Jason Stverak, President
Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity
On this day 238 years ago, just after John Hancock made the most indelible signature in all of history, our namesake, Benjamin Franklin, uttered, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Notorious for his sharp wit, Franklin was not one to pass on an opportunity to make a pun — but this one-liner spoke both to the gravity of the Founders’ situation and the eternal fragility of freedom.
As they lined up to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers one by one became traitors to the world’s most powerful Empire, and faced the very real danger of “hanging separately” even if they hung together. They were among the first to risk their lives for the new United States of America, and they would hardly be the last.
Franklin’s quote, however, applies just as much to the content of the Declaration as to its signers. Freedom is singular, not plural, and an attack on one right that our Founders put their lives on the line for is an attack on our broader liberty. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to vote, and all the other privileges we enjoy are inseparable from one another–and when government encroaches on one, each of them are in danger of “hanging separately.”
The Fourth of July is a day to celebrate our freedom and all the men and women who have stood up for it — from Franklin and Jefferson, to those fighting for liberty around the world today.