My FAVORITE story of our forefathers that is little known:
The story of Caesar Rodney and the Declaration of Independence
"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain, too cheap, we esteem too lightly:--'Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated....... I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death."
Thomas Paine- The American Crisis (Also the author of Common Sense.)
Common Sense was published on January 9, 1776 and became an instant best seller. It was a 50 page pamphlet that outlined a strong case for the colonies to go to war, seeking Independence.
On the eve of such an historical event as elections in Iraq, I can't help but think of the courage of our forefathers. While most people I know talk much about George Washington, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere; the one man I remember the most is Caesar Rodney. Most Americans have no idea who he is, unless of course you have lived in Delaware. Let me share with you perhaps the most incredible story of a man that knew his purpose and life was bigger than himself.
It was late June in 1776, and Caesar was in Sussex County Delaware. Rodney was a "Brigadier General of Delaware's militia, speaker of the state assembly which had also declared him as their leader. He was alternately in his seat in congress, and at work in Delaware, stimulating the patriots and repressing the royalists." He was also dying of cancer, when he received word from Thomas McKean that he was needed in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence. It was made clear that without his signature, there would be no independence. The flesh on his face was being eaten away by this disease and he knew that if he signed the Declaration, he would never be able to return to England. The cancer would surely take his life. In spite of this fate, he mounted his horse and started on his journey for Philadelphia.
With cancer eating the flesh from his face and asthma gripping his every breath, he ventured onward through brutal humidity, thunderstorms, and torrential rains. He was racked with pain, sought by the British, and exhausted. The trip was not a simple ride on well traveled trails. He crossed rickety bridges, streams, and fields. He knew every hour and every one of the 80 miles were bringing him closer to signing his own death warrant, and bringing him closer to freedom.
Finally he reached Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Caesar Rodney staggered into Congress with only minutes left of the debate. Others in the room saw his condition and quickly came to assist him. His face was wrapped in linen, now covered with blood, sweat, and mud; in fact his entire body was laden with mud. It is believed he spoke these words as he cast his vote, "As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, my own judgment concurs with them. I vote for independence," and then he collapsed.
Caesar Rodney cast the DECIDING vote.
My heart swells with utter pride and my eyes sting of tears when I think of this man's excruciating mission. Whenever I get a quarter, I check to see if it is his. Yes, the Delaware quarter features his valiant ride on its back. This is the epitome of integrity to me. He risked it all. He was dying of cancer. His only chance for survival was to go back to England, but he not only stayed and fought, but he gave it his all. What is more amazing is that Rodney was a 48 year old bachelor. In the 1700's, 48 was not a young age, and he had no wife or children to be leaving a legacy of freedom to. It was about his honor and duty, it was about freedom, justice, and liberty. It was about a dream.
In the years to come we will hear stories like these of the people in Iraq. They won't be riding horseback through streams and fields for 80 miles. They will be those that walked deserts, and stood in front of police stations that were the targets of choice for suicide bombings. They will be of women who dared to work in public or just leave their homes without covering their faces. We are in the midst of these great stories. Once again, America is leading the charge. We are helping others achieve the great history we hold so dear for themselves, as we did in Europe and Japan. They may not remember what our valiant and heroic soldiers did, and how our nation was ripped in a political fervor to make it all happen; but we will.
Rejoice in being an American today.
In the words of Thomas Paine, "We have it in our power to begin the world anew...American shall make a stand, not for herself alone, but for the world."