Ben was only five years old when his father died, leaving his mother to somehow raise eight children as a single mom. Fortunately, she was totally committed to his education and endured personal sacrifice so he could go to school. Little did she know that he would later choose to throw away his very life, if need be, by signing his own death warrant.
Ben chose to take his school work seriously and excelled in all his subjects. He then went on to earn his B.A. degree at Princeton University* by the time he was twenty years of age. Under the guidance of a trusted mentor, he then enrolled in the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Three years later he graduated with a medical degree.
Fast forward ten more years and Ben is comfortably established as a prosperous and highly honored physician and holding a prestigious university position. That is when he voluntarily signed his own death sentence. He had it all, a prosperous medical practice, a distinguished university position and a social status next to none. Why would he throw all this away?
The answer probably lies, in part, in his experiences while studying and traveling in Europe. He saw, first hand, the culture and the lives of people who lived under the absolute power of eighteenth century monarchs. Compared to the freedom and liberties he had known in America, he must have seen European life as a life of subjugation. If you pleased the king, life could be good, but one thing was certain. You were, after all, a subject of the royal family and you derived your power and limited liberties only within the benevolence of the monarchy.
So, in one of the countless stories of courage and American patriotism, Benjamin Rush took quill in hand and willingly joined fifty-five other prominent and prosperous colonials in signing the Declaration of Independence, immediately subjecting himself to certain punishment by death for this act of treason against the king.
Doctors, lawyers, merchants and plantation owners, these founding fathers chose to go “all in” for their ideals of liberty. Because of their courage, we are still able, today, to live and speak freely. There is one ever-present question, though. Considering the powers of oppression at work in our beloved America today, for how long will these liberties endure?
Will we stand for the right? Are we willing to lay it all on the line for our liberty? Or will we amuse ourselves to death as our freedom washes away like a river bank besieged by the force of a relentless flood?
• In 1760, The College of New Jersey, later to become Princeton University