These are the Times that Try Men's Souls
With December, 1776, drawing to a close, General George Washington had not only been driven out of New York and chased across New Jersey by the British, but had also been deserted by Congress. In addition, 6,000 of his soldiers were anxious to leave for home in two weeks when their enlistments ran out.
But Washington could not wait for even two weeks. His troops were not only demoralized, hungry, and ill-equipped, but most of them would soon be leaving.
On December 23, Washington formed his bedraggled Americans into ranks and had them listen to a stirring message written by Thomas Paine. It included the famous words which have been recited by Americans from that day to this:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Dr. W. Cleon Skousen comments: “It usually takes more than mere words to arouse and inspire beaten soldiers, but these lines of Thomas Paine somehow had their impact on Washington’s shivering, hungry, threadbare patriots. A sense of renewed commitment and sacred mission returned to their souls. Two nights later they crossed the Delaware. The weather was so cold two of them froze to death. Nevertheless, they caught the British mercenaries completely off guard in a groggy hangover the morning after Christmas day. In a brilliant flourish of organized fury, Washington captured the whole British contingent of a thousand Hessians without a single American being killed. Two were wounded, including James Monroe, who later became President of the United States.” (See The Making of America, p. 79)
The Nature of a True Patriot
It is interesting to observe that the number of real patriots is always very small compared to the whole population. A true patriot usually puts forth much more effort, anguish, and sacrifice than what most people, who later enjoy the benefits, will ever know. In 1776, there were between three and four million residents in the 13 colonies. Washington’s army in the above account had less than 10,000 (only 2500 actually invaded Trenton). That’s less than one-half of one percent (.5%) of the entire country. Where were the others? They were mostly enjoying the warmth of their homes with plenty to eat, especially at Christmas time. Did they know what was happening to Washington? Probably not. Did they benefit from Washington’s actions? Most certainly.
A true patriot is always a pioneer. He is years ahead of most others in his vision and purpose. John Adams tried to convince the Massachusetts legislature to adopt a three-branch government in his state years before it became popular. Thomas Jefferson tried to get Virginia to do away with slavery and an official state church years before it finally did.
A true patriot is willing to sacrifice his own life and fortune for the benefit of the cause, when most others are not willing to give up their comforts of life. Rush Limbaugh reminded us, “Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were, at one time or another, the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word.”
A true patriot usually develops an incredible amount of patience with people who are otherwise good people, but for some reason just have not yet caught the vision of the cause of liberty. He sees them enjoying their own lives and benefiting from the freedom and liberty in the country, but they don’t seem to be concerned enough to realize that their freedom is in serious enough jeopardy to really get involved.
After the Revolutionary War, the Founding Patriots had more
wrenching lessons to learn in their quest to learn about unity
Winning the Revolutionary War against the most powerful nation on earth was an incredible accomplishment. Many Americans thought that was the final step to becoming a free nation. They had finally thrown off the yoke of Britain. Now they could really be free. But wait! Most of them did not realize that they did not yet know how to govern themselves as a united republic. Providence still had more heart-wrenching lessons to teach them, which is usually the case with all of us who think we have endured enough! After the war, conditions turned from bad to worse.
England and Spain and even many Americans expected the U. S. to collapse. There were internal revolts, depressions, riots, high taxes, inflation, jealousy between states, and a rising spirit of profligacy among some people.
Alexander Hamilton outlined the miserable state of affairs for the nation in these words:
“We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely anything that can wound the pride or degrade the character of an independent nation which we do not experience.”
On November 5, 1786, some ten months before the Constitution was signed, Washington addressed the following comments to his fellow Virginian, James Madison:
“No day was ever more clouded than the present…. We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion…. How melancholy is the reflection…. What stronger evidence can be given of the want of energy in our government than these disorders?… A liberal and energetic constitution, well guarded and closely watched to prevent encroachments, might restore us.”
On December 26, 1786, the following sentiments were expressed to General Henry Knox:
“I feel, my dear General Knox, infinitely more than I can express to you, for the disorders, which have arisen in these states.! Who … could have foreseen, or … predicted them?”
On February 3, 1787, only about seven months before the signing of the Constitution, he wrote: “If … any person had told me that at this day I should see such a formidable rebellion … as now appears, I should have thought him a bedlamite, a fit subject for a madhouse.”
Even halfway through the Constitutional Convention, Washington was so depressed he wished he had never come.
So, with individuals and families suffering and sacrificing, and with the nation facing nearly insurmountable challenges, what does a true patriot do?
True patriots humble themselves in order to receive God’s help
A true patriot turns to God as the only answer. He begins to rely on his deep conviction that God is with him in his cause, or more correctly said, that he is with God in His cause. He is convinced of the saying that, “One man and God make a majority.” He will persevere. He will endure hardship and trials nearly to the point of breaking. He may even come to think that, like Job of old, God is allowing him to be tested to see how deep his faith really is and to perhaps experience the awful power and influence of the adversary in the affairs of men. Just as he thinks he can go no further, he seems to cry out, “Oh God, where art thou?” With all the strength he can muster he reaches to his inner most soul and begins to exercise extraordinary faith that God is still in control of the destinies of this earth and of this country and of the very individual himself. He knows that time is on the side of truth. He may not be able to see the end or know how it all will work out, but he knows that truth will win in the end. And so it was in the latter end of the Convention of 1787, when it appeared to man that all was lost. But, as though a light came piercing through the darkness, the spirit of God seemed to whisper, “Be still and know that I am here.”
Here are just a few of their testimonies found in the introduction of the new edition of The 5000 Year Leap :
James Madison: “The great objects which presented themselves [to the Constitutional Convention] … formed a task more difficult than can be well conceived by those who were not concerned in the execution of it. Adding to these considerations the natural diversity of human opinions on all new and complicated subjects, it is impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed as less than a miracle.”
James Wilson: “I can well recollect, though I believe I cannot convey to others, the impression which, on many occasions, was made by the difficulties which surrounded and pressed the [federal] convention. The great undertaking sometimes seemed to be at a stand; at other times, its motion seemed to be retrograde. At the conclusion, however, of our work, many of the members expressed their astonishment at the success with which it terminated.”
Benjamin Rush: “Doctor Rush then proceeded to consider the origin of the proposed [Constitution], and fairly deduced it [was] from heaven, asserting that he as much believed the hand of God was employed in this work as that God had divided the Red Sea to give a passage to the children of Israel, or had fulminated the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai.”
Benjamin Franklin: “I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance [as the framing of the Constitution] … should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”
James Madison: “The real wonder is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted [in the federal convention], and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”
George Washington: “It appears to me … little short of a miracle that the delegates from so many different states (which states … are also different from each other in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national government so little liable to well-founded objections.”
Charles Pinckney: “When the general convention met, no citizen of the United States could expect less from it than I did, so many jarring interests and prejudices to reconcile! The variety of pressing dangers at our doors, even during the war, were barely sufficient to force us to act in concert and necessarily give way at times to each other. But when the great work was done and published, I was not only most agreeably disappointed, but struck with amazement. Nothing less than that superintending hand of Providence that so miraculously carried us through the war … could have brought it about.”
George Washington: “[The adoption of the Constitution] will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it.”
A Personal Observation Concerning Modern-Day Patriots
Over the years, I have been impressed with the quality of true patriots who are involved today with the effort to restore the Constitution in the tradition of the Founding Fathers. They are certainly not summer soldiers or sunshine patriots. They are committed for the long haul. Just as in the days of the Founders, they are few in numbers compared to the population of the nation. They are involved in many different vocations and avocations. They sometimes put different emphasis on points of the freedom formula, but for the most part they are amazingly balanced in their approach to solving problems faced by our society. They are respected in their community, actively participate in their churches, and frequently gather their children and grandchildren around them as reminders that the blessings of liberty do extend not only to themselves but most importantly to their posterity.
I have also seen some of these wonderful patriots face unbelievable challenges, sometimes because they have supported the cause of truth and freedom. Some of them, like the Founders, seem to be tried to the very core. They seem to face the adversary head on, as he attempts to thwart the work of freedom. I have seen a few of them commit their whole fortunes to this cause. The fortunes of which I speak have been in the millions of dollars for a few, and have been the widow’s mite of a few dollars a month for some others.
In all their trials and hardships, I have heard them bear testimony to the fact that they know the work of freedom is a Godly work and that they must go on in the effort. It is as though they have freely taken upon themselves the same sacred pledge the earlier Founders took: “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
It would be inappropriate for me to mention names of these wonderful people. They have been working and sacrificing mostly behind the scenes for many years with no desire of public notice. By their unnoticed acts of sacrifice, they seem to reflect the principle taught by the Lord that “.thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
Not trying to be a judge of these matters, but if these times and perhaps still future times really are “the times that try men’s souls,” then these true patriots will surely be worthy of heaven’s approbation. I consider it an honor to be associated with them in this work.