My Lines: July 2019
Around the fire-pit with my kids and their friends, I’m known for asking a conversation-starter question to get conversations rolling. My favorite is the following: ‘if you could go back in time as an observer, to what date or period would you go back, and why.’
My go-to answer is the weeks before, during and after the 4th of July, 1776. Last week, on the 4th, I confirmed it as my favorite as I re-read the Declaration of Independence and found something I had not fully grasped. Until reading it.
I’ve read it a few times in my life, and like most of us, I most remember the ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal……’ phrase, and have a passing familiarity with the rest.
I found it well organized and written. The first third set up the argument; the middle third listed 13 specific offenses by the King and his government (perhaps symbolically one for each colony?) thereby setting up the final third, which was the powerful closing argument.
I imagined what it was like for Thomas Jefferson, as author, to knit together all the voices giving input and the passion on all sides. There had been several weeks of debating and arguing before Jefferson and four others were charged with writing the Declaration. The four gave Jefferson the pen. For seventeen days he wrote and edited endlessly until the five of them agreed. I would have loved to be at his side throughout, learning why one word or phrase won out over another, and then see the same play out for two long days in early July, as Congress did the same: picking at a word or phrase, and trying to water it down or ‘kick it up a notch.’ Nineteen amazing days of creating a document that changed the world!
Think about the enduring power of those 1333 words, and what they created.
But as appealing as watching the writing would have been, what held newfound wonder for me was the signing ceremony and all because of the Declaration’s last thirty one words:
‘And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’
Talk about commitment! Lives. Fortunes. Honor. They were not messing around with this Declaration business. The ‘we’ were the entire Congress, unanimously agreeing. They were lawyers, merchants, farmers and plantation owners; all well-educated and of considerable means. They had a lot to lose. A lot. But they pledged their lives and fortunes nonetheless in support for the idea of freedom and independence. It was the most radical of ideas in an era of Kings and Kingdoms.
They signed it knowing full well it was under penalty of death if captured. But they signed it nonetheless – every single one. And many paid that price. Five were captured by the British as traitors and tortured, then died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost sons serving in the Revolutionary Army. Two others had sons captured. Nine of the signers fought and died in the War, and two became President.
Which is why observing the signing ceremony and the heavy-heartedness that came with putting pen to paper would have been something to see. History books tend to glorify the event and celebrate some of the giants – Jefferson, Adams and Franklin -- and make much of John Hancock’s defiant signature. But hidden are the stories of other signers whose sacrifice was their life or fortune. Fifty-six stories of true profiles in courage, who collectively changed the world.
I imagine them one by one approaching the desk and pausing to take a deep breath before dipping the pen in the ink – as if it were blood instead -- and signing. I imagine they did so in full awareness of their risks, but in signing, counted it worth the price.
Since then, on every 4th, we remind ourselves that preserving our freedom is not free. Very true.
To which I say, yes and, getting it in the first place did not come free either.
This month’s My Lines was authored by Jim O'Donnell, our President, and is a reprint of one of his Morning Jim blogs which he shares with the company every Monday.
By: Jim O'Donnell July 8, 2019 Uncategorized