December 25, 1776

2009 December 25


On the night of December 25, 1776, with the winter wind whipsawing the water, with waves ripping across the bows of their leaky boats, and sheets of ice impeding their path, American soldiers rowed across the merciless river, from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The city of Trenton was their objective….

…In the months prior to Trenton, Washington, and his troops had forlornly retreated across New Jersey following their devastating defeat in New York City by a combined British naval and land force under the command of Admiral Richard Howe and his brother, General William Howe. This infamous, dark period in the Revolution elicited Thomas Paine’s rallying cry in pamphlet form, The American Crisis, published in December 1776. The American Army eventually secured a temporary foothold on the western shore of the Delaware River, but its situation remained precarious until Washington turned the tide on the night of December 25, 1776.

For Christmas this year I received David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing.  As I’ve skimmed through it there are two things I want to share tonight: the circumstances and impact of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis.

…The army was shrinking before his eyes, and the people of New Jersey were not turning out to support it.  Paine concluded that something had to be done.  “It was necessary,” he decided, that “the country should be strongly animated.”

On November 22, when the army was crossing the Passaic River, Paine came to a decision. He resolved to write another pamphlet, like Common Sense but with a different message….

A rough draft was more or less complete by the time he crossed the Delaware River.  He carried it to Philadelphia, but when he reached the city, he was shocked to find the houses shuttered, the streets deserted….The air of panic in the town increased Thomas Paine’s sense of urgency.  He remembered, “I sat down and in what I may call a passion of patriotism, wrote the first number” of his new pamphlet in a final draft.

He called it The American Crisis.  The first sentence had the cadence of a drumbeat.  Even after two hundred years, its opening phrases still have the power to lift a reader out of his seat.  “There are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine began.  “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

…Such was the panic and chaos in Philadelphia that it took Thomas Paine ten days to get his essay into print.  Finally, the first number of The American Crisis appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776. Four days later it was published as a pamphlet.  Paine insisted that it be sold for two pennies, just enough to pay the printer’s expenses.  The author asked nothing for himself and encouraged printers everywhere to copy it freely.  It traveled through the country as fast as galloping horses could carry it.

Within a day of its first publication it was circulating in the camp of the Continental army along the Delaware River.  Even Paine’s bitter political rival James Cheetham testified to its impact.  Cheetham wrote that The Crisis was “read in the camp, to every corporal’s guard, and in the army, and out of it had more than the intended effect.”  The troops used its first sentence as a watchword and later as a battle cry….

There is an old American folk tale about George Washington and the Crossing of the Delaware.  It tells us that the new American republics nearly failed in the winter of 1776, that George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night, and that his victory at Trenton revived the Revolution.  All of this story is true, but it is not the whole truth.  There was more to it.  The great revival did not follow the battles of Trenton and Princeton, important as they were.  It preceded them, and made those event possible (though not inevitable).  Further, the revival did not rise solely from the leadership of George Washington himself, great as he was a general and a man…it emerged from the efforts of many soldiers and civilians, merchants and farmers, leaders in the army and members of Congress.  Most of all it rose from the acts and choices of ordinary people in the valley of the Delaware, as Thomas Paine’s American Crisis began to circulate among them.

This great revival grew from defeat, not from victory.  The awakening was a response to a disaster.  Doctor Benjamin Rush, who had a major role in the event, believed that this was the way a free republic would always work, and the American republic in particular.  He thought it was a national habit of the American people (maybe all free people) not to deal with a difficult problem until it was nearly impossible.  “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity,” Rush wrote “We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.”

Earlier this year one of our commenters said that we are pamphleteer patriots, and so we are.  We have come to our own valley of Delaware.  Let our words, our acts, our choices, bring revival and awakening in our Republic.  Let us remember these words of Thomas Paine from The American Crisis:

…”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.

God bless you this Christmas night, and may God bless America in the coming year.

UPDATE: Stacy McCain put up a post on the Delaware crossing early Saturday morning:  ‘I think the game is pretty near up’.  The quote is from letters that George Washington wrote on December 18, 1776; one was to his brother, John A. Washington, and the other to another relative, Samuel Washington.  This quote is from the letter to his brother.  The bracketed phrase within it was in his letter to Samuel Washington.

I have no doubt but that General Howe will still make an attempt upon Philadelphia this Winter. I see nothing to oppose him a fortnight hence, as the time of all the Troops, except those of Virginia (reduced almost to nothing,) and Smallwood’s Regiment of Maryland, (equally as bad) will expire in less than that time. In a word my dear Sir, if every nerve is not strain’d to recruit the New Army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in a great measure, to the insidious Arts of the Enemy, and disaffection of the Colonies before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short Inlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the Militia the Evil consequences of which were foretold 15 Months ago with a spirit almost Prophetick….

You can form no Idea of the perplexity of my Situation. No Man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them. However under a full persuasion of the justice of our Cause I cannot [but think the prospect will brighten, although for a wise purpose it is, at present hid under a cloud] entertain an Idea that it will finally sink tho’ it may remain for some time under a Cloud.

Those letters were written the day before The American Crisis was published in the Pennsylvania Journal and five days before it was printed as a pamphlet for widespread distribution.  Do you see the importance of words and their providential timing?


H/T:  National Review; David Hackett Fischer,Washington’s Crossing (140-143),, The Other McCain, Library of Congress.

18 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 December 26 3:34 am
    bc3b permalink

    Just as Washington did, we need to surprise our enemies with a major offensive that catches them unprepared and off guard.

    I have been up all night as I drove my son to the airport to catch a 6 AM flight to San Francisco to visit a buddy. They plan to catch the Lions-49ers game Sunday. I told him to just say he knows JustRand and MP Thompson if he has any problems in the Peoples Republik. He left his Palin 2012 t-shirt home. That should help keep him out of trouble.

    Catch you later.

  2. 2009 December 26 6:10 am
    drdog09 permalink

    Nice read INC.

    Hope your Christmas was warm and fruitful.

    Pope Gaia the I must have been around Dallas somewhere. We had the first snowfall in 80 years Christmas Eve.

  3. 2009 December 26 6:18 am
    drdog09 permalink

    Al Qaeda Failed. What About Us? Ten Questions. No need to panic! Remember these acts are only crime scenes now.


  4. 2009 December 26 7:04 am
    justrand permalink

    bc3b, all kidding asise…we really would have your son’s back if it ever did come ot it. Just remind him to never look directly AT one of the Elites…he should lower his gaze and, should they deign to notice him, he should thank them profusely. The Elite are SO bizzy, you see, keeping us from harming ourselves.

    I can’t help him with the aftereffects of watching a 49’ers-Lions game. That’s kinda like a Cage-Match between the Hinderburg and the Titanic.

  5. 2009 December 26 7:12 am
    justrand permalink

    we had a wonderful Christmas…and did manage to spend considerably less this year than last.

    I knew it was a tall order for Santa when I sent my letter in…so I don’t hold it against Santa that Obama is still “President”.

    and Mrs. Justrand DID get me the ‘Angry Mob Playset’!! I’ll put up a post with it later today, I have to think of an appropriate way to display it! 👿

  6. 2009 December 26 7:17 am
    justrand permalink

    just read that some Nigerian guy was arrested for trying to highjack a passenger liner. I like to think that he was just eager to bring me my winnings from the sweepstakes, after I sent him the money for the “processing fee”. Drat!

  7. 2009 December 26 7:38 am
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    I didn’t get the angry mob play set. Bummer.

  8. 2009 December 26 7:41 am
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    I did manage to nearly make myself sick by drinking too much egg nog however. Blech.

  9. 2009 December 26 7:45 am
    justrand permalink

    it’s not the eggnog…it’s what ya put IN it! Eggnog & brandy always gives me a whopping headache!

    Mrs. Justrand got me a bottle of 18 yr. old Single Malt Scotch…I’m gonna crack that open tonight and try to forget who the “President” is! 🙂

  10. 2009 December 26 8:15 am
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    Half the web is down, seemingly…

  11. 2009 December 26 8:29 am
    justrand permalink

    not to make ya jealous, rwy, but I just posted a picture of my Angry Mob Playset!! 🙂

    Of course, sadly, the real thing is damn near inevitable at this point.

  12. 2009 December 26 11:47 am
    INC permalink

    Thanks, Dr. Dog.

    My Christmas was actually the most difficult of my entire life. My husband has been looking for employment for months and our financial straits have meant we had to move in with my mother. We have had to live with the scorn of other relatives. We are struggling to encourage and assist our young adult children to carry on with a future and a hope at a time when I feel little hope for the personal future of my husband and I.

    I have tried to carry on here. I will say that rare moments of encouragement for me have come from the past as I see others who were under horrible circumstances persevere, and I pour that out in my writing.

    I don’t know the circumstances of all of you–you may be in times better or worse than mine. I will say that it is discouraging and angering to me to spend time on a post–in some instances hours–and have little interaction with it in the comments. Sometimes I wonder how many are actually interested in anything I write. Some small respect for the topic of the post would be appreciated. I do understand that threads can meander, however, when a thread seems to generate primarily off-topic comments, I frequently feel that a better use of my time here would be just to put up threads titled, ‘Put Your Rant Here’ or ‘Give Us Your Daily Dose of Cynicism and Contempt’.

    How much time do all of you spend trying to encourage others when your own heart is shattered? If you must dwell in the mire of discouragement and cynicism and continually spew out words of despair while you have work, your own home and food on the table–then consider, are you worthy of those men and women who lived in the most wretched of circumstances–rape-pillage-hunger-sickness-death on every side–and yet persevered in 1776?

  13. 2009 December 26 12:23 pm
    JustMary permalink

    INC- my husband and I read this post last night, and he said it was one of his favorite posts yet! I adore the historical posts that you put up. Sometimes they are so good that they stand alone though- and it is hard to make comments because it goes without saying that the post was truly great.

    I am so sorry your family is struggling. We have been there. I absolutely know what it is like to feel like it is you against the world. When we hit rock bottom was when the Lord showed us His goodness and mercy. Literally lying on the floor asking God why, and begging for Him to save us……we had nothing but the Lord to rely on, and as I sit here today, I can tell you He is always faithful. I had this long response to you written just now, and I felt like that message would get lost if I left it as it was, so I erased it. The only thing you need to know, is that His eye is on the sparrow……so you know He watches you! How much more are you worth to Him than the sparrow!

    God bless you, friend. You are loved.

  14. 2009 December 26 12:47 pm
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    Some sat rich and unmoved by talk of liberty and tyranny in 1776 too.

    I sometimes wonder why the spirit of 76 does not burn more brightly today. IMO, there should already be states leaving the union or seriously considering it, at least. I think many are simply too terrified of the unknown, and chained to the federal handouts of printed cash.

    I am sure than those who resisted English tyranny in the revolution were viewed as oddballs by many. But at least some took it seriously enough to fight.

    Also I think the superiority of the military is another factor. We simply don’t imagine we can gain freedom for ourselves, against armed forces that could kill us in seconds and at no cost to themselves.

    Therefore any uprising cannot be local and survive, but must be national.

    Finally, there is the issue of who gets killed first. Frankly the first to resist will most likely be killed down to the last man. So, in order to get the rest of the country’s blood up, if it can be done at all, some small group of patriots has to go out and get killed.

    Nobody really wants to do that.

    So, we all sit and endure this statist advance, and talk. blah blah blah.

    Well, soon tax hikes will come, and carbon laws with all their restrictions on travel and energy use in the home.

    Jobs dead in the water. When will the people strike back? Gun bans? Breakups of demonstrations? Property confiscations?

    Never? Soon? Who knows, in the meantime, those fortunate enough to have jobs, have to work to provide for their families.

    Bottom line is inconclusive. No one knows what will happen.

  15. 2009 December 26 12:56 pm
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    Regarding the economic troubles….

    I would, if I could, share all that I have, including my roof, food and clothing, and utilities, with like minded patriots who have been struck with the curse of unemployment. (which I have been afflicted with twice in my life.)

    It would be an honor. From a distance that is harder to do, and I have been helping out with my dad and some others in my family as best I can.

    The scorn of relatives is an awful thing, and is not appropriate nor helpful. I have 2 in my immediate family who are jobless, and scorn is the last thing I would use, of course everyone SHOULD have work, but that’s not how things work sometimes. People are victimized by circumstances. I could be unemployed by spring, for all I know.

    People need to reach out in kindness and love, to those whose lives have been destroyed by this horrible and unnecessary recession.

  16. 2009 December 26 1:13 pm
    JustMary permalink

    I agree, yahoo. It is very wrong for family to be that way.

  17. 2009 December 26 1:37 pm
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    IMO, family should stand ready and happy to help, but little things sometimes get in the way of that.

  18. 2009 December 26 1:49 pm
    rightwingyahoo permalink

    When the people see the results of the health care fiasco next year, they are going to go crazy, and let the Dems continue with cap and trade, and amnesty, and there will be resistance, at least in the form of civil disobedience.

    Earlier this year, I tried, in my clumsy way, to get the arguemnt started regarding what the law is, where it is from, why we obey it, and when we should consider it void and openly flout it.

    Few people want to have that discussion, because the great human instinct is always to obey those above you without question.

    The way I interpret these posts that look back to the revolution is this: When will the patriots of this country draw a line that cannot be crossed? The founders and their sympathizers were no more than a third of the population then, and self identified conservatives are 40% of the nation now.

    It is now as it was then, only the despotism and tyranny we face is worse, although not all of it has been passed as yet.

    When will enough be enough?

    Perhaps the political sphere still has promise. So we must sit and wait, still longer…

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