By Christmas Eve of 1776, the American Revolution was, in essence, over. The Americans had lost. George Washington was out of options. His army, now down to only a few thousand, had lost seven battles in a row and was freezing on the west bank of the Delaware River awaiting the end. The British, on the other hand had 33,000 soldiers, well over a hundred ships and were partying in New York City and preparing for the final surrender. Most of the American troops had resolve, but they had lost hope that England could ever be defeated. Half of Washington’s army, 1,500 men, were quitting that week and going home because their enlistments were up.
Washington decided on one final offensive. He gathered the same fishermen who had helped him retreat in August from New York and had his beleaguered troops ferried across the half frozen Delaware at midnight on Christmas Day. Just before they boarded the boats, the General had The American Crisis, the challenge by Thomas Paine, read to the men.
“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 his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ‘Tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to set proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has right [not only to tax but] ‘to bind us in all cases whatsoever’ and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon the earth. Even the expression is impious, for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”
[Read the rest of the article at World History Institute.]