The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not underachievers. These were men of action, leaders in their colonies, and fully aware of the implications of the Declaration on their place in the world. To sign such a Declaration put them in immediate peril for their lives and livelihoods (pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor). To have worked your entire life to be a leader in your community, with the status, respect and financial security that might bring, and then choose to sign a document as incendiary as the Declaration of Independence took tremendous courage.
The body of The Declaration of Independence runs through all the reasons why these Founding Fathers would sign such a document, but the opening and closing statements are what resonate through history. As we celebrate another Independence Day, it helps to read and reflect on these two paragraphs as they offer a powerful reminder of what these Founding Fathers sought for themselves, the colonies they represented, and ultimately for generations of Americans to come:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with 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
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.