From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
January 24. –At a crisis when America is invaded by one of the most powerful fleets and armies that ever the world beheld arrayed in order of battle; when the hand of tyranny is uplifted to fell the glorious plant of liberty, which our ancestors have cherished from the earliest ages as the tree of life; when war, with all its horrors, is invading this once happy land, and every sacred right is at stake; when every filial and affectionate sentiment should engage us to step forth in support of those who have been the guardians of our tender years, or the sweet companions of our halcyon days, must not that soul be frozen even to apathy that is not roused by such important and irresistible impulses! Our country, our lives, our liberties, our parents, our children, and our wives, &c., are the sacred pledges for which we are now contending. We stand on the brink of a precipice, from which we cannot advance without the noblest exertions of virtue, unanimity, and fortitude. A single false step may precipitate us from the enjoyment of the inestimable blessings of liberty, peace, and independence, to the abyss of slavery and woe. But, on the contrary, whilst we are animated by the glorious cause we are engaged in; whilst we with cheerfulness embark in the defence of the most valuable of sublunary blessings; whilst we are united in our sentiment, vigilant in our duty, and active in our operations, we need not dread the thunder of cannon, nor tremble at the names of heroes arrayed in all the splendor of a corrupt court, or crowned with the faded laurels which have been plucked by the hand of tyranny.
Such, my countrymen, is the present state of America; such the consequence of slumbering in the arms of peace, whilst your enemy is at your gates; and such the glorious reward of those who nobly stand forth and oppose the progress of a mercenary army, more venal than a court favorite, more savage than a band of Tartars, and more spiritless than the sorry, sooty sons of Afric, when opposed by men animated by liberty and the sacred love of their country.
Should any one among you require the force of example to animate you on this glorious occasion, let him turn his eyes to that bright luminary of war, in whose character the conduct of Emillus, the coolness of a Fabius, the intrepidity of a Hannibal, and the indefatigable ardor and military skill of a Caesar, are united. Let not the name of Brutus or Camillus be remembered whilst that of Washington is to be found in the annals of America. Great in the cabinet as in war, he shines with unrivalled splendor in every department of life; and whilst his abilities as a statesman and a general excite our wonder, his disinterested patriotism and domestic virtues command universal veneration. When sent out by Governor Dinwiddie to order the French to desist from their encroachments on Virginia, view him in the early period of life, traversing in the service of his country the dreadful wilds of America, through nations of savages, with no other attendant but an interpreter. Behold him at the head of a handful of his gallant countrymen, engaged for many hours with more than treble the number of French, at the Meadows, where the fire first ceased on the side of the enemy, who previously proposed a parley; and though surrounded by numbers, yet, a stranger to the impulses of fear, he capitulated on the terms of retiring with the honors of war. Follow him to that tremendous scene which struck a universal panic in the bravest of the British troops, when, as aide-de-camp to the intrepid Braddock, amidst the dreadful carnage of that day, he was engaged in giving out the orders of that unfortunate general with a coolness that marked the hero, and at length brought him off the field of battle, after he had received his mortal wound. Again, behold him exchanging the din of arms for the calmer scenes of life, still active in the service of his country in the senate, until the impending storm, which is now bursting on America, called him forth as the guardian protector of his country. Behold him abandoning the delights of peace, the enjoyment of affluence, and the pleasures of domestic felicity, and entering with ardor upon a military life again. Let imagination paint him at the head of a few raw, undisciplined troops, destitute of arms and ammunition, besieging an army of veterans supported by a powerful navy; consider with what unparalleled fortitude he withstood the difficulties that surrounded him on every side; behold him embracing the earliest opportunities of driving the enemy from their advantageous post, and obliging them to abandon the long persecuted town of Boston. Again, survey the plains of Long Island, whither he flew like a guardian angel to protect and bring off his brave troops, surrounded on every side by a host of foes, and with a conduct unparalleled in history, secured their retreat across a river of which the enemy’s ships were in full possession. Surely Heaven interposed in behalf of America on that day, by permitting such numbers to escape with glory from such a superior force 1 Behold his glorious struggles on the heights of Harlem, and at the White Plains, counteracting the best concerted plans of the ablest generals of the age; in thought attend him, (if thought does not lag behind,) when, as it were, he bounded from the White Plains to the Jersey shore, covering the retreat of his men from Fort Lee, and throwing himself with them before the enemy, and with the scattered remains of his disbanded army, now amounting to only three thousand men, checking at every step the progress of the British army, and often halting to offer battle to numbers vastly superior to his own. Gracious Heaven! can any Virginian–his countrymen, or can any American who regards him as the saviour of the States, reflect on his situation at that juncture without horror? Would he not rather share his fortunes for the rest of the war, than hazard the salvation of his country by a short enlistment, at the end of which his general might be left without an army to support him? Yet, even in such a situation, his calmness and intrepidity never forsook him, but he appeared still greater in proportion to the dangers that surrounded him. At length, when the enemy flattered themselves with the pleasing expectations of a speedy accomplishment of their darling wish, we behold him by coup de main dissipating the fears of his country, and striking terror into troops who, the day before, conceived themselves on the eve of a triumph. Whilst each effeminate son of peace was revelling in luxury, his active mind was employed in preparing for scenes equally glorious to himself, and terrible to his enemies. Success attended this matchless enterprise, and Philadelphia, with the rest of America, hailed him her deliverer and guardian genius.
Such, my countrymen, is the general who directs the military operations of America; such the glorious leader of her armies; such the hero whose bright example should fire every generous heart to enlist in the service of his country. Let it not be said you are callous to the impressions of such noble considerations, but, by following his glorious example, show yourselves worthy of possessing that inestimable jewel, Liberty, and reflect that you have nothing to dread whilst you are engaged in so glorious a cause, and blessed with a Washington for a leader.1
1 Freeman’s Journal, April 12.