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Good news for Christmas

25 December 2012

Summary: For Christmas we take one of our occasional breaks from our steady stream of bad news to deliver some good news. Regular service will resume tomorrow. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to you all!

Christmas peace

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Contents

  1. A special post about Christmas
  2. A video about Christmas history of America’s military
  3. A holiday reminder about gifts to those who defend America
  4. A real Christmas story, for which we should be grateful
  5. Good news about the world
  6. Posts with good news about America

(1)   A special post about Christmas

From 2011, well worth reading:  I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Marines in WWII.

(2)  A holiday reminder about gifts to those who defend America

(3)  A video about Christmas history of America’s military

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(4)  A real Christmas story, for which Americans should be grateful

Here is a Christmas story known to few Americans, which should be read by all:  Washington’s Gift by Thomas Fleming, Wall Street Journal, 24 December 2007 — “Our revolution could have ended in despotism, like so many others.”  Subscription only; an open copy appears at the David Gold website):

There is a Christmas story at the birth of this country that very few Americans know. It involves a single act by George Washington — his refusal to take absolute power — that affirms our own deepest beliefs about self-government, and still has profound meaning in today’s world. To appreciate its significance, however, we must revisit a dark period at the end of America’s eight-year struggle for independence.

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The story begins with Gen. Washington’s arrival in Annapolis, Md., on December 19, 1783. The country was finally at peace — just a few weeks earlier the last British army on American soil had sailed out of New York harbor. But the previous eight months had been a time of terrible turmoil and anguish for General Washington, outwardly always so composed. His army had been discharged and sent home, unpaid, by a bankrupt Congress — without a victory parade or even a statement of thanks for their years of sacrifices and sufferings.

Instead, not a few congressmen and their allies in the press had waged a vitriolic smear campaign against the soldiers — especially the officers, because they supposedly demanded too much money for back pay and pensions.

Washington had done his utmost to persuade Congress to pay them, yet failed, in this failure losing the admiration of many of the younger officers. Some sneeringly called him “The Great Illustrissimo”–a mocking reference to his world-wide fame. When he said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York early in December, he had wept at the sight of anger and resentment on many faces.

Congressman Alexander Hamilton, once Washington’s most gifted aide, had told him in a morose letter that there was a “principle of hostility to an army” loose in the country and too many congressmen shared it. Bitterly, Hamilton added that he had “an indifferent opinion of the honesty” of the United States of America.

Soon Hamilton was spreading an even lower opinion of Congress. Its members had fled Philadelphia when a few hundred unpaid soldiers in the city’s garrison surrounded the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), demanding back pay. Congressman Hamilton called the affair “weak and disgusting to the last degree” and soon resigned his seat.

The rest of the country agreed. There were hoots of derision and contempt for Congress in newspapers from Boston to Savannah. The politicians took refuge in the village of Princeton, N.J., where they rejected Washington’s advice to fund a small postwar regular army, then wandered to Annapolis.

In Amsterdam, where brokers were trying to sell shares in an American loan negotiated by John Adams, sales plummeted. Even America’s best friend in Europe, the Marquis de Lafayette, wondered aloud if the United States was about to collapse. A deeply discouraged Washington admitted he saw “one head turning into thirteen.”

Was there anyone who could rescue the situation? Many people thought only George Washington could work this miracle.

Earlier in the year he had been urged to summarily dismiss Congress and rule as an uncrowned king, under the title of president. He emphatically refused to consider the idea. Now many people wondered if he might have changed his mind. At the very least he might appear before Congress and issue a scathing denunciation of their cowardly flight from Philadelphia and their ingratitude to his soldiers. That act would destroy whatever shreds of legitimacy the politicians had left.

At noon on Dec. 23, Washington and two aides walked from their hotel to the Annapolis State House, where Congress was sitting. Barely 20 delegates had bothered to show up.

The general and his aides took designated seats in the assembly chamber. The president of Congress, Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania, began the proceedings: “Sir, the United States in Congress assembled are prepared to receive your communications.”

Mifflin had been one of the generals who attempted to humiliate Washington into resigning during the grim winter at Valley Forge. He had smeared Washington as a puffed-up egotist, denigrated his military ability, and used his wealth to persuade not a few congressmen to agree with him. A few months later, Mifflin was forced to quit the army after being accused of stealing millions as quartermaster general.

Addressing this scandal-tarred enemy, Washington drew a speech from his coat pocket and unfolded it with trembling hands. “Mr. President,” he began in a low, strained voice. “The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I now have the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.”

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of “my countrymen” and the “army in general.” This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: “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 \[Congress\] to his holy keeping.”

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.

Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life.” Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was — is — the most important moment in American history.  The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America’s government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. “The moderation. . . . of a single character,” he later wrote, “probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”

In Europe, Washington’s resignation restored America’s battered prestige. It was reported with awe and amazement in newspapers from London to Vienna. The Connecticut painter John Trumbull, studying in England, wrote that it had earned the “astonishment and admiration of this part of the world.”

Washington shook hands with each member of Congress and not a few of the spectators. Meanwhile, his aides were bringing their horses and baggage wagons from their hotel. They had left orders for everything to be packed and ready for an immediate departure.

The next day, after an overnight stop at a tavern, they rode at a steady pace toward Mount Vernon. Finally, as twilight shrouded the winter sky, the house came into view beside the Potomac River. Past bare trees and wintry fields the three horsemen trotted toward the white-pillared porch and the green shuttered windows, aglow with candlelight. Waiting for them at the door was Martha Washington and two grandchildren. It was Christmas eve. Ex-Gen. Washington–and the United States of America–had survived the perils of both war and peace.

Fleming gives a misleading impression of Thomas Mifflin. From his Wikipedia entry:

Early in the Revolutionary War, Mifflin left the Continental Congress to serve in the Continental Army. Although his family had been Quakers for four generations, he was expelled from the Religious Society of Friends because his involvement with a military force contradicted his faith’s pacifistic nature. He was commissioned as a major, then became George Washington’s aide-de-camp and, in August 1775 Washington appointed him to become the army’s first Quartermaster General under order of Congress.  He was good at the job, but preferred to be on the front lines. His leadership in battle gained him promotions to colonel and then brigadier general. He asked to be relieved of the job of Quartermaster General, but was persuaded to resume those duties because Congress was having difficulty finding a replacement.

In Congress, there was debate regarding whether a national army was more efficient or if individual states should maintain their own forces. As a result of this debate the Congressional Board of War was created, on which Mifflin served from 1777 to 1778. He then rejoined the army but took little active role, following criticism of his service as quartermaster general. He was accused of embezzlement and welcomed an inquiry; however, one never took place. He resigned his commission — by then, as a major general — but Congress continued to ask his advice …

(5)  Good news about the world

From the always interesting Cracked.com: “5 Amazing Pieces of Good News Nobody Is Reporting” by J. Wisniewski, 23 December 2013

(6)  Good news about America

These posts discuss the good news for America, an antidote to the doomsters.

  1. Good news: The Singularity is coming (again), 8 December 2007 — History tends to look better over longer time horizons. For example, consider one bit of good news: the Singularity is coming.
  2. Some good news (one of the more important posts on this blog), 21 December 2007 –  I do not believe we need fear the future, despite the tough times coming soon.  This remains a great nation, not because of our past but because of us and our polity.  We differ from almost every other nation.  The difference consists of our commitment to our political order, of which our Constitution is the foundation.  In this we are like Athens more than our neighbors …
  3. A crisis at the beginning of the American experiment, 27 December 2008 — Looking at the problems looming before us, it is easy to forget those of equal or greater danger that we have surmounted in the past.
  4. An important thing to remember as we start a New Year, 29 December 2007 — As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of those amidst the clatter of daily events. Here is my list…
  5. Is America’s decline inevitable? No.. 21 January 2008 – Why be an American if one has no faith in the American people?  How can you believe in democracy without that faith?
  6. Let us light a candle while we walk, lest we fear what lies ahead, 10 February 2008 — Many people look to the future with fear. We see this fear throughout the web. Right-wing sites describe the imminent end of America: overrun by foreigners, victim of cultural and financial collapse. Left-wing sites describe “die-off” scenarios due to Peak Oil, climate change, and ecological collapse – as the American dream dies from takeover by theocrats and fascists.  Most of this is nonsense, but not the prospect of massive changes in our world. But need we fear the future?
  7. Fears of flying into the future, 25 February 2008 — Reasons we need not fear the future.
  8. Experts, with wrinkled brows, warn about the future, 2 May 2008 — Experts often see the future with alarm, seeing the dangers but not benefits. That gets attention, from both the media and an increasingly fearful public. Both sides feed this process. It need not be so, as most trends contain the seeds of good and bad futures. This post considers two examples.
  9. Good news about the 21st century, a counterbalance to the doomsters, 9 May 2008
  10. A snapshot of our engines of innovation, as they develop new energy sources, 12 May 2008 – There are many solutions under development to the energy crises.  These things just take time, even decades, to mature.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 December 2012 6:53 am

    Great post for the holidays Mr. Fabius! I will keep the troops in my heart and give them praise. I too appreciate your “antidotes to the doomsters.” America will prevail; so be it through a crisis. Hardship will make us stronger and bring out the long missed revolutionary character of the American people.

    happy Holidays,
    Ryan

    Like

  2. Matt D. permalink
    25 December 2012 3:03 pm

    So the continental army veterans were never paid? That’s actually kind of depressing. I mean, 3 cheers for civilian control of the military… but it looks like it was always corrupt, cronyistic civilian control, even from the very beginning.

    Like

    • 25 December 2012 3:50 pm

      Matt,

      Agreed. I think that’s an amazingly scummy aspect of the story. We were fortunate. A refusal to adequately reward soldiers was a major factor in the fall of the Roman Republic.

      Also note that this story is not fair to Thomas Mifflin. From Wikipedia:
      Early in the Revolutionary War, Mifflin left the Continental Congress to serve in the Continental Army. Although his family had been Quakers for four generations, he was expelled from the Religious Society of Friends because his involvement with a military force contradicted his faith’s pacifistic nature. He was commissioned as a major, then became George Washington’s aide-de-camp and, on August 14, 1775 Washington appointed him to become the army’s first Quartermaster General under order of Congress. He was good at the job, but preferred to be on the front lines. His leadership in battle gained him promotions to colonel and then brigadier general. He asked to be relieved of the job of Quartermaster General, but was persuaded to resume those duties because Congress was having difficulty finding a replacement.

      In Congress, there was debate regarding whether a national army was more efficient or if individual states should maintain their own forces. As a result of this debate the Congressional Board of War was created, on which Mifflin served from 1777 to 1778. He then rejoined the army but took little active role, following criticism of his service as quartermaster general. He was accused of embezzlement and welcomed an inquiry; however, one never took place. He resigned his commission—by then, as a major general—but Congress continued to ask his advice.

      Like

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