The Revolutionary War

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What did Ben Franklin mean by "we must all hang together or we will all hang separately"?

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Ben Franklin's statement, "we must all hang together or we will all hang separately," underscored the importance of unity among the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. Made in the context of signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the phrase highlighted that without mutual support and cooperation, the signatories, and by extension, the colonies, risked defeat and execution by the British. The quote employs a pun on "hang," emphasizing the literal risk of execution juxtaposed with the figurative need for solidarity.

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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.

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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.

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