Retrace Our Steps

Recent Articles

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 →

Filed under: , ,

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 →

Filed under: , ,

Fourth of July: The First Anniversary (1777)

On the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Congress adjourned for the day and dined with military officers and various dignitaries. British deserters and the Hessian band, taken at the Battle of Trenton, also joined the festivities. A naval parade with cannon fire began the day’s celebration. During the evening, candles were placed in windows, bells were rung and fireworks were set off. John Adams wrote to his daughter, “I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity [cheerfulness] that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendor of every part of this joyful exhibition.”

The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported the event: “Yesterday the 4th of July, being the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, was celebrated in this city [Philadelphia] with demonstrations of joy and festivity. About noon all the armed ships and galleys in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colors of the United States and streamers displayed. At one o’clock, the yards [timbers with sails attached] being properly manned, they began the celebration of the day by a discharge of thirteen cannon from each of the ships… in honor of the Thirteen United States…

After dinner a number of toasts were drank, all breathing independence, and a generous love of liberty, and commemorating the memories of those brave and worthy patriots who gallantly exposed their lives, and fell gloriously in defense of freedom and the righteous cause of their country. Each toast was followed by a discharge of artillery and small arms, and a suitable piece of music by the Hessian band…

The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.” Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 5, 1777

James Still (July 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com

“Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.” Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 5, 1777

“In the evening, I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise, and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows. I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw…” John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams II, July 5, 1777

“… Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , ,

Thoughts on Government (1776)

In 1776, John Adams was asked to share his opinions on government. In response, Adams wrote several letters and a pamphlet entitled, Thoughts on Government. Adams touched on three branches of government and a system of checks and balances. Thoughts on Government helped colonists embrace Independence and influenced several State Constitutions. (In 1780, John Adams became the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution, the oldest functioning constitution in the world.)
“It has been the Will of Heaven, that We should be thrown into Existence at a Period, when the greatest Philosophers and Lawgivers of Antiquity would have wished to have lived: a Period, when a Coincidence of Circumstances, without Example, has afforded to thirteen Colonies at once an opportunity, of beginning Government anew from the Foundation and building as they choose. How few of the human Race, have ever had an opportunity of choosing a System of Government for themselves and their Children? … All Sober Enquirers after Truth, ancient and modern… have agreed that the Happiness of Mankind, as well as the real Dignity of human Nature, consists in Virtue… [And] great Writers… will convince any Man who has the Fortitude [courage] to read them, that all good Government is Republican… for the true Idea of a Republic, is ‘An Empire of Laws and not of Men.’
… As a good Government is an Empire of Laws, the first Question is, how Shall the Laws be made? Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , ,