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LINK Letters From An American 12/25/2022

Heather Cox Richardson

In the summer heat of July 1776, revolutionaries in 13 of the British colonies in North America celebrated news that the members of the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, had adopted the Declaration of Independence. In July, men had cheered the ideas that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States,” and that, in contrast to the tradition of hereditary monarchy under which the American colonies had been organized, the representatives of the thirteen united states intended to create a nation based on the idea “that all men are created equal” and that governments were legitimate only if those they governed consented to them.

But then the British responded to the colonists’ fervor with military might. They sent reinforcements to Staten Island and Long Island and by September had forced General George Washington to evacuate his troops from New York City. After a series of punishing skirmishes across Manhattan Island, by November the British had pushed the Americans into New Jersey. They chased the colonials all the way across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

By mid-December the future looked bleak for the Continental Army and the revolutionary government it backed. The 5,000 soldiers with Washington who were still able to fight were demoralized from their repeated losses and retreats, and since the Continental Congress had kept enlistments short so they would not risk a standing army, many of the men would be free to leave the army at the end of the year, weakening it even more.

As the British troops had taken over New York City and the Continental soldiers had retreated, many of the newly minted Americans outside the army had come to doubt the whole enterprise of creating a new, independent nation based on the idea that all men were created equal. Then things got worse: as the American soldiers crossed into Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress abandoned Philadelphia on December 12 out of fear of a British invasion, regrouping in Baltimore (which they complained was dirty and expensive).

By December, the fiery passion of July had cooled.

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” read a pamphlet published in Philadelphia on December 19. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

The author of The American Crisis was Thomas Paine, whose January 1776 pamphlet Common Sense had solidified the colonists’ irritation at the king’s ministers into a rejection of monarchy itself, a rejection not just of King George III, but of all kings.

Now he urged them to see the experiment through. He explained that he had been with the troops as they retreated across New Jersey and, describing the march for his readers, told them “that both officers and men, though greatly harassed and fatigued, frequently without rest, covering, or provision, the inevitable consequences of a long retreat, bore it with a manly and martial spirit. All their wishes centred in one, which was, that the country would turn out and help them to drive the enemy back.”

For that was the crux of it. Paine had no doubt that patriots would create a new nation, eventually, because the cause of human self-determination was just. But how long it took to establish that new nation would depend on how much effort people put into success. “I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake,” Paine wrote. “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.”

In mid-December, British commander General William Howe had sent most of his soldiers back to New York to spend the winter, leaving garrisons across the river in New Jersey to guard against Washington advancing.

On Christmas night, having heard that the garrison at Trenton was made up of Hessian auxiliaries who were exhausted and unprepared for an attack, Washington crossed back over the icy Delaware River with 2400 soldiers in a winter storm. They marched nine miles to attack the garrison, the underdressed soldiers suffering from the cold and freezing rain. Reaching Trenton, they surprised the outnumbered Hessians, who fought briefly in the streets before they surrendered.

The victory at the Battle of Trenton restored the colonials’ confidence in their cause. Soldiers reenlisted, and in early January they surprised the British at Princeton, New Jersey, driving them back. The British abandoned their posts in central New Jersey, and by March the Continental Congress moved back to Philadelphia. Historians credit the Battles of Trenton and Princeton with saving the Revolutionary cause.

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” Paine wrote, “yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

HippieChick58 9 Dec 26

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This letter made me think of the sites I've been to while growing up in NJ.
The place where Washington crossed the Delaware. I saw the Liberty Bell when it was still displayed in Independence Hall. Many areas are steeped in the history of how the United States came to be.
The struggle to live up to the ideals embodied in our founding documents still continues today.


I am disgusted and ashamed at my fake countrymen who would mindlessly surrender the country to a foreign-backed grifter, in exchange for a Christian Nation.


I’m surprised this ridiculous nation let them reenlist.

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