A recent poll reported that almost half of Americans don’t know why we celebrate the 4th of July. It’s hard to imagine an adult who never learned about America’s fight for independence in school or at home.
During a trip to Philadelphia, it is possible to visit Independence Hall, where the contents of the Declaration of Independence, and in fact the very idea of whether becoming independent was a good idea, was debated. It’s quite humbling to imagine the scene and the various conflicting ideas the delegates faced, both from the burden of representing the citizens of their “colonies” and the pressure of one of the world’s great military powers hanging over their heads. The start of the Revolutionary War preceded the Declaration by more than a year.
One of the highlights of the visit is the chance to imagine the final product, voted on and ratified unanimously by 56 delegates on July 4, 1776, being read to the assembled crowd outside the Hall. While the deliberations were held behind closed doors, the people of Philadelphia understood something important was taking place and would gather in the streets and on the sidewalks in case of news. The low balcony from which the Declaration was believed to be first presented exists today – or at least a faithful recreation of it – and the echos of the cheering crowds can still be heard if you cock your head just right.
The 56 signers of the Declaration pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” to the cause of liberty. Seventeen signers fought in the Revolutionary War and five were captured by the British during the War. Eleven had their homes and property destroyed. Others were hunted to exhaustion by British soldiers. Two lost sons in the war effort. Many of those who survived continued to serve their States and communities, including 13 who were elected Governor, 18 who served in State Legislatures, 16 who became State or federal judges, three who became Vice President and two President of the United States.