Thursday is the 4th of July. Yes, it is the 4th of July in every country—but only in America does it mean something special. I forget, too often, what it meant for the 56 people who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Because of the enormity of this event I tried to do some research regarding the signers—all of them obvious leaders because of their courage—though not all wealthy by any means. By signing this document 56 people put their own lives, as well as their family’s lives, on the line. They gave up their anonymity from British forces.
Two individuals, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, became presidents. John Hancock, the first signer, was President of the Continental Congress and we still talk about “putting your John Hancock” on things. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer—at age 70.
There were signers from 13 colonies. Twenty-four were lawyers. Nine were merchants. Eleven were farmers or plantation owners. Five were captured by the British during the Revolutionary War. Many had their homes ransacked, looted and burned by the British as a result of the war. Nine died during the course of the war.
Fifty-six people signed out of a population of about 2.5 million. Our youngest Continental Army soldier was 10. The oldest was 57. America had somewhere between 4,500 and 6,800 casualties. About 8,500 were wounded. Another 18,000 were captured of which 8,500 died while in British prisons.
Fifty-six people. This is 0.0000224 of the population that were willing to be hanged, if necessary, for their beliefs:
—We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
—[T]hese United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States
—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
These are 56 people we still honor today. Fifty-six leaders. Fifty-six who stood tall and changed the future forever and created the greatest country on earth.
Forbes publishes a list of the powerful people on the planet of 7.1 billion people. First, regardless of anyone’s political persuasion, is President Obama. Fourth, regardless of what kind of computer you use, is Bill Gates. Two of the top four of 7.1 billion are Americans because of what these 56 people signed 237 years ago.
I’m not sure what you’ll be doing on July 4th. It will probably have something to do with firecrackers and family. But when you see that red, white and blue flag stand waving … when you see those red, white and blue fireworks explode, I hope you think about what 56 leaders did for you. For us. For the world.
Happy Birthday, America!