By Kevin “Coach” Collins
The words at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence are far more familiar than the closing sentence. “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,…” are words we know from schooldays. They are the political poetry of our national founding.
The words we have not heard enough about are those in the closing sentence of this powerful document: “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.”
“…we mutually pledge to each other our lives…” was a serious statement that begs clarification. What did these men risk if they were captured by the King’s soldiers after having signed their name to this demand for freedom?
The Americans who fell into the hands of the British during the War were not seen as POWs but traitors. To the British they were little more than traitors. When they were captured they were crammed into every available public building and space without regard for health or safety. When such space ran out they were herded into prison ships in New York harbor and fed garbage.
The rotting meat they received was often served raw. When those who could not hold down their “rations” died, their bodies were dumped into the harbor. Severe dysentery typhus small pox and any number of other contagious diseases killed fifteen men a day. On one single ship, the Jersey, an astounding 11,000 men died during the five years it was used as a prison. In all it is estimated that approximately 20,000 men died in British captivity during the height of the Revolution.
By contemporary witness accounts as many as 70% of American Revolutionary War POWs died while held by the British. That was twice the death rate at Andersonville and Korea and way past the 3.6% and 11.3% death rates for American POWs in WW I and WW II respectively.
When our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, they were doing so in the face of savage retaliation torturous treatment and near certain death. This is what “pledging their lives meant to these brave men.
Let us always honor these men and do so especially on the anniversary of the dare they took to give us freedom.
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In this world you may have knowledge or you may have repose, but you may not have both. What have you done today to deserve to live in America?
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