As a former history major, I often reference our past to explain the importance of our founding principles. At times, I’ve been criticized for this by those who use 21st Century values to judge – and sometimes condemn – the 18th Century morality of our Founding Fathers.
Using this same standard, I wonder if people today would be able to rise to the challenges faced by the Founders. That generation didn’t have today’s legal or regulatory safeguards or any social safety nets to protect them. Yet, they not only survived, they established the foundations that made this the greatest nation in history and allows us to continue to thrive and prosper today.
What would you have done in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775? Would you have stood with 77 of your Lexington neighbors to face 700 British troops – then one of the premiere military forces of the time? What would you have done after shots rang out and eight colleagues lay dead and another nine wounded?
Fifteen months later, would you have stood with John and Samuel Adams and others in support of Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States . . . “? Or, would you have joined with John Dickinson and Robert Morris, who left and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence?
In August 1776, would you have joined 56 members of Congress to sign the Declaration? If you had signed, would you have been one of the five who were later captured and tortured as traitors? Or, would you have been one of the nine who died from wounds or other hardships? Or, would you have been one of the twelve who had their homes ransacked and burned?
Would you have remained with Washington’s Continental army when the largest British fleet ever assembled to that time landed 32,000 troops in New York City – when some said the masts looked like a “forest of pines” across the bay? Would you have persisted after the (losing) battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, and Fort Washington?
Would you have celebrated Christmas 1776 with Washington’s depleted army of 2,400 who had trudged across miles of territory in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania? Would you have taken hours to cross a half-frozen Delaware River in the dark of night and freezing temperatures to surprise Hessian soldiers in Trenton?
Would you have stayed with the army at Valley Forge and Morristown, New Jersey during the brutally cold winters of 1777-1778 and 1779? How would you have reacted to no food, no pay, and no clothes or shoes? Like Washington, would you have been amazed at decisions to remain when there was little to keep you?
As a civilian, how would you have dealt with death and disease, an economy in ruins, rampant inflation, and lawless marauding bands that ransacked, raped, and pillaged? Would you have given up on the cause?
Would you have been like Mary Ludwig Hays and others who volunteered their service? Like Mary, would you have carried pitchers of water to soldiers and reportedly taken over a cannon after her husband collapsed during battle, earning her the nickname “Molly Pitcher”?
Using 21st Century values, it’s easy to find fault with the Founders. Like us, they had their faults and flaws. There were cowards and there were betrayals.
Yet, they stayed the course for eight long years when defeat was much more likely than victory. In the process, they established a nation that George Washington said was “little short of a standing miracle.”