Here it is July 4th, 2020 and we find ourselves in the midst of a perfect storm – a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a social crisis. Typically, our nation celebrates its independence with fireworks, cookouts, parades, and in nearby Atlanta, the famous Peachtree Road Race. Yes, we Americans enjoy our holidays.
I suspect our Independence Day celebrations this year may be tempered by the storms of change around us. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to take this day, or the freedom it represents, for granted. Failing to fully appreciate something is often the first step to losing it. Let us remember that the freedoms we enjoy today were bought at a price.
That price was high for many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Michael W. Smith, the Christian music artist, summarized what happened to these men who valued liberty more than security. Posted on his website, under Sacrifices Made by Declaration Signers, (https://michaelwsmith.com/2015/07/04/the-sacrifices-made-by-the-declaration-signers/) he writes the following,
This is the Price They Paid
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the revolutionary war.
They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Remembering the fragility of freedom and the cost to achieve it reminded me of a poem a dear friend shared with me recently. Written by James Russell Lowell in 1845, this 90 line poem was titled “The Present Crisis” and spoke to the need to defend truth in the presence of falsehood. Some fifty years later, selected parts of Lowell’s poem were adapted into a hymn (shown below). It struck me that the poem is as applicable today as it was in 1845.
Our veterans served to defend our liberty and preserve our freedoms. How much more so do we need to take a stand today against those forces who would undermine or redefine those freedoms?
The wording might sound archaic to our modern ears but I challenge you to read it aloud and savor the greater depth and breadth that this 19th century ode to courage offers.
The Present Crisis – The Hymn
by James Russell Lowell
Once to ev’ry man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses,
While the coward stands aside.
Till the multitude make virtue,
Of the faith they had denied.
By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever,
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Ancient values test our youth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
Tho’ the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Tho’ her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.
Friends, in celebrating our freedoms, we must never forget that freedom is not free.
Happy 4th of July.
Stay tuned, Part 2 of Freedom Matters will be forthcoming later today.