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Fourth of July and the Founding Fathers
As most of you are reading this, our Independence Day holiday is at hand. Possibly, just as the concept of freedom hung in the balance those 235 years ago, maybe the life and independence of your own business does today.
Sometimes, it seems almost impossible to hang on, even for another month. So, I offer you this quick account of how a small bunch of men, our Founding Fathers, changed the course of history in 1776. You know the story; but do you know what it actually cost them?
Remember, these founders introduced a new concept: The law is king. We forget that, prior to our Declaration of Independence, the world only had known that the king was law. Consider how our property rights, and our freedom of speech and religion and the press, all spring from that concept.
As you can imagine, the King of England didn’t much care for the idea that God-given rights that no one should usurp existed. When these men actually signed the Declaration, pledging to each other “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” these were not idle words.
The late Paul Harvey addressed this several years ago on his national radio show:
Americans, you know the 56 men who signed our Declaration of Independence that first Fourth of July, you know they were risking everything, don’t you? Because if they won the war with the British, there would be years of hardship as a struggling nation. If they lost they would face a hangman’s noose. And, yet, there where it says, “We herewith pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” they did sign. But did you know that they paid the price?
When Carter Braxton of Virginia signed the Declaration of Independence, he was a wealthy planter and trader. But, thereafter, he saw his ships swept from the seas, and to pay his debts, he lost his home and all of his property. He died in rags.
Thomas Lynch Jr., who signed that pledge, was a third-generation rice grower and aristocrat – a large plantation owner. But, after he signed, his health failed. With his wife, he set out for France to regain his failing health. Their ship never got to France; he was never heard from again.
Thomas McKean of Delaware was so harassed by the enemy that he was forced to move his family five times in five months. He served in congress without pay, his family in poverty and in hiding.
Vandals looted the properties of Ellery and Clymer and Hall and Gwinnett and Walton and Heyward and Rutledge and Middleton. And Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia raised $2 million on his own signature to provision our allies, the French fleet. After the War he personally paid back the loans, wiping out his entire estate; he was never reimbursed by his government. And, in the final battle for Yorktown, he, Nelson, urged Gen. Washington to fire on his (Nelson’s) own home, then occupied by Cornwallis. And, he died bankrupt. Thomas Nelson Jr. had pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.
The Hessians seized the home of Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey. Francis Lewis had his home and everything destroyed, his wife imprisoned. She died within a few months. Richard Stockton, who signed the Declaration of Independence, pledging his life and his fortune, was captured and mistreated, his health broken to the extent that he died at 51. And his estate was pillaged.
Thomas Heyward Jr. was captured when Charleston fell. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside while she was dying; their 13 children fled in all directions for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves and returned home after the war to find his wife dead, his children gone, his properties gone. He died a few weeks later of exhaustion and a broken heart.
Lewis Morris saw his land destroyed, his family scattered. Philip Livingston died within a few months of hardships of the war.
John Hancock, history remembers best, due to a quirk of fate – that great, sweeping signature attesting to his vanity, towers over the others. One of the wealthiest men in New England, he stood outside Boston one terrible night of the war and said, “Burn Boston, though it makes John Hancock a beggar, if the public good requires it.” He, too, lived up to the pledge.
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, few were long to survive. Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes – from Rhode Island to Charleston – sacked and looted, occupied by the enemy or burned. Two of them lost their sons in the Army; one had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 died in the war from its hardships or from its more merciful bullets.
I don’t know what impression you’d had of these men who met that hot summer in Philadelphia, but I think it’s important this July 4, that we remember this about them: They were not poor men; they were not wild-eyed pirates. These were men of means; these were rich men, most of them, who enjoyed much ease and luxury in personal living. Not hungry men – prosperous men, wealthy land owners, substantially secure in their prosperity. But they considered liberty – this is as much I shall say of it – they had learned that liberty is so much more important than security, that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. And they fulfilled their pledge – they paid the price, and freedom was born.
Business is tough, but it’s certainly not 1776-tough. And, on this Fourth of July, let’s resolve to bring honor to God, our country, families, businesses and our industry.
The Founding Fathers got through it, together. These are “the times that try men’s souls.” These are the times to work on our business relationships, particularly in the industry associations that we have. If there is a local MCAA chapter in your area, become involved. There surely are other associations of general contractors and subcontractors that welcome you. Go!
This is the time to get those public relations-type projects. Make your company more visible to the public. It’s a good start, along with hanging in there.
Copyright 2011 Gary Micheloni