—Congressman Henry Lee, 1799
The American Revolutionary War hung in the balance. Fort Lee was abandoned, and George Washington had moved his troops to safety behind the Delaware River. Defeat hung in the air, thick as smog, as the demoralized troops began to fall apart. Sickness and desertion rates increased, with more than a third of Washington’s soldiers requiring hospital care. Commander-in-Chief George Washington anguished; he needed to do something.
At this low point in the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, a popular writer thanks to the publication of “Common Sense” published a new pamphlet with words that addressed this defining moment:
“These are 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.”
When Paine’s words were published, the troops were encamped at what has come to be known as Washington Crossing. Within a day, General Washington ordered Paine’s writing to be read aloud to the troops, to boost their morale. Indeed, the words stirred the troops to renewed inspiration as Washington finalized his plans for a daring night crossing of the Delaware River.
On December 26, 1776, at about 3 a.m., Washington marched approximately 2,700 soldiers off the Jersey Bank of the Delaware River, resolved to take victory. The Battle of Trenton proved to be a pivotal point in the American Revolution. Although not much territory was gained, it proved something crucial to the burgeoning nation’s band of unrefined soldiers and anxious countrymen—that their quest for independence could succeed. The battle was a turning point in regaining control of the war, and eventually securing independence for the fledgling nation.
Because of actions like his leadership during that brave winter crossing, the American people saw that Washington was a man of virtue, character and peace. He offered a firm warning against partisanship in domestic politics and called for Americans to work for the common good. He was persuaded to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where he was unanimously elected President of the Convention. It was at this Convention that the office of the Presidency was designed.
On April 30, 1789, in New York City, George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States. He is the only president to have received 100 percent of electoral votes. When the office was established, Congress voted to pay a salary of $25,000, a large sum of money at the time. Already wealthy and viewing himself as a public servant, Washington turned the salary down, although he later accepted it so that the office of the president would not be limited to only the wealthy.
George Washington remains an emblem of wisdom and foresight in the face of adversity. The iconic painting of his crossing of the Delaware portrays him as many the world over still envision him today—as a tremendous leader who built character, expected greatness, and inspired loyalty in a new nation.
Leadership. Pass It On!
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