Who among us know the names and stories of men like John Hart and Francis Lewis. Most know the names of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Many also know that these men where among the Fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence. What most don’t know though is that Francis Lewis and John Hart where among them as signers of that document that would change the world.
At the end of the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers concluded the document with a phrase:
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.
What most also don’t know is that many of the signers did indeed support the Declaration of Independent with the sacrifice of their Lives and Fortunes.
In a reprint of the 1848 book, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing wrote of John Hart:
The talents of Mr. Hart were considered too valuable to the public, to remain in an inactive state, and in February, 1776, he was again elected a delegate to the General Congress. He was too deeply impressed with the paramount importance of his country’s claims, to permit him to refuse the office; and he took his seat again in the body, and voted for and signed the declaration of Independence. ( p.88 )
Lossing went on to write:
Nothing would have seemed more inimical to Mr. Hart’s private interests, than this act, which was the harbinger of open hostilities, for his estate was peculiarly exposed to the fury of the enemy. Nor was the fury withheld when New Jersey was invaded by the British and their mercenary allies, the Hessians. The signers of the Declaration everywhere were marked for vengeance, and when the enemy made their conquering decent upon New Jersey, Mr. Hart’s estate was among the first to feel the effects of the desolating inroad. The blight fell, not only upon his fortune, but upon his person, and he did not live to see the sunlight of Peace and Independence gladden the face of his country. He died in the year 1780 (the gloomiest period of the War of Independence), full of years and deserved honors. (p. 88-89)
Lossing also recalled the great sacrifice of the forgotten Francis Lewis as well:
Mr. Lewis was a shining mark for the resentment of the British and tories, and while the former possessed Long Island, they not only destroyed his property, but had the brutality to confine his wife in a close prison for several months, without a bed or change of raiment, whereby her constitution was ruined, and she died two years afterwards. (p. 73)
These men did not have to do what they did. Most, due to their fortunes, could have lived the rest of their lives in comfort and easy while the British imposed its will on the colonies. It was not desperate times or needs that compelled these men to great feats of moral action. It was an overriding sense of duty to those of future generations that caused these men to lay down everything they had in this life. Most personally lost more than they ever gained by signing that document of liberty. Rather than being a document of liberty for them, it was a document of pain and suffering. Because they gave up their comfort, their fortunes, their lives, we today can enjoy comfort, make fortunes, and live lives in liberty.
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” – Ronald Reagan, 1967.
“Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence” http://www.amazon.com/Signers-Declaration-Independence-Benson-Lossing/dp/0925279455