The Signers of the
Fifty-six men who pledged their lives, their
fortunes, and their sacred honor to the
cause of American Independence
Addresses indicators 3-3.1, 4-3.2, 4-3.3,
8-2.1, USHC 2.2
56 Men signed the
Declaration of Independence
• These founding fathers knew that they
were pledging “their lives, their fortunes,
and their sacred honor.”
• To fully understand the importance of this
document and their actions, we must look
more closely at both.
Before we go on…
• Take out a piece of paper and create a brief list
of your favorites of the Founding Fathers and
what you already know about them.
• As we continue our study, add to your list the
information you gain about your favorites as well
as adding new names and information about
people that you find interesting.
Try to see things from the perspective of the
American Colonists in 1775.
Many of the colonists felt they had been
betrayed. What hurt the most was that they
were betrayed by somebody from whom
they had expected better — the king, a
father figure who should do right by his
Of course there is another side to the story.
Two Continental Congresses
• John Adams said that the representatives of the
First Continental Congress possessed “fortunes,
ability, learning, eloquence, acuteness, equal to
any I have ever met with in my life.” These men
met in Philadelphia and drafted a complaint to the
king which he did not answer, so they called a
Second Continental Congress in May 1775.
• Joy Hakim said that “the Second Continental
Congress as a whole was so extraordinary it would
still inspire awe 200 years later.”
• The Declaration of Independence came out of the
Second Continental Congress.
Some interesting things
you might like to know…
• Five men - Adams, Sherman, Livingston, Jefferson
and Franklin - were selected to write the
Declaration of Independence.
• Benjamin Franklin noted in their first meeting that
five men could never agree on anything and
suggested that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
should do the writing.
• Adams then told Jefferson that he should write it by
Jefferson did not think he was worthy or capable but
Adams assured him that he was for three reasons:
•“You’re a Virginian and a Virginian ought to be at the
head of this business.
•I’m obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are
very much otherwise.
•You can write ten times better than I can.”
And so, the job of writing the
document that would break ties
with England began.
• Jefferson was a quiet, shy, retiring man who
sought to stay out of the limelight. Now he
found himself in the hottest seat of all!
• Jefferson never did anything half-way. He
pressed his brilliant mind to action and came
up with what is considered one of the finest
pieces of prose in the English language,
knowing the risks they were all taking. This
document was destined to bring war!
Meanwhile, back in the meeting
in Independence Hall…
• John Adams, Patrick Henry, Ben Franklin, and
others who favored independence had the job of
convincing those who were not.
• Most of the delegates were conservatives who
favored a less hostile approach.
• Consider that many of them were wealthy men
whose wealth came from their trade with England.
A break would hurt them in their pocketbooks.
• Many delegates considered themselves only as
Virginians or New Yorkers – no idea of unity.
Patrick Henry, the fiery redheaded Virginian, saw that
conservatives and undecided
representatives could destroy
the will of the Congress. Like
the other liberal leaders he was
determined to take a stand.
He stated during the Congress
that "the distinctions between
New Yorkers, New Englanders
are no more. I'm not a
Virginian but an American."
Other leaders in favor of
the break with England
continued to persuade…
Two of the greatest
minds in America,
John Adams and
were at the center
of the drama. Both
men were clever,
determined to have
a new nation.
South Carolina’s delegates were wealthy
planters or sons of planters. They were of the
wealthy, privileged class. A break with
England would change that…
This image from
the play 1776 has
issue from his point
of view. Many in
the group were in
his same situation.
Rutledge was the
Other South Carolinians
also spoke out…
Arthur Middleton was
heir to one of America’s
wealthiest fortunes and,
at 34, the oldest of the
South Carolina group.
Thomas Heyward, was
only 30 when he attended
but he already had a
career in colonial politics.
Thomas Lynch, Jr. was
the second youngest
delegate and he was
standing in for his father
who was too ill to attend.
There were other delegates who
were either not in favor of, or
undecided about, the issue.
• Benjamin Franklin, the oldest of the delegates –
and probably the wisest – spoke quietly to
delegates to help them see the rightness of the
cause. Many came around to his way of
• Sam Adams, fiery and outspoken, persuaded
delegates to the cause.
• John Adams, the most zealous, and many
would say the greatest statesman, relentlessly
spoke out in favor of revolution.
Patrick Henry only stayed a
short time having been called
home to Virginia for urgent
business in the House of
Burgesses. Perhaps the words
of his famous speech to the
Virginia Legislature in March
1775 were still ringing in their
ears. “Is life so dear, or peace
so sweet, as to be purchased
at the price of chains and
slavery? Forbid it, Almighty
God! I know not what course
others may take; but as for me,
give me liberty or give me
Benjamin Franklin’s own family
sadly was divided by the cause
William Franklin — son of founding father
Benjamin Franklin — was New Jersey's last
royal governor. A loyalist to the bone, William
Franklin retreated to the safety of Britishoccupied New York City, where he did
everything in his power to assist the forces of
the Crown. Following the American victory, he
went into exile in England, where he lived out
his life. Father and son were reconciled —
barely — years after Yorktown.
Some interesting facts
about the men…
• You already know the oldest delegate, Ben
Franklin, and the youngest delegate,
Edward Rutledge. You also know most of
the wealthiest delegates. One you haven’t
heard of yet is Charles Carroll. He signed
“Charles Carroll of Carrollton” so no one
else would be mistakenly punished in
place of himself.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was
a lawyer and politician from
Maryland who was a delegate to
the Continental Congress and
later a United States Senator.
He was the last surviving (dying
on November 14, 1832 at 95
years of age) and only Catholic
signer of the Declaration of
Independence. He was also
possibly the wealthiest man in
More interesting facts…
• One of the best and most accurate accounts
we have of the events of the Second
Continental Congress can be found in the
letters from John Adams to Abigail.
Still more interesting facts…
• Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island was a
Quaker, opposed to fighting, but he loved
the idea of independence. He had a palsy
that caused his hand to shake. As he
signed the document that would bring the
break with England, he proudly declared,
“My hand trembles, but my heart does
Stephen Hopkins is always pictured in a hat
– even in the picture of the Signing of the
Declaration he is the only one with a hat –
you can see him standing in the back row.
Even more interesting facts…
• Stephen Hopkins signature was shaky but
not his spirit.
• Button Gwinnett of Georgia was killed in a
duel only a year after signing. His
signature is one of the most valuable
because there are so few examples.
• John Hancock, President of Congress, was
the first to sign the Declaration of
Independence, writing his name in large,
plain letters, and saying, ``There! John Bull
can read my name without spectacles. Now
let him double the price on my head, for this
is my defiance.'‘
• Few people know it but Hancock suffered
terribly from gout. The pain during the
meetings of the Congress was so great that
he had to be carried from place to place in
on the left, one of
the largest signers
said to Elbridge
Gerry, one of the
smallest of the
signers, that he was
bound to die quickly
because of his size,
but Gerry would be
left dangling for a
long time before he
• Two brothers from Virginia signed –
Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry
• Another Virginia delegate, George Wythe,
was teacher to Thomas Jefferson and
James Monroe. Wythe was murdered in
1806 when his greedy nephew tried to get
rid of all the other heirs to Wythe’s will,
including Wythe. Jefferson was devastated
by the news.
Not done yet…
• No one could say that any of the signers
was faint-hearted. It took great courage to
sign the document. Perhaps no one
showed greater determination than
Delaware’s Caesar Rodney. Fearing that
Delaware would vote “no” in his absence,
Caesar Rodney got on his horse in the
middle of a terrible storm and rode all night
in order to get to Philadelphia and cast his
vote. That’s not the unique part…
Caesar Rodney was suffering from cancer and he
had a tumor removed from his face. The deep
gash left by the surgery Rodney covered with a
green silk scarf. His best chance for survival was
to get treatment for the cancer in England, but if
he signed, he would not be able to go to England
for the surgery. Still he signed!
John Adams said of Rodney that
he was the “oddest looking man
in the world; his face is not
bigger than a large apple, yet
there is a sense of fire, spirit, wit,
and humor in his countenance.”
There are many more great
stories about the men who
signed the Declaration of
Independence. Theirs is a
story of bravery and dedication
to a great cause – liberty. We
should never forget the price
they, and others since, have
paid for our freedom!
And so, after weeks of deliberation,
Adams, Sherman, Livingston, Jefferson
and Franklin present the Declaration of
Independence to the Congress.
John Hancock was the
first to sign…
• Then he turned to the other members, and
solemnly declared, ``We must be
unanimous. There must be no pulling
different ways. We must all hang together.''
• Benjamin Franklin said quaintly, ``Yes, we
must all hang together, or most assuredly
we shall all hang separately.''
Although the official date of the Declaration
of Independence is July 4, 1776, only John
Hancock signed on that date. Others took
longer because of difficulty of travel and
Thomas McKean of Delaware was the last to
sign because he was involved in fighting the
war. He did not sign until after 1777 – one
source says he didn’t sign until 1781 at the
end of the war.
But the story doesn’t end
• When John Trumbull’s famous painting of
the Signing of the Declaration of
Independence was unveiled at Faneuil Hall
in Boston, Adams was there. He quickly
pointed out the door behind the signers
through which George Washington ran as
soon as Adams suggested that Washington
should lead the army. Some say
Washington was eager to be about the task,
others say he threw up.
Notice that in the picture Jefferson has his toe
on Adams’s foot – as if to say “No more
changes – we’ve changed it 27 times already.”
Trumbull’s painting now hangs in the Rotunda of the
United States Capitol
There was abundant wealth in the
colonies, especially in South
Carolina…At the outbreak of the
American Revolution, 8 of the 10
wealthiest men were from South
Carolina and South Carolina was
easily the wealthiest colony. At the
end of the American Civil War,
South Carolina was the poorest
state. The wealth was derived from
the bondage of others and that
ended with the Civil War.
Good sources of
information on the signers
are available at:
• The Signers, The 56 Stories Behind the
Declaration of Independence, by
Dennis Fradin, ISBN 0-8027-8849-1
The Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Created by Carol Poole