The black of the July night pressed around the small frame of Abraham Clark as he sat before the desk and gazed at the open letter. The room was empty, save for the simple desk upon which the letter and a lone candlestick sat. The flame of the candle danced and flickered, chasing the shadows away from Clark’s solemn face, lost in deep reflection.
The letter was about his son Thomas. He had fallen out of favor with the law again, but this time it wasn’t of Thomas’s own doing, it was his fathers. Abraham reread the letter.
“Mr. Clark, your treasonous subversion against the Crown as a proponent of Colonial Independence has rendered your status and rights as an Englishman null. You are therefore a fugitive from the law until you recant of your treason and disavow your ‘cause of independence’. To provide further incentive, your son, ‘Captain’ Thomas Clark of the ‘Continental Artillery Regiment’, remains in the custody of the 14th Regiment of Foot in the colony of Pennsylvania. He is in good health, but will remain imprisoned until your personal revocation of ‘The Declaration of Independence is received…..”
The words struck Abraham to his core. The repetitive propaganda demanding he recant did not worry him, for he knew he would make enemies when he took his oath to defend liberty. Rather, it was the realization that his family was in danger that distressed him. When he had attached his name to the Declaration of Independence, he had offered his life, his fortune, and his honor as collateral on that promise, but now his family was paying the price for his rebellion. As he closed his eyes, his thoughts drifted back to the day that he had inked his name boldly to the charter of liberty that had led his family to this crossroad.
The summer of 1776 found the Colonists of New England in a state of frenzy. Skirmishes between American rebels and British Regulars at Lexington and Concord had led to a full battle atop Bunker Hill overlooking Boston, and now the people held their breath as they waited for the next move. Abraham had been a voice for liberty from the very beginning, but he had remained just that. A voice, hard to distinguish above the musket fire of eager rebels on Bunker Hill, or the cries of the great men arguing for independence from the biggest stages in the Colonies. He wanted the world to know that he, Abraham Clark, stood for liberty just as much as any man. Just like the others, he had grieved at the news of the Boston Massacre in 1770. He had cheered as the Sons of Liberty threw the unjustly-taxed tea into the cold waves of the Atlantic in 1773. He had even hailed as heroes the rebels as they stood against tyranny in the battles of 1775. It was undeniable that there was no turning back for the Colonies. A patriotic passion had been stirred in the hearts of the people, and the events of the past years had led to this very moment. The Colonies had reached a crossroad. Abraham had been chosen to represent New Jersey at the Second Continental Congress, and his mind was made up. It was time to be more than simply a voice for liberty.
As the New Jersey delegation was called on to approach the clerk’s desk, Abraham signed the Declaration with a flourish, committing his life, fortune, and sacred honor to defending the sovereignty of the Colonies.
His thoughts were recalled to the letter that lay open before him. It seemed as though the cause for liberty had presented Abraham Clark with another crossroad. He bent over his table and took up the quill. He wrote his reply without hesitation.
There are few occasions when life presents us with an ultimatum. A choice to take a stand and effect a contagious change. My vote for independence as a delegate to the Continental Congress was not cast lightly. For the cause of liberty was halted at a crossroad, and offered but two directions. The first was to continue on as if no choice had been offered, but the second was to take the opportunity thrust upon us, and proclaim to the world that we are free men. You may have my son in your custody, one day you may have myself sitting in your prison, but I have offered everything to the cause of my Countrymen, I have accepted Liberty’s ultimatum, so you will never hear me recant.
Primary Sources + Bibliography:
- DSDI Archives
- Library of Congress Archives, archives.gov
- Boyer, Marilyn. For You They Signed: Marilyn Boyer, 2009
- Cannon, Richard. Historical record of the Fourteenth, or the Buckinghamshire Regiment of Foot, 1845, archives.org
- United Sates Congressional Biographies, congress.gov
- U.S. Congress, Journals of the Continental Congress, Government Printing Office, 1904.
- Sanderson, John. Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence: R. W. Pomeroy, 1823.
- British Army Report, A History of Imphal Barracks, 2011. army.mod.uk.
- Jefferson, Thomas. Declaration of Independence: archives.gov
– Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_Clark.jpg