William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
When the Continental Congress adopted a 1,322-word Declaration of Independence from the British Crown July 4, 1776, little did our founders know that, 235 years later, this defiant act would be celebrated across the land of a prosperous nation with 50 states stretching far beyond their enclave of 13 British colonies.
The 56 delegates who added their names to the bottom of this single-page handwritten parchment document were taking bold action to create a nation on what is now considered the day of America’s birth. But they weren’t exactly signing a birthday card.
The act of declaring independence from the Crown was an act of treason, and the penalty meted out to traitors was severe.
John Hancock, whose signature as president of the Congress appeared first and most prominently on the declaration, supposedly said he and the others signers might “all hang together” for their open defiance of British rule. Benjamin Franklin was said to have replied: “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Such were the stakes and the possible consequences for our nation’s founders in 1776.
Britain for the past century has been among our most reliable allies and July 4 is celebrated as the date America was born as an independent nation (even though hostilities between colonial militias and British troops began in earnest April 19, 1775—more than a year before the Declaration of Independence was adopted).
Today in America, July 4th is a birthday party—with 235 candles on its cake.