By George Stahl
Every 4th of July, we remember the day the earth stood still, as it were. Not like in the movies, with aliens and giant robots, but when 56 men came together over an idea, over a way of life and a life changing document. All of the countries at the time were interested to see what the future Americans were going to do. They held their breath as England and her allies stood on one side of the board, and the Colonists with her friends stood on the other. Literally, the earth was at a stalemate.
Then these 56 men decided that the document in front of them was the only answer to a growing crisis and the way to show the world what a new country looked like. But what was it like for them the night before? We all know how many things can change in one day. Especially on the eve of something we have been looking forward to for a very long time.
Those 56 men were scattered all around Philadelphia the night of July 3. Some were with family, some with friends, and some at the pubs in the area. But no matter where they were, each of them was alone. They were a menagerie of personalities, talents and resources. The only thing they really had in common was their desire to see something better for their country than what they had.
These men were successful merchants, land owners, businessmen, lawyers, professors, a teacher, a musician and a printer and a couple of plantation owners. They held high ranking offices in the government and were well respected in their areas. By all accounts they had everything to lose, and even more to gain by what they were about to do in the next 24 hours.
All of them except number 55. He was neither a success or a failure. He was almost, just adequate. He had few friends in this assembly of men, and had at least one or two sworn enemies in the group. His name is one of those you probably never heard, or at least don’t remember. Button Gwinnett.
Button was born in 1735 in Gloustershire, Great Britain. He tried his hand at business everywhere from Newfoundland to Jamaica and did very poorly. He moved to Savannah, Georgia, in 1765 and again saw one failure after another Then, Button had an epiphany! If he couldn’t make it as a businessman, storekeeper or farmer, his logical next step was to go into politics. Eureka! He found his niche, and his life was changed forever. In that time, he did manage to marry a woman named Anne Bourne. She must have been a glutton for punishment, or maybe, she saw something in Button that was not so obvious to others, and she went with it, encouraging it, and eventually saw it happen.
It’s about 3:00 on the morning of July 4, 1776. Anne and their three daughters are sleeping and Button is up, sitting in the dark. He is thinking about a lot of things. His mind is racing, and his thoughts keep coming back to what he is about to do in just a few hours. It will change his life for sure, but what will it do to his family? Will they be marked as traitors by England along with himself? Could he go through with it? Button was not a coward by any means, but he, above everyone else, even more than Anne, knew who he was. He was what could be called, a ne’er do well. At least that’s what he saw most of the time looking back at him from the mirror.
Button knew, however, that what was going on in the country was not good. There had to be a new direction. He realized that what he and the others were about to do was going to change more than lives, it was going to change the way the world saw things, and did things. If for no other reason, he had to put his signature on that paper, because he believed in it. He looked at the clock and just then, the rooster from the neighbor’s yard crowed, and Button saw a sliver of sun coming through the shade. Anne would be up soon, and breakfast would be going. The girls would be running through the house. The bell in the State House down the street was going to chime, signaling a new day for the people. It was also the beginning of huge sacrifices and losses. But Button saw more victories than defeats coming, and more glory than sadness. He pulled up the shade, the full warmth of the sun filled the room, and Button saw a new nation of free men and women, and a place called The United States of America being born. Finally, Button was a success.
Unfortunately, Button was wounded in a duel with a man named Lachlan McIntosh on May 16, 1777. Actually, both men were shot in the fight, but Button died of his wound 3 days later. It was less than a year since he signed the Declaration of Independence, and 6 years before complete victory by the United States over England. Button’s legacy as one of the 56 will live on forever, and because of his sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many others, the earth will never stand still again.
Even though Button is not as famous as some of his fellow signers, his autograph is the most valuable American signature, and falls in line just behind Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare.