Commentary: Paul Kozakiewicz

Freedom is Never Free

By Paul Kozakiewicz

About 15 years ago, a longtime Richmond District resident named Pat Swendsen sent me a column written by syndicated columnist Ann Landers. She said: “Dear Paul, this is so important it should not be lost in the archives. Hope you can use it.”

Swendsen’s husband Carl and two friends, Ken Ross and Normand Black, co-wrote a book about their experiences during World War II. It is called “We Didn’t Know We Were Heroes” (2005). 

As we celebrate the birthdate of our country, and the great opportunities it has afforded generations of immigrants, please remember that freedom has never been free. It is possible because of the sacrifices of millions of Americans over the past quarter-millennium – sacrifices that have led to the creation of a great nation.

Here is Landers’s column:

Signers of 1776 Suffered for Their Stand for Liberty

Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons who served in the Revolutionary Army. Another two had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

What kinds of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers or plantation owners. All were men of means and well-educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept away from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of William Ellery, Lyman Hall, George Clymer, George Walton, Button Gwinnet, Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr. noted that the British Gen. Charles Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged Gen. George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

The home of Francis Lewis was destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from the bedside of his dying wife. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and children gone. He died shortly thereafter, heartbroken. Lewis Morris and Philip Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. 

They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

They gave us a free and independent America. The history books never tell us much of what happened in the Revolutionary War. We were British subjects at that time, and we fought against our own government. Too often, we now take these liberties for granted.

So, while you are enjoying the festivities of the July fourth holiday, take a few minutes and sincerely thank these patriots for their heroic contributions.

– Ann Landers (2000) 

Paul Kozakiewicz is an editor, and former publisher, with the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers.

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