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July 11, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 19

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THE CATHOLIC  DIOCESE OF  RICHMOND

– Necrology

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COMMENTARY

Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is celebrated each year on the Fourth of July. When the document was signed by 56 men on July 4, 1776, it secured freedom for Americans who had fought for independence from British rule whose leader was King George III. Until the Declaration of Independence, the new Americans were considered colonists.

While most recall the names of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who later became U.S. Presidents, as among the signers of the Declaration, few know much about the other signers. Some paid a high price for their signature.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 died from wounds or hardships resulting from the Revolutionary War.

Look what happened to Thomas Heyward Jr. of South Carolina. Heyward returned to his home in South Carolina after the signing in Philadelphia and was captured by British soldiers. He was taken to a prison ship in St. Augustine, Fla., where he died. While there, Heyward’s plantation was raided, buildings burned, and his wife, who witnessed it all, died.

Most of us can recall the name of John Hancock, a signer from Massachusetts, whose name often is used as a synonym for signature. He supposedly said, “If the cause of the revolution commands it, burn Boston and make John Hancock a beggar!”

With Independence Day now behind us, we need to remember that the signers of the Declaration of Independence believed fervently in a cause for American freedom. They were educated men who lived comfortably. Some had great wealth. But they valued freedom, something many Americans take for granted.

The Declaration of Independence spoke about Laws of Nature, including a right of revolution.

Most of us know the most famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Let freedom ring!

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