James Still

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My Experiment (2009 – 2018)

Every month for 9 years, I have shared a portion of our American history. In sharing our history, I wanted to see if I could help create more excitement in my community for our Founding history. Could that excitement lead others to become more involved in my community? Could I help increase local shopping, a higher interest in local civics, and an increase in voter turnout? I also wanted to see if I could help lessen some of the divisions created by political parties and, instead, bring more unity. Did my experiment work? I do not see a difference, but maybe I planted some seeds. I, for one, gained valuable knowledge and respect for our Founding history. The opportunity to share what I have learned in front of audiences helped strengthen my public speaking and confidence. The supportive feedback from many of you has been encouraging. By far, the strangest thing that occurred was when some believed two of my letters were political, thereby ending their use in local schools. (Marquis de Lafayette: Lafayette loved America (1777) & Marquis de Lafayette: America loved Lafayette (1834))

My life has taken a new turn, therefore, my November 2018 history letter will be my last. RetraceOurSteps.com is still available and currently has over 2000 quotes from our Founding Fathers. I hope to continue adding to this resource as time permits. What is next in my life? I am not sure. I am positive, however, and believe that with God, life will continue to be very blessed. Continue Reading →

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Battle of Monmouth (1778)

In June 1778, the British abandoned Philadelphia and began their march to New York City. The British column stretched for 12 miles and was vulnerable to attack. Washington sent a small force to engage the enemy until he could arrive with the main force from Valley Forge. General Charles Lee engaged the British at Monmouth Courthouse but was soon in full retreat. Washington met his retreating forces and rallied his troops. Throughout the afternoon, average temperatures were over 100 degrees and many soldiers died from heat stroke. Several women brought water to the troops and one woman took her husband’s place loading the artillery after he was wounded. The army demonstrated the effectiveness of Baron von Steuben’s training and Washington considered the battle a victory. “… on the appearances of the enemy’s intention to march thro’ Jersey… I had detached [forces]… to interrupt and impede their progress… so as to give time to the Army under my command to come up with them… [To] my great surprise and mortification, I met the whole advanced Corps retreating… I proceeded immediately to the Rear of the Corps, which I found closely pressed by the Enemy, and gave directions for forming part of the retreating troops, who by the brave and spirited conduct of the Officers, aided by some pieces of well served Artillery, checked the Enemy’s advance… [The Army] remained upon the Ground, they had been directed to occupy, during the Night, with intention to begin the attack early the next morning… and about 12 o’clock at Night [the enemy] marched away in… silence… The extreme heat of the Weather— the fatigue of the Men… and the distance the Enemy had gained by marching in the Night, made a pursuit impracticable and fruitless… The Behavior of the troops in general, after they recovered from the first surprise occasioned by the Retreat of the advanced Corps, was such as could not be surpassed.” George Washington, Letter to Henry Laurens, July 1, 1778

James Still (Oct 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“At Monmouth I commanded a division, and… [observed] our beloved Chief [Washington], who, mounted on a splendid charger, rode along the ranks amid the shouts of the soldiers, cheering them by his voice and example… I thought then, as now that never had I beheld so superb a man.” Marquis de Lafayette, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by George Washington Parke Custis, 1860

“The Men are to wash themselves this afternoon & appear as clean and decent as possible. Seven o’clock this evening is appointed that we may publicly unite in thanksgivings to the supreme Disposer of human Events for the Victory which was obtained on Sunday over the Flower of the British Troops.” George Washington, General Orders, June 30, 1778

“… should we wander from [the Founding Principles]… let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

RetraceOurSteps.com Continue Reading →

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Franco-American Alliance (1778)

Following the American victory at Saratoga, negotiations between French and U.S. Diplomats culminated in the signing of two treaties. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce encouraged trade between France and America. The Treaty of Alliance provided a military alliance against Great Britain. Ratified by Congress on May 4, 1778, these became the first treaties entered into by the U.S. government. The Convention of 1800 dissolved the Franco-American Alliance. Upon learning of the alliance, General Washington ordered a celebration. “It having pleased the Almighty ruler of the Universe propitiously to defend the Cause of the United American-States and finally by raising us up a powerful Friend among the Princes of the Earth to establish our liberty and Independence upon lasting foundations, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine Goodness & celebrating the important Event which we owe to his benign Interposition. The several Brigades are to be assembled for this Purpose at nine o’clock tomorrow morning… At half after ten o’clock a Cannon will be fired, which is to be a signal for the men to be under Arms… At half after eleven a second Cannon [will] be fired as a signal for the march… A third signal will be given upon which there will be discharge of thirteen Cannon; When the thirteen have fired, a running fire of the Infantry will begin on the right of [Gen.] Woodford’s [Brigade] and continue throughout the whole front line…
Upon a signal given, the whole Army will Huzza! “Long Live the King of France” —The Artillery then begins again and fires thirteen rounds, this will be succeeded by a second general discharge of the Musketry in a running fire —Huzza!—“And long live the friendly European Powers”— Then the last discharge of thirteen Pieces of Artillery will be given, followed by a General running fire and Huzza! “To the American States.” George Washington, General Orders, May 5, 1778
James Still (Sep 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com
“I have mentioned the matter [Franco-American Alliance] to such Officers as I have seen, and I believe no event was ever received with a more heartfelt joy.” George Washington, Letter to Henry Laurens (Congress), May 1, 1778

“His Excellency desires that you will towards Evening send out patrols under vigilant officers… Continue Reading →

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Separation of Church and State [National] (1802)

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence and America’s third president. In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson encouraged citizens to be “enlightened by a benign [kind] religion…”and hoped God would, “lead our [government] councils to what is best…” The Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson to warn him that some in government positions would seek “power and gain” and “make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” In his response, Jefferson described how the U.S. Constitution constructed a wall around our National government to prevent it from taking any action concerning religion. Jefferson understood freedom of religion was a matter of conscience and a natural right under the oversight of state or church officials. “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State [National]. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802

James Still (Aug 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“In our village of Charlottesville… We have four sects [doctrines], but without either church or meeting-house. The court-house is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each. Here, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each others’ preachers, and all mix in society with perfect harmony.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, November 2, 1822

“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general [National] government. I have… Continue Reading →

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The Newburgh Veterans (1783)

Ten years after the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot gave a speech on the Fourth of July, reminding his audience of the Newburgh Conspiracy. During the war, soldiers had been fighting and dying for their country while their families were surviving mostly upon charity. Now that the war was over, Congress was still broke and it looked as though the soldiers would return home with nothing. When George Washington learned of a military coup against Congress, he ordereda meeting with the Officers and promised to do whatever he could on their behalf. The Officers quickly denounced the scheme. In closing, Boudinot encouraged his audience to emulate the Newburgh Veterans. “The war-worn soldiers, reduced to the calamities of a seven years arduous service, now solemnly pause and reflect on… their critical situation… want and dire distress stare many in the face… [And now,] Their country’s exhausted treasury cannot yield them even the hard-earned pittance of a soldier’s pay…

Brotherly affection [however] produces brotherly relief [and] the victorious bands unite together… and instead of seizing their arms, and demanding their right by menace and violence, they… determine to give one more proof of unexampled patriotism… [They] unite in a firm, indissoluble bond… to continue their mutual friendship… and to effectuate [offer] every act of beneficence [benevolence]… to any of their number and their families who might unfortunately be [in need]…

[Allow] me to congratulate you on this seventeenth anniversary of our happy independence. Long, long, even to the remotest ages, may the citizens of this rising empire enjoy the triumphs of this day! May they never forget the invaluable price which it [Independence] cost… [And] May we, by the uniform conduct of good citizens, and generous, faithful friends, show ourselves worthy of such valuable connections!” Elias Boudinot, Oration before the Society of the Cincinnati, July 4, 1793

James Still (July 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“… the good sense of the Officers has terminated this Affair in a manner, which reflects the greatest glory on themselves and demands the highest expressions of gratitude from their Country.” George Washington, Letter to Benjamin Harrison, Sr., March 19, 1783

“If the whole Army has not merited whatever a grateful people can bestow… then shall I have learned what ingratitude is… Continue Reading →

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First Presidential Inauguration (1789)

On April 30, 1789, citizens crowded the streets and rooftops to witness our Nation’s First Presidential Inauguration. Dressed in a dark-brown suit with white silk stockings, George Washington placed his hand on the bible and took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall, New York City. Following Washington’s Inaugural Address, Washington and both houses of Congress “proceeded to St. Paul’s Chapel where divine service was performed by the Chaplain of Congress.” Here are a few words from George Washington’s First Inaugural Address. “… it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect… No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand, which conducts the affairs of men more than those 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… These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. … the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality… since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy [operation] and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous [honorable] policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity [joy]… the propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…” George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

James Still (June 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“… [May] His benediction [blessing]… consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.” George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

“… Continue Reading →

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First Presidential Election (1789)

On April 6, 1789, as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution, “… [Congress] counted the votes of the electors for President and Vice President of the United States…” George Washington was unanimously voted President and John Adams was voted Vice President. (The terms “Electoral” and “College” would not be referenced in law until 1845.) Here are some events over the next few days. April 7 “In pursuance of the orders I received from the Senate [to inform Washington of his election], I left New York… [Though] much impeded by tempestuous weather, bad roads, and the many large rivers I had to cross, yet, by unremitted diligence I reached Mount Vernon [on April 14], the seat of his excellency, General Washington…” Charles Thomson, Letter to John Langdon, April 24, 1789

April 14 “I am much affected by this fresh proof of my country’s esteem and confidence, that silence can best explain my gratitude. While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me, and feel my inability to perform it, I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice. All I can promise is, only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.” George Washington, Noted by Charles Thomson, Apr 24, 1789

April 16 “About ten o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York… with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.” George Washington, Entry in Diary, April 16, 1789

April 23 “… the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people which rent the skies, as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful… as they are pleasing.” George Washington, Entry in Diary, April 23, 1789

James Still (May 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

April 23 “Our worthy President was greatly affected with these tokens of a profound respect… [and] the Huzzaing and shouts of Joy seemed to add life to the heavenly scene… [The] Shores [were] crowded with thousands of People… Nay I may venture to say Tens of Thousands…” Elias Boudinot, Letter to Mrs. Boudinot, April 24, 1789

“When the President was on the wharf, an officer came up &… said he had the honor to command his guard… The President announced that ‘As to the present arrangement he should proceed as was directed but that, after that was over… Continue Reading →

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Articles of Confederation: Circular Letter to the States (1777)

The Articles of Confederation (and Perpetual Union) was the first Constitution of the United States. Richard Henry Lee wrote, “In this great business, dear Sir, we must yield a little to each other, and not rigidly insist on having everything correspondent to the partial views of every State. On such terms we can never confederate…” Thomas Burke noted, “The United States ought to be as One Sovereign [power] with respect to foreign Powers… But in all Commercial or other peaceful Intercourse they ought to be as separate Sovereigns.” Once the Articles of Confederationwere approved, Congress encouraged ratification. “To form a permanent Union, accommodated to the opinion and wishes of the delegates of so many states differing in habits, produce, commerce and internal police, was found to be a work which nothing but time and reflection, conspiring with a disposition to conciliate, could mature and accomplish. Hardly is it to be expected that any plan, in the variety of provisions essential to our Union, should exactly correspond with the maxims and political views of every particular state. Let it be remarked that after the most careful inquiry and the fullest information, this is proposed as the best, which could be adapted to the circumstances of all; and as that alone, which affords any tolerable prospect of general ratification. Permit us then earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states. Continue Reading →

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Articles of Confederation (1777)

The Articles of Confederation (and Perpetual Union) was approved by Congress on November 15, 1777 and went into effect on March 1, 1781, following the ratification by all 13 States. There was no provision for a president, judiciary or means of taxation. Congress noted it would be impossible to agree on every political view. It was “of the absolute necessity”, however, to unite “all our councils and all our strength to maintain and defend our common liberties…” The Articles of Confederation ultimately failed, but helped to inspire the U.S. Constitution. Here are a few highlights of America’s first Constitution. “Article 2. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress…

Article 3. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare…

Article 4. The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship… the people of each State shall [have] free ingress and regress to and from any other State, and enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce…

Article 5. Continue Reading →

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Valley Forge: Diary of Albigence Waldo (1777-1778)

Albigence Waldo was an army surgeon at Valley Forge. Disease, especially smallpox, was one of the most dangerous enemies for Washington’s army. John Adams noted, “Disease has destroyed Ten Men for Us, where the Sword of the Enemy has killed one.” Of the 11,000 soldiers encamped at Valley Forge, over 2000 died from disease, cold and starvation. Albigence Waldo described some of the extreme difficulties of army life. Here are a few entries from his diary. December 14 “There comes a Soldier, his bare feet are seen thro’ his worn out Shoes, his legs nearly naked from the tattered remains of an only pair of stockings, his Breeches not sufficient to cover his nakedness, his Shirt hanging in Strings, his hair disheveled, his face meager; his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken & discouraged. He comes, and cries… ‘I am Sick, my feet lame, my legs are sore, my body covered with this tormenting Itch… exhausted by fatigue, hunger & Cold, I fail fast [and] I shall soon be no more!’”

December 21 “A general cry thro’ the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, ‘No Meat! No Meat!’”

December 24 “… I don’t know of anything that vexes a man’s Soul more than hot smoke continually blowing into his Eyes, & when he attempts to avoid it, is met by a cold and piercing Wind.”

December 28 “When the Officer has been fatiguing thro’ wet & cold and returns to his tent where he finds a letter directed to him from his Wife, filled with the most heart aching tender Complaints… Acquainting him with the incredible difficulty with which she procures a little Bread for herself & Children… What man is there — who has the least regard for his family — whose soul would not shrink within him? Who would not be disheartened from persevering in the best of Causes — the Cause of his Country, — when such discouragements as these lie in his way?”

James Still (Jan 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one… But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat.” Albigence Waldo, Diary Entry, Dec 22, 1777

“Mankind are never truly thankful for the Benefits of life, until they have experienced the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease & has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate.” Albigence Waldo, Entry in Diary, December 15, 1777

“… Continue Reading →

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