In September and October of 1776, the American forces were beaten in New York. While thousands of American soldiers starved and died on prison ships, the battered remnants of the Continental Army fled enemy soldiers and their foreign mercenaries through New York and New Jersey.
5,000 Americans were killed or captured. Another 5,000 remained, left with little food and no hope.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote then in The American Crisis. “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. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. ”
Paine addressed the swirling arguments over the reasons for the defeats that had been inflicted on Americans by foreign mercenaries and the royalist armies.
“We have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet. All that Howe has been doing for this month past, is rather a ravage than a conquest.”
A conquest is permanent, but a ravage is temporary. The conqueror holds the territory, while the ravager swarms over it, looting and committing atrocities on it, but cannot hold it.
“‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country… Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before,” Paine wrote. “A noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, “Well! give me peace in my day.”
“Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;” and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty.”
Paine concluded. “By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — a depopulated city — habitations without safety, and slavery without hope — our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of.”
A year later, Philadelphia had fallen and the Continental Congress had fled as refugees. The Battle of Brandywine had been lost. “Sir: I am sorry to inform you that in this day’s engagement, we have been obliged to leave the enemy masters of the field,” Washington wrote after that engagement. The Paoli Massacre reminded the rebels of what defeat would mean. The defeat was both brutal and humiliating.
At Valley Forge, a quarter of the army died and efforts were underway to remove Washington from his command. After the Germantown defeat, Washington sent this message to his men.
“The Commander in Chief returns his thanks to the Generals and other officers and men concerned in yesterday’s attack on the enemy’s left wing for the spirit and bravery they manifested in driving the enemy from field to field,” and despite the American defeat, he wrote, “they
nevertheless see that the enemy are not proof against a vigorous attack and may be put to flight when boldly pushed —
“This they will remember and assure themselves that on the next occasion, by a proper exertion of the powers which God has given them, and inspired by the cause of freedom in which they are engaged, they will be victorious.”
My president is not Barack Hussein Obama and I have never described or referred to him by that title. My president is George Washington.