SideLines: Paying tribute to our Founding Fathers

A remarkable thing happened yesterday.

I woke up a free man, free to think and say and do whatever I want, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. To those of us who have done this every day of our lives, it may not seem like a big deal. But I imagine it is to those who cannot say the same thing.

With Independence Day this week, it’s only appropriate to take a few minutes to honor those who are most responsible for the freedoms we hold dear and often take for granted. I don’t mean those in uniform who are defending our freedom around the globe, deserving though they are, but our Founding Fathers. Because of their wisdom and courage and fortitude, we are the country and the people we are today. Also, because of them, we have the freedoms we do, even if we may not agree with or morally approve of all of them.

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 26 were lawyers, 11 were merchants and nine were farmers. There was also a teacher, a musician and a rather famous printer.

Some who signed left their signature on history: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, John Adams, Sam Adams, Eldridge Gerry, Roger Sherman, Robert Paine, Samuel Chase, Benjamin Harrison and Francis Lightfoot Lee, a relation of Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate forces during the Civil War.

Others who signed are not as well remembered, such as Carter Braxton, Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas McKean and Button Gwinnett.

Whatever their status in life, when they signed what is arguably the most famous document in history, they weren’t merely signing a piece of paper and hoping for the best. They were literally risking their lives, their fortunes and their reputations.

According to, many of the signers paid the ultimate price for their courageous act. Five were captured, tortured and murdered, in shocking and even barbaric ways. Nine were killed in battle, three were captured and kept in a dungeon, two lost sons in the war and at least a dozen had their homes burned. Many died bankrupt, while 17 actually lost everything they owned.

Thomas Nelson Jr. may have exemplified the spirit of the entire revolution better than anyone. When he saw the British take over his beloved Virginia home as their headquarters, he asked General George Washington to fire on it. Washington did, completely destroying it.

Being free meant that much to him. To all of them. I wonder how many of us today would have done the same thing. It’s easy to say we would, but would we?

Speaking of that, I can’t help wondering, 100 years from now, how many of our current national politicians will be mentioned in the same breath with our Founding Fathers. Those men weren’t perfect, especially in the areas of slavery and women’s rights, but they set the bar very, very high for those who have followed.

As long as this country exists, we are in their debt.

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