In this Vale of Humiliation…

19th June 1778,

The Continental Army marches out of Valley Forge exactly 6 months after they arrived. The Army entered the encampment with little food and almost no equipment after suffering two disheartening defeats at Brandywine and Germantown. The harsh weather coupled with the lack of supplies immediately began to take its toll on the Continentals, as many began to fall to injury, starvation, and disease. General George Washington, encamped with his men, concluded that the army, if not equipped soon, would have to disperse. Johann de Kalb, a foreign volunteer, wrote to his friend upon seeing the army, “it is very certain that half the army is almost naked, in a great measure bare-footed.” Petitions made to Congress did little to alleviate the situation. Congress was powerless to tax individual States to provide supplies, the States being much more concerned with supplying their own militias rather than the army sponsored by Congress. It was clear that the Army encamped at Valley Forge was on its own.

The situation looked bleak as the winter plodded on. Little food or clothing had made its way to the troops, and hundreds of men were carted out of camp each week to die in regional hospitals.

It seemed to all of the officers that the army was on the verge of collapse, but somehow they held together.

In February the Baron Friedrich Von Steuben arrived with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin himself. Von Steuben was an unemployed Prussian officer who met Franklin while he was in France attempting to secure an alliance with the French King. General Washington, after reading the letter, immediately commissioned Von Steuben as a General and placed him in charge of a new and comprehensive training regimen. Von Steuben’s military bearing, colorful uniforms, and even more colorful language boosted the spirits of the men, and his strict training shifted the men from a motley collection of different units from around the country into a single, cohesive army

In the meanwhile, General Washington understood that training meant very little if the army was not equipped, so he tasked General Nathanael Greene, his most brilliant young commander, with supplying the army. Greene accepted the demotion to the rank of Quartermaster General and worked tirelessly to ensure that all manner of supplies ranging from blankets to bayonets were provided to the troops, and after many months of deprivation the army finally began to receive the equipment and provisions it desperately needed. As the harsh winter finally transitioned to spring the army transformed from a barefoot and ragged band to a well-equipped and highly trained fighting force.

As spring progressed it brought with it more good news. The Marquis De Lafayette, who had spent the winter with the men at Valley Forge, was instrumental in helping to secure an alliance between the Americans and his native France. His correspondence with French officials detailed the growth and fighting spirit of the American Army. A treaty was formally reached in February, and on May 6th word reached Valley Forge that the French would be joining the fight, as well as providing even more weapons and men.

On June 19th, a highly trained and confident Continental Army marched out of Valley Forge, and less than 2 weeks later would meet the British at Monmouth. The hardships those men endured were beyond the comprehension of most of their contemporaries, and cannot be fathomed by most Americans living today. Of the 12,000 + men who marched into the encampment more than 2500 would be dead before winters end. A letter written by George Washington to the Governor of New York written during that long winter stands as a testament to the steadfast bravery and dedication of the Continental Soldier: “Naked and starving as they are, We cannot enough admire the patience and Fidelity of the Soldiery.”

Today, Valley Forge stands as a monument to the fighting spirit and sacrifices made to ensure the Freedom of our Country. By many, Valley Forge is regarded to this day as the birthplace of the U.S. Army, yet in many regards it may also be considered the birthplace of the United States of America.

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The Declaration of Independence, an indepth look for the average American.

The United States Declaration of Independence has often been called one of the most important documents ever written. I happen to agree with that assessment, and it is hard to deny the document’s significance not only in American history, but world history in general. To put that in perspective, before the Declaration was written and published, no nation at that time had considered the formation of a Republic, or a government “of the people” as a viable course of action. Within fifty years many nations, including mighty France, had adopted many of the principles put forth by the Declaration. To say that the document forever changed the course of world history is a bold understatement.

Yet, while most Americans know what the Declaration of Independence is and what it means, few people today have actually read the document in completion, and fewer still have interpreted its passages and analyzed their meaning or put them into context. I feel it is important for all Americans to have a basic working knowledge of the Declaration, why it was written, and what it represents not only to the past, but to the present and to the future. And considering that I enjoy American history, what better place is there to start than at the Document that in principle founded the country.

While the Declaration is not an overwhelmingly long document (1458 words), I don’t think it can be fully analyzed or appreciated in just one or two blog posts, so I plan on writing a series of posts which will break down the passages and explain their meaning and significance in a more detailed fashion, yet keep the conversation in laymen’s terms. For this series I will focus on the Declaration itself, and not necessarily the build up or politics leading to the Continental Congress, though at times it will be necessary to reference those events briefly (I hope)

But before I continue, let me just say that I am not an expert on American History; I hold no degrees or diplomas on the subject. I am only a person who is passionate about the events the led to the foundation of The United States of America. I also feel the need to point out that some of my conclusions in these posts will be based solely on my opinion and my own interpretations. That being said, those conclusions are certainly open to debate and/or disagreement. So let’s start with the Introduction:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,

 When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

At the time the Declaration was written, the colonies were a known entity in Western Europe as well parts of the East. North America, with its vast resources including farming, forestry, and fishing among others, was a huge source of new industry, and ongoing  trade with foreign vendors was a great source of income. Britain, engaged in a costly war with France, had imposed a series of taxes on the colonies to help pay for their war efforts, among other reasons (which is a whole other series of blog posts). But while the colonies were hardly a hidden, unknown settlement, their tribulations with Britain may not have been as widely known in other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. For all the world knew and understood, the situation in the colonies was just fine for the most part. So it was considered proper for the delegates of the Continental Congress to introduce themselves as a new nation, fully united, “unanimous’ in its choice to separate from the “mother country” as an equal and sovereign nation. And quite truthfully an explanation for this “rebellion” was necessary on many levels.

During the late 18th century, those in power in Continental Europe would not have taken too kindly to an upstart colony on another continent suddenly deciding to govern themselves by putting power with the common man for no apparent reasons. These were monarchies whose power structures hadn’t changed for hundreds of years, and they too had colonies worldwide. If a nation as powerful as Great Britain could not control one of its colonies, what did that bode for them and the future of their colonies? The founding fathers were intelligent enough to realize that they would need the support of the European powers, not only in principle but also in funding and possibly even militarily. They had to assure these countries that their cause was a just one, and that as a sovereign nation they would be a welcome entry onto the world stage, ready to conduct business, continue trade, form alliances, and promote stability.

When concerning the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God…” Jefferson was heavily influenced by English philosopher John Locke. Once again, it is difficult to sum up the teachings and theories of a person as influential as John Locke in a few blog paragraphs, and I’m not going to try. In short, Locke believed that man was born with certain Natural Rights that no manmade laws or governments could take away. His views on religious freedom, personal property, and politics were highly revolutionary at the time. As I said, it is difficult to summarize Locke’s philosophy on a blog, and if you are interested in learning more I would suggest reading Locke’s Two Treatises of Government as a good starting off point. Regardless, Jefferson and the other founding fathers felt that self-governance and independence was a right afforded them by Nature and by God, and though in theory that right could not be taken away by man, they still felt the need to present their case to the world at large and to explain what would cause a seemingly stable and generally prosperous colony to suddenly, daresay mysteriously dissolve a longstanding relationship with Great Britain.

Conclusion:

In just one sentence, the introduction to the Declaration of Independence presents the new country of The United States and its separation from Great Britain as a right of nature, informing the world that the decision was made unanimously in a respectful tone, yet never asking permission for self-governance, rather, asking only to present the reasons for that separation.

In my next post we will discuss the Preamble, perhaps the most famous paragraph ever written, and why even today it still represents the standard by which government should be held.