“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 the concluding lines of the Declaration of Independence. As we prepare to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the ratification by the Second Continental Congress of this very important American document, let us take some time to reflect upon these words.
The final adoption of this document was by no means an easy task. Debate, dissent, compromise, political maneuvering, and logistical problems as a result of voting restraints placed on delegates by their respective legislative bodies preceded its adoption. Yet, the signers were so convinced of the correctness of their actions that they felt they could justly call upon divine Providence for their protection. They also knew how much they were putting their lives in danger. Signing this document was an act of treason against the British crown. The punishment for treason was to die by hanging after which the body was left to hang in the public square for three days. Then the internal organs were removed from the body and burned. In some cases the final act of desecration to the body was to sever the head and place it on a pike for display in the public square.
These signers also knew they were at great risk for losing all their worldly possessions and property. During his radio broadcast career, Paul Harvey on a day close to July 4 would tell of the fate of the majority of the signers. Most of the signers ended life with far less than they possessed when placing their signature on this document. Lives were lost, homes and property looted or destroyed, loved ones lost at the hands of the British.
Now we come to the most significant words of all, “our sacred Honor.” The Webster New World Dictionary defines “sacred” as “regarded with the same respect and reverence accorded holy things.” “Honor” is defined as “ a keen sense of right and wrong; adherence to action or principles considered right.” These signers deemed this document so valid and right they gave it their ultimate respect by pledging their sacred honor.
These final words of the Declaration of Independence paved the way for the next most significant words in this great experiment of freedom, liberty and self-government, “We the people………..” As recorded in the notes of Dr. James McHenry, a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was confronted as he was leaving the final session by a Mrs. Powell, a resident of Philadelphia. Her question to him was, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin who was rarely short of words or wit replied, “A republic madam---if you can keep it.”
And “keep it,” we must. It is incumbent upon us all to honor and respect with civility and dignity the ideals and values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and the course our founders struggled to set forth. These ideals and values were not just significant at the time they were conceived, they are still significant, wise and worthy of our diligence to defend.