This Monday, July 4, we will celebrate the signing of our country’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, which proclaimed America’s right to liberty from Great Britain. However, our forefathers learned that it is one thing to proclaim liberty, but quite another to attain it. It would be a long, hard six years before that proclamation would become a reality.
As we gather in backyards, parks and other places to enjoy barbeque, cool drinks and sweet deserts, I want to remind us all of what it took to give us cause to celebrate. In December of 1777, General George Washington moved his 12,000 man army to winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. That winter was to prove to be one of the harshest on record and one which caused the deaths of 2,500 men of the beleaguered army. On February 16, 1778, Washington wrote the following to Governor George Clinton from the harsh encampment of Valley Forge:
“Dear Sir: It is with great reluctance, I trouble you on a subject, which does not fall within your province; but it is a subject that occasions me more distress, than I have felt, since the commencement of the war; and which loudly demands the most zealous exertions of every person of weight and authority, who is interested in the success of our affairs. I mean the present dreadful situation of the army for want of provisions, and the miserable prospects before us, with respect to futurity. It is more alarming than you will probably conceive, for, to form a just idea, it were necessary to be on the spot. For some days past, there has been little less, than a famine in camp. A part of the army has been a week, without any kind of flesh, and the rest for three or four days. Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been ere this excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny or dispersion. Strong symptoms, however, discontent have appeared in particular instances; and nothing but the most active efforts every where can long avert so shocking a catastrophe.
Our present sufferings are not all. There is no foundation laid for any adequate relief hereafter.”
A few weeks later, still suffering from lack of food and clothing, he penned the following words in his General Orders issued on March 1:
“Contingencies of weather and other temporary impediments have subjected and may again subject us to a deficiency for a few days,1 but soldiers! American soldiers! will despise the meaness of repining at such trifling strokes of Adversity, trifling indeed when compared to the transcendent Prize which will undoubtedly crown their Patience and Perseverence, Glory and Freedom, Peace and Plenty to themselves and the Community; The Admiration of the World, the Love of their Country and the Gratitude of Posterity!”[emphasis added]
So, as you enjoy the plentiful bounty afforded us in America and revel in watching the firework displays along with stirring, patriotic music, pause and reflect upon the sacrifices of those brave men in the freezing cold for whom we, their posterity, owe an immeasurable amount of gratitude. On this July 4th, may we all resolve to not let their suffering be in vain but determine to reclaim the liberty being wrested from us by our own government.
-July 1, 2016