Listen to audio version of this article
Nothing so illustrates the difference in the quality of American leadership than a comparison between today’s officials and the men who wrote and approved the Declaration of Independence.
In the hot, humid, gritty port city of Philadelphia in June and July 1776 gathered the British Colonies richest and most influential men. John Hancock, trader and industrialist, reputed to be the wealthiest man in North America, was elected President of the Congress.
Many of these men who gathered to draft a protest to the King of England owned vast estates, rich farms, prosperous companies and enjoyed the benefits of being highly respected regional leaders.
Thomas Jefferson, noted intellect and inventor, a writer of skill and flourish represented Virginia with Francis Lightfoot Lee and Benjamin Harrison among others. The Benjamin’s, Franklin and Rush with Robert Morris stood for Pennsylvania. Hall and Walton from Georgia, Sam and John Adams and Robert Paine From Massachusetts; Hooper, Hewes and John Penn from North Carolina–men of substance all.
Many of these men come to us in memorials to their later accomplishments and many towns and cities across America are graced with their names.
These were the revolutionaries of America. They were our best and our brightest and they also had the most to lose from the coming conflict. These were not wild-eyed fanatics or the desperately poor seeking some measure of equity with the ruling class–they were the ruling class in America and they ruled it from graceful estates and farms; from port townhouses where they directed their ships to sea and from the Houses of Legislature in the 13 American Colonies.
Why would such men seek a confrontation with the King? The answer to that question was drafted as they assembled in Philadelphia in late spring. They stated their reasons in the wonderfully graceful, but precise, language of the times:
They wrote of a “long train of abuses and usurpations…” and specifically listed British offenses such as “plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people.” In short, the Declaration on Independence was the American Indictment of George III of England.
Then these men stated their intention as representatives of the United States Of America that “by the authority of the good people of these colonies, [we] solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved…”
There is no ambiguity. We are finished with England; we are free and we will direct our own future. Stirring words, strong and forthright sentences marching to the conclusion that war is coming with England, the strongest power on the Globe.
These men did not flinch from that conclusion and they knew and fully understood that to lose this fight was to risk being hung on the end of a Redcoat rope in the village green of the town where they were captured.
How many of our current leaders, who govern through polls and focus groups, are willing to risk anything, much less make a real pledge as the signers of the Declaration did of their “lives…fortunes and… sacred Honor.”
Bob Grant is a member of InsiderNJ’s Advisory Board.