The "Change" We Really Need
One of the last Making of America seminars we taught before the holidays was hosted by our good friend Stanley El in Woodbury, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Joining us were a number of citizens from the area including a city councilwoman and other community leaders.
As the seminar progressed throughout the day, we noticed that our message was enthusiastically received by this group who were especially excited about learning the Founding Fathers' story and the principles of freedom they incorporated into our Constitution. Of particular interest to them was how the Founders seemed to have answers to nearly every problem we have in America today.
What was even more interesting was the fact that several of the people at the seminar came up to us at various times during the breaks and energetically proclaimed, "Obama has got to hear this message!" Several others at our book table picked up copies of The Five Thousand Year Leap and said, "I'm sending this to Obama. He must read this." Another said, "We have got to get these teachings to Obama. This will help him."
I came away from the seminar with several distinct impressions.
First, these people recognized that we have big problems in America today and the direction this nation has been going for the last many years will eventually lead to the destruction of our liberties and the complete decay of morality and virtue.
Second, these people were feeling, as most Americans do, that a change desperately needs to happen, but due perhaps to a lack of knowledge, weren't sure of the details of the change they wanted.
Third, when a person with a lot of energy and charisma comes along and promises change, it is very easy for those desiring change to follow, even when there are few solid explanations of the coming change.
Fourth, those who are sincerely looking for change or something better will quickly relate to correct principles when they hear them and will become advocates for them to an exciting degree.
Fifth, I have since had the impression that now is the time to capitalize on the feeling of most Americans that change is needed. Americans are hungry for change. But it must be an informed change. The change must be based on solid, correct, and proven principles and not just on emotion.
That, of course, is the mission of NCCS--To reacquaint Americans with the message of our Founding Fathers. Our Founders definitely knew about the change we need today because they painstakingly made it happen in their day and their teachings can show us the way again.
The Positiveness and Excitement of the Founders' Message
The year 2008 has been a year of teaching seminars around the nation. We have been invited from coast to coast and from north to south, almost every weekend to teach the Founders' message. We have had every kind of audience one can imagine -from those who have their own theories and explanations about things to those who are almost innocently caught up in the emotion of the election year.
It would otherwise be easy, during a seminar, to get distracted and go off onto one or more of the many tangents or theories that exist in political circles, but I am so grateful to Dr. Skousen for teaching us to follow the Founders' story which gives a solid, balanced agenda for our seminars. I believe, and have said so several times to those who seem to have their own agenda, that we are staying in the mainstream of the freedom effort. I believe the Founders' message is so positive and motivating that good people who are sincerely looking for answers will respond to it. Getting into other side issues is not the way to teach people who are looking for answers, so without making a judgment about them, we do not address those issues in our seminars.
George Washington-an example then, an example now
I have been preparing an in-depth study of George Washington for our students and have been impressed with how his actions and philosophy are just what we need today in our present crisis. Here are some examples from our classic bookThe Real George Washington :
On July 2, 1776, Washington, who had recently been appointed commanding General, sent a stirring communication to his men that the time for commitment had arrived, that Americans could no longer suffer complacently under Britain's tyrannical rule. Unbeknown to the General, on that very day Congress had voted almost unanimously in favor of a resolution for independence. (Two days later, on July 4, Congress approved the actual Declaration of Independence, which had been drafted by Thomas Jefferson.) Acting on his own instincts, Washington issued orders that said:
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves, whether they are to have any property they can call their own, whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance or the most abject submission. This is all we can expect. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die. Our own country's honor [calls] upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail we shall become infamous to the whole world. 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, and we shall have their blessings and praises if, happily, we are the instrument of saving them from the tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other and show the whole world that a freeman contending for LIBERTY on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth. (p.173)
"I will not...despair."
Later that year, in November, 1776, after all that had happened in the previous weeks-the tragic loss of New York City, the fall of Fort Washington and Fort Lee, the fearsome advances of the British, the plotting of his Generals Lee and Reed against him-Washington nevertheless wrote, "I will not...despair."
Still, he recognized the overwhelming realities of his situation. The next day the enlistments were up for more than two thousand of his fifty-four hundred troops. Unless there was a "speedy enlistment of a new army," he said, "I think the game will be pretty well up."
The diary of one of Washington's men reveals the same troubling fears. Solomon Clift wrote, "We are in a terrible situation, with the enemy close upon us and whole regiments...leaving us."
One of the men present during the retreat through New Jersey was a fiery young patriot named Thomas Paine. One night, sitting by the campfire for light and using a drumhead for support, he penned a passage that later became enshrined in America's classics. He wrote:
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. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph....Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. (p.201)
We have little hope if we insult God
Washington also sought to prepare his men in ways other than fighting skills for the frightful impending contests. In August, 1776, in preparing for the battle for New York, he issued orders against "the foolish and wicked practice of profane swearing." He shared his conviction that "we can have but little hopes of the blessing of heaven on our arms if we insult it by our impiety and folly." He was to repeat his orders against profanity in his army many times in the long years of war that followed.
".heaven will crown with success so just a cause."
As humid days passed with no action from the British, tensions heightened. Washington buoyed up his men with repeated encouragements, seeking to get them mentally ready for the coming battle. "Remember that liberty, property, life, and honor are all at stake," he wrote, reminding them that "the hopes of their bleeding and insulted country" rested upon their "courage and conduct. [Your] wives, children, and parents expect safety from [you]," he said, "and...we have every reason to expect heaven will crown with success so just a cause." (p.179)
"All chaplains are to perform divine service...every...Sunday"
On another occasion, while keeping an eye on possible British movements, Washington issued strict orders to ensure that his troops were preparing themselves spiritually for the coming difficulties. "All chaplains are to perform divine service...every...Sunday," he declared, and he ordered "officers of all ranks" to set an example by attending. "The commander in chief expects an exact compliance with this order, and that it be observed in the future as an invariable rule of practice. And every neglect will be considered not only as a breach of orders, but a disregard to decency, virtue, and religion." (p.231)
"A superintending Providence is ordering everything"
In the latter part of 1777, Washington desperately tried to thwart the British attempt to occupy Philadelphia. He carefully planned attacks on British troops in neighboring Germantown. Several successful small skirmishes made him feel victory was at hand.
Suddenly, inexplicably, the tide turned. The front guard of American soldiers turned in frantic retreat, with eager British troops nipping at their heels. Then the main body of Americans heard the frightening sound of firing behind them. Were they being surrounded? Panic spread, and soon the entire American army was on the run. Washington, by now near the front, had no choice but to follow, trying vainly to put some semblance of order into their reckless flight. His momentary jubilation had turned to anger and frustration.
Afterward, Washington unraveled the tangled web of events that had so cruelly ruined their certain victory. The soldiers in the vanguard, who had been fighting the longest, had run out of ammunition. They had to withdraw or die defenseless. The troops behind them, unaware of the true reason for the withdrawal, assumed the worst and stampeded away from the British. Others heard the firing of General Greene's troops-who had been delayed as they came in on another road-and the booming cannon shots at the stone house, and they falsely supposed they were being surrounded. Soon the entire American force, confused and frightened, was scrambling up the road in retreat.
"Upon the whole," Washington later reported to Congress, "it may be said the day was rather unfortunate than injurious." Yet later he learned it was a good deal more injurious than he had initially supposed: nearly eleven hundred Americans were killed, wounded, or captured in the Germantown battle.
Nevertheless, the near success of the day was ample cause for optimism. The Americans had learned, Washington told his careworn troops that "the enemy are not proof against a vigorous attack, and may be put to flight when boldly pushed." And he expressed his abiding trust that "a superintending Providence is ordering everything for the best and that in due time all will end well." (p.242)
Do you get the feeling that George Washington knew how to win a war against terrible odds? Is this not an example for us today? I am convinced if we do our part today, we can say with Washington that "a superintending Providence is ordering everything for the best and that in due time all will end well." Is there not a better time to remember this than at Christmas?
Earl Taylor, Jr.