radicals believed in both individual liberty and societal obligations …

“A nation must care for the lives of its own, guarantee liberty and ensure its citizens’ happiness – a word in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution – a radical concept that had never before appeared in any nation’s founding documents. The signers wrote in the Declaration, ‘We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’ And it was a simple statement of fact. The day they signed that document each legally became a traitor and was sentenced to death for treason by the legal government that controlled their lands and their homes. As Ben Franklin pointed out, they stood at a point of no return, and ‘Indeed we must all hang together’, he said, ‘Otherwise, we shall most assuredly hang separately.’

“John Hancock signed his name. He said he was signing his name large enough that the king can read it without glasses and now double the reward. The reward, the king had put a £500 reward on John Hancock’s head for sedition. What happened to John Hancock from signing the Declaration of Independence, just six months later his newborn daughter died from complications of childbirth arising from his wife’s fleeing the oncoming British army. Although the richest of the founders, wealthy by the standards of the day, he would hardly qualify as rich by today’s standards.He founded no dynasty. No foundation today dispenses money. John Hancock’s legacy: our nation.

“Robert Morris, who signed it, from Philadelphia, lost his entire shipping fleet, wiping out his modest fortune. Thomas Nelson of Virginia ordered his own home destroyed because it had been taken by General Cornwallis as headquarters. He died in poverty at the age of 50 as a result of signing the Declaration of Independence. William Ellery of Rhode Island lost everything as a result of signing the Declaration of Independence, as did Virginia’s Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison, Pennsylvania’s George Clymer, New York’s Philip Livingston, Georgia’s Lyman Hall, and New Jersey’s Francis Hopkinson.

“The British destroyed New York’s Francis Lewis’s property and threw his wife into such a hellhole of a jail that she died two years later. Three of South Carolina’s four signers, Edward Rutledge Thomas Heyward, Jr. and Arthur Middleton were captured by the British and held in a filthy unheated prison and brutally tortured for over a year before George Washington freed them in a prisoner exchange. George Washington, who refused to allow the American soldiers to torture the British, he said we will not sink to their level. New Jersey farmer John Hart’s wife died shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence and his thirteen children were scattered among sympathetic families to hide them from conservative loyalists. He never saw them again, dying alone and wracked with grief 3 years later.

“Altogether seventeen of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were entirely wiped out by the war they declared and died in poverty. New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice Richard Stockton took his wife and children into hiding after he signed the Declaration but conservatives loyal to the crown turned him in. He was so badly beaten and starved that he died in prison. His home was looted and his wife and children lived the rest of their lives as paupers. Altogether nine of the men in that room died. Four lost all their children as a direct result of putting their names to the Declaration of Independence. Every single one had to flee his home and after the war 12 returned to find only rubble.

“After the war was over and the conservatives had fled to Canada and England, the survivors of the new American nation met to put into final form the legal structure of the nation that they had just birthed. It was not to be a nation of cynical selfish Libertarians who believe the highest value is ‘individual freedom and independence from society’ where the greatest motivator was greed. It was not to be a kingdom ruled by a warlord or leader. It was not to be a theocracy where religious leaders made the rules as had been the case in several states, particularly Massachusetts. And it was not to be a feudal nation ruled by the rich.

“This new nation, the United States of America, founded as a result of the sacrifice that these men and women, these families, that today we can take back to its ideals as Benjamin Franklin told Philadelphia’s Mrs. Powell as he was walking out of the constitutional convention after they had pulled together the Constitution in 1787. She said, ‘What sort of nation has been conceived?’ Ben Franklin: ‘It’s a Republic, madam, if you can keep it.’ ”

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