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The heroes who signed the Declaration of Independence

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Interior view of the HMS Jersey, a British prison ship during the Revolutionary War, showing prisoners and guard (Credit: Darley, Felix Octavius Carr, 1822-1888 , artist; Edward Bookhout, engraver)

The American hero who authored our Declaration of Independence died on this day, exactly 50 years after its signing.  “This is the Fourth of July,” Thomas Jefferson noted on his last day.  John Adams, patriot and second American president, passed away on the same day.

Not everyone who signed the Declaration enjoyed such a storybook ending to his life.

Dr. Lyman Hall was accused by the British of high treason; his plantation and home were destroyed, and he and his family fled to Philadelphia until the war’s end.  George Walton was captured in battle and became a British prisoner of war.  William Hooper was disowned by his father for supporting the revolutionary cause; when the British destroyed his estate, he became a fugitive until the war’s end.  Thomas Heyward was injured and captured by the British during the Battle of Charleston, spending a year in a prison camp.  Arthur Middleton lost his plantation and spent nearly a year in a prison camp.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. was a very wealthy planter and merchant from Yorktown, Virginia.  When British General Cornwallis made the Nelson family mansion his headquarters, Nelson encouraged General Washington to destroy it.  Carter Braxton lost most of his considerable wealth during the war, including his ships and landholdings.  George Clymer’s family hid in the woods while the British ransacked their house.

William Floyd and Philip Livingston lost their Long Island estates to the British army.  Francis Lewis lost his Long Island estate as well; British troops also captured his wife and held her in such deplorable conditions that she never recovered her health.  Lewis Morris’ estate was destroyed by the British, as were the homes of Josiah Bartlett and William Ellery.

British troops captured and imprisoned Richard Stockton.  John Witherspoon, president of Presbyterian College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) lost his son in the war.  John Hart lost his farm and mills to the British; he and his wife died soon thereafter.  And Abraham Clark’s two sons were captured by the British and held on the notorious prison ship Jersey, where hundreds of Americans perished.

None of these men knew the sacrifice they would make when they chose to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  They did so “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”  As we honor their courage today, let us seek that same divine protection for the nation their heroism birthed.  God’s word is clear: “No king [or nation] is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.”  Rather, “the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:16, 18).

Does America fear God today?  Would you pray for our nation to place our hope in his unfailing love?