It was on July 4, 1776, that the church bells finally started to ring over Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence had been adopted. There had been much secrecy surrounding the meetings of the brave souls who risked everything, including the charge of treason, to be in that room that day.
The 56 men were lawyers, pastors, merchants, physicians, and farmers. There was a printer, a musician, an inventor, and more. They were men going about their lives, fulfilling their dreams, and playing with their children. Then, as now, lawyers made up the largest group; there were 24. Pennsylvania had the most signers with nine. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest; he was 70. John Rutherford was the youngest; he was 26. Eight were born in Europe.
John Hancock’s signature is the largest and most prominent. He was the first to sign and the signature rests in its own white space. The name became synonymous with “signature.” “Give me your John Hancock,” or “Put your John Hancock here,” means your signature. His signature was as flamboyant as was his reported life style.
Have you ever wondered what the derivation of “gerrymandering” is? I have, but I never have taken the time to find out. When I read the short biographies of the signers this week, I learned so many interesting things. Among the signers was Eldridge Gerry, a man from Massachusetts. Eldridge was a graduate of Harvard College, a merchant, governor, he opposed the federal constitution, and taught us about redistricting. He was soundly criticized for redistricting to advantage his political party for re-election. “Gerrymandering” has been with us for awhile.
All these men were so very interesting; but they were much more. They were extraordinary patriots. They pledged everything to the cause of freedom, and they risked everything. And most of them gave everything. They saw their land and homes destroyed, and the men with fleets of ships and merchants with successful businesses saw it all destroyed. Their families as well were targets.
The bells rang in Philadelphia and our freedom was born. We got up this morning in this free land. Conversations and the news quickly turned to the celebrations of the day. Fireworks displays, band concerts, parties, patriotic parades, flags waving, and families and friends gathering. Hot dogs at the baseball game and barbecues at the park, or maybe a swim party. This is our fourth of July.
When I took my grateful walk this morning, I took a little extra time to be grateful for my freedom. It was foggy at 6 o’clock, and I could see very little just a short distance from me or just the shadows of the buildings below me by the stream at the bottom of the slopes. In a short hour or so, all would be visible. When the fog cleared, it would all be there as it was yesterday when the sun broke through. All this to be grateful for in a free land.
When the signers woke up on the morning of July 4, 1776, they still had work to do. It would be well into the afternoon before the bells could ring over Philadelphia.
We still have work to do; freedom is not free nor is it sustained with fireworks and holiday parties, picnics, and parades.