"On Independence Day, a few hours ago, they killed my son, Aaron in Afghanistan"--David M Masters
One of my favorite speeches of all time I discovered just recently was actually the work of Rush Limbaugh, Jr., the father of the very popular radio host of the same name. I suppose it is odd to brand something a favorite when it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear or read it--but this speech is perhaps the most succinct expression of what actually made this country--the attitudes and sacrifices and the sheer will--that exists today.
A girl I dated several years ago [who, unfortunately, I realized I was in love with only after she had moved 2000 miles away and gotten engaged to someone else] had the speech framed for me. It is a big piece--a little larger than a full-size movie poster--and it hangs in a prominent place in my home office. To this very day it is difficult for me to walk past the piece without reading at least a little of what is printed there.
When most of us think of the men who created this country we think of the fighting kids in the militia that evaded, outlasted, and eventually outfought the British--and we think of those patriots who had the strongest hand in guiding our young country once it had been created--Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. That fighting force and those individuals deserve all the credit given them and more, but for me personally the men I think most of when I think of our founding are those other signers, the ones who in many cases lost nearly everything after affixing their names to the Declaration.
Jefferson, Adams, and Washington [the general, in the field at the time, was not a signer] all risked their lives and property, but for the most part lucked out for lack of a better term--their homes, estates, and businesses survived largely untouched. For many of their brethren however the toll of freedom was high and harsh indeed.
The vast majority of these men were rich and had large families. Most of them committed to the cause knowing full well that their possessions, families, and lands were, for the most part, located in areas under the direct control or within the near reach of the British forces.
Francis Lewis of New York lost everything, including his wife who was captured, raped, and tortured by British soldiers. She died shortly after being returned to him in a prisoner exchange.
William Floyd of New York saved his family but lost all of his possessions and was forced to live as a fugitive for seven years.
Phillips Livingstone of New York lost all of his great wealth and his life before ever getting to see the dawn of the new nation he had given everything for.
John Hart of New Jersey was nearly captured trying to return home to see his dying wife. When he finally snuck back to the ruins of his property his wife was already dead and his thirteen children gone. He never found his children and died broke and broken in 1779.
Robert Morris of Pennsylvania spent his vast fortune in support of Washington's army. The effort destroyed his merchant fleet of nearly 150 ships and reduced him to a pauper.
Abraham Clark of New Jersey was offered the lives of his two captured sons near the end of the war if he would publicly renounce the Revolution and endorse the British throne. He refused, and his sons died in captivity.
My favorite of these generally unknown heros however is without a doubt Governor Thomas Nelson of Virginia. Nelson commanded the Virginia militia throughout the war and was in command at the epic battle of Yorktown. As American artillery began to zero in on the British, their General Cornwallis ordered his command relocated to Nelson's own immense, opulent home. American cannoneers would not fire on the residence.
"Why do you spare my home?", demanded the angry Nelson.
"Sir, out of respect to you," replied the artillery commander.
Nelson cried, "Give me the cannon!", and went on to demolish his own home in order to defeat Cornwallis.
In total, nine of the signers died during the war, five were captured, twelve lost their homes, seventeen were completely bankrupted, and two saw their wives ravaged at the hands of the enemy.
I have often wondered if I could have made any of the sacrifices that these men did, just as I wonder sometimes whether I would have found myself at a recruitment office on 09.12.01 had I been a younger man.
I have lived my life doing things the hard way, because usually the hard way is the best way. I understand, as apparently fewer people do each and every day, that in order for something to have real value and foundation there must be labor expended, sacrifices made, and even sometimes little blood drawn. I comfortably admit owning a tremendous amount of contempt for those who have decided that their life path will be the easiest, simplest one--no matter how many broken promises, cut corners, failures, and disappointments are left in the wake of that path. I would rather accept responsibility than pass the buck, would rather break trail than follow meekly, would rather do battle than dodge the draft.
When someone says, "I've heard of you," I have no worries whatsoever. My word is good, my credit is good, my bills are paid, my businesses are successful, my reputation is intact, and I sleep like a baby--if a baby only slept about four hours a day, that is. That is the only way I know to live my life.
Could I have made the sacrifices that many of those fifty-six signers made? I don't know--I suppose that is a question that can only be answered just as the deadline looms.
The problem, unfortunately, is that I am much more sure of the answer to another question, namely: "How many of those in our current government would make the sacrifices that many of those fifty-six signers made?"
The answer to that question is a very low, disgustingly low number--and I'm speaking about both parties.
Ironically, the only name that hits me right away as a resounding "yes" is a man in such questionable health that he probably wouldn't last two weeks in such a stressful situation--former Vice President Dick Cheney. Probably Senator Lieberman, who has shown a refreshing willingness to speak plainly about important issues regardless of party line. Probably former President George W. Bush, if he has anything left in the tank. Maybe the two magnificent senators from Oklahoma--but I don't know enough about them personally to be sure. Maybe crazy Dennis Kucinich--his idea of America is diametrically opposed to mine, but he nevertheless seems to go about his business--his insane business--in a pretty forthright manner.
Not only would our current "leaders" have recanted revolution to save their two sons as Abraham Clark refused to do--they would have recanted for a 757 ride [private of course] home to San Francisco, a trip to Paris [excuse me, fact-finding mission], a post office named after their grandfather, $1.2 trillion for the union thugs that get them re-elected every two, four, or six years, hair plugs, custom-made Allen Edmonds loafers, a cheese steak, aluminum collar stays, a can of aqua net, etc. Not only would they have recanted for the most minor of trinkets and geegaws, they never would have considered revolution in the first place unless they could have been exponentially enriched by it--not the other way around.
Yes, I am still furious.