The Urgent Need for More George Washingtons
As we move into a New Year there seems to be some similarities between our situation today and that of the transition from 1776 into 1777.
Near the end of the year 1776, the thirteen colonies had begun to form a very loose confederation. The war against the tyrannical King George III was not going very well. The disastrous defeat at New York had forced Washington and his army to retreat into a position that the British generals had all but declared victory. It looked rather hopeless to many people that real freedom would ever be possible.
"I Will Not Despair"
In addition to the tragic loss of New York which forced the American army to retreat down the full length of New Jersey, there was the fall of Fort Washington and Fort Lee, the fearsome advances of the British, the plotting of Washington's Generals Lee and Reed against him and the overwhelming reality that the enlistments were up for more than two thousand of his fifty-four hundred troops. Still Washington wrote, "I will not despair."
Amidst all this discouragement, one of the men present during the New Jersey retreat, a fiery young patriot named Thomas Paine, sat by the campfire for light and using a drumhead for support, penned the familiar passage that Washington later used to try to energize his troops:
"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."
Washington knew that freedom-loving Americans needed a victory, even a small victory, to prove that, in spite of all the defeats, it is still possible to win against overwhelming odds.
A Much-Needed Victory at Trenton
As small as it was, Washington 's victory over the British-hired Hessian troops at Trenton had a much greater meaning. It showed that, indeed, the forces of freedom can win, and little by little, begin to chip away at the powerful forces of soul-destroying tyranny. Of the Trenton battle Parry and Allison wrote:
"It was a glorious and almost unbelievable victory for the beleaguered American commander and his troops. Nearly 1,000 Hessians were taken captive; another 115 were killed or wounded. Four Americans had been wounded, but not a single one was lost in battle-although in the fierce night before, two had tragically frozen to death.
"'The enemy have fled before us in the greatest panic that ever was known,' one of the patriot soldiers wrote after the victory. 'Never were men in higher spirits than our whole army is.'"
Could it be compared to the small but significant victories in our day seen at the November 2, 2010 elections?
Washington Not Lulled into False Sense of Security
In the wake of the Trenton and Princeton victories, many Americans began to proclaim high praise for General Washington. His brother-in-law, Bartholomew Dandridge, seemed to echo the feelings of many when he wrote to Washington saying: "It is plain [that] Providence designed you as the favorite instrument in working out the salvation of America . It is you alone that can defend us....I am sure you have no idea of your real value to us."
An article in the Pennsylvania Journal, published about six weeks after the victory at Princeton, described Washington in glowing terms:
"In his public character he commands universal respect and admiration. Conscious that the principles on which he acts are indeed founded on virtue, he steadily and coolly pursues those principles, with a mind neither depressed by disappointments nor elated by success, giving full exercise to that discretion and wisdom which he so eminently possesses. He retreats like a general and acts like a hero. If there are spots in his character, they are like the spots in the sun, only discernible by the magnifying powers of a telescope."
Washington was indeed beginning to be viewed as a hero in the eyes of many. His countrymen had been given a closer look at the capabilities of their commanding general, and they liked what they saw.
Surprisingly, Washington did not react favorably to this rising tide of popularity and praise. "Everybody seems to be lulled into ease and security," he wrote. They needed to be shocked into the possibility of a potential disaster: "I think we are now in one of the most critical periods which America ever saw."
Washington Foresees Need for Spiritual Preparation for Coming Battles
As the American army was emerging from the difficult winter encampment at Morristown , and in preparation for the coming battles of the New Year 1777, General 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."
He had already issued a general order stating. "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country."
Washington Not Deterred by "Ignominious Epithets"
Washington 's stirring challenge in his day is ever so applicable in our own day as we face criticism and derision from similar foes. Said he:
"Let it never be said that in a day of action you turned your backs on the foe. Let the enemy no longer triumph. They brand you with ignominious epithets. Will you patiently endure that reproach? Will you suffer the wounds given to your country to go unrevenged? Will you resign your parents, wives, children, and friends to be the wretched vassals of a proud, insulting foe? And your own necks to the halter?...Nothing, then, remains but nobly to contend for all that is dear to us. Every motive that can touch the human breast calls us to the most vigorous exertions. Our dearest rights, our dearest friends, and our own lives, honor, glory, and even shame urge us to fight. And my fellow soldiers, when an opportunity presents, be firm, be brave. Show yourselves men, and the victory is yours."
Washington had a strong conviction of the
influence of God in guiding America 's destiny
It is, no doubt, the desire of freedom-loving Americans today to have national leaders that could bear the same testimony about America that Washington did:
"We may, with a kind of pious and grateful exultation, trace the fingers of Providence through those dark and mysterious events which first induced the states to appoint a general convention, and then led them one after another...into an adoption of the system recommended by that general convention, thereby, in all human probability, laying a lasting foundation for tranquility and happiness, when we had but too much reason to fear that confusion and misery were coming rapidly upon us. That the same good Providence may still continue to protect us, and prevent us from dashing the cup of national felicity just as it has been lifted to our lips, is [my] earnest prayer."
Washington had an intense desire to teach the science of government to our youth and to not dilute America 's greatness in their minds with teachings from foreign lands
Multiculturalism in education and the thought that America is just one of many good systems from which one may choose to live under, had no place in Washington's philosophy:
"A primary object...should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"
"It has always been a source of serious regret with me to see the youth of these United States sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education, often before their minds were formed or they had imbibed any adequate ideas of the happiness of their own, contracting, too frequently, not only habits of dissipation and extravagance, but principles unfriendly to republican government and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind, which thereafter are rarely overcome."
Washington felt America must remain the great neutral nation of the earth
"I hope the United States of America will be able to keep disengaged from the labyrinth of European politics and wars....It should be the policy of united America to administer to [other nations'] wants without being engaged in their quarrels.
"My ardent desire is, and my aim has been (as far as depended upon the executive department), to comply strictly with all our engagements, foreign and domestic, but to keep the United States free from political connections with every other country; to see that they may be independent of all and under the influence of none
"I have always given it as my decided opinion that no nation had a right to intermeddle in the internal concerns of another;. and that if this country could, consistently with its engagements, maintain a strict neutrality and thereby preserve peace, it was bound to do so by motives of policy.
Washington felt that morality and religion were
inseparable and indispensable supports to our Republic.
Our first president dispels the modern myth that one can be a moral person without religion. Religion is necessary to give morality a standard. And be careful, he said, when someone with advanced educational degrees claims that religion is not necessary for morality or freedom. He would label such modern philosophies as deceptive and false:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.... Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education ... reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Upon hearing of the death of Washington , Thomas Jefferson quoted the scripture, "verily, a great man hath fallen this day in Israel ." But Jefferson was not without hope that the Creator would provide others to come to maintain what his friend George Washington was so instrumental in starting. Said he: "And indeed, it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society."
Should we not this New Year resolve to make an intensive effort to teach, identify and support those who have the same values and character as our great Founding Father, George Washington?
Happy New Year,
Earl Taylor, Jr.