This Independence Day, let’s remember that freedom isn’t free. Those that signed the Declaration of Independence knew it, and centuries later, President Ronald Reagan still knew it and warned Americans with these words…
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Freedom fighter General John Stark shouted, “Tonight the American flag floats over yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!” to rally his troops as he headed into battle at Bennington, Vermont, during the Revolutionary War. Molly Stark did not become a widow that night and did what she could, as a mother of ten, for the cause of freedom. She opened her home to nurse patriot soldiers.
General John Stark, years later, wrote a toast for an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington, held July 31, 1809. He became ill just prior to the reunion and was unable to attend, but he sent his toast by letter, which was “Live Free or Die: Death is not the worst of evils.” He is credited with what became New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die.”
Those that signed their John Hancock (one literally did!) on the document declaring independence from despotic leadership in July of 1776 knew that their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor were truly at risk. They knew that a vast ocean would not protect them and their families from the wrath of King George of Great Britain, who demanded absolute allegiance.
Richard Stockton, one of the signers from New Jersey, understood the grave danger he put himself and his family in and knew freedom would not be free. He was right. Four months after signing his name on the Declaration of Independence, he was imprisoned.
Stockton had been moving his family to safety because the British were following George Washington and his army into New Jersey after the Battle of Long Island, when a treacherous neighbor of the friend whose home he had moved his family to lead a band of loyalists to Richard Stockton. They dragged Stockton from his bed and marched him improperly clothed (only a nightshirt and breeches) in freezing weather to a common jail in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Later he was moved to Provost prison in New York City, which was notorious for its harsh conditions. It is estimated that about three times as many prisoners died in the prisons and prison ships of New York City as soldiers in combat during the Revolutionary War years.
After five weeks of being locked in irons and nearly starved, Stockton was released. The condition of his release was that he was not to engage in American affairs during the fight for freedom. His health was compromised to such an extent that it is doubtful he could have contributed much on the battlefield. His home had been plundered of his furniture and livestock. His extensive library had been destroyed. His monetary wealth was also gone as he had donated most of it to the cause. He died before the Revolutionary War ended in 1781 at the age of 51. Richard Stockton is among those we should remember for their bravery and the great sacrifice necessary to attain our freedom.
This Independence Day, and every day, let’s take some time to remember some of those that sacrificed so much for freedom. Let’s heed President Reagan’s warning and teach the next generations the value of individual freedom, so they won’t lose it. Let’s teach them about the brave men and women that knew freedom wasn’t free yet still acted to gain it. Let’s teach them that preserving freedom is not always easy but that once freedom is lost, it is even more difficult to regain.
Happy Independence Day!
Diana Rubio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World.” Read her blog series “Statues: The People They Salute” and visit the Facebook Page.