Monday, July 20, 2009

True in the Crucible of Power


The year is 1783. The place is Newburgh, New York. After over six years of conflict and battles, the Revolutionary War is finally over. As a peace treaty is being negotiated in Paris with Great Britain, a perilous moment in the life of our new American democracy is occurring. Officers of the Continental Army are meeting to discuss their grievances and consider a possible revolt against Congress. They are angry over the failure of Congress to honor its promises to the army regarding salary, bounties and life pensions. The officers had heard that the American government was going broke and that they might not be compensated at all.

On March 10, 1783, an anonymous letter was circulated among the officers of Washington's camp. It addressed those complaints and called for a private meeting of officers to be held the next day, to consider possible military solutions to the government’s problems and its financial woes. When he learned of this, General Washington wisely forbade the officers from attending the unauthorized meeting. Instead, he suggested they meet a few days later at the regular meeting of his officers. Meanwhile, another anonymous letter was circulated, this time suggesting that Washington himself was sympathetic to their claims. Some of the officers wondered if Washington would lead them in another rebellion for their cause ….

And so, on March 15, 1783, Washington's upset and frustrated officers gathered in a church in Newburgh, effectively holding the fate of democracy in America in their hands. Unexpectedly, General Washington himself showed up. He was not entirely welcomed by his men, but nevertheless, spoke to them … He reminded them of their mutual sacrifices, and expressed gratitude for their “cheerful assistance and prompt obedience” while serving together in the war of independence. He pledged to help them obtain amends for their grievances. Then he firmly stated: “…let me [summon] you, in the name of our common country, … to express your utmost horror … of the man who wishes, under any [false] pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our country, and who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood.” He closed by encouraging them to “patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings.”

This speech was not very well received by his men. The question of a military overthrow still hung in the balance. If Washington decided to join his men, he could march on Philadelphia and become King of America. As we know, such events had happened before in history. That, however, was the furthest thing from his mind. After a long silence, Washington took out a letter from a member of Congress explaining the financial difficulties of the government. After reading a portion of the letter with his eyes squinting at the small writing, Washington suddenly stopped. … His officers stared at him, wondering. Washington then reached into his coat pocket and took out a pair of reading glasses. Few of them knew he wore glasses, and were surprised. "Gentlemen," said Washington, "you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."

In that moment of unreserved honesty, Washington's men were deeply moved, even shamed, and many were quickly in tears, now looking with great affection at this aging man who had led them through so much. Washington read the remainder of the letter, then left without saying another word. … After a long silence, his officers then voted unanimously to submit to the rule of Congress. Thus, the civilian government was preserved -- and the young experiment of a republic in America continued on … George Washington stood true in the crucible of power.
By: J. David Gowdy
______________________________

Monday, July 13, 2009

July 14, 1861















This letter was written from Sullivan Ballou, a 32-year-old soldier in the Union Army, to his 24-year-old wife, Sarah.
"July 14, 1861 Camp Clark, Washington
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days-perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing-perfectly willing-to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .
Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me-perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . ."

Ballou was killed in the first battle of Bull Run a week later.
By: J. David Gowdy