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The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence

The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence


District 116 State Rep. Dale Wright, R-Farmington, served as keynote speaker at a Fourth of July event. In his speech, Rep. Wright provided the audience with profiles of a number of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and then revealed how in many cases their lives were never the same after taking a stand against the British Crown. The Farmington Press believes Rep. Wright's words are well worth reading by its readers and so it is being reprinted here in its entirety. – Editor

“I’m honored to get to speak to you today about an important topic and that’s America’s independence,” he said. “A lot of my comments are words from Ezra Taft Benson, who was secretary of agriculture under President Eisenhower. He wrote a book, ‘This Nation Shall Endure.’ He was a patriot through and through. It was he who after World War II helped reestablish Europe — and to get them rebuilt, so I will use a lot of his words.

"I would just like to say to you that we are all the benefactors of a lot of sacrifice. If I were to give a one-word title to this speech, it would be ‘Sacrifice’. If I were to use two words it would be ‘56 Patriots.’ I would like to talk today about those men who delivered to you and me the freedoms that we enjoy today. The sacrifices that they rendered on behalf of you and me. To talk about the Declaration of Independence, a document that has stood for almost 250 years now. To me, I’m not here to make this a church speech, but to me I believe that it was divinely inspired. They were divinely inspired men who brought us these great benefits we have today.

"I believe that our great country is at a crossroads right now. While there’s always been give and take, while there’s always been accusations, while there’s always been things going back and forth between parties and individuals over their beliefs, I don’t know that I ever thought I would see the day when we had so much vitriol that we do today. I understand that people have their positions, I understand that people have their beliefs, but I believe that we do need to have more compassion and more understanding of each other in all that we do.

It is my privilege to represent all of you in Jefferson City and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m brand new, I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. I can tell you that all of the people that I’ve met up there that are serving in the Missouri House of Representatives are up there, I believe, to represent their people and their point of view. I had the honor of being elected the freshman class president on the Republican side of the ledger, but I didn’t want to leave out the Democratic side of the ledger. They have a president elected on that side. So I went to them and said, ‘Let’s work together. What can we do to work together for the benefit of all of our citizen’s?’ Each one of them in the House represents 37,000 people. My calling is to make sure that your voices are heard. We want to make sure that everybody’s voices are heard on both sides of the legislature.

"As I said, I think we are at a crossroads right now of where we are going to be as a country. There are so many of these people out there, and some very famous people, whether they’re politicians, sports figures, or whatever that want to demean our country. Whether they kneel for the flag or speak out about the ‘evils’ of the United States. I can assure you that we have problems, but this is a divinely birthed nation, I believe that.

"I’m excited to see so many young people here. They need to hear these messages about how special this Declaration is and also how special our country is. They hear so many times on television and radio, newspaper and print, and social media, what a terrible country they live in.

"This country was so uniquely born. Because of 56 patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence. The purpose of their declaration was based upon one thing. That was throughout the ages, the tradition was that kings were divinely manifested to have all the power and have all the privileges, and that our privileges as citizens was given to us through the king. Their whole reason for giving us the Declaration of Independence was that we were all blessed with God-given rights. Unalienable rights. Rights that could not be taken away by any government or any king.

"That’s what this whole rebellion was about. These patriots had no quarrel with Parliament or the British people, but it was the tyrannical George III who they had their argument with. He was overtaxing them, inciting and plundering them, doing all of these things against these American colonists. In the pledge, it states ‘[And] for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each of us, our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.’

"On Aug. 2, 1776, 56 men affixed their names onto the document. Let me tell you about some of these men because these weren’t everyday men. Twenty-three of them were lawyers. Twelve were merchants. Twelve were farmers. Four were physicians. Two were manufacturers. One was a politician. One was a printer. One was a minister. A third of the signers were under 40 years of age. Eighteen were in their 30s. Three were in their 20s. Seven were over 60. Edward Rutledge, from South Carolina, was only 26 years old. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin at 70 years old.

"Three of the signers lived to be over 90 years old. Charles Carroll died at the age of 95. Ten died in their 80s. Six of the signers were childless; two of them never did marry. The remainder of them had 325 children. Carter Braxton had 18 children, William Ellery had 17 children and Roger Sherman had 15 children.

"All of these men were very religious men. They were all Protestant except Charles Carroll who was a Roman Catholic. Two of the signers would become president — Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. John Adams and Benjamin Harrison would be fathers of future presidents. Elbridge Gerry was vice president under James Madison. Those men pledged their lives and some paid the price with their life.

"Nine of them died as a result of the war. The first signer to die was John Morton of Pennsylvania. He was sympathetic first to the British Monarchy, but then through lots of persuasion and study, he did switch over for independence. His friends, relatives and neighbors turned against him. He lived only 18 months after signing because of all of the pressure that was put upon him. His dying words were ‘Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [signing the Declaration of Independence] to have been the most glorious service that I ever rendered my country’.

"Caesar Rodney was suffering from facial cancer. He left his sickbed at midnight, rode all night long on horseback through a horrible storm and cast the deciding vote for the Declaration of Independence. He needed treatment in Europe, but rather than take care of himself, he stayed here in the United States and did his duty for his country. Because he refused to go, it cost him his life.

"John Hart, of New Jersey, had a large farm and several grist mills. While his wife was on her deathbed, soldiers came and destroyed his mills, ravaged his property, scattered his 13 children and Hart became a fugitive. He was finally able to return. His wife had died, his health was broken and his farm was gone. He had nothing. He died three years after signing the Declaration of Independence.

"Not only did they claim that they would give their lives, but they were willing to risk their fortunes. Twelve had their homes ransacked. Six literally gave their fortunes away to further the cause. The four New York delegates signed away all of their property for the cause.

"William Floyd was exiled from his home, he was ruined financially.

"Francis Lewis had his home plundered and burned, and his wife was carried away as prisoner. She suffered brutality and never regained her health. He never regained his fortune.

"Philip Livingston never saw his home again. His estate was taken over by the British as a naval hospital and he sold all of his remaining property to finance the Revolution. He died before the war was over.

"Robert Morris had his property destroyed and was denied access to his home. He lost 150 ships sunk during the war.

"Thomas Heyward Jr., Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge were taken prisoner by the British.

"Thomas Nelson Jr. died in poverty. At the age of 51, he gave all of his finances up for the war. He said, ‘I’m a merchant of Yorktown, but I am a Virginian first, let my trade perish. I call God to witness that if any British troops are landed in the county of York of which I am a lieutenant, I will await no order, but summon the militia and drive the invaders into the sea.’

"We’ve all heard of Patrick Henry, who said ‘Give me liberty or give me death’. That’s exactly what happened. If the war failed, all of these men would have been hung as traitors. During the convention, half were for independence, half were against independence. I always thought, ‘Why be against independence?’; I know now. There was so much on the line. Their lives, their fortunes, their families. It was not an easy decision. I thank God that they made the right decision.

"I would like to read to you from the man who was really behind the entire declaration of separation from England — John Adams. He declared on the floor that day, ‘Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote.

'It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we were not aimed at independence, but there’s a Divinity which shapes our ends…Why, then, should we defer the Declaration? ...You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may not live to see the time when this Declaration shall be made good. We may die; die Colonists, die slaves, die, it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold.

'Be it so. Be it so.

'If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready…..But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

'But whatever may be our fate, be assured, be assured that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, it may cost blood, but it will stand and it will richly compensate for both.

'Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires and illuminations. On its annual return they will shed tears, copious, gushing tears, not of subjection and slavery, not of agony or distress, but of exaltation and gratitude. And of joy.

'Sir, before God, I believe the hour is come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the declaration.

'It is my living sentiment; by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and Independence forever’.'

"We also know about a 21-year-old school teacher during the war who George Washington asked, would he please become a spy and go behind British lines to find out what the plans of the British were. He was caught and he was to be hanged. While he was on the scaffold, he said, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to give to my country’ — Nathan Hale.

"We sing ‘America the Beautiful’, I hope we remember these words and think deeply about them. ‘Oh, beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!’

"My friends, our rights are given to us by God. Not by our government. If we do believe our rights come by government, then we must admit to the fact that government can take away those rights.

"I want us to keep in mind the great words of Thomas Jefferson, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal, that they are endowed by their creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ Man is superior to government, and not the other way around.

"You and I are the benefactors of a liberty earned by great sacrifice. I hope that we all remember that every time we come to this date, every year. Sacrifices that were spent on our behalf, for the freedoms we enjoy, by the over 9,000 colonists who gave their lives for the liberties and freedoms that you and I have. I thank you for this opportunity to be here today, and may God bless you, and may God bless America.”

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at

"Twenty-three of them were lawyers. Twelve were merchants. Twelve were farmers. Four were physicians. Two were manufacturers. One was a politician. One was a printer. One was a minister. A third of the signers were under 40 years of age. Eighteen were in their 30s. Three were in their 20s. Seven were over 60. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin at 70 years old." State Rep. Dale Wright

Rep. Dale Wright on signers of the Declaration of Independence

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