The meaning of the Fourth of July; It#8217;s all about our indepenedence

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

The Ironton Tribune

Around 230 years ago, 56 men signed a document declaring this land’s independence from Great Britain.

Today, area residents will join to

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celebrate one of America’s most cherished historic events: the signing of the Declaration of Indenpendence in July 1776.

Ohio University Southern history professor Robert Leith said to do such a thing was a courageous act — and a treasonous one in the eyes of the British crown.

“To the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, what they did was like signing their own death warrant,” Leith said.

Disabled American Veterans Chapter 51 Commander Stephen Saunders agreed. He pointed out that such insubordination to English rule was most often met with swift and final punishment.

“The hardships they endured for this,” Saunders said. “Our founding fathers put their lives on the line. If the British had gotten their hands on them, they’d have been killed. I think Benjamin Franklin said it best: ‘We must all hang together or we will all hang separately.’”

One of the hardships the founding fathers endured was financial. Leith pointed out that the members of the Second Contintental Congress, that approved the Declaration, came on their own nickel.

“No one paid them to come,” Leith said. “They had no expense accounts. They paid for their own transportation, meals.”

As it turned out, that piece of paper, with its 1,321 words, was the call to arms in a costly war for freedom. Saunders pointed out that thousands were killed in this battle against British rule, and millions more have been fighting and dying since then to keep the flames of freedom alive today.

Leith pointed out that many of those who survived lost all their worldly possessions in their quest for freedom.

“At Yorktown there was a man there by the name of Thomas Nelson Jr. and he had a house there, a farm there and Cornwallis, the British general came and took his home and used it as headquarters for the British troops,” Leith said.

“But the Americans had Cornwallis trapped and Thomas Nelson Jr. told George Washington, ‘destroy my home, we must be free.’

“He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and he stood there as British troops destroyed his home. After that he went bankrupt.

Those who signed the Declaration of Independence were hunted and hounded, their wives held, their businesses wrecked by the British to stop the seeds of the revolution.”

Saunders said it is this selflessness that impresses him most when he considers what was and what could have been if those who stood up that day in July 1776 had backed down.

“George Washington was a wealthy man. But he didn’t lead the army to get rich, he did it to advance democracy. He wanted a government with freedoms of the press, freedom of speech, freedom from want and fear.”

But this willingness to give up their material possession was evidence of their thirst for something more precious to them than their farms, money and even their own lives: independence and the right of people in a new land to forge their own destiny under their own, chosen form of government.

Leith said though radical for its time, the Declaration of Independence stands as a model for liberty today.

“People in Africa, people in China, people in South America, their ideal of total freedom is our Declaration of Independence,” Leith said.

“Everyone wishes they had something like it. The U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, probably neither are as famous or as revered as the Declaration of Independence.”