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We all know that liberty is not free, and our history shows that it is cause to stand on principle. But freedom has always been worth the price.
Even before that magic list was published in 1776--on July 4--of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, those 56 men, the British knew who they were, and they had already marked down every Member of Congress suspected of putting their name to that treasonous document. All of them became the objects of individual manhunts by the British. Of course, the punishment for treason was death by hanging.
Of the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine of them died of wounds or hardships during the American War of Independence. Five were captured and imprisoned. In each case, they were treated brutally. Several lost their wives, their sons, or their entire families. One Member lost all 13 of his children.
Two wives were brutally treated. And all at one time or another were victims of manhunts or driven from their homes. Twelve signers of the Declaration had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything that they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on their pledged word. Their honor and the Nation they sacrificed so much to create is, yes, still intact.
You see, they pledged to themselves their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. And they did not go back on their word.
New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark, gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. But they were captured and sent to the infamous British prison ship in New York harbor known as hell ship ``Jersey,'' where thousands of Americans who had been captured were going to die.
They were treated with a special brutality because of their father, Abraham Clark. But when the war was almost over, the British told Clark to come out in favor of the King and his sons' lives would be spared. Abraham Clark, in his anguished answer, replied, No.
Francis Lewis was a New York delegate. He saw his home plundered and his estates in what is now Harlem completely destroyed by the British. Mrs. Lewis, his wife, was captured and treated with great brutality because of her husband.
John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. But German Hessian soldiers rode after him and he escaped into the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead.
Hart, 65, hid in the woods as he was hunted throughout the countryside. When he finally made it home, he found that his wife had already been buried and his 13 children had disappeared. He never saw any of them again.
Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey signer, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and his children. The family found refuge with friends, but a sympathizer betrayed them. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed and brutally beaten and put in jail.
Congress finally arranged for Stockton's parole, but his health was ruined. He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. His family was forced to live off charity after he died.
John Morton was a British sympathizer, but once he came to sign the Declaration of Independence, he changed his mind and came out strongly for independence. Most of his neighbors, however, in Pennsylvania, and his relatives, were British sympathizers and ostracized him.
When he died, just 1 year later after signing the Declaration of Independence, his last words to his tormenters were, "Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge the signing of the declaration to have been the most glorious service that I have rendered to my country."
There were similar stories with the other 51 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
A person who did not sign the Declaration, but one of my favorite persons in history, and a son of liberty, was a schoolteacher by the name of Nathan Hale. He was from Connecticut. He was a 21-year-old teacher by trade, but joined the Colonial Army under George Washington.
At the Battle of Harlem Heights, George Washington was facing General Howe in battle and asked for a volunteer to go behind enemy lines and spy on behalf of the Colonial Army. Hale volunteered and went forward.
He disguised himself as a Dutch schoolmaster, set out on his mission for a week and he gathered information on the position of the British. But he was finally captured when returning to the American lines. Because of incriminating papers that he had in his position, the British knew that he was a spy.It is said that his cousin, a British sympathizer under Howe's command, betrayed him. So Howe ordered Hale to be hanged the following day without trial.
On September 22, 1776, American patriot Nathan Hale was hanged for spying on British troops. His famous last words, I regret that I have but one life to give to my country.
Mr. Speaker, an amazing breed these early Americans. So this July 4th we should pledge to ourselves and our Nation that no matter the cost, we who live here now will not ever allow the flame of liberty or the flag of freedom to quietly disappear from our land, a land that God has shed His grace upon.
And that's just the way it is.
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