A Lesson From George Washington for Today
- 3 January 2010 by Author 0 Comments
A Lesson From George Washington for Today
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, Published 01/03/10
The heroics manifested by many of our founding fathers are literally beyond comprehension of the contemporary mind. Facing seemingly insurmountable odds, a rag-tag militia and collection of colonialists stood up against what was then deemed insufferable oppression by the greatest military and economic power in the world. They rose to the occasion, displaying the character of those men and women and the resolve with which they approached their challenge.
One such example of revolutionary heroics came on Christmas, 1776. As recounted on the ushistory.org website, General George Washington and his ragged army had experienced defeat and despair, unable to make any appreciable dent in the British defenses and losing ground on every front. The struggle for independence was not fairing well, as Washington’s defense of New York and the battle of Long Island ended in disappointment and failure as the British troops outmaneuvered Washington’s Continental Army. With those failures, Washington was forced to retreat across New Jersey to Pennsylvania in early December.
As the harsh Pennsylvania winter set in, American troop morale was decimated. Not only from the military defeats, but because the troops had to fight their losing battles with a dearth of food and warm clothing. With a growing sense of despair, Washington watched as his army shrank to desertions and expiring enlistments. If ever there was a time when they needed a victory in battle and a resurgence of revolutionary spirit, this was it.
Washington drew up an aggressive and risky plan to capture the British encampment in Trenton that would include a three-pronged attack with troops crossing the icy Delaware River led by him and Generals Cadwalader and Ewing. Against all odds, Washington hoped the battle for Trenton would bring a victory to help curtail the desertions and prevent complete abandonment of the army by those troops whose enlistment expired on December 31.
Just a week before the planned attack, Thomas Paine, author of the “Common Sense” pamphlet which had done much to inspire the early revolutionary movement, came out with another inspiring publication, “The American Crisis.” This new publication began famously, “These are times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his 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.”
On Christmas morning, Washington assembled his leadership for final preparations for the troop movements and the attack on Trenton, and provided them with the password for the mission, “Victory or Death.”
By six in the afternoon on Christmas Day, Washington’s troops had begun crossing the ice-choked Delaware River. The weather abruptly changed for the worse, forcing Generals Cadwalader and Ewing to back out of the operation, unbeknownst to General Washington. This left Washington’s 2400 troops alone in their mission.
By 3 a.m. on the morning of the 26th Washington’s troops had successfully crossed the river, and still cold and wet from the sleet and blinding snow storm, marched into Trenton for a victory over the British and Hessian troops stationed there. The Americans lost but three soldiers in the battle for Trenton, while six were injured, but there were numerous casualties by the British, and over 1,000 prisoners of war were captured as they retook the city.
This is not just an inspiring story for the revolutionaries 234 years ago, but it should be inspiring to all of us who love America and the principles upon which it was founded. We have faced a challenging year in the battle for the American spirit, and this winter has been a daunting one as legislation has passed which not only threatens individual liberty, but is arguably unconstitutional.
Our battle today for freedom is not against a foreign power, but a domestic one, determined to transform the nation into something it was never designed to be. And our battle is not with muskets and powder, but with words based on fundamental principles of liberty and constitutionality. But that same American spirit which removed the yoke of oppression years ago can, and must, be the spirit which motivates us to stand up and be counted, doing all we can to influence our elected officials and supporting electoral change at the ballot box. Liberty won 234 years ago, and it can reemerge supreme yet again, but it takes all of us who love freedom.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.