The American Crisis: “These are the Times that Try Men’s Souls…”

Today in History, December 19, 1776:

“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 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.”

—Thomas Paine in “The American Crisis”, published on this date in 1776.

The fledgeling war for independence had been going badly, and Gen. Washington had already lost 11,000 of his troops to the comfort of their homes, with many more soon to follow when their enlistments were up. He knew the war could easily be lost to poor morale.

Thomas Paine had the same prescience. His “Common Sense” had helped launch the revolution. Now he took to his pen again to bolster the morale and steadfastness of the American people. The result was that most of Gen. Washington’s troops stayed with him and soon won victories that would further inspire them to fight on.

Boston Tea Party – Taxation without Representation

Today in History, December 16, 1773:

The Boston Tea Party. After the French and Indian War the British government was struggling financially. To bolster their funds they chose to tax the colonies. The American colonials however, refused to pay taxes when they had no representation in Parliament. The Crown came up with a plan.

They lifted the taxes on other goods, but left the tax on tea in place. At the same time they gave the struggling East India Company a monopoly on sales of tea to the colonies, and gave the Company tax breaks so that they could sell the tea to the colonies at the cheapest price…even after the colonies paid their tax on the tea. The Colonists however refused to buy the tea, realizing the real issue was being taxed without representation and not wanting to set a precedent. Ships loaded with tea were turned away from New York and Philadelphia, and the cargo of tea was even impounded in Charleston. Then on this date in 1773 colonists led by Samuel Adams, dressed as Mohawk Indians, made a midnight raid on three tea ships in Boston Harbor, throwing the cargo overboard. The British responded by limiting Colonists rights even further; the stage was set for revolution.

Common Sense

Today in History, January 9, 1776:

The first copies of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” are published in Philadelphia.

Pamplets were the editorials, or blogs, if we must, of the day in the 18th century.

Paine had only recently immigrated to America from his homeland of England, yet he quickly took up the cause of independence. Most of the people in America prior to the Revolution saw themselves not as Americans, but as British subjects, and proudly so. Many wanted to remain such, most were uncertain whether independence was a good idea. Most of the colonists were commoners, and it was assumed that only the elite were worthy of governance.

Paine turned this theory on it’s head. He wrote to the commoners in plain language the difference between society and government; that gov’t was necessary, but must be limited; that AMERICA should govern herself.

He started a firestorm….his pamphlet sold 120,000 copies the first month, 500,000 the first year. Percentages taken into account, Common Sense still counts as the best seller of all time.

Paine refused to take any of the profits, donating all of them to Gen. Washington’s Continental Army.

Savannah Falls…

Today in History, December 29, 1778:

It appears Christmas time is not lucky for Savannah, Georgia in war time. On this date in 1778 British forces over powered the Colonials and took the city; they would hold the city, despite a seige by American and French forces, until the end of the Revolutionary War.

86 years later on Dec. 22, 1864, Union forces under William T. Sherman would take Savannah again, presenting it as a “Christmas gift” to President Lincloln during the American Civil War.

The Boston Tea Party – Saying No to Tyranny

Today in History, December 16, 1773:

The Boston Tea Party. In an effort to bolster the struggling British East India Company, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, refunding taxes the company paid in England while retaining those paid by American colonists. The debate concerning taxation without representation had been raging for years, and this was, in a way, the last straw. In several cities protests had forced cargo ships to return to England with their holds still full of tea. But in Boston the British Governor of Massachusetts refused to allow 3 ships there to leave. So on this date Sam Adams led a contingent of the Sons of Liberty, dressed as Mohawk Indians aboard the ships and dumped their cargo of tea into Boston Harbor. This enraged Parliament, whose responses would light the fuse on the American Revolution.

Farewell

Today in History, December 4, 1783:

General George Washington, veteran of the French and Indian War, leader of his men from Bunker Hill to Valley Forge to Yorktown, with all of the hardships involved, announces to his officers that he is resigning his commission and returning to civilian life at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City.

“With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

Washington then took a moment with each of his officers alone. There was not a dry eye in the house, including the future President…George Washington….wept.

Desist from Treasonable Acts and Doings…

Today in History, November 30, 1776:

The Howe Brothers, Admiral Richard and General William, in command of the Engliah Army and Navy in the Americas issue a proclamation that American colonists who will “desist from treasonable acts and doings” would receive a pardon.

Of course, most of the colonists were determined. After the British signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, those “Tories” that had accepted the offer, mostly New Yorkers, were evacuated by the British to Canada.

The Federalist Papers

Today in History, October 27, 1787:

The first of 85 Federalist Papers are published in New York’s Independent Journal.

A collaboration between Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, published under the name “Publius”, the Papers used eloquence and remarkable examples from the history of governments, ancient and modern at that point to advocate the ratification of the new Constitution recently approved by a constitutional convention.

They were selling an idea abhorrent to most Americans who had just won a hard fought battle for independence – a strong central government.

If you are into that sort of thing, they are worth reading. You will find examples of the genius of our government and of how our government has been changed from the vision of our founding fathers.

But for the most part, the well thought out form of government they designed has survived the ravages of time and the attempts of less ethical men to corrupt it.

A General Above All Others

Today in History, October 11, 1976:

Lt. Gen. George Washington is promoted to General of the Armies.

No, that is not a typo.

After leading all American Continental forces to victory in the Revolutionary War and serving two terms as our first President, George Washington maintained his rank as Lieutenant General.

In the interim, other men were promoted to Gen. of the Army…Grant, Sherman, Sheridan (4-star), Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Arnold and Bradley 5-star.). Admirals Leahy, King and Nimitz became 5-star Fleet Admirals. And John “Back Jack” Pershing.

At our Bicentenial, Congress decided, and rightly so, that no General should ever outrank the father of our nation.

So they created the rank of General of the Armies (not to be confused with Gen. of the Army), and posthumously promoted General Washington and declared none should ever exceed his rank.

——————————————–

Hereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and

Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list;

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.

Public Law 94-479

Proving Their Mettle…Farmers and Shopkeepers at Bunker Hill

Today in History, June 17, 1775:

“Don’t one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

The Battle of Bunker Hill.

British Gen. William Howe landed his army on the Charlestown Peninsula and attacks colonist (Patriot) positions on Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill.

Believing they were fighting farmers with pitchforks (the Patriots WERE as yet untrained and unorganized) Howe had his well trained, experienced troops charge the American positions head on, and was repelled by not so inexperienced fire (a poor farmer hunting game can’t afford to waste ammo, and becomes a very good marksman).

The Brits mounted a second attack, and were again sent running back down the hill. A third wave succeeded, however, as the militia was running out of ammunition.

Howe eventually won the battle, but he did so at great expense…nearly half his army lie dead on the field. The British had learned a dear lesson…they were fighting an untrained and poorly disciplined group of citizen soldiers…that were highly motivated and devoted to their cause.