Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese.
Quirk Books: Philadelphia, 2009.
Distributed by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

To my knowledge this is the first book for youth which gives biographies for each signer of The Declaration of Independence. There are some adult versions, and they are listed in the bibliography. Each short bio is headed with a personal designation, some funny or odd, and the signers are in order by states and geographic regions. Though some of the profiles are almost blurb length, the book is a little long due to the number of signers. However, it can be read in segments, enjoyed leisurely, due to the structure of the book. You can even skip around, reading the accounts that promise to be more interesting or important.

The significance of the book is primarily background information for the American Revolution. More than most juvenile books it seriously delves into the whole period - the factors leading to the conflict, the concerns of people from different backgrounds, the consequences for the decisions they made personally, the importance of the work of more people than you would normally hear, a better idea of the number of people involved in the Revolution (history classes only point out a few), plus significant events. The book also underscores the magnitude of the decision to sign The Declaration, given that until this point most of the colonies had not committed to breaking away from England. Not only were the men handpicked in their colonies for representation, but their signatures were a written record that singled them out for any retribution by the Crown. Their actions were a hanging offense.

This anecdotal style brings history to life, making it enjoyable while learning. Books like this are my preferred sources for teaching history. They have all the info you get from text books plus personal accounts which make history a more real experience. The more a student (of whatever age) enjoys the process, the more the mind is engaged. This form of learning leads also to the study (and ideally discussion) of philosophical questions which are necessary for progression of mankind - whether the nature of the subject is social, spiritual, economical, etc.

Many of the signers went on to fill positions in the new levels of government, state and federal. Whether that is due to the positions they already held or because they had already "signed their lives away" would be difficult to determine but interesting to consider. Many also have descendants that are well-known, more than I would have thought.

related-American history, colonial period of the United States, colonies of Britain, British empire

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