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They not only spurned these honors, but were conscious that if they failed in their revolt their lives were forfeited for treason and their estates confiscated. Two of them were already proscribed by proclamation as beyond all possibility of pardon if the colonies were subdued-Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
In other revolutions the violent men, the demagogues, those who had everything to gain by disorder, were in the main thrown to the front. With success came the struggle for power, and bloody proscriptions were as merciless and as general by those who succeeded in capturing the State against their associates in the Revolution as against the tyrants who had been expelled. This happened in the French Revolution, and has been the ordinary course of history in the South American Republics. But the signers of the Declaration of Independence never claimed for themselves any rewards of their countrymen for what they had done. None of them made any effort to seize the Government or to secure special individual favors. They knew what they were doing and that it was for posterity. Two of them became Presidents of the United States and one Vice-President, but the succession after Washington of John Adams and after Adams of Jefferson in the cleavage which came and lasted until the civil war between State rights and the nation were the natural choice of the free will of a free people.
Most of them were selected at different times during their lives for the diplomatic service, for Congress or the Senate, for the judiciary or the executive office in their several States, but they performed their duties as conscientiously and retired to private life as willingly as if they had never had any connection with the creation of the institutions which they served. Although their education had been local and their public life in colonial affairs, they commanded as diplomats the admiration of the oldest cabinets of Europe. The securing of the consent of monarchical France to an alliance, with the assistance of her fleet and armies, was a marvel of diplomacy, while the judicial decisions, acts of Congress, reports of Cabinet ministers, and state papers of the fathers has guided the course of Government from their day to ours and remain an unequaled monument of creative wisdom.
The course of Rome for many centuries was controlled by the mysterious revelation of the Sibylline leaves, but there was no mystery about the Declaration of Independence, no mystery about the Constitution of the United States, no mystery about the Farewell Address of Washington, and no mystery in the writings which have come to us from the fathers of the Revolution.
Forty-seven lived to see the independence which they had declared seven years before recognized by Great Britain. Forty-three hailed the new Constitution which was adopted in 1787, and which is our guide and government to-day, practically unchanged. Happily for the country, three of them lived for more than fifty years after that eventful epoch-making Fourth of July. The influence not only of the teachings, but of the example, of these surviving signers during the first half of our existence can not be calculated. The death of Jefferson and of Adams, occurring on the same day, on the Fourth of July, on the fiftieth anniversary of the hours during which the Declaration of Independence was adopted, brought vividly before the people the sentiment and the principles for which the signers stood. Their political antagonism had been forgotten in the last two decades of their lives, and in their union in death there appeared, as it were, on that memorable day spread upon the heavens in view of all the people the immortal Declaration of Independence; and on the one side Jefferson, the author, and on the other side Adams, the Colossus in debate, by whose eloquence it was unanimously agreed to.
CHARLES CARROLL of Carrollton lived six years longer. He spent twelve years abroad, studying in the best institutions of England and of the Continent. His wealth and social position at home brought him in contact with the leading minds of those countries. He was four years in the Temple at London
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studying law. At the age of 27 he' returned to his home equipped with every appliance of opportunity and of learning that the times afforded him. This was in 1764. The colonies were aflame with the discussion of taxation without representation. CARROLL instantly jumped into the arena. phlets commanded universal attention. To the royal governor of Maryland, who had endeavored to impose a tax not sanctioned by the legislature, he wrote this revolutionary sentiment and dangerous expression for a colonial subject twelve years before the Declaration of Independence: "In a land of freedom this arbitrary exercise of prerogative must not and will not be endured.”
Ten years later and two years before the final act, conferring with some members of Parliament, one of them said: "If you revolt, we will send 6,000 veteran English soldiers to your country, who will march from one end of it to the other, for there is nothing with you which could resist them.” CARROLL's answer was: “So they may, but they will be masters only on the spot on which they encamp. If we are beaten on the plains we will retreat to the mountains." CARROLL was not present when the Declaration of Independence was passed. Maryland had suffered little and was not feeling seriously the effects of the extraordinary exercise of the royal prerogative, so the Maryland legislature was reluctant to take the extreme step of separation. CARROLL made it his mission as a member of that legislature to bring his State into line. Nothing could resist his impetuous patriotism and sound reason. He had more at stake than any of them, and he brought his State finally to withdraw its opposition and to authorize its Delegates to sign the Declaration. Then with this mission, won mainly by his efforts, he went to Philadelphia and took his place as a Delegate in Congress.
When the time for signing came, and in bantering each other as to whether in case of failure they would hang singly or hang together, the remark was made to CARROLL,“ You can escape, because there are so many CHARLES CARROLLS.” His answer, immediately emphasized by the inscription following his pen, was,"CHARLES CARROLL of Carrollton." It is the only title in our Revolution. There have been many men of distinction in different ages and countries whose proud boast was that they had and could transmit to their descendants their name as of the duchy, the earldom, or the barony which had been bestowed upon them by royal grant for distinguished services or as favors of the Crown. But here was a distinction not bestowed, not granted, but assumed by the writer, not as a title of nobility, not as a claim, like the lands at Blenheim, to a great estate conveyed by a grateful country, but as the location and description by which the executioner could find him if the cause of liberty failed. The members of revolutionary conventions, as a rule, when the revolution was successful, have met with bloody deaths or been driven into exile. But the signers of the Declaration of Independence experienced all their lives that sweetest incense to a patriot and a statesman—the love and reverence and admiration of a grateful people.
A writer records a visit made to CARROLL at his home when he was the only survivor of that immortal band. He was at that time 95 years of age. The visitor says that as he entered the parlor from a bundle of shawls on the sofa came a figure so slight and emaciated that it seemed scarcely human. But Mr. CARROLL began at once to question him about the Virginia statesman from whom he had come and then to discuss the old days in the light of the new. That visitor, a man of imagination, cared little for what was said. He was grasping a hand which had signed the Declaration of Independence. He stood in the presence of the last of the immortals. There must have appeared to him the Congress in session on that great day. He could see Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia, seize John Hancock, who had just been elected President, and carry and place him in the chair, saying, “We will show mother Britain how little we care for her by making the Massachusetts man our President whom she has excluded from pardon by public proclamation."
He would see Benjamin Franklin calling attention to the fact that upon the back of the President's chair was a picture which represented the rising sun, the same chair which Washington occupied eleven years afterwards as President of the Constitutional Convention, when the sun of American liberty had risen, never to set. He would recall that then and there was the dawn of a new era in the affairs of the world. Constitutional liberty, self-government, the equality of all before the law, absolute religious freedom, and freedom of the press. These were new forces, which, if successful, must permeate all countries and affect the institutions of every land. CHARLES CARROLL at 95, fifty-six years after he had signed the Declaration of Independence, could look back triumphantly at the results. He could see three generations of his own descendants enjoying its blessings. He had witnessed the perils of the Confederation, the cementing of the bond of union, and the creation of an imperishable nation by the Constitution of 1787.
As a friend and adviser of Washington he had taken part in that formative period of the first two Presidential terms, when the fabric was so feeble and tottering daily to a fall, and when it was held together mainly by the character and confidence of that foremost man of all the world, “The Father of his Country." He had witnessed the perils of a French alliance, which had been avoided, and seen the successful issue of a second war with Great Britain. His country was strong and prosperous. Every nation had its representatives at its capital. It possessed a powerful navy and mercantile marine, which carried its commerce all around the globe, its flag was on every sea and in every port, and the prosperity and happiness of its people were unexampled. There was but one danger, and that was acute in 1832—the danger of disunion. When