1776

George Washington and the Standing Miracle

Today is the 284th birthday of the Father of our Country, George Washington.  The above video from the musical 1776 depicts John Adams asking the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, if he stands with Adams or the opponents of Independence.  Thomson responds that he stands with the General, George Washington.  Throughout 1776, Washington is an unseen presence but a powerful one.  As Congress considers the question of Independence, Washington’s messages to Congress paint a gloomy military picture.  Each member of Congress knows that if they declare Independence, only Washington and his ragtag army stand between them and a hangman’s noose.

Washington was always blunt, albeit respectful, in his messages to Congress.  It was his task to somehow hold together an army paid in worthless currency, dressed in rags, often barefoot, ill-fed and hastily trained.  For eight long years, while the American economy largely collapsed due to a blockade, he pulled endless rabbits out of his tri-corn hat to keep his army in being for yet another day.  He did this while respecting the civilian leadership of the new nation, a leadership that often seemed feckless and impotent.  He did this while confronting the mightiest empire in the world that controlled the seas and deployed a superb army.

At periods during the Revolution Washington led his army with a skill that excited the imagination of the world.  After the Trenton-Princeton campaign, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia and the foremost general of his day, wrote,  “The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of 10 days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements.”  I certainly agree with this and Washington fully earned the nicknames bestowed upon him by his British adversaries:  “the fox” and “the old fox”.  However, what excites my admiration most about Washington during the American Revolution was that he kept the Continental Army alive, and made it a formidable force.

In his farewell order to his victorious Continental Army George Washington wrote:

A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverence of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle. Continue reading

July 2, 1776: The Vote

From the musical 1776, a heavily dramatized version of the vote to declare American independence on July 2, 1776.  The scene is effective but historically false.   James Wilson did not dither about his vote, but was a firm vote for independence, having ascertained that his Pennsylvania constituents were in favor of independence.  There was no conflict over slavery, Jefferson and Adams having already agreed to remove from the Declaration the attack on the King for promoting the slave trade.  Caesar Rodney did make a dramatic ride to Congress of 80 miles in order to break a deadlock in the Delaware delegation over independence, but he was not dying and would live until June 26, 1784, witnessing the triumph of America in the Revolutionary War. Continue reading

Cool, Considerate Man

Something for the weekend.  Cool Considerate Men from the musical 1776.  I have always loved the musical 1776, although I recognize that the actual history and what is depicted in the musical often part company.  Perhaps the greatest divergence is in the case of John Dickinson, a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, who is represented in the play as an arch reactionary and  Tory. Dickinson, as the play rightly indicates at the end, enlisted to fight in the Revolution, and had the odd military career of serving  first as a militia Brigadier General and then as a militia Private.  During the War he also served as President (Governor) of Delaware and as President (Governor) of Pennsylvania.  After the War he served as a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, and supported the ratification with a series of articles written under the pen name Fabius.

Dickinson mainly opposed an immediate declaration of independence in 1776 because he wished the Articles of Confederation, which he had largely drafted, to be first sent to the 13 colonies and ratified by them, and for the colonies to obtain a powerful foreign ally before such a declaration was made to the World.  Dickinson was a firm patriot willing to risk his own skin in the War, so his opposition to the Declaration of Independence did no long term damage to his reputation during his life.

On July 1, he made a speech against immediate independence.  The debate was apparently fierce while he spoke, and thus the speech has a fragmentary quality: Continue reading

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