At the beginning of the conflict, the American Revolutionary Army stood with 20,000 men. However, by December 1776 the revolution was in trouble. Without a victory against the better trained and larger British army, the American army was being chased from town to town and morale was dropping. By the middle of December the numbers of men had dropped to about 2000, most of whom were in their teens.
In July of 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain with these words penned by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration concluded with these stirring words, “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.”
At the beginning of the conflict, the American Revolutionary Army stood with 20,000 men. However, by December 1776 the revolution was in trouble. Without a victory against the better trained and larger British army, the American army was being chased from town to town and morale was dropping. By the middle of December the numbers of men had dropped to about 2000, most of whom were in their teens. So serious was the situation at this time that it might well have been the graveyard of the hopes for freedom. Murmurs of dissatisfaction were heard, and whispers of discontent with Washington’s leadership resounded back to his ears. And with the loss of Trenton, the British were beginning to celebrate victory. They jubilantly proclaimed, “That most dangerous and unprovoked Rebellion that ever existed,” was about to be completely destroyed, and that, “the business is pretty near over.” It only remained to mop up the last pockets of resistance.
Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense that helped ignite the revolutionary cause, had traveled with Washington as a war correspondent. Realizing the urgency of the situation, he sat down to write. Legend has it that he sat on a stone writing on a drum head, immune to the winter’s cold, with his musket across his knee, wearing Washington’s coat, and with a stroke of genius penned “The American Crisis” with these blazing words of inspiration: “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 every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
After four months of desperate retreat across New Jersey, George Washington decided on a final gamble — to re-cross the ice-filled Delaware River and attack some 1,200 Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, the same mercenaries who in earlier battles had struck terror into the hearts of his men. On Christmas Day in 1776, Washington ordered Paine’s “The American Crisis” read to his ragtime band of teenage fighters. That night they crossed the river and by morning were at Trenton. The Hessian’s were caught by surprise and before they could assemble their arms to fight, Washington’s exhausted army had them surrounded. With their commander wounded, and many of their men killed and wounded, the Hessian’s surrendered.
Washington, fearing the worst, asked for a list of casualties. To his amazement, not one American soldier had been killed. He quickly took his prisoners and marched back across the river before British reinforcements could arrive. Washington had his first victory, and over the next few years, in the cold and bitter reality of war and death, a nation was born.
Helaman wrote, “they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:47). Later he wrote, “Behold, I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain. But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God” (Alma 56:55–56).
In his Presidential Inaugural Address, George Washington stated: “No people can be found to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential agency.”
Benjamin Franklin reportedly stated to his colleagues in the Philadelphia Convention where they were trying to unite the colonies under a Constitution, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men” (The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. 1, p. 451).
The founding of a new nation did more than free the country from the political tyranny of King George III of Great Britain. “The American Revolution led to greater religious changes than any other secular event in American History. It led to the disestablishment of the Church of England and the weakening of the Congregational establishment, and it accelerated the movement to replace the public support of religion with the practice of voluntary support of religion. The American Revolution also advance the movement of legal religious liberty” (Lectures on Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, p. 83).
The founding of the United States of America provided the freedom for the expression of what is best in man, the opportunity to seek the “unalienable Rights . . . of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” With this new found freedom the people “became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land . . . and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them” (Mosiah 29:38–39). More important to Latter-day Saints, this freedom provided the seed bed for the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ forty years after the Constitution was written and ratified.
In the years since the miracle of winning the War for Independence and the miracle at Philadelphia, the ideas of the those who, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” pledged to each other their Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor, have spread across the earth. Today, citizens of many nations enjoy the freedoms and opportunities fought for by a rag-tag army of mostly teens and young men on the battlefields of the American Revolutionary War.
James Madison said, “The free system of government we have established [will] produce approbation and a desire for imitation. . . . Our country, if it does justice to itself, will be the workshop of liberty to the Civilized World, and do more than any other for the uncivilized” (Power, Morals, and the Founding Fathers, p. 105).
“And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80).
While Washington’s continental army on Christmas Day 1776 may not have been taught as well as the sons of Helaman, “the power of God was with them” (1 Nephi 13:18) and they “were delivered by the power of God” (1 Nephi 13:19) for the benefit of all of our Heavenly Father’s children around the world.