What did Ben Franklin mean when he said "we must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately"?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Franklin supposedly issued this famous warning after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Though he may not have actually said it, the quote encapsulates the urgency and gravity of the situation in that summer. What it meant was that unity was essential to achieving victory in the Revolutionary War. Without this victory, the declaration would have been meaningless. Many of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress had reservations about declaring independence, and they had argued over many other issues as well. So Franklin's statement, if authentic, was asserting the need for unity. Franklin was also mindful, as all of the delegates must have been, that they were committing treason by signing the Declaration. The penalty for treason was death, and so they might well all "hang separately" if they did not achieve victory. This victory was far from certain in the summer of 1776. An American invasion of Quebec had been repulsed with great losses, the British were gearing up for an invasion of New York and had laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina, and many Continental soldiers would see their enlistment terms run out at the end of the year. So this quote illustrates the seriousness of the decision to declare independence.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Benjamin Franklin said this famous line at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.  The meaning of the quote was that the signers of the Declaration, as well as colonists in general, had to help each other and support each other or they were doomed.

The line is, of course, a pun.  Franklin is using the figure of speech "hang together" to mean "stick together" or "support one another."  He puns that with the phrase "hang separately."  By this, he means being executed by hanging.

So he is saying that if they do not support each other, they will be executed.  By extension, he is saying that if they colonies as a whole do not support one another they will all be defeated by England.

krishna-agrawala | Student

During signing of the Declaration of independence in 1776, Benjamin Franklin spoke these famous words - "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang seperately" - in reply to a comment by Hancock that they must all together.

Hancock's comment was intended to convey the need for the different American colonies that joined in the signing of the declaration of independence to, remain united. Franklin's reply expressed his agreement with the views of Hancock, and extended his statement to point out the dire consequences of not remaining united. The first part of statement of Franklin used the hang in the sense of being or remaining, while the second part of the statement used the word in the sense of hanging a person by the rope to cause death. Thus, by this statement, Benjamin Franklin emphasized that unless all the colonies signing the declaration of independence continue to remain united and support each other, they will not be able to maintain their status as independent state free of British domination.