Filed under: Freedom, History, Military, The United States, United Kingdom | Tags: Commander in Chief, George Washington, The American Army
Imagine, you just turned 43 years old, and suddenly you find yourself Commander in Chief of a ragtag American army, such as it was. The battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill had already been fought when Washington arrived in Massachusetts, and had established that the British could not break out of Boston. Once Washington placed the captured British cannon on Dorchester Heights, the British evacuated by sea.
Washington had been named Commander in Chief by the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in June 1775. He was forty-three years old. There was not yet any American army for him to command, only the militias ringing Boston, but the delegates of the increasingly rebellious colonies were seized by fury for action and for war. “Oh that I was a soldier,” wrote John Adams, a radical lawyer from Massachusetts. “I will be. I am reading military books. Everybody must and will, and shall be a soldier.”
Adams never became a soldier, but Washington had already been one. He had served in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War twenty years earlier, rising to the rank of colonel. In his old age, Adams would describe Washington’s selection as a political compromise—a southern commander, to lead what would at first be a mostly New England force—engineered by congressional wise-men, including Adams. But Congress did not have many other officers to choose from, Israel Putnam, of the Connecticut militia, was, at 57, too old. Artemas Ward, the commander of the Massachusetts militia, was incompetent and suffering from the stone.
The state begins in violence. However lofty the ideals of a new country or a new regime, it encounters opposition, as most new regimes and countries do, it must fight. If it loses, its ideals join the long catalogue of unfulfilled aspirations.
At six o’clock on the evening of July 9, 1776, the soldiers of the main American army, stationed in New York, were paraded and read the Declaration of Independence. General George Washington, Commander in Chief, hoped this “important event” would inspire them, though when some soldiers joined a mob in pulling down a statue of George III, he deplored their “want of order.” Over the next two months the American army and its commander, orderly or not, were unable to offer much in defense of the Declaration’s sentiments. …
During the summer, the British assembled, on Staten Island and in the harbor, the largest expeditionary force of the eighteenth century: ten ships of the line, twenty frigates, and 32,000 regular troops. On August 22, most of those troops began moving to Gravesend Bay on Long Island, in what is now southwest Brooklyn. Anticipating a possible landing there, Washington had posted more than a third of his own force of 19,000 men on Brooklyn Heights, and on a line of hills to the south. But he expected the British to attack him on the harbor side of his position, where they could bring the guns of their ships into play. On the morning of the 27th, the British slipped a force through the hills five miles away in the opposite direction and hit the American front line from before and behind.
These are excerpts from Richard Brookheiser’s Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, which he calls a moral biography, which has two purposes: to explain its subject, and to shape the minds and hearts of those who read it—by showing how a great man navigated politics and a life as a public figure. Brookheiser says “If Washington’s contemporaries were too willing to be awed, we are not willing enough. …We have lost the conviction that ideas require men to bring them to earth, and that great statesmen must be great men. Great statesmen are rare enough in their world. We believe they are mythical, like unicorns.” They are not.
According to recent studies, our kids don’t know anything about George Washington, nor do most adults. There is some speculation that the problem is big fat books. People are more apt to read thin books that don’t scare them about the time involved. Answering that need is a new short biography by the great British historian Paul Johnson. The paperback is only $8.71, and a hardback is available.
ADDENDUM: The picture above is a forensic reconstruction of Washington as a General, and Commander in Chief. Getting a likeness is hard. You get one thing just a little off, and you have lost the resemblance. Washington’s skin was pale, we are told, and he burned in the sun. I don’t think the tricorn hat gives even as much protection as a baseball cap, so I’m sure he appeared much more weathered, with squint lines (no sunglasses). His real hair was reddish. But nasty Stuart Gilbert did him real dirt down through the ages by overemphasizing the distortions of false teeth, and getting a poor likeness. Remember that, every time you look at a one dollar bill. It was deliberate.
Filed under: Freedom, History, Military, National Security, The United States, United Kingdom | Tags: George Washington, History, The Constitution
Reposted from 2010.
“Washington was keenly aware that whatever he did would become a precedent for the future. How often should he meet with the public? How accessible should he be? Could he have private dinners with friends? Should he make a tour of the new states?” He sought advice from those closest to him, including his vice-president, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury. The only state occasions that any of them were familiar with were those of European monarchies.
“Hamilton thought that most people were ‘prepared for a pretty high tone in the demeanor of the Executive,’ but they probably would not accept as high a tone as was desirable. “Notions of equality,” he said, were “yet…too general and too strong” for the president to be properly distanced from the other branches of the government.” Gordon Wood tells of the dilemmas.
“When Washington appeared in public, bands sometimes played “God Save the King.” In his public pronouncements the president referred to himself in the third person. His dozens of state portraits were all modeled on those of European monarchs.”
We can be truly grateful that Washington was so aware that he was establishing precedent, and so careful of what he said and did. He was setting an example, and everything he did was intended to hold the new nation together, to form a more perfect union.
One simple problem was what to call the president. John Adams had discussed the problem with his colleagues in Massachusetts. They called their governor “His Excellency”: should not the president have a higher title? Adams thought only something like ‘His Highness’ or ‘His Most Benign Highness’ would answer. Washington was said to have initially favored “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” The Dutch leaders of the States-General of the United Provinces called themselves “Their High Mightinesses” and they were leaders of a Republic.” Madison managed to get his fellow congressmen to vote for the simple republican title “President of the United States.” And that was that.
Washington was relieved when the title question was settled. But “he still was faced with making the institution of the presidency strong and energetic.” In fact, said Gordon Wood, “the presidency is the powerful office it is in large part because of Washington’s initial behavior.”
Filed under: Architecture, Art, Europe, History, Literature, Music, Pop Culture, United Kingdom | Tags: Architecture- Art & Learning, Considering the Middle Ages, Not so Dark - Dark Ages
Professor Anthony Esolen for Prager University. We’ve been told that the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, were characterized by oppression ignorance and backwardness in areas like human rights, science, health and the arts? We have been misled.
Filed under: Entertainment, Freedom, Heartwarming, Humor, Military, Music, The United States, United Kingdom | Tags: "Can't Stop the Cavalry", Wish I Could Be Home For Christmas
I’m a sucker for tuba music. This song comes in many versions, this one was made seven years ago for the troops.
Filed under: Canada, Europe, Heartwarming, History, Military, United Kingdom | Tags: A Strange Interlude, An Ugly War, Trench Warfare
Here is Sainsbury’s official Christmas 2014 advertisement, made in cooperation with the Royal British Legion. It was inspired by very real events one hundred years ago. The chocolate bar featured in the video is being sold by Sainsburys, a British supermarket chain, all profits go to the Royal British Legion and benefit British armed forces and their families.
The Wall Street Journal published an article on the Christmas Truce in 1914. A British soldier named Frank Richards wrote about the event:
On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one…. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench…
Up and down the four hundred-odd miles of trenches on the Western Front, men risked their lives with similar acts, meeting opposing soldiers in “no man’s land.” Wary and unarmed, they made their way out of their trenches, taking steps that, a day earlier, would have guaranteed their death at the hands of sharpshooters and machine gunners a hundred yards away.
The relaxation of hostilities spread, and what has come to be called the “Christmas truce” took hold. Soon, soldiers were holding joint burial services for the dead. They began trading goods. British soldiers had been given holiday tins of plum pudding from the king; German soldiers had received pipes with a picture of the crown prince on them; and before long the men were bartering these holiday gee-gaws that celebrated the enemy’s royals. Eventually, soldiers prayed and caroled together, shared dinner, exchanged gifts. Most famously, there were soccer matches at various locations, played with improvised balls.
The truce mostly held through Christmas and, in some cases, even to the New Year. It took senior officers’ threats for fighting to resume, and such comprehensive battlefront peacemaking never happened again during the Great War. Courts-martial were brought against those involved later in even brief Christmas truces to retrieve the dead.
ADDENDUM: Here’s a photograph of a real football game played on the battlefield in 1914 during the Christmas truce, from Twitter.