American Elephants

A Speech to Remember by The Elephant's Child

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Calvin Coolidge’s Famous Fourth of July Speech

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

When Did We Become Americans? by The Elephant's Child

The word “American” was first used to denote a person of European descent living in British North America only in 1765, but became common after that. Previously people had been citizens of various British colonies.

There was no “United States” at that time. There was a Continental Congress and a Continental Army and Navy. The states had agreed to a basic framework of government in 1781— the Articles of Confederation — to replace the administration of the Second Continental Congress. The power was invested in Congress, members were appointed by state governments  and served at their pleasure. It had no power to tax. Foreign nations noticed that America was essentially powerless and they took advantage of that fact.

John Steele Gordon notes that “it was by no means the least of the lucky breaks that the United States has had in its history was the time at which it came into existence and established its fundamental laws:”

In one of history’s great coincidences, Adam Smith published
The Wealth of Nations in 1776. It destroyed the intellectual underpinnings of the mercantilism on which the economic policies of Western nations had been based for two hundred years.

It showed in example after example, each more powerfully argued than the next, that unfettered trade, both within and without the country, and a government that did not take sides as individuals competed in the marketplace resulted in greater prosperity for all and thus greater power for the country as a whole. Many of the Founding Fathers had read Smith, and all knew the thrust of his arguments.

The United States was new and didn’t have all sorts of long-established monopolies and systems to be dismantled. No entrenched aristocracy, and being new, was open to new ideas. It was easier to adopt the ideas of Adam Smith into its politics and economic system than it was for other Western nations. Just one of the lucky breaks we got at the establishment of the Nation.

A Rebellion With Lots of Spirit, No Money. by The Elephant's Child

“The country that declared its independence on July 4, 1776, had many advantages in the military struggle with Britain that was already under way. Finances,  however, was not one of them.

The United States was fighting on its home ground and could react quickly. Britain had to fight from a distance of three thousand miles and with a communications time lag of at least three months, often four. The American military commanders and politicians were intimately familiar with that ground; their British counterparts were often profoundly ignorant. Most of all, the United States had only to avoid losing the war until the British government and people tired sufficiently of the struggle and its mounting costs. Britain had to defeat and pacify a vast country awash in rebellion.

But Britain had virtually unlimited financial resources; the Americans had hardly any. Because of those resources it could deploy the largest and best navy in the world (although it had been allowed to decay considerably since the end of the Seven Years’ War). The British army was second to none in training and equipment, and could be easily augmented with hired foreign troops. The Americans had to scratch together what forces they could using state militias and privateers as much as if not more than the Continental Army and Navy.

The rest had to come from borrowing, some from wealthy Americans committed to the cause, but mostly from France and Holland, who were both, of course, far more interested in humbling Britain than in helping the Americans. Along with money, they also supplied about 60 percent of the gunpowder used by American forces. During the course of the war, American privateers seized some two thousand British vessels, worth, together with their cargoes some 18 million pounds.” *

So to overcome the limits of borrowing, the Americans turned to the printing press, with the usual result — inflation. From early 1779 to early 1781 prices rose nearly tenfold. Robert Morris, a Philadelphia merchant, took charge in 1781 and was able to raise financing to move the Continental Army from New York State to Yorktown, Virgina.

The French fleet blocked the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, cutting off relief to the British army. If the British wanted to continue the war they would have to raise, equip and transport a new army.  There was no political will to do so. The British were “war weary” in the common phrase of journalists. The British began negotiating a peace treaty that resulted in formal recognition of American independence in 1783. The Americans won the war by not losing.

* John Steele Gordon: An Empire of Wealth

Liberty Weekend, 1986 by The Elephant's Child

The 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty,in 1986, with all sorts of Hoopla in New York City: Bands, dancers, ice skaters?, tall ships, new citizens, fireworks, and President Reagan relights the Statue of Liberty with a laser.

Today the Statue is being newly opened after repairing the damage from Hurricane Sandy. The statue itself  wasn’t damaged, but the walks and island were.

The War Against England Begins: by The Elephant's Child

WilliamDiamond's Drum
July 2, 1775

General Washington arrived in Cambridge. The next morning, without ceremony, he took over command from General Ward. For the following two or three days he toured the lines, appraising his forces, their camps and their fortifications. He was accompanied by General Charles Lee who wrote to his old friend Robert Morris in Philadelphia: “We found e everything exactly the reverse of what had been represented. We were assured at Philadelphia that the army was socked with engineers. We found not one. We were assured that we should find an expert train of artillery. They have not a single gunner, and so on…”

 Two weeks later, he remarked of the army, “I really believe not a single man of ’em is capable of constructing an oven,” Lee was a soldier of fortune who had seen a variety of troops in several parts of the world. He was described by a Yankee clergyman as “a perfect original, a good scholar and soldier, and an odd genius, full of fire and passion and but little good manners; a great sloven, wretchedly profane, and a great admirer of dogs.” Lee said of New England’s enlisted men:

…they are admirable — young, stout, healthy, zealous, good-humoured and sober.  Had we but uniforms, compleat arms, more gentlemen for officers, I really believe a very little time and pains would render ’em the most invincible army that have appeared since the first period of the Roman Republic …The more we consider the affair of Bunker’s Hill the more wonderful it appears…

July 27, 1775

Three and a half weeks after his arrival at Cambridge, Washington summed up his efforts and the general situation in this way:

My whole time since I came here has been impolyed in throwing up lines of defence at these three several places; to secure, in the first instance, our own troops from any attempts of the enemy; and, in the next, to cut off all communication between their troops and the country …Their force, including Marines, Tories, etc., are computed, from the best accounts I can get, at about 12,000 men. Ours, including sick, absent, etc., at about 16,000 …

The enemy are sickly and scarce of fresh provisions…I have drove all the live[stock] within a considerable distance of this place back into the country, out of the way of the men-of-war’s boats. In short, I have, and shall continue to do, everything in my power to distress them. The [British] transports are all arrived, and their whole reinforcement is landed, so that I can see no reason why they should not, if they ever attempt it, come boldly out and put the matter to issue at once. If they think themselves not strong enough to do this, they surely will carry their arms (having ships of war and transports ready) to some other part of the continent, or relinquish the dispute; the last of which the Ministry [in England] unless compelled, will never agree to do. Our works and those of the enemy are so near and quite open between that we see every thing that the other is doing.

August 14, 1775

Reinforcements continued to arrive.  A newspaper report stated:

Last night arrived at the camp, …Swashan the chief, with four other Indians of the St. Francis tribe, conducted by Mr. Reuben Colburn, who has been honorable recompensed for his trouble. The above Indians came to offer their services to the cause of American liberty, have been kindly received, and are now entered the service. Swashan says he will bring one-half of his tribe and has engaged four or five other tribes, if they should be wanted.

Other new arrivals at Cambridge were additional riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Dr. Thacher described them:

They are remarkably stout and hardy men, many of them exceeding six feet in height. They are dressed in white frocks or rifle-shirts, and round hats. These men are remarkable for the accuracy of their aim, striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance…They are now stationed in our  line, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose them selves to view, even at more than double the distance of common musket-shot.

Late in August, Washington wrote:

…As we have now nearly compleated our lines of defence, we [have] nothing more, in my opinion, to fear from the enemy, provided we can keep our men to their duty and make them  watchful and vigilant. But it is among the most difficult tasks I ever undertook in my life to induce these people to believe there is, or can be, danger till the bayonet is pushed at their breasts…

The stalemate in Boston was to drag on until the following spring. But a second front was moving to attack Quebec. The province was largely inhabited by Frenchmen who were not all reconciled to having British masters.  In the summer of 1775 there were only about eight hundred regulars in the whole of Canada. One expedition under General Philip Schuyler and General Richard Montgomery assembled at Ticonderoga prepared to boat northward on Lake Champlain, hoping to capture St. Johns and Montreal before heading on to Quebec. The second expedition under Colonel Benedict Arnold proposed to go up through the wilderness, up the Kennebec River.

This is the point at which you have to read Kenneth Roberts Arundel and Rabble in Arms, historical novels written in the 1930s that turned many a young man into an historian. They follow Steven Nason of Arundel, Maine, as he joins Benedict Arnold in his march to Quebec. I have always loved those books.

From Voices of 1776 and Rebels and Redcoats

Can’t Have the Fourth of July Without a Sousa March! by The Elephant's Child

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