Their Sacred Honor: Every Signer of the Declaration of Independence Pledged His Life, Fortune, and Sacred Honor. Many Sacrificed Greatly to Fulfill This Oath. If Their Legacy Is to Live on, We Must Do the Same
Drummey, James J., The New American
Caesar Rodney was weary when he reached his plantation near Dover on the night of July 1, 1776. An outspoken advocate of American independence. Rodney was exhausted from many months of battling Delaware's Tories while building up and drilling the colony's militia. The 47-year-old son of a plantation owner, he was first elected to the colonial legislature in 1761, and sent to the First and Second Continental Congresses. Caesar Rodney was also afflicted with a painful and unsightly facial cancer. So terribly was he ravaged by the disease that he wore a green silk scarf over part of his face, and was described by one colleague as "an animated skeleton, with a bandaged head."
Tonight there was to be no rest for this weary patriot. An urgent message from his colleague, Thomas McKean, now demanded his presence in Philadelphia "at the earliest possible moment." McKean and George Read, the other two representatives from Delaware, were split on the issue of independence and Caesar Rodney's vote was needed if Delaware was to join the United States of America.
But Philadelphia was 80 miles away and a torrential rainstorm was swamping the region between the two cities. Exhausted, wracked by cancer, Rodney set out after dusk and rode all night through the pouring rain and the crashing thunder, stopping only long enough to change horses. As he raced through the stormy darkness, it must have occurred to Caesar Rodney that a political storm was rising out of Philadelphia that would change the course of history. It storm which had been building for more than a decade as the British Parliament and King George III imposed one oppressive measure after another on the colonies, increasing their taxes and decreasing their freedoms.
The passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 had infuriated many wealthy and influential colonists, and was responsible for beginning the storm that settled over that historic assembly in Philadelphia in July 1776. These Americans had become angry not so much at the amount of the taxes exacted as at the realization that this was only the opening move in a program of confiscatory taxation. If Parliament "may take from me one shilling in the pound," argued Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, "what security have I for the other nineteen?"
Although the Stamp Act was subsequently repealed, it had been followed by the Townshend Acts and the Writs of Assistance in 1767, the Boston Massacre in 1770, increasing interference in colonial governments, the Boston Port Bill in 1774, and other "injuries and usurpations, all having, in direct object, the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states."
The tyrannical actions of the Crown were quickly followed by measured and sometimes violent reactions from the colonists. They had held a Stamp Act Congress in New York during September 1765, and that same year formed the Sons of Liberty, which one observer called "a mob of gentlemen." Committees of Correspondence were organized in 1772 to exchange information among the colonies and mold public opinion in the developing struggle. And Continental Congresses were convened at Philadelphia in 1774, to deal with Britain's passage of the Intolerable Acts, and in 1775, shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
The Second Continental Congress had constituted itself a provisional government and began making preparations for war with Britain, including the creation of a Continental Army under the command of George Washington. But even as late as January 6, 1776, the Congress adopted a resolution stating that the colonies "had no design to set up as an independent nation." Many men of influence were opposed to independence, preferring a return to the relationship of a dozen years earlier.
In January, however, a sensational pamphlet appeared in Philadelphia and stirred more revolutionary fervor than anything that had been written to that time. Entitled Common Sense, the 25,000-word tract by Thomas Paine challenged British authority over the colonies and bluntly stated that "the period of debate is closed. …