A declaration of shared courage

Most Americans are familiar with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the one that talks about all men being created equal, with the “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Far fewer recall the final words of that document adopted by the Continental Congress 234 years ago today: “And for the support of this Declaration ... we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Those words weren’t idle rhetoric or political posturing in the summer of 1776. The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were viewed by Great Britain as committing treason — against the most powerful nation on Earth, no less. If they were captured by the British, they could expect to be hanged.

Many of the signers would lose much of what they cherished — property, money, even family — during the Revolutionary War.

Their honors remained intact, however, despite frequent and volatile disagreements over how the war should be fought and how the government of the new country should be structured.

More than two centuries later, we still disagree vehemently — about wars we’re engaged in, about the role of the federal government, about taxes and about political ideology. But we do so, secure in the knowledge that we won’t be ripped from our homes and carted off to prison simply because we disagree with government policies. We can criticize — even demonize — our leaders, regardless of their political affiliation, with little fear of reprisal.

We can do these things because those courageous men who attached their names to the Declaration of Independence — and many more who joined them in the fight for freedom — embraced what was then a novel and, to many, frightening notion that governments were meant to serve citizens, not the other way around.

And they embraced it together, pledging their support for each other, even though they knew they disagreed on critical issues.

Today, many people of widely different ideological views are clamoring for the government to support their ideas, or pushing to make theirs the dominant political force. That’s fine. Rough-and-tumble politics has always been a hallmark of this country.

But, as you enjoy the Fourth of July this year — parades, fireworks, barbecues and more — take time to remember those men who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the new form of government they so desperately believed in. And recall that they also pledged their support to each other, despite their differences.


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