Thursday, July 4, 2013

56 Signatures

Independence Day is a really interesting holiday to me because it's not as though it commemorates a discovery, or a massive military victory, or even a legally binding development. The Declaration of Independence really was, on July 4 1776, nothing but a piece of paper ... with, admittedly, some really good ideas written down on it. Not to mention signatures beneath those statements of ideas and ideals, signatures of prominent men who were risking their own valuable liberties and lives by publicly supporting the Declaration (of Open Rebellion Against Britain Which Would Be Settled By Years of War). I really like the fact that it's that day of the signing we recognize as the birthday of our nation, that we stake so much importance on writing things down and owning them. These notions, that words can powerfully matter, are near and dear to me, obviously.

I'm also fascinated by names, which are some of the most powerful magic words of our civilization. Any reflection on the popular mythology of the Declaration of Independence must eventually come to John Hancock, where meanings and significances of names and signatures and words all come together so gloriously. One can only conjecture as to what might have happened if all the delegates to the Continental Congress had realized they might secure immortality by having the largest signature on the document, and the dueling quills that might have been sharpened to the task.

Several of our undersigned founding fathers went on to become U.S. Presidents, of course, which means their names are well-known for accomplishments other than voluminous use of ink. Of the remainder of the overwhelmingly WASP-y semi-obscurities at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, I have to note that many of them do have fantastic names for action heroes or even superheroes: John Hart! Sam Chase! Thomas Stone! Carter Braxton! Doctor Rush!

On the other hand, perhaps the most unfortunately named of the signers was Button Gwinnett. (Runner-up: Elbridge Gerry) But, at least Isaac Asimov got a good short story out of Gwinnett and his weird handle: Button, Button.

Enjoy, and Happy Fourth!

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