A Land Called America – Part 3 of 8
The crisis escalated and, with “The shot heard round the world,” the American Revolutionary War began at Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. Just days before, on March 23, Patrick Henry had stood on the floor of the Vir¬ginia House of Burgesses and made a passionate speech which ended with the inspiring words:
“Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
On May 10, 1775 the Second Continental Congress convened in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. Today the building is known as Inde¬pendence Hall because it was there that delegates from all thirteen colonies gave birth to a new nation. We call these men our Founding Fathers and the nation they founded the United States of America. They have been described as “enlightened geniuses touched by divine intervention.” I cannot imagine a more succinct definition. I am convinced that only God could have brought together such men, at such a time, in such a place, and with such a purpose. The purpose was God’s, and the men were His instruments for accomplishing it.
Among the founding fathers of America we find names such as George Wash¬ington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, James Madi¬son, and John and Samuel Adams, among many others. The youngest del¬egate was 26 years old. The oldest, Benjamin Franklin, was 70. The purpose of the meeting was not to declare independence but to unite the thirteen colonies in the fight against British Tyranny.
By the time the Second Continental Congress met, the American Revolu¬tionary War had already begun with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. For the first few months the Patriots had carried on their struggle in an ad-hoc and uncoordinated manner. They had seized arsenals, driven out royal officials, and besieged the British army in the city of Boston. To achieve unity among those in the field Congress voted to create the Continental Army and appointed George Washington of Virginia as commanding general.
Beyond these initial areas of cooperation there was considerable difference of opinion regarding the future. Would they remain loyal to the king or move for independence? There were also differences in the perceived needs of the northern colonies and the southern colonies as well as between the larger colonies and the smaller ones. These differences caused months to pass with little, if anything, being accomplished. Then one morning, in a little known fact of history, Benjamin Franklin stood before the assembly and proposed that they might find more in common if they opened each of their sessions with a prayer. When Franklin’s proposal was adopted, they began focusing on their common needs rather than their differences.
On June 7, 1776 Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution urging Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. On June 11 a committee was appointed to draft a declaration of independence. On June 28, a copy of the committee’s draft was read in Congress. From July 1 thru 4 the assembly debated and revised the declaration. On July 4, 1776 Congress adopted “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.” Notice the eternal truths set forth as justification for our national existence and the purpose of our government.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalien¬able 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 the adoption of this declaration John Winthrop’s vision of a “shining city set upon a hill” became a reality and The United States of America was born. The final sentence of our founding document reads:
“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Fifty-six men signed the document. In the ensuing defense of their pledge, many gave their lives and most gave their fortunes, but not a single one relin¬quished his Sacred Honor.
While the delegates in Philadelphia were constructing a nation, the small rag tag army of patriots under the command of George Washington was engaged in a desperate struggle for survival in the face of overwhelming British forces. The most difficult time faced by Washington’s army was the winter of 1777- 78 which was spent at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Concerning those days the Marquis de Lafayette wrote: “The unfortunate soldiers were in want of every¬thing; they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black, and it was often necessary to amputate them.”
Early one morning in the depth of winter, George Washington mounted his horse and, leaving his staff behind, rode into a wooded area not far from the encampment. Alone in the woods that cold December morning an event took place which only the general and his God would have known had not a local farmer named Isaac Potts happened upon the scene. Years later he shared what he had seen with Reverend Nathaniel Snowden, who recorded it in his “Diary and Remembrances.”
“I was riding with Mr. Potts near to the Valley Forge where the army lay during the war of
ye Revolution, when Mr. Potts said, Do you see that woods and that plain? There laid the
army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up
the Ship but that great and good man. In that woods (pointing to a close in view) I
heard a plaintive sound as of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly
into the woods. To my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone,
with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at prayer to the God of Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye crisis & the cause of the country, humanity & of the world.
Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home and
told my wife. We never thought a man could be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in
the world, it is Washington. We thought it was the cause of God & America could prevail.”
Two months later on, Feb 6, 1778, France entered the war on the side of the new nation. This led to wonderful changes in the morale and fighting capabilities of the Continental Army. Valuable foreign volunteers and fresh replacements trickled into camp. More important, it was at Valley Forge that the ragged amateur troops were turned into a confident 18th century military organization capable of beating the Red Coats in the open field of battle.
On October 19, 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, VA. Although the fighting would last another year, the British defeat at Yorktown, for all practical purposes, ended the American Revolutionary War. On December 28, 1783, upon the occasion of resigning his commission as General of the Continental Army, Washington closed his remarks with the following comment.
“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interest of our dearest country to the protection of the Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them into His Holy keeping.”
To be continued…..
This is the third of several installments. It comes from a pamphlet entitled “Once Upon a Time There was A Land Called America.” The entire pamphlet can be read at www.alandcalledamerica.com.