Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
July 5, 2011
The American triumph
It was Christmas Day, 1776, and America was in peril. British reprisal for our Declaration of Independence had been swift. Their troops pushed General George Washington’s Continental Army out of New York and captured Manhattan. They chased them out of New Jersey. Washington’s army was shrinking as many of his soldiers’ enlistments expired and others deserted. As they retreated across the Delaware River into eastern Pennsylvania, it seemed the War for Independence might end before it began.
The General knew he needed to do something to boost the morale of his troops and infant nation. British troops were camped in Trenton, across the Delaware River to the south. But Washington’s dwindling forces were in no shape to mount an offensive.
On December 19, Thomas Paine published a new pamphlet, titled The American Crisis. When Washington read it, he ordered that it be read to his troops. It begins: “These are the times that try men’s souls; 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. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
The next day, some 3,000 soldiers from other areas joined Washington’s forces camped in Pennsylvania, doubling their size. So the General decided to seize the moment. He planned a crossing of the frozen Delaware River under cover of darkness. Despite floating ice and drizzle that turned into a blizzard, he was able to get most of his troops across the river along with 18 pieces of artillery and horses to move them. Their password was “Victory or Death.”
They launched a surprise attack on British forces camped in Trenton, and came away with muskets, powder, artillery and supplies as well as 1,000 prisoners. Three Americans were killed and six wounded. The victory, led personally by George Washington, restocked his supplies and gave his troops a critical morale boost. It became the first significant victory of the War for Independence, and led to the freedom we celebrated yesterday.
Today’s times still “try men’s souls,” don’t they? From Minnesota’s government shutdown to wildfires in New Mexico to economic fears in Greece and the Western world, these are challenging days. God promises us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). How can we “acknowledge him” in all our ways?
Let’s learn from our first General and President. On the day he took the oath of office as our first Chief Executive, George Washington swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.” Then he added the unplanned, unscripted words: “So help me God.” Will our nation follow his example today? Will you?