John A. Howard
John A. Howard is a Senior Fellow with The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society Rockford, Illinois.
After the bloodshed caused when the colonists tried to prevent the British soldiers from seizing their munitions stored in Lexington, the Continental Congress sensed that there would be a war of separation. It named George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
The delegates to the Congress had the wisdom to recognize that in time of war the critical decisions they faced would have to be made in private. There were many factions in the Congress with conflicting views about the war and the leadership and the special causes of the various colonies. They knew that during the negotiations, if the different factions publicized their views on the issues and stirred up public passions against one side or the other, it would be virtually impossible to reach the necessary compromises for effective decisions. They, therefore, enacted a resolution of secrecy.
Resolved, That every member of this Congress considers himself under the ties of virtue, honor and love of his country, not to divulge, directly or indirectly any matter or thing agitated or debated in this Congress. . . . And that if any member should violate this agreement, he shall be expelled from this Congress, and deemed an enemy to the liberties of America.
No one violated the promise of secrecy. Protected by this shield of privacy, the Congress was able to devise and enact the Declaration of Independence. The signing of that document by the fifty-six delegates was one of the truly heroic acts of history. Their declaration was an act of treason against one of the most powerful and unforgiving nations of the world. It took place in a land already occupied by large numbers of highly trained and well-equipped British troops, against whom the colonies could only mount a force of partially trained volunteers from widely scattered colonies.
The signers who publicly acknowledged their role in declaring war on the Motherland put themselves in great jeopardy. They had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, which for them meant a pledge before God, in support of the Declaration. In his book, Greatness to Spare, T.R. Fehrenbach tells what happened to those men. What follows is drawn from his concluding summary of the book.
Nine signers died of wounds or hardships during the Revolutionary War.
Five were captured or imprisoned, in some cases with brutal treatment.
The wives, sons and daughters of others were killed, mistreated, persecuted or left penniless.
The houses of twelve signers were burned to the ground. Seventeen lost everything they owned.
Most were offered immunity, freedom, rewards, their property or their lives and release of loved ones to break their pledged word or to take the king's protection. Their fortunes were forfeit, but their honor was not. No signer defected or changed his stand throughout the darkest hours. Their honor, like the nation, remained intact.
Recent generations of Americans have not been introduced to the drama and the courage and the wisdom and the heroic sacrifices made by the men and women who breathed life into the American Republic. There is grandeur in this history that is cause for patriotic pride and thanksgiving on Independence Day. *
"Patriotism is not chic in the circles of those who assume the role of citizens of the world, whether they are discussing immigration or giving aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime." --Thomas Sowell