They were taxed excessively. They had foreign soldiers forcibly living in their homes. They could not express their grievances publicly under threat of legal action. If one got captured, he did not receive a fair trial by jury. Following April 19, 1775, they were outgunned, outnumbered, and short on resources as the world's most ferocious armed force sailed across the Atlantic to destroy their insurrection. The following year, the British captured New York City under a barrage of heavy fire as the streets were lined with the blood of patriots. From the perspective of many men, women, and children, the American Revolution was going to die out in a sea of red.
King George III was ruthless in his ambition to hold these traitors accountable for their sins against the British Crown. He threatened the lives of all who sought to liberate the colonies from his grasp. Given how stacked the deck was in his favor, he had every reason to believe he would emerge victorious against farmers and fisherman turned minutemen. However, the greatest mistake the King made was underestimating the men who refused to cave under pressure; he did not realize the lengths to which these men would go toward ensuring liberty for the populace.
In Philadelphia, a band of fifty-six men representing all thirteen colonies looked at the stark reality their Continental Army faced and decided their cause was still worth fighting for. Five of these men were tasked with drafting a document finalizing their intent as a united people. It started with this famous opening:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Under the premise that the Laws of Nature required separation from the British Empire to secure a free people, these five men believed the rights of all who sought freedom from tyranny were mandated by The Lord; no man-made system of governance could infringe upon them. This concept deliberately spat in the face of the British King, who viewed himself as chosen by The Lord to rule over his subjects however he pleased. However, the promise for a free people undeterred by an intrusive government became a reality:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creatorwith certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Following this proclamation, the fifty-six men listed off a tremendous indictment against the British Crown, his subjects, and the nation he represented that violated The Lord's natural rights to man, compelling their decision to be a free and liberated people. This paved the way for one of the most remarkable moments in international law.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.
Citing The Almighty as the source of their rights and formally announcing the Colonies' independence, these fifty-six men understood that signing this legal separation from the British Crown effectively signed their own death warrants. If any of these men were captured by the British Army, they would receive no mercy and face the King's wrath. No quarter would have been given to anyone who dared defy the Crown.
Nevertheless, these men persisted. Nevertheless, these men decided to put their lives on the line for the promise of freedom from tyranny and abusive government.
William Floyd was one of these fifty-six. He not only signed the Declaration on behalf of New York but also served as a Major General of the Long Island militia. He took his quest for American independence by both the pen and sword, ensuring the promise of freedom remained alive in the face of adversity. He dedicated his life to public service, serving in the United States Congress and New York Senate. While he is seen as a patriot to a majority of Americans, he is my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
Bravery is defined in Merriam-Webster as "the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty." In contemporary times, some people define bravery not as legitimately risking your life for freedom's promise, but as expressing your grievances about a cause du jour while not having to do anything of substance about it. For those people, it is more brave to speak against the phantom patriarchy outside of a safe space than to enlist in the Armed Forces, deploy overseas, and fight against Nazism, communism, or radical Islamism. It is one of the saddest eventualities of a nation where many of its citizens lost sight of the Founding Fathers' vision.
While the United States was founded upon the principle that one's freedom of speech and press is a G-d given right, many have lost perspective of the character of men who paved the way for those rights' materialization. These fifty-six men did not sit around the private confides of a collegiate institution petting puppies and drawing with crayons. Instead, they left their homes under threat of capture and imminent execution, deliberated on the Laws of Nature and rights of man, drafted a crowning achievement in international law, signed it, and gave a newly-founded nation hope for freedom. It took men of remarkable bravery, principle, and character to muster that type of courage in the face of tyranny. We would not have an Independence Day without these men and we cannot forget their names:
Robert Treat Paine
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
From the bottom of my heart, Happy 241st Independence Day! G-d bless these brave men. G-d bless the United States of America.