Last spring, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia. Neither of us had ever been there before. I loved it. Thought it was an amazing city. As someone who loves history, there are some incredible sights to see in Philadelphia. It’s surreal that you’ll be in the middle of a major city and you’ll also be walking between buildings that housed some of the most important events in our nation’s history, and that were here over 200 years ago.
My favorite sight to see was Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and adopted. It was surreal to be in a room, and to think, “George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton have all been in this room.” It felt as though I was standing on hallowed ground.
Much gets said about our founding fathers and our history. They were imperfect men. But imperfect as they were, they also did something great.
Revisionist historians like to argue that the only reason the Founding Fathers declared independence from Britain was out of a desire to not pay taxes. This overlooks the fact that the founders committed an act of treason against the Crown when they declared independence. Had the United States lost the war, they would have all been hanged. And it wasn’t a guarantee that the United States would win. The Continental Army had the daunting task of synthesizing an army together from colonies (who had largely been independent of one another) into a cohesive army.
The last line of the Declaration of Independence says:
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.
Many of our Founding Fathers paid dearly in the cause of liberty and freedom.
Robert Morris of Pennsylvania had amassed great wealth and gave it all away to support the army and navy. He also had loaned money to the Continental Congress in 1776. Morris was never paid back and died in poverty.
Thomas Nelson of Virginia had his home overtaken and used as a headquarters by General Cornwallis. Nelson ordered his own home to be burned down. He spent $2 million of his own money (an incredible sum in the 18th century), to help fund the war. Nelson was also never paid back and died impoverished.
Phillip Livingston of New York was one of the richest men in America but also lost all of his fortune and didn’t survive to see the end of the war, dying less than two years after he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Richard Stockton of New Jersey was arrested by the British in 1776 and spent three years as a prisoner. When he was released, his health was failing, and he died two years later in financial ruin.
When Charleston, South Carolina was overtaken by the British in 1780, three of the four signers of the Declaration of Independence were taken as prisoners of war. When they were released, their property had been pillaged.
And there are many other examples. They cost of starting a nation. A nation that is imperfect, but which has also spread more freedom to the world than any other nation in history.
I think our founding fathers, and the subsequent millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have fought to defend that freedom. Most especially, I’m thankful for the freedom of religion that we have in this nation. That we are free to worship as we desire. So many tyrants throughout the world have attacked the freedom of religion at the alter of imposing religions or eliminating religions. But the beauty of America is that we can worship as we choose.
Originally published July 4, 2018
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.