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Independence Day compels reflection

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Independence Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the implications of the Declaration of Independence it celebrates. Perhaps it's also a fitting time to ponder the meaning of independence itself.
While the American Revolution was in many ways a conservative revolution -- especially when compared to the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution -- the 56 signers of the nation's founding document had launched themselves and their fellow countrymen into some uncharted waters. Like their own forebears, who had set sail across the Atlantic Ocean into lands unknown to them, the signers took the step that would forever sever an important link between them and the Mother Country.
The signers didn't start the revolution, but they framed the course it would take. Failure would have been disastrous not only for them personally but also for their ideals.
They pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, and by and large kept their pledge. As it turned out, many lost not only their fortunes, but also their property and their families. Eight were dead before the War for Independence terminated. Even though their cause succeeded with George Washington's victory at Yorktown, few of the signers personally benefited from it.
Only a fraction of the signers even became famous. Some of them played prominent roles in the former colonies and in the developing national government. But many fell into obscurity. Even Thomas Jefferson, arguably the most famous signer, finished his long life in financial ruin.
Independence meant not only freedom from outside rule but also responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Once the decision was made and the declaration was signed, there was no turning back. There was no entity to settle things amicably, no benevolent world power to force a compromise. They had to win independence ... and keep it.
The signers took an awful risk. Few of us would be willing to take such a risk today. Hopefully, there are enough of us who are willing at least to hold on to part of the blessings of the independence they won for us -- which is a good reason to put on a uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces.