- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to honor the grave sites of Declaration of Independence signers, don’t count New Jersey in.

It says it can’t afford it.

Five Declaration signers are buried in the Garden State: four New Jerseyans and a Pennsylvanian. An effort to preserve their graves, promote their lives and honor them with graveside plaques has stalled in a state that was home to several key Revolutionary War battles and dubs itself “the Crossroads of the American Revolution.”

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A plan to spend $200,000 to spruce up grave sites and mark their locations with new plaques has bounced around the Legislature for more than three years without becoming law, a victim of chronic state budget woes.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a bill sponsor, said he continues to lobby for the proposal, but noted that the latest state budget sliced funding for charities that help homeless people and inner-city poor, among others.

“It’s hard to justify spending money on historic grave sites when there’s a real human need out there,” said Mr. Gusciora, a Democrat.

The proposal would establish a state program to preserve the graves and promote Abraham Clark, John Hart, Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon, who signed for New Jersey, and George Clymer, who signed for Pennsylvania but is buried in Trenton.

Stockton and Witherspoon are buried in Princeton, while Hart is in Hopewell Borough and Clark in Rahway.

“These five men literally pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for the independence of this country,” said Republican Assemblyman Bill Baroni, paraphrasing the Declaration’s famous final line.

“We should be honoring these five men,” said Mr. Baroni, another bill sponsor. “Keeping their graves marked and restored is the least we can do.”

The bill was approved by the Assembly in January 2006, but hasn’t received further consideration since.

Mr. Baroni and Mr. Gusciora say the grave sites could promote tourism and historical education.

“I think these markers should serve not only to honor the persons who took part in the founding of our country, but serve as an educational tool, and create an infusion not only of historic interest, but also tourist dollars,” Mr. Gusciora said.

State financial problems aside, it’s possible some of the signers wouldn’t approve of fancy grave sites.

Clymer and Stockton were Quakers buried in the religion’s humble tradition. Clymer has a small headstone, while Stockton doesn’t even have one. A sign along a wall at the Stoney Brook Quaker Meeting House near downtown Princeton simply notes he’s buried there.

“Tradition is very subdued grave sites, very small grave stones,” said Fred Millner of the Trenton Friends Meeting House, where Clymer is buried.

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