Don't Know Much

Why Labor Day? Check out this Ted-Ed animated video

“Why do Americans and Canadians Celebrate Labor Day?”

This  Ted-Ed animated video explains the history of the holiday and why it still matters today. (Reposted from 9/1/2014)

You can also view it on YouTube:

 

You can read more about the history and meaning of Labor Day in this piece I wrote for CNN a few years ago:

“The Blood and Sweat Behind Labor Day”

Read more about the period of labor unrest in Don’t Know Much About® History.

Don't Know Much About History (Revised, Expanded and Updated Edition)

Don’t Know Much About History (Revised, Expanded and Updated Edition)

 

Labor Day 2019

“Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”
— Abraham Lincoln, “First Annual Message to Congress” (December 3, 1861)

To most Americans, the first Monday in September means a three-day weekend and the last hurrah of summer, a final outing at the shore before school begins, a family picnic. The federal Labor Day was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland during his second term in 1894.

 

But Labor Day was born in a time when work was no picnic. As America was moving from farms to factories in the Industrial Age, there was a long, violent, often-deadly struggle for fundamental workers’ rights, a struggle that in many ways was America’s “other civil war.” (From  “The Blood and Sweat Behind Labor Day”)

 

“Glassworks. Midnight. Location: Indiana.” From a series of photographs of child labor at glass and bottle factories in the United States by Lewis W. Hine, for the National Child Labor Committee, New York.

The first American Labor Day is dated to a parade organized by unions in New York City on September 5, 1882, as a celebration of “the strength and spirit of the American worker.” They wanted among, other things, an end to child labor.

In 1861, Lincoln told Congress:

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation.

Today, in postindustrial America, Abraham Lincoln’s words ring empty. Labor is far from “superior to capital.” Working people and unions have borne the brunt of the great changes in the globalized economy.

But the facts are clear: In the current “gig economy,” the loss of union jobs and the recent failures of labor to organize workers is one key reason for the decline of America’s middle class.

This excellent essay by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explores the vast inequities existing in America’s economy.

Read the full history of Labor Day in this essay: “The Blood and Sweat Behind Labor Day” (2011)

 

Who Said It? (8/26/2019-Labor Day edition)

Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.

(Reposted from 2014)

Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Abraham Lincoln (November 1863) Photo by Alexander Gardner

Abraham Lincoln (November 1863) Photo by Alexander Gardner

Abraham Lincoln, “First Annual Message to Congress” (“State of the Union”) December 3, 1861

 

It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.

Source and Complete text: Abraham Lincoln: First Annual Message,”  Read more about Lincoln, his life and administration and the Civil War in Don’t Know Much About® History, Don’t Know Much About® the Civil War and Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents

Don't Know Much About the Civil War (Harper paperback, Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About the Civil War (Harper paperback, Random House Audio)

 

Don't Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition (Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition (Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)

Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

Jefferson’s Version-A few key differences

This is a post I wrote in 2009  after visiting the hand written copy Thomas Jefferson made of his draft version of the Declaration at the New York Public Library:

Last evening, I had a thrilling experience. In a small, darkened room with the feel of a chapel inside the magnificent New York Public Library, I saw Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. For me this was a “Grail Moment.” Setting aside all of Jefferson’s contradictions and human flaws, I found the experience of seeing these words in his own hand exhilarating.

 

We take them for granted, of course. But Jefferson gave full voice to the idea that we all possess inalienable rights” –That we are “created equal.” That we have basic rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That governments exist to advance those human rights, and only with the “consent of the governed.

The document is written on both sides of two pieces of paper. In his careful, flowing script, Jefferson included all of his original wording to show what the Congress in Philadelphia had changed, underscoring words and phrases that had been deleted. Those alterations, Jefferson, thought were “mutilations.” Distressed by the editing, he made these “fair copies” of his original some time after July 4th. (The document on display at the New York Public Library is one of only two known surviving copies.)

Jefferson’s Desk on which he drafted the Declaration (Image: American Museum of History/Smithsonian)

The most startling of these changes is a paragraph about what Jefferson calls “this execrable commerce” — slavery. Jefferson charged –rather ridiculously, of course– that King George III was responsible for the slave trade and was preventing American efforts to restrain that trade. The section was deleted completely. But it is striking to see Jefferson’s bold, block lettering when he describes:

an open market where MEN should be bought & sold

Yes, he was going home to a plantation completely dependent upon slave labor. But he clearly wanted to underscore his belief that slaves were MEN. The contradiction is stunning, troubling, and difficult to resolve. At least forty of the 56 signers enslaved people or profited from the African slave trade.

As the nation approaches its celebration of Independence and the ideals of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” it is always crucial –and challenging– to remember that with those rights comes responsibility. We have traveled a remarkable road in 243 years. There is no more powerful symbol of that distance than the fact that an African American has been elected president.

But we still have far to go until we all have secured all of those rights –equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness– for all of the people. Jefferson and his 55 fellow signers pledged their lives, fortunes and “sacred honor” in support of those fundamental human rights. Would we all be willing to say the same?

 

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (11 of 11)

declaration_numbers

The Declaration Mural by Barry Faulkner (National Archives)

Key to Numbers in “The Declaration Mural”  by Barry Faulkner

 

Last part of a series on the lives of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. (Previous post #10 here. From the blog page you can also scroll back through the series.

(A YES following the entry means the signer enslaved people; a NO means he did not.)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.declaration_of_independence_630

 

A New England slaver. A forgotten founder who died in debt and disgrace. A college president. A legendary bullet maker. Jefferson’s teacher –and a murder victim. Last but not least among the 56 signers.

William Whipple (New Hampshire) Usually described as a 46 year old merchant, he was more precisely a sea captain who made a fortune sailing between Africa and the West Indies — in other words, the slave trade. He also enslaved people and one of those men, known as Prince, accompanied Whipple throughout his illustrious career as an officer in the Revolution. It was thought that Prince was the black man depicted in the famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware” painting, but that is not accurate because Prince and Whipple were far from  the action that night. Whipple later served in a variety of state offices in New Hampshire and legally manumitted Prince –who also went by the name of Caleb Quotum — in  1784. Whipple died in Portsmouth in 1785. YES

Gravestone of Prince Whipple https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/whipple-prince-1750-1796/

William Williams (Connecticut) A 45 year old merchant, he was a veteran of the French and Indian War who had married the daughter of Connecticut’s Royal Governor. He was not present for the July vote but signed the Declaration and was a tireless supporter of the war effort. After a long career in public service, he died in 1811, aged 71. NO

James Wilson (Pennsylvania) Scottish born, he was a 33 year old lawyer at the time of the signing and one of the most important Founding Fathers you probably never heard of. A key supporter of the Declaration, Wilson was among the signers and Philadelphia elites who were attacked in his home during the war in a riot over food prices and scarcity. Wilson was also a key member of the Constitutional Convention, credited with several significant compromises. Although hopeful to be made Chief Justice of the new Supreme Court, he was appointed an associate by Washington. But land speculation ruined him and he ended up in debtor’s prison, like his colleague Robert Morris (See previous post #7) before his death in disgrace at age 55 in 1798, an embarrassment to his Federalists friends and colleagues. NO

The official portrait of Supreme Court Justice James Wilson.

John Witherspoon (New Jersey) Another profoundly influential immigrant, the Scottish born minister was 53 year old president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) where his hatred of the British influenced many students including notable schoolmates Aaron Burr and James Madison. He lost a son at the battle of Germantown in 1777 but continued his career in Congress. After the war, he attempted to rebuild the college and was a prime mover in the growth and organization of the Presbyterian Church. He died in 1794 in Princeton, where the is buried, at age 71. YES

A photograph of Maclean House, also called the President’s House, at Princeton University. Built 1756. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maclean_house.jpg

Oliver Wolcott (Connecticut) A 49 year old lawyer, he was a veteran of the French and Indian War who was not present for the vote and signed at a later date. Wolcott was in New York when Washington’s troops tore down a statue of King George III after hearing the Declaration of Independence read. He is credited with the plan to melt down the lead statue and turn it into bullets for the war effort.  He served in the Connecticut militia during the Revolution and held a series of state posts after the war including as governor of Connecticut at his death in 1797 , aged 71. YES

George Wythe (Virginia) A 50 year old lawyer, he made his greatest mark as a teacher of law to Thomas Jefferson at the College of William and Mary –as well as later students including James Monroe, future Chief Justice John Marshall and congressman Henry Clay, earning him the title “America’s first law professor.” He died in 1806 , around 80, apparently murdered by a nephew who was perturbed that Wythe was planning to free the slaves that the young man was supposed to inherit. (The nephew was acquitted of murder but convicted of forging his uncle’s checks). YES

George Wythe, Signer of Declaration of Independence New York Public Library Digital Gallery (Digital Image ID: 484381)

Read the story of James Wilson and the Philadelphia Riot in America’s Hidden History.

America's Hidden History, includes tales of "Forgotten Founders"

America’s Hidden History, includes tales of “Forgotten Founders”

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Whatever Became of 56 Signers (Part 10 of 11)

(Part 10 of a series that begins here. Previous post #9 is here. YES at the end of the entry means the signer enslaved people; NO means he did not.)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

 

A victim of the British. Two Irish immigrants. An orphaned carpenter. Among the next five of 56 signers.

Richard Stockton (New Jersey) Of the signers who clearly suffered for his actions, this successful and widely-admired 45 year old attorney at the signing, may have suffered most. Stockton is also credited with recruiting John Witherspoon, an influential Sottish minister, (See next installment in series) to become president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). Betrayed by loyalists in his home state, he was captured by the British in 1776, although later released in a prisoner exchange, not for having sworn allegiance to the King, as reported in a much-disputed rumor of the day. His New Jersey home was also damaged by the British but later restored. Stockton was in poor health after the experience in captivity but lived until 1781, when he died of throat cancer. His daughter, Julia, was married to Benjamin Rush, another signer. Today, his name is familiar to most people because there is rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike named in his honor. YES

Thomas Stone (Maryland) Among the conservatives in Congress, he was a 33 year old attorney at the signing, reluctant about independence, but then joining in the favorable vote. Another son of a wealthy planter, he had a low profile after the signing, helping write the Articles of Confederation but not signing them. He also declined to take part in the Constitutional Convention, when his wife, who fell ill following an inoculation against smallpox, died in 1787. Apparently despondent, he died four months later in 1787 at age 44. YES

George Taylor (Pennsylvania) Arriving in America as an indentured servant from Ireland, he was a 60 year old merchant and iron maker at the signing. He had risen at the foundry where he worked to become bookkeeper, then bought the business after his employer’s death and then married the late owner’s widow. Taylor was not in the influential Pennsylvania delegation for the July vote, but signed the document in August. During the war, his foundry provided cannon and cannonballs for the war effort, but Congress was notoriously slow to pay its bills and his business suffered. He died in 1781 at age 65. YES

Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire) An Irish-born physician,  he was around 62 at the signing, a veteran surgeon who had served with the New Hampshire militia in the French and Indian War. A latecomer to Congress, he joined in November 1776 and was later permitted to add his name to the document. He later served as a state judge and then operated a farm and ferry before his death in 1803 at about age 89. NO

George Walton (Georgia) Orphaned and apprenticed as a carpenter, he was a 35 year old self taught attorney at the signing. Although his exact birth date is unknown, some claim that he was the youngest Signer – a distinction usually given to Edward Rutledge (See previous entry). Serving with the Georgia militia, he was shot and captured by the British in 1778. Well-treated, he was held for a year before being exchanged for a British officer –even though it was known he was a signer. He later served in a variety of state offices, including governor and senator from Georgia, and built a home on lands confiscated after the war from a Tory, or Loyalist. He is implicated in the events that led to the duel that killed fellow signer and political rival Button Gwinnet (see Part 3 of series). He died in 1804, aged 63 (?). Possibly No. As a Quaker, Walton may have favored abolition. [?Unable to confirm his status pending further investigation.] 

 

 

America's Hidden History, includes tales of "Forgotten Founders"

America’s Hidden History, includes tales of “Forgotten Founders”

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (Part 9)

(Part 9 in a series that begins here Previous post #8 here a YES following the entry means the signer enslaved people; NO means he did not.)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

 

Betsy Ross’s uncle. The “first psychiatrist.” Youngest signer. The Great Compromiser. An Irish man named Smith. The next five signers:

George Ross (Pennsylvania) The son of a Scottish-born minister, he was a 46 year old attorney at the signing, a loyalist before turning to the patriot cause in 1775. Yes, he was Betsy’s uncle, but the rest of the Ross flag story has been dismissed as family legend. He left Congress in early 1777 due to illness — the same severe gout that afflicted a number of signers– and served as a Pennsylvania judge before his death in 1779 at 49, following a severe attack of gout. NO

Dr Benjamin Rush by Charles Willson Peale c. 1783. WInterthur Museum

Dr Benjamin Rush by Charles Willson Peale c. 1783. Winterthur Museum

Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania) Raised by a widowed mother, he was a 30 year old physician at the signing, youngest in the Pennsylvania delegation. He was elected after the July vote and his diaries, letters, and notes provided some of the best portraits of many of the signers and other founders. He served as surgeon general of the armies during the war, and became an early abolitionist while still a slaveholder himself. Rush was also an early advocate of many modern medical practices, while at the same time practicing bloodletting. He established the first free medical clinic and remained in Philadelphia during a yellow fever epidemic, spoke against capital punishment, and in favor of the idea that there was mental illness which led to his being called “The Father of American Psychiatry.” He died of typhus in 1813 at age 67. YES

Edward Rutledge (South Carolina) Son of an Irish immigrant physician, he was a 26 year old attorney at the signing, the youngest of the signers. Rutledge later left Congress and was captured by the British when Charleston fell in May 1780 and was held for nearly a year. After the war, his finances and businesses flourished and he returned to state politics, and was elected governor of South Carolina, but died at 50 in 1800, before his term ended. YES

Roger Sherman (Connecticut) A self-educated son of a farmer, he was a prosperous merchant, attorney, and politician, aged 55 at the signing. He would sign three of the central documents in America’s foundation: the Declaration (he was a member of the draft committee), the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S.  Constitution. It was at the 1787 convention that Sherman proposed the “Great Compromise” that ended the deadlock between large and small states. He was also a true “Founding Father”– after Carroll (18 children) and Ellery (16 children), Sherman fathered the third most children among the signers -15.  A leading Federalist, he served in the House and Senate, where he was serving at his death in 1793 at age 72. NO

James Smith  (Pennsylvania) Another immigrant signer, he was born in Ireland and was around 57 at the signing, another self-taught attorney. Elected to Congress after the July vote, he signed the Declaration. He returned to law practice and state offices before his death in 1806 at about age 87. NO

 

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

America's Hidden History, includes tales of "Forgotten Founders"

America’s Hidden History, includes tales of “Forgotten Founders”

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (Part 8)

[Part 8 of a blog series that begins here. Part 7 here. Note: YES following an entry means the signer enslaved people; NO means he did not.]

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

Minister turned lawyer.  Self-taught planters’s sons. A Nay vote. A rare bachelor. And a veiled man. The next six signers:

Thomas Nelson, Jr. (Virginia) Another son of a wealthy planter. he was a 37 year old merchant-planter at the signing, owner of more than 400 enslaved people. He raised money  to supply troops and even commanded militia. Legend has it that he fired a cannon at his own Yorktown mansion during the 1781 siege when told that it was British headquarters. The war cost him financially and he was in ill health, retiring as Virginia’s governor and living on his plantation until his death at 50 in 1789. YES

William Paca (Maryland) An attorney and wealthy planter’s son, he was 35 at the signing. A patriot leader in somewhat conservative Maryland, he helped bring the state to favor independence at  Philadelphia. He raised funds for the war effort and later, as Congressman, worked to support veterans. An advocate of the Constitution, he was later appointed a federal judge by President Washington, and was in that post at his death in 1799 at age 58. YES

Robert Treat Paine (Courtesy: Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts)

Robert Treat Paine (Courtesy: Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts)

Robert Treat Paine (Massachusetts) Overshadowed by two Adamses and Hancock from Massachusetts, he was a minister turned attorney, 45 at the signing, best known as one of the prosecutors in the 1770 trial of the British soldiers charged in “Boston Massacre.” His friend and fellow delegate John Adams had served rather successfully as their defender. In 1780, he was among the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the first American groups dedicated to expanding scientific knowledge and learning. After the war, he remained active in Massachusetts politics and was named a state judge by Hancock until his retirement in 1804 due to deafness. He died in 1814 at age 83. NO

John Penn (North Carolina) A wealthy planter’s son who taught himself to read and write, he was a 36 year old attorney at the signing.  He remained in Congress and was one of the signers who also signed the first American constitution, the Articles of Confederation. He retired to private law practice and died in 1788 at age 48. YES

George Read ( Delaware) Among the conservative delegates, he was a 42 year old lawyer at the time of the signing but had voted against independence on July 2.He served in state offices until ill health forced his resignation. But  he returned to Philadelphia to take part in the Constitutional convention and was leading voice for small states’s rights and led the ratification forces in Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution. Elected to the Senate, he resigned to take a judgeship in Delaware before his death in 1798 at age 65. YES

Statue of Caesar Rodney on his ride-Rodney Square Wilmington, DE (Public Domain)

Caesar Rodney (Delaware) Another self educated attorney, son of a planter, he was 47 at the signing. He is best known for an 80 mile ride in a storm to break a deadlock that put Delaware in the independence column –which cost him favor with conservatives in his home state. One of the three bachelor signers (Francis Lee and Thomas Lynch were the others), he remained in the Congress until he became Delaware’s state president. A cancerous growth on his face was untreated and he covered it with a silk veil, worn for a decade before his death in 1784 at age 55. YES

Whatever Became of 56 Signers (7th in series)

(Part 7 in a series that begins here.  Part 6 Here NOTE: YES following the entry means the Signer enslaved people; No means he did not.)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

 

A tavern owner’s son. Two of America’s wealthiest men –both named Morris. And the first to die. The next five signers in this series;

-Thomas McKean (Delaware) Son of a Pennsylvania farmer-tavern owner, McKean was a self educated, 42 year old attorney turned politician at the time of the signing (although he did not sign in 1776). A vigorous patriot, he held offices in both his native Pennsylvania and Delaware and was a key supporter of the Declaration. When another delegate from Delaware was absent and the state might vote against independence, McKean sent a horse and rider to collect fellow delegate Caesar Rodney and bring him back to vote —an 80 mile ride in a storm. There is some dispute about when he actually signed but it was after January 1777. McKean and his family were pursued by the British but never captured. A vocal advocate of the Constitution, he served in many state posts, including governor of Pennsylvania, and prospered after the war. He died in 1817 at age 83.  YES

Arthur Middleton (South Carolina) A 34 year old plantation owner, at the signing, replaced his father  –thought too conservative — in Congress. Educated in England, he became active in patriot politics. One of the few delegates to serve in the wartime militia, he was captured in Charleston in 1780, along with Thomas Heyward (Post #4) and Rutledge, two other South Carolina signers. Although his home had been destroyed he was released by the British and returned to Congress in 1781. After the war he returned to his plantation where he died at age 44 in 1787. YES

Lewis Morris (New York) Another of the wealthy sons of prominent New York families in the state’s delegation, Morris was a 50 year old land owner with large holdings in what is now the Bronx in New York City. Although his home was assaulted by British troops during the war, it was attacked and severely damaged because of its value, not because he was a signer. Morris led troops of the militia during the vote in July, but then led the New York delegation in later signing the Declaration, making it unanimous. Morris rebuilt the family home and land holdings after the war and was a leader with Alexander Hamilton in ratification of the Constitution. He died in 1798, aged 71 and his former plantation is known today as the Morrisania section of the Bronx. YES

Oil painting of Robert Morris by Robert Pine (c. 1785)

Oil painting of Robert Morris by Robert Pine (c. 1785)

Robert Morris (Pennsylvania) (No relation to Lewis Morris above.) One of the wealthiest individuals in America, he was a 42 year old Philadelphia merchant and speculator when he signed. Born in Liverpool, he had come to America and made a fortune as a merchant, becoming the “Financier of the Revolution.” Accused of profiteering during the war, he was attacked in the Philadelphia home of fellow signer James Wilson. A delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he declined to serve as Washington’s secretary of Treasury, recommending Alexander Hamilton instead. He later became a Senator. But he lost his fortune through land speculation and was bankrupted and put in debtor’s prison. He died in poverty and relative obscurity in 1806, aged 72.  YES

John Morton (Pennsylvania) A farm boy turned surveyor, he was 52 at the time of the signing. He has two key distinctions: his vote pushed Pennsylvania into the pro-independence camp and then he was first signer to die. He fell ill in 1777 and died at about age 52, leaving his farm and enslaved people to his wife and children who had to flee from a British attack. YES

 

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (6th in a series)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

(Sixth in a series. Previous post #5 here. Note: The Yes after a named means the Signer enslaved people; No  means he did not. The first post is here.)

Wealthy planters, merchants and moderates

-Richard Henry Lee (Virginia) A 41 year old planter from a prominent Virginia family –his younger brother Francis Lightfoot (See previous post) was also there– Lee deserves more acclaim than he usually gets. A “great orator,” said John Adams, Lee introduced the resolution for independence. Curiously he left Congress and didn’t vote for the resolution or the Declaration, which he signed later in the summer of 1776. He was one of the few signers to actually serve with a Virginia militia unit. He remained in poetics after the war, becoming a vocal opponent of the Constitution but an advocate for the Bill of Rights. He was elected to the U.S. Senate but resigned in ill health and died  at age 62 in 1794. YES

Francis Lewis (New York) A native of Wales, he was a 63 year old merchant at the time of the signing, a key supporter of George Washington, but was instructed not to vote for the Declaration by New York. He then signed in August. During the war, his wife was imprisoned by the British and died shortly after her release, leaving Lewis grief-stricken. He died in 1802 at age 89, was buried in an unmarked grave at Manhattan’s Trinity Church, and now, curious New Yorkers will know why there is a Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens. YES

Philip Livingston (New York) The 60-year-old member of one of New York’s wealthiest families, he was a merchant who favored the patriot cause but was, like many New Yorkers, more moderate about declaring independence and was absent when the entire delegation abstained from the vote. But he signed in August. (Robert Livingston, a cousin and  member of the Declaration draft committee, was also absent from the vote and never signed the Declaration).  The British occupied his Brooklyn home after the fall of New York and used it as a hospital.  Although he sold some of his property to support the war effort, his family continued to amass large land holdings in upstate New York. In poor health, he died at age 62 in 1778, when Congress was forced to evacuate Philadelphia and moved to York, Pa. YES

Thomas Lynch, Jr. (South Carolina) At 27, the second youngest signer (after Edward Rutledge also of South Carolina), he was lawyer and son of a delegate. When his father, a wealthy planter, suffered a stroke, the younger Lynch was sent to Congress. (His father was unable to vote or sign.)  Both left for home in poor health and the elder Lynch died en route. Lynch Jr. and his wife later sailed for France in the hope of regaining his health but both died at sea in 1779. YES

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How does democracy die? Often, democracy dies in broad daylight as thousands cheer. What can teachers and the rest of us do to protect our democracy?

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