Fourth of July is here once again. A very important date in America’s history, a day in which the thirteen colonies of the British Empire declared they were a free and independent nation. Everyone remembers Thomas Jefferson, a talented writer and the drafter of the Declaration of Independence. Everyone remembers John Adams, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin as members of the Continental Congress. But there were 56 signers to the declaration and I would like to highlight some of the important but forgotten signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Charles Carroll was born September 19, 1737 in Annapolis, Maryland. He came from a wealthy Roman Catholic family and enjoyed an education aboard. When he returned home, he immediately joined the fight for independence. In 1772, he would anonymously engage the secretary of the Colony of Maryland in a series of newspaper articles. He protested against the British government’s right to tax without representation. He was an early advocate for armed resistance with the ultimate goal of independence. He was elected to represent Maryland at the Continental Congress. He arrived too late to vote on the Declaration but he signed it. He would return and help draft the Constitution as well as the state government for Maryland. He would serve in the state senate in 1781, the first Federal Congress in 1788 and then again the state senate in 1790 until his retirement in 1800. Charles Carroll was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence when he died November 14, 1832 at the age of 95.
James Wilson was born September 14, 1742 in Carskerdo, Scotland. He would attend many universities but never obtained any degrees. He came to the colonies as a tutor and then teaching at Philadelphia College. Some of his famous student includes James Madison, Aaron Burr and many future senators and house representatives. After two of studying, he was able to attain the bar in Philadelphia and opened his own successful law practice. He would represent Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress. Although he personally as for independence, his state was still divided. Rather than act on his own convictions, he voted with his constituents and voted against separation from Britain. He was able to consult with his constituents and return with a vote in favor of independence. Following the ratification of the Constitution, he appealed to Washington for an appointment in the federal government. He would be appointed as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789. Unfortunately he would end his life in ruin. While serving on the Supreme Court, he would spend time in a debtor’s prison. By 1798, he complained and great mental fatigue and retired. He would die August 28, 1798 at the age of 55.
John Witherspoon was born February 5, 1723 in Gifford, Scotland. When he arrived in the colonies in 1768, he brought with his impressive credentials and public acclaim as he took the position of president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). While he usually avoided political concerns, he supported the fight for independence. He would be elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress where he voted for the Declaration of Independence. In response to another delegate’s argument that the colonies were not ready for independence, he said it “was not only ripe for the measure but in danger of rotting for the want of it.” He was very active in the Continental Congress as well as the state legislature of New Jersey. He would die on his farm on November 15, 1794 at the age of 71. He is still held in high esteem at the college that he helped create.
Along with the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 45 percent of the colonists supported the fight against Britain. 80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers would serve at the height of the war. After more than eight years of war, 25,000 soldiers would give their lives for the dream of what is now United States of America. As we look forward to a day of family, food, fun and fireworks, let’s remember the men whose daring and bravery to set forth and fight for this great nation. They each deserve to be remembered and recognized.