An Interview Sermon given at Wekiva Presbyterian Church in Longwood, FL on Sunday July 4, 2004 and at First Presbyterian Church of Apopka, FL on July 3, 2005. It is a first person message where one of the signer’s of the Declaration of Independence, Caesar Rodney, is interviewed by the church pastor.
Scripture: Proverbs 16:33; Daniel 4:17; and at the end of the sermon, Ephesians 6:13-17
Interviewer: Today, out of the pages of history, we are going to hear a true story, of courage and sacrifice. We have one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, a representative of the state of Delaware, with us today. I am speaking of course, of the world famous and much beloved Caesar Rodney. So now if you will, please give a warm welcome to Caesar Rodney of Delaware…
(Caesar Rodney enters, wearing authentic Revolutionary Era garb.)
Rodney: Thank you for that gracious welcome.
Interviewer: We are so glad you are with us today, Mr. Rodney.
Rodney: Yes, I always seem to be traveling quite a distance, especially on occasions like Independence Day.
Interviewer: We are glad that you have. If I may, let me begin by asking you a bit about that famous summer of 1776…
Rodney: Yes, the story begins then. The Second Continental Congress was sitting in the State House in Philadelphia. (I think you call it “Independence Hall” now). On June 7th, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia rose and put a remarkable proposition before the house which was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Interviewer: Did that start the American Revolution?
Rodney: By no means. At the time, the war was already a year old! The “shot heard round the world” had been fired in Lexington at North Bridge on April 19th of the preceding year. The colonials, under George Washington, had raised an army and were waging war, but it was not a war for independence. We were waging a loyal struggle for our rights as Englishmen.
Interviewer: I see. Tell me, Mr. Rodney, how did the delegates react to Mr. Lee’s now-famous resolution?
Rodney: Well, it did not meet with unanimous enthusiasm, let me tell you. My fellow delegates from Pennsylvania, New York, and South Carolina were especially skeptical. As was I. We were the “sensible part of the house”. So at first we opposed Lee’s resolution. And after four days of heated debate we convinced the house that the question should be delayed until July 1st.
Interviewer: What happened next?
Rodney: The work of drafting this resolution fell to Thomas Jefferson, then only 33 years old. I remember Thomas as having a great God-given gift, the ability to craft into words, the most complex thoughts; yet have them leap from a page with clarity. In the weeks to follow, Thomas would create our draft of the Declaration of Independence. Probably the most notable of his contributions would be his concept of self-evident truths and inalienable rights. I remember his words as if they were written yesterday:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…
Interviewer: We still hold these truths to be self-evident, today…
Rodney: And well you should! On July 1st, Congress returned to finish the debate over Lee’s resolution.
Interviewer: What happened next?
Rodney: On the following day, July 2nd, 1776, the Second Continental Congress agreed to sever America’s ties with the British Crown. The vote was unanimous among the States voting. Two Pennsylvania delegates had stayed away so that Pennsylvania’s new majority could vote for independence.
Interviewer: And what about you, sir?
Rodney: I, Caesar Rodney, rode 80 miles by day and night through a thunderstorm to break a tie in our own Delaware delegation.
Interviewer: A famous ride, indeed.
Rodney: Yes, I suspect only Paul Revere’s ride is more famous, from that long ago time.
Interviewer: What were your thoughts, about that vote?
Rodney: I must admit that I was somewhat reluctant, at the outset. Throughout our discussions, I preferred to find a more peaceful way to deal with the British King.
Interviewer: But you decided to vote for independence?
Rodney: Yes indeed.
Interviewer: Which made Independence Day what it is today…
Rodney: Yes, but here is something most people don’t remember. After the vote, John Adams thought that future generations would celebrate the Second of July. But Congress did not actually get around to approving the Declaration of Independence for two more days, July 4th, 1776. So because of a bureaucratic delay, you are celebrating tomorrow instead of yesterday.
Interviewer: Did all of you, back then, have any idea that we would make the day such a special day of celebration?
Rodney: My friend John Adams did. He said, “It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews , Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations, from one End of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Interviewer: Today, you are helping us do exactly that.
Rodney: Yes, today I have returned to you so that I might enjoin this solemn act of devotion to God Almighty and establish that the occasion of this day is no ordinary day.
Interviewer: I understand that after the Second Continental Congress finally approved the Declaration, they laid it aside temporarily?
Rodney: Exactly, it was not until July 19th, after the Congress had received notice of New York’s approval, that Congress ordered the Declaration to be endorsed. It could now be titled, “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.”
Rodney: Yes. Every member of Congress understood the importance of unity. Our great Declaration would be nothing more than hollow words if it were not for our commitment to each other and our country. It would be our unity that later proved to be our greatest strength.
Interviewer: When did the delegates put their signatures on the Declaration?
Rodney: Most signed the Declaration on August 2nd, 1776. Eventually, 56 of my fellow patriots signed. John Hancock’s signature is large, the last and probably the most celebrated.
Interviewer: Yes, I have often wondered about that.
Rodney: He said he wanted it to be big and bold enough for King George to read it without his glasses! We were out to prove our point. We were choosing freedom over servitude. You see, as a colony under Great Britain’s king, we would remain as servants, providing Great Britain the benefits of our labors and resources.
Interviewer: What was the situation like, on the day of the signing?
Rodney: On the day of the signing, August 2nd, General Washington had only 10,000 men under his command. Off the coast of New England, more than 130 British ships sat at anchor. The Signers of our great Declaration had already received word that those ships contained 42,000 sailors and soldiers who were awaiting an order to join the British forces already ashore. The British forces represented the most powerful nation on Earth, and their task was to crush our rebellion and arrest each of us as traitors. Every man who put his pen to the Declaration that day knew that he faced the wrath of all Britain and would be considered traitors to the Crown.
Interviewer: And as traitors, you were liable to be hanged.
Rodney: Exactly, which brings me to my first point for you today. (1) There will be times in your life that you must decide what side to take. And when it comes to freedom, there are only two sides to choose from.
But first let me tell you a few things about myself.
Interviewer: Please do.
Rodney: I was born in 1730 in Dover, Delaware. At the time of the American Revolution, I was 46 years old. My family was of notable heritage with ancestry going back to the 13th century in England. A distant relative, Sir Richard De Rodeney, fell in the Holy Land, fighting in the Crusades. Wealth, power and honor were part of my inheritance. It was my father’s wealth and influence that established my political career. In 1765, I was appointed to represent the provincial assembly of Delaware. During the years to follow, the Stamp Act and other repressive measures, led to the constant agitation of the Colonies. The Stamp Act placed a duty on every contract, deed or petition written for any purpose. The duty was to reimburse Great Britain for their protection of the plantations in America. It was repressive! It was unfair! And it was the straw that would eventually crush the camel.
I must say that during these years, I was constantly seeking a close relationship with the king and reconciliation with Great Britain. Through much effort and negotiations, the Stamp Act was finally repealed but the trust between our colonies and Great Britain was damaged beyond repair. It was during this difficult time that I fell to ill health, and elected to relinquish my public duties. A cancerous affliction appeared on my nose and started to spread. Today, you would call this a melanoma or skin cancer. As a wealthy person, I did not need to be so actively involved with the troubles between our Colonies and Britain. It seemed innocent enough to just enjoy my position and take care of my health. With the aid of the physicians in Philadelphia, I was able to reclaim considerable relief.
Interviewer: What happened next?
Rodney: With improving health, there became a constant gnawing at my soul to help our colonies. So in 1769, I decided to re-enter the political life. I was elected speaker of the House of Representatives. In this position, I frequently corresponded with the other Colonies. It was through communicating with my other colleagues that began to open my mind to independence and to the true meaning of freedom for our nation. I knew it would be an act of treason to vote against the Crown but the merits of a unanimous vote became so obvious. I could not hide in the comforts of my own wealth. One day, I was reminded that my choice would be no different than the choice I made to trust in Christ. The worldly life of wealth, influence and power is a very nice place to remain. But it was the thought of freedom from the guilt of sin and the freedom from death through eternal life that brought me to place my faith in God. You see, for those hard decisions, we are not given a third choice to select from. In this life as in an eternal life, we must choose from only two roads.
Interviewer: Yes, we must choose between freedom or servitude.
Rodney: My second point this day is that (2) there was a price to pay for my choice and for the choices of those who signed their name to that Declaration. In the years to follow our signing, we would be at war, sacrifice everything, suffer and die for our beliefs. For me personally, I would be busy organizing our Colonial militia. The constant recruitment of men and the acquisition of supplies would keep me from visiting my physicians in Philadelphia. I was a leading patriot in my colony, a military leader in the colonial militia, and a delegate to the Continental Congress from its formation until 1777. The following year I would be elected President of the State of Delaware for a three-year term, a duty that I assumed even as I served as Major General of the Delaware Militia.
Interviewer: So your signing the Declaration led to real effort and real risk.
Rodney: Certainly! In service to my country, I would play a crucial part not only in the defense of my own colony but in support of Washington’s Continental Army; for Delaware had a record of meeting or exceeding its quotas for troops and provisions throughout the revolutionary conflict, something that I am most proud of. In 1782 I was again elected to the national Congress, but was forced to decline the office due to failing health. I nonetheless continued to serve as Speaker to the Upper House of the Delaware Assembly. Our great war ended with the signing of the Treaty in Paris on September 3rd, 1783. I joined my Lord less than a year later, in June of 1784, knowing America was now free.
Interviewer: You literally paid the price of freedom…
Rodney: You could say that. Yet my sacrifice was small in comparison to many others. Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships resulting from the Revolutionary War. Yes, with each choice in life there is a price: one choice had worldly costs with eternal rewards and the other may have offered worldly rewards but it would have come with eternal costs.
(Here, Rodney pauses. Then he looks out across the congregation. Then he says this)… I wonder today, if I handed you the quill to sign your name with me, would you pay my price for freedom?
Interviewer: Would we pay the price of freedom? It sounds as if you are asking us all to follow not only in YOUR footsteps, but in Jesus’ footsteps, as well.
Rodney: Yes, he is the Great Exemplar of sacrifice for freedom. (Pauses)
It is of old tradition that when speaking before a Presbyterian congregation, to always have a third point. And, of course, I have one for you. This would be that (3) you are free today because someone else paid the price for you.
Interviewer: Indeed, many paid the price, didn’t they?
Rodney: Yes. There were many battles with thousands sacrificing their lives for the dream of an independent country. None, however, establishes the cost of freedom more than the sacrifices at Valley Forge. George Washington would arrive in December of 1777 and stay until June of 1778. Without a shot being fired, 2,500 would die of hunger, frostbite and disease. There were boys as young as 12 and many in their 50’s and 60’s. There was little food; no warm clothing and their shelters were inadequate for the winter. Many boiled and ate old shoes to fill their stomachs. While many talked of mutiny, their loyalty to Washington and the patriotic cause held our army together.
There would be over 25 major battles in the American Revolution as a result of our Declaration of Independence. What price was paid for your freedom you enjoy today? About 200,000 soldiers and sailors would be enlisted during the war. Battle casualties would be 4,435 dead and 6,188 wounded. An estimated 20,000 Americans would die of non-combat causes.
Interviewer: And where was this learned, to sacrifice for others? How would this collection of thirteen colonies become unanimous in their unselfishness?
Rodney: We were a nation, under God, taught and governed by Godly principles and given the understanding of how Christ paid for each of us. We were believers, raising our children as believers, standing and worshiping our God with reverence and respect. We placed our Bible in a place of honor in our households and we placed God’s Words in a place of honor in our hearts. Your forefathers chose to give each of you the freedom to choose and they chose to be a free nation under God.
Interviewer: And we are all forever in your debt.
Interviewer to read as Caesar Rodney dresses with accoutrements for war.
Now Caesar Rodney must return to the pages of history. He has a war to fight. “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet, fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition, to all this, take up the shield of faith, with you can extinguish al the flaming arrows to the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Rodney finishes with accoutrements and walks over, signs the Declaration of Independence and walks out the back of the Sanctuary making one last statement as he walks out.
Rodney: I have made my choice for history but for all of you, I have one last question. What will you do with your choices this day?