Tuesday, December 23, 2014

George Washington Resigns His Commission on December 23, 1783

On this day in 1783, General George Washington strode into the State Capitol Building in Annapolis, Maryland and did one of the most remarkable things anyone has ever done in the history of the world. The phrase may be trite, but Washington was "on top of the world" or at least his world. Many Americans already regarded him as the father of his country, and more than a few expected him (and were even calling upon him) to become dictator of the new nation just as Oliver Cromwell had done in England over a century prior. It was the natural order of things, but Washington flatly refused such a suggestion and instead did something virtually unheard of.

Other than Vietnam and the 21st century's "War on Terror," the American Revolution (aka the Revolutionary War) was the longest war in U.S. history. Next to the American Civil War, it was also the war that hurt Americans at home more than any other. And at the end of the war in 1783, the new nation was in disarray and desperate for strong leadership. They weren't getting such leadership from Congress, which was impotent under the Articles of Confederation. They needed a strong national leader to bring the various states and factions together, heal the nation's economy, shore up the nation's security, project strength abroad, and forge a path toward progress. The temptation for Washington to be that guy must have been enormous, but Washington knew the cost of giving into such pressure. This new nation, in Washington's mind, should not be characterized by dictators, kings, martial law, violent insurrections, or the bloody transfer of power. As difficult and frustrating as the path might be, Washington believed the only sure path to national success was one that honored the Rule of Law and popular consent.

With this in mind, Washington kept his army in the field after the victory in Yorktown to keep pressure on the British, while at the same time doing his best to keep peace in the Continental Army itself - an army torn with strife over inadequate supplies and unpaid wages. In early 1783, he talked down his officers from leading an open revolt against Congress (even resorting to a display of theatrics with his spectacles) and turned away any and all suggestions that he become king or dictator. Though such an offer was never formally made, the prospect was dangled in front of him continually throughout 1783. Finally, in December of that year, just weeks after the British formally recognized American independence (bringing the American Revolution to an official end), Washington made his decision. He would leave the army and go home as a private citizen. And he would leave the success of America in the hands of civilian authority.

On December 23, 1783, Washington made good on his promise. Appearing before the Congress in Annapolis, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army (and, as such, the most powerful man in America) resigned his military commission and (in his words) took "leave of all the employments of public life." In his brief remarks Washington offered: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping." According to one observer, there was in the Congress that day a "shedding of copious tears."

We now know, of course, that Washington's retirement was not permanent. But he (in 1783) didn't know that, and neither did the nation. It was only with great reluctance that Washington answered the call to public life again in 1787 with the Constitutional Convention and then in 1789 to take the oath as the first President of the United States under the U.S. Constitution.

The day after resigning his commission before Congress in 1783, George Washington rode his horse back to his beloved Mount Vernon as a private citizen to spend Christmas with his loving wife, Martha. This was the greatest Christmas present Washington could give to the United States. We still benefit from this gift today, though we take it for granted. So remarkable was it for a victorious leader of a revolution and a new nation to walk away from power that King George III called Washington "the greatest man in the world." Indeed he was, and in my opinion, he remains one of the greatest men in human history.

**For more on George Washington's character, check out The Religion of George Washington: The Faith and Moral Philosophy of our Greatest Founding Father

Thursday, December 04, 2014

General Washington Bids Farewell to His Officers

On this day (December 4) in 1783, General George Washington held a private reception in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern for his officers, many of whom had served alongside him for most, if not all, of the American Revolution. This reception was one of the few times in Washington's life where he was unable to contain his emotions. As the reception drew to a close, Washington toasted his officers, saying: "With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable." He then asked his officers to come to him, so that he could greet them individually and wish them well. 

General Henry Knox, one of Washington's most loyal and steadfast officers, was the first to take the hand of his retiring commander. The normally granite, self-controlled Washington was, according to Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, "suffused in tears" and "incapable of utterance." As each officer came by to take the general's hand and express their appreciation, Washington's emotions were "too strong to be concealed." In his memoirs, Tallmadge wrote: "Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed and fondly hope I may never be called to witness again.

While we should rightly be moved by the mutual affection felt between Washington and his officers, we must also recognize what this moment meant for the United States of America. The greatest act of George Washington's life was when he voluntarily resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army upon Britain's official recognition of American independence. This marked one of the ONLY times in recorded history where the victor of a revolution walked away from power willingly. Washington would do this once again when he voluntarily left office after two terms as President, but this resignation beats even that. For in 1783, George Washington was, without dispute, the most powerful man in the country, and a majority of Americans at that time would have gladly accepted him as king or dictator. Given the chaotic conditions of the infant nation in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution and before the current Constitution was ratified, it had to be tempting. But Washington flatly refused any suggestion of dictatorship. Instead, he returned his commission to Congress and returned to his beloved Mount Vernon as a private citizen. For this act alone, Washington deserves every monument erected to him and every school, building, city, or state named in his honor. And he deserves the gratitude of every American living today.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

And the First President of the United States was....

Ask any American who was the first President and the answer you'll typically get is George Washington. That answer is, of course, correct if the question refers to the current government under which our nation functions. George Washington is indeed the first President since the Constitution of the United States was ratified (1788). But the United States had a government prior to the current Constitution. And, in that government, there were other men who carried the title "President of the United States." For more on this subject....

The United States is better off with the current Constitution as opposed to the inefficient Articles of Confederation, yet we can still be grateful for those Founders who served with distinction even in the midst of an insufficient national government.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by an American President was given by George Washington. On this Thanksgiving Day, I encourage you to read the wisdom of President Washington...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In Honor of Veterans Day...

A worthy message from America's greatest hero and first Commander-in-Chief...

Monday, September 01, 2014

Mount Vernon Rolls Out Beautiful Online Documentary on Yorktown Campaign

The folks at Mount Vernon have unveiled a beautiful documentary on George Washington's successful campaign to end the American Revolution at Yorktown. The really cool thing is that, despite high production values, it's free! Check it out at...


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oops! Britain to US: Sorry for Joking About Burning Your Capital

Two hundred years after the British burned the federal buildings in the U.S. capital to the ground, the British Embassy found itself feeling some heat - once again, of its own making. Seems that a few embassy staff thought it was humorous to poke fun over the whole burning of the White House and Capitol Building that their troops carried out in August 1814 during the War of 1812 (a war named after one year, but which actually encompassed three years). You can read more about the diplomatic "oops" and the Embassy's subsequent apology at the link below...

Maybe the US Embassy in Britain should post a similar tweet in January 2015 (specifically January 8), when we get to the Bicentennial of Andrew Jackson's decisive thrashing of the British army at New Orleans. Then again, maybe not. We are allies today, after all.

Friday, August 01, 2014

WatchMojo.com Ranks George Washington #3 in List of Top 10 Presidents

Despite the fact that a successful George Washington presidency was indispensable to the United States of America getting off the ground as a stable, self-sufficient country, WatchMojo.com ranked him behind Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Here's the video....

Personally, I'd rank Lincoln as #2. Yes, his accomplishments were immense, and the United States would've surely divided into two or more countries, were it not for his leadership. But there would have been no United States to divide - no country to fight a civil war - had Washington failed. And to rank Franklin D. Roosevelt above Washington is intellectually unforgivable. Does FDR belong in the Top 10? Absolutely. Probably even in the Top 5. But ahead of the father of our country? Puleeeeeze.

What are your thoughts on the WatchMojo.com ranking?

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Revolutions: David R. Stokes Contrasts the American and French Revolutions

"The American and French Revolutions are linked in history largely because of chronology, but they were vastly different affairs," writes David R. Stokes in a column for TownHall.com. "One led to a new birth of freedom - the other to terror and tyranny, becoming the prototype for unspeakable horrors to come."

To read more, go to...

David R. Stokes is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Shooting Salvationist. He's also an ordained minister, a broadcaster, and a commentator based in Northern Virginia. And, as my friend and former pastor, he's been something of a spiritual and professional mentor to me personally. And in this article, he articulates quite well the key differences between the two Revolutions in July, and why we as Americans should be forever grateful for the legacy of our Founders.

Happy Reading.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

July 2 -- 238th Anniversary of Most Important Congressional Vote and a False Prediction by John Adams

John Adams: wrong about July 2
Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago today (July 2), the Second Continental Congress voted unanimously for independence, officially severing ties with the British Empire - at least in their minds. They still had to fight a war to get the British to see things that way. As John Adams saw it, this date - July 2 - would go down as "the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America." In a July 3 letter to his wife Abigail, he prophesied that it would be celebrated every year "as the great anniversary Festival" complete with "Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." But...

It was not to be. The American people chose to celebrate the Fourth of July (rather than the Second of July) as the "great anniversary Festival," thanks in large part to the power of the pen. While the Congress formally voted for independence on the Second of July in 1776, it wasn't until two days later that they officially declared the reasons for their independence to the world. They did so, of course, in the form of the Declaration of Independence, authored primarily by Thomas Jefferson. The anniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence became "the great anniversary Festival" Adams spoke of, only it was to be celebrated on the Fourth and not the Second.

This turned out to be somewhat of a source of envy for Mr. Adams. When future generations remembered the most significant action of the Second Continental Congress, they would think of Thomas Jefferson thanks to the eloquence of Mr. Jefferson's pen and not John Adams, who probably did more than any other congressional delegate to secure unanimous approval of America's independence.

Fortunately, Adams is remembered for the second most important vote Congress took, that being the selection of George Washington to be the commander of the newly formed Continental Army. That vote was taken in June 1775, and it was that masterstroke which united North and South against Great Britain and gave command of the army to a man they could all trust.

Even though Americans may think of Jefferson in connection with the Fourth of July before they think of Adams, few can dispute the immense role John Adams played in the birth and success of the United States of America.

**To read more about the contributions of John Adams, check out David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winning John Adams and also his outstanding narrative history of 1776.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

1776 Printing of Virginia Declaration of Rights Acquired for Yorktown Museum

YORKTOWN, Va., July 1, 2014 – A rare newspaper printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor of the United States Declaration of Independence, has been acquired for the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, replacing the Yorktown Victory Center by late 2016.  The June 12, 1776, issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette containing the Virginia Declaration will be exhibited in the new museum galleries near a July 1776 broadside of the U.S. Declaration of Independence that currently is on exhibit at the Yorktown Victory Center.  

It was the June 12, 1776, Pennsylvania Gazette version of the Virginia Declaration that was available to Thomas Jefferson and the other delegates selected by Congress to draft the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a task they began in Philadelphia on June 11, 1776.  Expressing principles that citizens have the right to “enjoyment of life and liberty … and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,” and that “all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people,” the Virginia Declaration of Rights directly influenced the composition of the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and many later statements of basic human rights.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights was an outcome of a resolution passed by the Virginia Convention on May 15, 1776, appointing a committee to prepare a declaration of rights and plan of government and instructing Virginia’s delegation to the Continental Congress “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”  A draft of the Virginia Declaration, whose principal author was George Mason, first appeared in The Virginia Gazette on June 1, 1776.  It subsequently appeared in newspapers outside Virginia, including The Pennsylvania Gazette on June 12, coincidentally the same date as a modified version of the declaration was adopted by the Virginia Convention.  

The Pennsylvania Gazette, founded in 1728, was one of America’s most prominent newspapers during the 18th century and for a time was published by Benjamin Franklin. The June 12, 1776, issue containing the text of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was acquired with private gifts to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., which directs fundraising efforts for private gifts, manages an endowment, assists with the acquisition of artifacts, and supports special projects and programs of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a Virginia state agency that operates Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center history museums.

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will present a comprehensive overview of the people and events of the Revolution, from the mid-1700s to the early national period, through gallery exhibits, films and outdoor living history.  The Yorktown Victory Center continues in daily operation as a museum of the American Revolution throughout construction, which is occurring in phases and will include a move from the existing museum building to the new facility in early 2015.

Located at 200 Water Street in Yorktown, the Yorktown Victory Center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through August 15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily beginning August 16.  Admission is $9.75 for adults, $5.50 for ages 6 through 12.  A combination ticket with Jamestown Settlement is $20.50 for adults, $10.25 for ages 6-12.  For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll free or (757) 253-4838, or visit www.historyisfun.org

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chess for the Revolutionary War Enthusiast

The American Revolution Chess Set
Love chess? Chess is one of my all-time favorite games - a rich, classy game centered on skill and strategy. If you're in the market for a cool chess set, there are many unique chess sets to make any history lover drool. From the classic, can't-go-wrong medieval chess set to The Civil War Chess Set (which I fell in love with as a young boy) to chess sets featuring dragons and wizards and, of course, to a chess set that honors the most important period in American history (the Revolutionary War), there are plenty of options available.

Revolutionary War enthusiasts will of course enjoy simply playing chess on a Revolutionary War chess set, but there are "get your history on" while playing the greatest board game the world has ever played. Here are a couple...

Teach Your Kid the American Revolution and How to Play Chess at the Same Time!

If you're a parent, a great way to use The American Revolution Chess Set is to ask history questions before allowing any moves. When I taught high school history, I would often do review games in class. One of my standbys was to divide the class into two halves in a Tic-Tac-Toe competition. I'd throw out a question and the students on each side (either as individuals in turn or as a group) would need to answer the question before putting their X or O on the board. The games were fun and it helped the students remember what they had learned. You can do something quite similar with The American Revolution Chess Set.

If your child is older, then you each would make a list of questions for the other player to answer before they can move a piece -- or before they can capture a piece. If your child is younger, then you make the list of questions and, to keep things fair, you can let your child know exactly what you're planning to do game-wise (so there are no surprises for him or her) or you can give him or her the opportunity to move twice in a row (provided of course they answer the questions).

Battle of Revolutionary War History Buffs

If you're playing against a fellow history buff, what you can do is (after playing a regular, standard game naturally) make a list of 10 questions about the Revolutionary War for your opponent to answer. Your opponent will do the same. For each question answered correctly, you get a point. Tabulate your score. Now, when it comes to the game itself, you don't automatically get a queen when you advance your pawn to your opponent's back row. Instead, you assign a point value to each power piece: 10 for queen, 8 for rook, 6 for bishop or knight, and so on. When you get your pawn to your opponent's back row, you have however many points you earned in the Revolutionary War quiz to work with. If you got all 10 questions, you get a queen. If not, well...you get the idea.

These are some cool ways to enjoy the classic game of chess while also testing your knowledge of the American Revolution. Feel free to add any other ideas in the comments.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chuck Norris on Thomas Jefferson

Martial arts legend and action movie star Chuck Norris weighs in on the third President of the United States in his latest political opinion column. According to Norris, we Americans have bought into some serious myths concerning Thomas Jefferson, and he hopes to set the record straight. You can check it out at the link below...

Have a great day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Smithsonian to Honor Star-Spangled Banner Bicentennial

This coming Flag Day (June 14), the Smithsonian's Museum of American History will display the Star-Spangled Banner and the actual manuscript in which Francis Scott Key penned the words that would become our national anthem. This is the first time these two items have been displayed side-by-side. Read more about it at the article below...