This is part 2 of our Independence Day series — if you missed the first, you can view that here: July’s Important History.
The American Declaration of Independence is truly our founding document. What was written in copperplate longhand (cursive writing is no longer taught in government schools) would become the source of our Constitution and the bedrock of a philosophy of government by free men and women enduring 240 years to this July 4th.
The men who signed our Declaration of Independence were an eclectic group. They were prominent lawyers, merchants, and plantation owners and one printer/scientist. What they did was risk everything they had by signing what could have been their own death warrant. It was a document that was one part classic enlightenment philosophy and the rest a point-by-point indictment of a king, who, after he read it, swore he would see every one of them hanged. In 2014, barely a smidgen of this level of bravery is evident in D.C.
As we reflect once more on another celebration of the Independence these men won for us, let’s look at those 56 men who stepped forward on that hot Philadelphia day to pledge “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”…
Not everyone whom we might consider as a “Founding Father” signed the Declaration of Independence. Notably absent from the signatories were: George Washington, James Madison, and James Monroe.
Some of the more famous signers are well-known historical figures:
- Our most famous Founding Fathers who signed the declaration were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (our second and third presidents). Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the document.
- John Adams’ cousin Sam Adams signed the Declaration but rose no higher than the governorship of Massachusetts. Ironically, Sam Adams went broke trying to brew his own beer.
- The one printer/scientist mentioned previously was our most prominent citizen of that period, Benjamin Franklin.
- Then there was John Hancock, who is mostly remembered for his famous flamboyant signature. Legend has it that before he affixed his signature to the Declaration he said, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!”
- Finally, the not-so-famous plantation owner Benjamin Harrison was the father and grandfather of two future American Presidents, William Henry and Benjamin Harrison.
Some facts about the other Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence:
What states they represented/how many they were:
Connecticut – 4, Delaware – 3, Georgia – 3, Massachusetts – 5, Maryland – 4, North Carolina 3, New Hampshire – 3, New Jersey – 6, New York – 3*, Pennsylvania – 9, Rhode Island – 2, South Carolina – 4, Virginia 7
Over half the population of New York consisted of people loyal to the crown and who lived under British protection throughout most of the Revolutionary War, hence, the low number of signatories from that populous state.
What their occupations were/and how of many each:
Lawyers – 24, Merchants 15, Plantation/Land Owners – 11, Physicians – 4, Ministers – 2, Printer/Scientist – 1 (Ben Franklin)
Their ages and longevity:
- Average (and median) age of the signers was 46.5. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin (70); the youngest was Edward Rutledge from South Carolina (26).
- The last signer of the Declaration of Independence died in 1832 at the age of 95. He was Charles Carroll from Maryland.
- The second most long-lived signers were also the most famous. They were John Adams (90) and Thomas Jefferson (83) who both died ironically on July 4, 1826. Lifelong political foes and intractable enemies, they reconciled towards the end of their lives through friendly correspondence.
So, not many of our Founders became historically prominent. They became etched forever in our history, though, when they affixed their “John Hancocks” to the document that defines our Country’s most cherished principles. True patriots all that took a stand for Freedom and Liberty!
At *your* service,
Factual source for this article: Genealogy Trails: Fast Facts