By William Haupt III | The Center Square contributor
General George Washington and the Continental Army crossing the Delaware River in boats on Christmas Day
"We must remember, mankind allows that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community, are equally entitled to the protections of civil government." – George Washington
The greatest Christmas gift the world received was the night of our savior's birth. And its greatest gift to world freedom came on Christmas Eve, 1776, on the banks of the Delaware River – America.
The birthing of America was not easy. Only a third of the colonists supported a Revolution. It pitted neighbors against neighbors. These patriots were not only rebelling against the British. They were fighting other colonists who were loyal to British King George, parliament and the English church.
Often overlooked are the "fence sitters" who were content living free from monarchical dominance. They enjoyed colonial religious and economic freedoms, and tolerated the British as a necessary evil. The patriots needed to earn the support from these neutralists in order to win the Revolution.
The patriots humiliated the Loyalists in public and subjected them to violence, intimidation, ridicule and harassment. They vandalized their property and burned down their businesses. Even families were divided. Ben Franklin's son William, governor of New Jersey, was loyal to the king.
“He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows or judge all he sees.” – Ben Franklin
Colonists who did not join the patriots united with the British as obedient subjects. Others thought they could profit from selling arms and war supplies to the British without true allegiance to anyone.
Patriots had been building support for the Revolution since the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. In severe debt, the British enacted the 1765 abusive Stamp and the 1767 Townshend Acts. Following the patriots 1773 Tea Party in Boston Harbor, they passed The Coercive Acts in 1774. And that was the final insult the patriots needed to win the war of propaganda against the British!
Gifted orators like Patrick Henry and Enlightenment thinkers John Locke and Thomas Paine kept the momentum for revolution growing with colonial statesmen, politicians and with uneasy patriots.
“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so that my children may have peace.” – Thomas Paine
No man in the colonies was more persuasive with the commoners and the peasants in promoting the Revolutionary War than Enlightenment thinker and gifted English writer Thomas Paine. He had led reform movements in Europe and Paine inspired farmers, workers and commoners to revolt.
Paine went from towns, hamlets and villages distributing copies of his 90-page booklet, "Common Sense." Paine preached the rewards and the substantiality of independence to patriots who never dreamed it was an option.
“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” – Thomas Paine
On April 18, 1775, the British marched from Boston to Concord, Massachusetts, to seize stockpiled colonial weapons. Paul Revere rode through the streets of Boston rallying the patriots: "The British are coming, the British are coming!" The next day, when the patriots and the Redcoats clashed at Lexington and Concord, it was "the shot heard round the world.” This signified the beginning of the Revolution and, most importantly, it marked the birthing of America as the guardian of global liberty.
When the minutemen fired the first shots of the Revolution, the Redcoats were well prepared. They had superior weapons, ammo, uniforms and abundant food and medical supplies. They were ready to defend their turf. They were prepared to fight a marathon battle to stop the colonial insurrection.
On the other hand, the colonies had a volunteer army with no central government and little money. They sent troops to the Continental Army, but kept many behind to protect themselves. Many of the colonies were more concerned for self-survival, while the British were determined to win the war.
Late in 1776, the Revolutionary War looked like it was a lost cause. The patriots lacked uniforms, food, ammunition and weapons and some were even shoeless. There was tremendous suffering from cold and starvation. A series of defeats had depleted morale, and many had already deserted.
In the bitter cold on Christmas Eve 1776, dogged by pelting sleet and snow, George Washington knelt in prayer at McKonkey's Ferry asking the Lord for the right words to inspire his troops to keep going. They needed to cross the Delaware River for a surprise attack on the British.
Historian James Cheetham wrote: "As Washington mounted his horse that night he pulled a draft of Thomas Paine's 'American Crisis' from his saddle bag. As he began reading it, he knew that it was the answer to his prayers. When he returned to camp he ordered it read to his troops immediately.''
“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. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives a thing its value. 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.” – Thomas Paine
The next morning, Christmas Day 1776, Washington’s army crossed the icy Delaware and won two crucial battles. He defeated the British at Trenton and a week later he executed a daring night raid to capture Princeton on January 3. This gave control of New Jersey to America and turned around the morale and unified the colonial army. Washington's insightful reading of "The American Crisis" on Christmas Eve 1776 turned a humbling defeat into a glorious victory for the American patriots!
Shortly after the war John Adams remarked: “Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.”
Washington’s men basked in its victory at Trenton since they had defeated a much mightier foe. Moreover, they realized Washington was a true leader and he could unite the colonies into a strong nation. Washington's faith in the Lord and his respect for the scholarly works of our Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Paine, John Locke and others would help him articulate the Philadelphia Convention and write the world's longest lasting constitution.
The Lord guided Washington to victory on Christmas in 1776 at a time America needed a miracle to become a nation. He showed our founders how to form a more perfect union of states in 1787. He has continued to bless this nation in so many ways since 1776. Let us pray He will help us unite this divided nation so we can always defend our liberty.