“Soft-spoken men of means and education” who gave their all: Reagan reflects on the 4th

by Ryan Streeter on July 3, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

A friend shared the text of Reagan’s 1981 Fourth of July address. These words stood out:

[We] know for certain that 56 men, a

little band so unique we have never seen their like since, had

pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Some

gave their lives in the war that followed, most gave their fortunes,

and all preserved their sacred honor.

What manner of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and

jurists, 11 were merchants and tradesmen, and nine were farmers.

They were soft-spoken men of means and education; they were not

an unwashed rabble. They had achieved security but valued

freedom more. Their stories have not been told nearly enough.

John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. For

more than a year he lived in the forest and in caves before he

returned to find his wife dead, his children vanished, his property

destroyed. He died of exhaustion and a broken heart.

Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships, sold his home to pay his

debts, and died in rags. And so it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall,

Walton, Gwinnett, Rutledge, Morris, Livingston and Middleton.

Nelson personally urged Washington to fire on his home and destroy

it when it became the headquarters for General Cornwallis. Nelson

died bankrupt.

But they sired a nation that grew from sea to shining sea. Five

million farms, quiet villages, cities that never sleep, 3 million square

miles of forest, field, mountain and desert, 227 million people with a

pedigree that includes the bloodlines of all the world.

In recent years, however, I’ve come to think of that day as more than

just the birthday of a nation.

It also commemorates the only true philosophical revolution in all


Oh, there have been revolutions before and since ours. But those

revolutions simply exchanged one set of rules for another. Ours was

a revolution that changed the very concept of government.

Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for

the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given

rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed

by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily

granted to it by the people.