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Happy 239th Birthday America

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Enjoy the 4th of July holiday everybody.

The Proprietary House in Perth Amboy, NJ., William Franklin's royal governor's residence.
The Proprietary House in Perth Amboy, NJ., William Franklin's royal governor's residence.
Photo coutesy Wikimedia Commons free images

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.

So closes the Declaration of Independence.  We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.  Heady stuff.  How many of us today would be eager to do the same?  The 56 signatories of the Declaration, and the many more who fought for the cause, risked all.  They, and we, and the world, were forever changed by it.

Sometimes we forget just how much those brave band of brothers put on the line for their cause. The war that followed cost some of them their lives.  It cost others their families, for the War for Independence was truly the first American Civil War.  Neighbor fought neighbor, loyalist against rebel, brother against brother, parent against child.  Right here in my current haunts of New Jersey the war cost one of the great fathers of this country his family.

If you visit New Jersey you will find many things named Franklin.  Franklin Lakes, Franklin Township, Franklin Turnpike.  It would be the most natural thing imaginable to assume these places and things were named for Benjamin Frankin, the most prominent American in the world in the eighteenth century.  It would be natural.  It would also be wrong.  None of these places and things in fact took their names from Benjamin.  All were named for William Franklin, the last Royal Governor of New Jersey and Benjamin's beloved son.  Ben Franklin used his unique influence with the British government to have son William placed in the position of Royal Governor in 1763, and William faithfully served in that capacity until his capture by New Jersey rebels in 1776.  First placed under house arrest in the governor's mansion pictured at the top of this article (which is the only remaining royal governor's residence anywhere in the country, and which you can visit if you are ever in the vicinity of Perth Amboy, NJ), William was after some months  transferred to a rebel jail and held there for years before being freed in a prisoner exchange.  William remained loyal to the British Crown all his life, and sailed to England after the war, never to return.  His Loyalist leanings caused father Ben so much grief and ill will that the two never spoke again once war broke out, save for a single brief visit by Ben to his son's English abode in 1785.  At this meeting between the victorious father and the vanquished son, did they rush into each other's arms, all being forgiven?  Not quite.  Ben formally presented William with a letter.  When William opened and read it, the letter turned out to be a bill for services rendered and goods provided during the childhood years William spent being raised by Ben and his wife Deborah.  That's right, Ben Franklin's last and only words to his son on the occasion of their final meeting were a demand for payment of all expenses incurred in raising William.

Such was the bitterness of the break caused in the Franklin family by the war.  Such was the price paid by both sides, played out in countless families and friendships across America.  The founders of this nation pledged everything they had to give to the establishment of a new experiment in democratic governance, and that pledge cost many of them their fortunes, their families, and for some, their lives.

Perhaps while we enjoy our fireworks and our barbeques this Independence Day, we can spare a moment to reflect just how much was at stake for those who began this great American experiment so many years ago.  We owe a debt of gratitude for their pledge 239 years ago.