1776 began with bright hope for the American patriots.  The English were driven from Boston and on July 4th—to rejoicing throughout the colonies—the Declaration of Independence was announced.

After that, everything went wrong.  The largest British fleet of the century was arriving off of New York City, disgorging tens of thousands of troops to destroy Washington’s army (p. 148).[1]  They would have succeeded had not a storm blown down the East River and prevented the British navy from sailing up, trapping Washington’s army on Long Island.  Fort Washington, thought to be impregnable and a store of much needed supplies for the Revolutionaries, was brilliantly assaulted and taken by the trained, professional British troops.  They chased Washington’s army across New Jersey and captured Henry Lee, the one American general the British feared.  Hundreds, then thousands, of New Jersey residents flocked to renew their allegiance to King George III, preferring security to freedom (p. 258).  Washington was in despair:

“. . . if I were to wish the bitterest curse on an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings . . . In confidence I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state since I was born.”  (p.227)

Supporters of the king rejoiced.  The king forcefully told the British Parliament just what he thought of the Declaration of Independence, Washington, and the American Patriots.  He started with what he wished he could say, that:

“. . . my unhappy people [in America], recovered from their delusion, had delivered themselves from the oppression of their leaders and returned to their duty.  But so daring and desperate is the spirit of those leaders, whose object has always been dominion and power, that they have now openly renounced all allegiance to the Crown, and all political connections with this country . . . and have presumed to set up their rebellious confederacies for independent states.  If their treason is suffered to take root, much mischief will grow from it.”  (p. 292).

The king’s supporters in Parliament voted to fund an even greater campaign against the rebellious Americans.

At the end of the year, Washington, realizing much of his army had finished their enlistment and were going home, made a desperate nighttime crossing of the Delaware River and attack on the unsuspecting British at Trenton.  It was a brilliant success!

Washington had persevered.  “Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he called for perseverance—for “perseverance and spirit,” for “unremitting courage and perseverance. . . Without Washington’s leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed.” (pp. 293-294).

A few days later, as the troops were about to return home, Washington begged them to stay.  As recounted by one soldier:

“Those willing to stay [in the army] were asked to step forward.  Drums rolled, but no one moved.  Minutes passed.  Then Washington ‘wheeled his horse about’ and spoke again.

“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear.  You have worn yourselves out with fatigue and hardships, but we know not how to spare you.  If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any circumstances.”

“Again the drums sounded and this time the men began stepping forth.  ‘God Almighty,’ wrote Nathaniel Greene, ‘inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew’.” (pp.185-286)

Freedom was not won, it cannot be preserved, without perseverance.


[1]  All of the page numbers are to:  David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster 2005).



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