Christmas Day 1776: Victory or Death
Some people live at the crossroads of history -- They are born at a time that requires them to make a choice.
The early patriots lived at such a time. They could seek comfort, safety, and security in the status quo, or risk everything for the possibility of liberty.
The price was almost more than they could bear.
Abigail Adams, knowing future generations might not realize the magnitude of their sacrifice, said, "Posterity who are to reap the blessings will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.”
Led by the example of George Washington, a leader of exceptional character and courage, ordinary people made extraordinary sacrifices. And when defeat seemed inevitable, and the troops were strained beyond their limit, General Washington urged them on:
"The hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are Freemen, fighting for the blessings of Liberty - that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men."
Many gave their lives. Others sacrificed their health and homes. All gave much they held dear.
And they were true.
They paid the price of freedom, and changed the course of history.
Today you and I are the recipients of the legacy forged in the furnace of their affliction.
It is our turn to be true that the legacy may live on!
David McCullough isn't just a great historian, he is a wise patriot. Two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of 1776 and John Adams, he gave this forum assembly address at BYU on 27 September 2005. You can listen or read the text below.
One of the hardest, and I think the most important, realities of history to convey to students or readers of books or viewers of television documentaries is that nothing ever had to happen the way it happened.
Any great past event could have gone off in any number of different directions for any number of different reasons.
We should understand that history was never on a track. It was never preordained that it would turn out as it did.
Very often we are taught history as if it were predetermined, and if that way of teaching begins early enough and is sustained through our education, we begin to think that it had to have happened as it did. We think that there had to have been a Revolutionary War, that there had to have been a Declaration of Independence, that there had to have been a Constitution, but never was that so. In history, chance plays a part again and again. Character counts over and over. Personality is often the determining factor in why things turn out the way they do.
Furthermore, nobody ever lived in the past. Jefferson, Adams, George Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating living in the past? Aren’t we picturesque in our funny clothes?” They were living in the present, just as we do. The great difference is that it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out, they didn’t either.
We can know about the years that preceded us and about the people who preceded us. And if we love our country—if we love the blessings of a society that welcomes free speech, freedom of religion, and, most important of all, freedom to think for ourselves—then surely we ought to know how it came to be. Who was responsible? What did they do? How much did they contribute? How much did they suffer?
Abigail Adams, writing one of her many letters to her husband, John, who was off in Philadelphia working to put the Declaration of Independence through Congress, wrote, “Posterity who are to reap the blessings, will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.” Alas, she was right. We do not conceive what they went through.
We tend to see them—Adams, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, George Washington—as figures in a costume pageant; that is often the way they’re portrayed. And we tend to see them as much older than they were because we’re seeing them in the portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen.
At the time of the Revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause. George Washington took command of the Continental Army in the summer of 1775 at the age of 43. He was the oldest of them. Adams was 40. Jefferson was all of 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Rush—who was the leader of the antislavery movement at the time, who introduced the elective system into higher education in this country, who was the first to urge the humane treatment of patients in mental hospitals—was 30 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, none of them had any prior experience in revolutions; they weren’t experienced revolutionaries who’d come in to take part in this biggest of all events. They were winging it. They were improvising.
George Washington had never commanded an army in battle before. He’d served with some distinction in the French and Indian War with the colonial troops who were fighting with the British Army, but he’d never commanded an army in battle before. And he’d never commanded a siege, which is what he took charge of at Boston, where the rebel troops—the “rabble in arms” as the British called them—had the British penned in inside Boston.
Washington wasn’t chosen by his fellow members of the Continental Congress because he was a great military leader. He was chosen because they knew him; they knew the kind of man he was; they knew his character, his integrity.
George Washington is the first of our political generals—a very important point about Washington. And we’ve been very lucky in our political generals. By political generals, I don’t mean to suggest that is a derogatory or dismissive term. They are political in the sense that they understand how the system works, that they, as commander in chief, are not the boss. Washington reported to Congress. And no matter how difficult it was, how frustrating it was, how maddening it could be for Washington to get Congress to do what so obviously needed to be done to sustain his part in the fight, he never lost patience with them. He always played by the rule.
Washington was not, as were Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Hamilton, a learned man. He was not an intellectual. Nor was he a powerful speaker like his fellow Virginian Patrick Henry. What Washington was, above all, was a leader. He was a man people would follow. And as events would prove, he was a man whom some—a few—would follow through hell.
Don’t get the idea that all of those who marched off to serve under Washington were heroes. They deserted the army by the hundreds, by the thousands as time went on. When their enlistments came up, they would up and go home just as readily as can be, feeling they had served sufficiently and they needed to be back home to support their families, who in many cases were suffering tremendously for lack of income or even food. But those who stayed with him stayed because they would not abandon this good man, as some of them said.
What Washington had, it seems to me, is phenomenal courage—physical courage and moral courage. He had high intelligence; if he was not an intellectual or an educated man, he was very intelligent. He was a quick learner—and a quick learner from his mistakes. He made dreadful mistakes, particularly in the year 1776. They were almost inexcusable, inexplicable mistakes, but he always learned from them. And he never forgot what the fight was about—“the glorious cause of America,” as they called it. Washington would not give up; he would not quit....
Read More: The Glorious Cause of America
…In conclusion I want to share a scene that took place on the last day of the year of 1776, Dec. 31. All the enlistments for the entire army were up.
Every soldier, because of the system at the time, was free to go home as of the first day of January 1777.
Washington called a large part of the troops out into formation. He appeared in front of these ragged men on his horse, and he urged them to reenlist.
He said that if they would sign up for another six months, he’d give them a bonus of 10 dollars. It was an enormous amount then because that’s about what they were being paid for a month—if and when they could get paid. These were men who were desperate for pay of any kind. Their families were starving.
The drums rolled, and he asked those who would stay on to step forward. The drums kept rolling, and nobody stepped forward. Washington turned and rode away from them. Then he stopped, and he turned back and rode up to them again. This is what we know he said:My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstance.
Again the drums rolled. This time the men began stepping forward. “God Almighty,” wrote Nathanael Greene, “inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.”
Now that is an amazing scene, to say the least, and it’s real. This wasn’t some contrivance of a screenwriter. However, I believe there is something very familiar about what Washington said to those troops. It was as if he was saying, “You are fortunate. You have a chance to serve your country in a way that nobody else is going to be able to, and everybody else is going to be jealous of you, and you will count this the most important decision and the most valuable service of your lives.” Now doesn’t that have a familiar ring? Isn’t it very like the speech of Henry V
in Shakespeare’s play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . . And gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here”? Washington loved the theater; Washington loved Shakespeare. I can’t help but feel that he was greatly influenced.
He was also greatly influenced, as they all were, by the classical ideals of the Romans and the Greeks. The history they read was the history of Greece and Rome. And while Washington and Knox and Greene, not being educated men, didn’t read Greek and Latin as Adams and Jefferson did, they knew the play Cato,
and they knew about Cincinnatus. They knew that Cincinnatus had stepped forward to save his country in its hour of peril and then, after the war was over, returned to the farm. Washington, the political general, had never forgotten that Congress was boss. When the war was at last over, Washington, in one of the most important events in our entire history, turned back his command to Congress—a scene portrayed in a magnificent painting by John Trumbull that hangs in the rotunda of our national Capitol. When George III heard that George Washington might do this, he said that “if he does, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
So what does this tell us? That the original decision of the Continental Congress was the wise one. They knew the man, they knew his character, and he lived up to his reputation.
I hope very much that those of you who are studying history here will pursue it avidly, with diligence, with attention. I hope you do this not just because it will make you a better citizen, and it will; not just because you will learn a great deal about human nature and about cause and effect in your own lives, as well as the life of the nation, which you will; but as a source of strength, as an example of how to conduct yourself in difficult times—and we live in very difficult times, very uncertain times. But I hope you also find history to be a source of pleasure. Read history for pleasure as you would read a great novel or poetry or go to see a great play.
And I hope when you read about the American Revolution and the reality of those people that you will never think of them again as just figures in a costume pageant or as gods. They were not perfect; they were imperfect—that’s what’s so miraculous. They rose to the occasion as very few generations ever have.
Read More: The Glorious Cause of America
"What do we mean by the American Revolution? The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people. . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution." John Adams
"Posterity who are to reap the blessings will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.” Abigail Adams
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Thomas Paine
"Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.” Joseph Warren
"We have proclaimed to the world our determination to die freemen, rather than to live slaves." Samuel Adams
“Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry
"The hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are Freemen, fighting for the blessings of Liberty - that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men." George Washington
"Yonder are the Hessians. They were bought for seven pounds and tenpence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. Tonight the American flag floats from yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!" General John Stark
"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means." John Adams
"Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions --
The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us. ...
Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world, that a Freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth."
--George Washington, 1776
Patriots' Day: Sons of Liberty Then and Now
By Mark Alexander From The Patriot Post
Today, April 19th, is the 237th anniversary of Patriots' Day, marking the opening salvo of the American Revolution and the beginning of the greatest experiment in human Liberty....
In December of 1773, the Sons of Liberty, a group of Boston "radicals" acting under the leadership of Samuel Adams
, galvanized a rebellion against authoritarian colonial rulers, through the simple act of dumping tea into Boston Harbor -- a protest of a small three pence tax levied by the British. That event was immortalized as the "Boston Tea Party," and was the inspiration for the rising rebellion in this era called the Tea Party Movement
Sixteen months after the Boston Tea Party, the first Patriots' Day began with the horseback gallop of Paul Revere and William Dawes, just after midnight, en route to Concord, Massachusetts. Their mission was to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that British troops were coming to arrest them and seize their weapons. The British understood that to render neutral any resistance to tyranny, they must first disarm the people and remove from them the palladium of the liberties
Revere was captured but Dawes and Samuel Prescott, who had joined them along the way, escaped and continued toward Concord. Dawes later fell from his horse, but Prescott, who knew the area well enough to navigate rapidly at night, made it to Concord in time to warn the Sons of Liberty.
At dawn, farmers and laborers, landowners and statesmen alike, gathered to confront the British, pledging through action what Thomas Jefferson would later frame in words as "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor." Thus began the great campaign to reject the predictable albeit tyrannical order of the state and to embrace the difficult toils of securing individual Liberty. It was this as-yet unwritten pledge by militiamen in the Battles of Lexington and Concord
that would delineate the distinction between Liberty and tyranny in Colonial America.
Why would the first generation of American Patriots forgo, in the inimitable words of Samuel Adams, "the tranquility of servitude" for "the animating contest of freedom"?
The answer to that question defined the spirit of American Patriotism at the dawn of the American Revolution, and to this day and for eternity, that spirit will serve as the first line of defense against tyranny.
Read More: Patriot Post
237 years ago today, Paul Revere and William Dawes rode from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of danger from the British Army.
These early patriots called themselves the "Sons of Liberty" and they risked all they had to create a new nation founded on the principles of liberty.
As Patriotic Moms, we too must rise up and defend liberty in America. We are engaged in a great national debate, a war of words, that will impact generations unborn.
As we prepare ourselves, teach our children, and prayerfully seek to preserve liberty in America, we will be guided in our efforts, as were the early patriots. We, like they, have been born at a pivotal time for America. To the degree that we prepare ourselves to communicate the message of liberty clearly and persuasively, we can make a powerful difference for this land we love!
Paul Revere's journey was immortalized in the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called "Paul Revere's Midnight Ride."
(If you can't see all of the poem, click the tiny red "Read More" link at the bottom right of the poem.)
Paul Revere's Midnight Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."
In the winter of 1776, winning the Revolutionary War seemed hopeless for the Americans.
They had lost major battles.
They were starving, didn’t have adequate shelter or supplies, and morale was almost gone.
“If every nerve is not strained to recruit the New Army with all possible expedition…I think the game is pretty near up”, wrote General Washington to his brother Samuel.
But God raised up help for our young nation through the power of the pen. Thomas Paine wrote these inspiring words that gave the troops renewed courage and determination:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.”
General Washington knew this was his last chance to act. He formed a courageous, nearly impossible plan. He would cross the Delaware river with almost half of his army, about 2400 men, and surprise the enemy soldiers on the day after Christmas.
They began crossing the Delaware at six in the evening on Christmas day. A remarkable troop of fishermen from Massachusetts worked for nine long hours, rowing boatload after boatload of men, cannons, and ammunition across the ice-choked river through a punishing gale of sleet and snow. The last soldier reached shore at three o’ clock in the morning.
Then, the exhausted soldiers marched nine miles to Trenton through freezing wind and hail. A member of General Washington’s staff wrote, “It will be a terrible night for soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet, others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain.” Bloody footprints marked the path of these brave men.
The British Commander, Colonel Rall spent the night drinking and playing cards. When a local farmer tried to warn him that the Americans were coming, the servant who answered the door refused to interrupt the party to tell the Commander. So, the loyalist farmer scribbled a warning note to Colonel Rall. But Rall only stuffed it into his pocket—unread—which saved the weary American troops from disaster. Washington’s men were exhausted, freezing cold, and hungry. They would have been an easy target for the strong enemy army.
With the help of God, the Americans won the fight in about two hours. The enemy troops were totally unprepared for battle. Of the 1,000 enemy troops, many were injured, and 948 were taken captive. Only four Americans were wounded in battle, and none were killed—although two froze to death. It was an incredible victory—nothing short of a miracle—especially since it provided our soldiers with much needed food, clothing, bedding, and ammunition.
As word of the victory spread, confidence in the Revolution and in General George Washington was revived. This Christmas victory marked an important turning point in the War for Independence.
I am grateful for the courage and sacrifices of the great men and women who have given us a noble heritage of liberty and pray that we will do our part to preserve this wonderful heritage.
Recently, Thomas Sowell replied to Time magazine's article on the Constitution, "Does It Still Matter?"
Here is an excerpt from Sowell's insightful article, "The Constitution Matters."
"The Fourth of July may be just a holiday for fireworks to some people. But it was a momentous day for the history of this country and the history of the world. Not only did July 4, 1776, mark American independence from England, it also marked a radically different kind of government from the governments that prevailed around the world at the time — and the kinds of governments that had prevailed for thousands of years before. The American Revolution was not simply a rebellion against the king of England, it was a rebellion against being ruled by kings in general. That is why the opening salvo of the American Revolution was called “the shot heard ’round the world.” Autocratic rulers and their subjects heard that shot — and things that had not been questioned for millennia were now open to challenge. As the generations went by, more and more autocratic governments around the world proved unable to meet that challenge. Some clever people today ask whether the United States has really been “exceptional.” You couldn’t be more exceptional in the 18th century than to begin your fundamental document — the Constitution of the United States — with the momentous words, “We the people.” Those three words were a slap in the face to those who thought themselves entitled to rule and who regarded the people as if they were simply human livestock, destined to be herded and shepherded by their betters. Indeed, to this very day, elites who think that way — and they include many among the intelligentsia, as well as political messiahs — find the Constitution of the United States a real pain because it stands in the way of their imposing their will and their presumptions on the rest of us." Read more here...