Georgia Heroes of Democracy


If you think the political scene in this country is a little unstable now, you should have been around in the summer of 1776. The protesters out in the streets this week are light weights compared to the bunch that was meeting in Philadelphia and about to declare the independence of the 13 former colonies from Great Britain. It was unmercifully hot in Philadelphia that summer. Most of the delegates were tired and bored. Some had already packed up and headed for home. Some never showed up at all. Georgia was the newest and the last of the British colonies and was not too sure about this “independence thing”. Dr. Lyman Hall was a Georgia delegate from St. John's Parish which is now Liberty county. He was born in Connecticut, became a preacher, was dismissed from his church for moral reasons and became a doctor, moved South, then got into politics. Button Gwinnett was another Georgia delegate. He was born in England and immigrated to America in 1762. He tried selling general merchandise in Charleston. That didn’t work, so he moved to Savannah and opened another trading business. No luck there. So, he bought a large tract of land on St. Catherine’s island and started farming. He was a popular fellow and earned numerous political appointments. He even attempted to invade Florida to establish a deeper southern border. A long-standing feud with General Lachlan McIntosh led to a duel which led to Gwinnett’s death three days later. The last Georgia signer of the Declaration of Independence was George Walton. Of the three, he was probably the most civil and productive of the group. Walton was a successful and respected lawyer, but he was also known for his quick temper which he often employed in political discussions and which also put him on the watch list of the Redcoats. He served as a governor, representative to Congress, and senator. He was said to be stern, haughty and to have little regard for public opinion.

So, there you have it. Amid the acrid open debates in Carpenters’ Hall in the middle of Philadelphia with the windows wide open and the 1776 summer heat blazing, these three colorful and somewhat unlikely champions of democracy from the colony of Georgia joined their fellow delegates and voted to risk life, liberty and fortune to throw off the yoke of King George and Great Britain. It’s like they say, Government can sometimes be a messy thing. But in the end, if the goodwill of people extends just long enough for the extreme howlings of opposing sides to fade away, then compromise will forge a path forward. Let’s hope this July 4th truly celebrates that idea. I don’t think the 57 delegates who helped craft the Declaration of Independence in 1776 would think much of those politicians today who are saying our democracy is in "danger of being lost forever". I imagine the response from the Georgia signers to that would be, “Horsefeathers!” Happy Fourth, everyone and Happy Birthday USA!


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