1776 & Dark Days

Declaration of Independence Title
On Christmas 2009 I was given a copy of Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher. For me this account of Washington crossing the Delaware has become a book for the years of Obama’s presidency, for Fisher’s story is a tale of courage and perseverance in the face of disaster.

“To search the writings of the men and women who were there (hundreds of firsthand accounts survive) is to find that they believed the American cause was very near collapse on Christmas night in 1776. In five months of heavy fighting after the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s army had suffered many disastrous defeats and gained no major victories. It had lost 90 percent of its strength. The small remnant who crossed the Delaware River were near the end of their resources, and they believed another defeat could destroy the Cause, as they called it.”1

In the Editor’s Note at the beginning of the book, James McPherson writes:

“No single day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than Christmas 1776….Of all the pivotal events in American history, none was more important than what happened on those nine days from December 25, 1776, through January 3, 1777.”2

This providential span of victories stemmed not only from the character and leadership of George Washington, but also “from the acts and choices of ordinary people.” Fisher says for those Americans:

“…Their greatest advantage was the moral strength of a just cause. They were fighting on their own ground, in defense of homes and families, for ideas of liberty and freedom. They had a different test of success. Their opponents had to conquer; the Americans needed only to survive. After the occupation of New Jersey, and British maltreatment of prisoners, Americans became highly motivated by the cruel experience of oppression.

“Another strength was their religion. The Americans were a deeply spiritual people, with an abiding faith that sustained them in adversity….

“In the dark days of 1776, Americans reached deep into this reservoir of strength and improvised a new way of managing a war….”3

Words for today, are they not?

After the last few years, and especially after the last couple of weeks these words that open Fisher’s last chapter are pertinent:

“On New Year’s Day in 1777, Robert Morris sent George Washington a letter that rings strangely in a modern ear. “The year 1776 is over,” Morris wrote. “I am heartily glad of it and hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another.” Washington shared that feeling, which was far from our very own. We celebrate 1776 as the most glorious year in American history. They remembered it as an agony, especially the “dark days” of autumn.”4

As Americans lived through those dark days of 1776, they had no future perspective of their times. Neither do we as we live through these dark days of coercion and usurpation of power. Do we have “the advantage of the moral strength of a just cause”? We do. Should we call on God to give us an abiding faith in Him that will sustain us in adversity? We should. Fisher writes, “This is a story of real choices that living people actually made.”5 We can make those choices.
__________
1,2,3,4,5David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York) 5, ix, 368, 363, 364.

Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926: The 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

Declaration of IndependenceIt was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history.…Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed….

“…the principles of our Declaration had been under discussion in the Colonies for nearly two generations before the advent of the French political philosophy that characterized the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, they come from an earlier date. A very positive echo of what the Dutch had done in 1581, and what the English were preparing to do, appears in the assertion of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, of Connecticut, as early as 1638, when he said in a sermon before the General Court that–

The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.

The choice of public magistrates belongs to the people by God’s own allowance….

“..”This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his “best ideas of democracy” had been secured at church meetings….

When we take all these circumstances into consideration, it is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature’s God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say “The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.”

Declaration of Independence: John Trumbull The Committee presents the draft to Congress

Declaration of Independence: John Trumbull
The Committee presents the draft to Congress

No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.

Pilgrims 1620“Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy. In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. This was the purpose which the fathers cherished. In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the Colonies. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed. Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.

“If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if it roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man – these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

“We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation….

“Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

“It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few….

Holy Bible“Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meetinghouse. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.
__________
Calvin Coolidge: “Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, Pa.,” July 5, 1926. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=408.

Fourth of July Weekend: “God Bless the USA”

Fourth of July Weekend around the web:

Photo Essays: The Declaration of Independence

As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July this weekend, here’s a look at the men who signed their names to the nation’s most famous founding document, the Declaration of Independence.

The Indispensable Hero of Independence Day by Robert A. J. Gagnon

The Vision of the Founding Fathers by Myron Magnet

July 4, 2015 — The Right Time to Be an American by David French

Founders’ Week, July 1–5, 2012, at Upstream Politics:

The Founders & Christianity

“…the acts and choices of ordinary people…”

John Adams: The Atlas of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

“Rabble in Arms”
__________
Newsbusters’ posted a video of this impromptu singing of “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood and the U.S. Army Chorus. I’ve substituted this video because it has better sound.

1776 & Dark Days

Declaration of Independence Title
On Christmas 2009 I was given a copy of Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher. For me this account of Washington crossing the Delaware has become a book for the years of Obama’s presidency, for Fisher’s story is a tale of courage and perseverance in the face of disaster.

To search the writings of the men and women who were there (hundreds of firsthand accounts survive) is to find that they believed the American cause was very near collapse on Christmas night in 1776. In five months of heavy fighting after the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s army had suffered many disastrous defeats and gained no major victories. It had lost 90 percent of its strength. The small remnant who crossed the Delaware River were near the end of their resources, and they believed another defeat could destroy the Cause, as they called it.1

In the Editor’s Note at the beginning of the book, James McPherson writes:

No single day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than Christmas 1776….Of all the pivotal events in American history, none was more important than what happened on those nine days from December 25, 1776, through January 3, 1777.2

This providential span of victories stemmed not only from the character and leadership of George Washington, but also “from the acts and choices of ordinary people.” Fisher says for those Americans:

…Their greatest advantage was the moral strength of a just cause. They were fighting on their own ground, in defense of homes and families, for ideas of liberty and freedom. They had a different test of success. Their opponents had to conquer; the Americans needed only to survive. After the occupation of New Jersey, and British maltreatment of prisoners, Americans became highly motivated by the cruel experience of oppression.

Another strength was their religion. The Americans were a deeply spiritual people, with an abiding faith that sustained them in adversity….

In the dark days of 1776, Americans reached deep into this reservoir of strength and improvised a new way of managing a war….3

Words for today, are they not?

After the last few years, and especially after the last couple of weeks, yesterday I was thinking how hollow it seemed to celebrate the Fourth of July, but then I remembered these words that open Fisher’s last chapter:

On New Year’s Day in 1777, Robert Morris sent George Washington a letter that rings strangely in a modern ear. “The year 1776 is over,” Morris wrote. “I am heartily glad of it and hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another.” Washington shared that feeling, which was far from our very own. We celebrate 1776 as the most glorious year in American history. They remembered it as an agony, especially the “dark days” of autumn.4

As Americans lived through those dark days of 1776, they had no future perspective of their times. Neither do we as we live through these dark days of coercion and usurpation of power. Do we have “the advantage of the moral strength of a just cause”? We do. Should we call on God to give us an abiding faith in Him that will sustain us in adversity? We should. Fisher writes, “This is a story of real choices that living people actually made.”5 We can make those choices.

Have a glorious Fourth!
__________
1,2,3,4,5David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York) 5, ix, 368, 363, 364.

Life: An Unalienable Right

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

With these words the American colonies declared their foundational understanding of God, man and natural law; God is acknowledged as both Creator and giver of rights to man who is set forth as equal in receiving them. These rights are unalienable—inseparable from each person—and cannot be arbitrarily usurped by other men.

Our Founders knew well the tendency within each of us to encroach upon these rights. Later when framing the Constitution they sought to limit and define the extent of government, because they understood the role of government was to secure these rights and not to grant them.

Thomas Sowell calls this recognition of our fallen nature the “constrained vision” of man, a belief which conflicts with the “unconstrained vision” of man which sets forth man’s nature as something which can continually improve. Ironically, those holding to the unconstrained vision inevitably fall sway to totalitarianism because they rapidly discover their goal of achieving a perfect society is trumped by reality. There is no recognition that any rights are unalienable because all rights must be subject and conform to the notion of perfection set by those in power; this inevitably leads to the abrogation of rights in order to change society by coercion.

Newborn BabyThe foundational unalienable right is life. The beginning of each new life, however, can be greeted with joy or dismay and can take place within the happiest of circum- stances or the most tragic. Pregnancy is a reality that can become a choice at a personal level between these two views as an inevitable and binding decision is some- times made by the mother, and perhaps the father as well, regarding the life of the child. In abortion the unalienable right of life is arbitrarily taken from the child.

The parents also step into a worldview. If they recognize the child has a right to live, they realize, however unwittingly, that this right is not theirs to take. If they will not concede the right of the child to live, they acknowledge there is no right to life, and that it may be peremptorily stripped at will.

When government endorses the parents’ authority to decide if the unborn child shall live or die, the right to live is removed as an unalienable right to be secured by the government and instead becomes a right which the government can grant or remove at will. The focus is on the choice of the abortion rather than on the morality of abortion.

G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy uses the analogy of a shipwreck to describe our world. He begins the comparison in the essay, “The Ethics of Elfland,” in which he compares the good we see in the world to Robinson Crusoe’s salvaged items from his shipwreck.

…Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck.

The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea…

A pregnancy may occur in circumstances that seem like a wreck at sea, but the life of the child is something good that can be salvaged. If we discard it we lose the blessing of a baby who would enlarge our heart and reinforce our understanding of the preciousness of life. We also lose something else: the recognition and understanding of life as an unalienable right. We lose the very tools we need to keep our own boat from foundering, because with the decision to have a child killed by abortion, we state our belief that the right to life is alienable, even to our very selves, and that government has the willful authority to grant or annul that right.
__________
Newborn baby, Catalin Bogdan: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts license.