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America Is Back At Valley Forge

Updated: Aug 1, 2023



It’s winter, 1778. America is losing.


The British have taken the American capital at Philadelphia and sent the Continental Congress into exile. Their navy, the most powerful the world has ever seen, is out to sea somewhere but will be back. No one knows where it will strike.

George Washington hasn’t won a battle since that time he crossed the Delaware and slid down the Trenton Hessians’ metaphorical chimney like a cranky Santa Claus at Christmas in 1776. Horatio Gates beat the British at Saratoga in 1777 while still in his bathrobe, so the Congress and some high-ranking army officers are thinking that maybe it’s time for a new commander-in-chief.


The initial enlistments of the Continental soldiers are up and they are desperate to return to their families and repair the damage done by rebellion. Many of the ones required to remain instead slip off in the dead of night. Officers are resigning daily.

Washington tells the Congress that the army will “starve—dissolve—or disperse” for lack of supplies. He and ten thousand soldiers have retreated to Valley Forge, shoeless, hungry, sick, and dying. Winter is here. The British only await better weather for their final push to crush the rebellion.

This Congress in exile isn’t the same one that wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, formed and armed the Continental Army, and told King George where to stick his olive branch. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin are in Europe looking for loans and alliances. John Hancock has gone home to Boston. Thomas Jefferson is back in Virginia, soon to be elected governor. This Congress is second-string. They prioritize diplomatic overtures to European kings and second-guess Washington at every turn. They fail to realize that at this stage of the rebellion, the army is the thing that matters. As long as the Continental Army remains in the field, independence is real. Without it, the cause is lost.

Alone, frozen, sick, and starving, what remains of the army needs to be sheltered, healed, and fed. And then they have to be hammered into a cohesive, disciplined, motivated force that can stand in the face of British steel and beat them in battle.


Good thing they are at a forge.

George Washington stays with his men, and he has Martha come too. He rides out into the camp daily, doing all he can to keep the soldiers upright. He implores Congress to do more and do better, all the while fighting back against the cabals that would remove him from command. He stages Joseph Addison’s famous play Cato, about another revolutionary in desperate times who stood against tyranny. He reminds his soldiers that their path to victory lies in unity, which is good advice for the new United States of America as well.


He sets Baron von Steuben to train the troops so they can maneuver under fire and stand their ground. He keeps his eye on the British and makes plans for the spring.

The American army leaves Valley Forge in June, 1778. The French have joined the cause and the British, under a new commander-in-chief, abandon Philadelphia to head for New York. Ten days after breaking camp at Valley Forge the Continental Army engages the British at the Battle of Monmouth Court House and holds their own.

Their time at the forge has done them a world of good.

***

It’s not hard to see a modern parallel to revolutionary times. Our Congress isn’t the first-string of heavy hitters who put the needs of the country before their own. Our unity and commitment to the cause of freedom and self-government is fractured by partisanship and tribalism. Now, as then, Americans see each other more as enemies than allies. Supply chains are broken, and everyone’s safest bet is to make sure they are taken care of before looking out for anyone else. The government is broke and looking for lenders. World leaders are skeptical about our chances of winning.

As a people, we lack discipline, unity, and cohesion. Exhausted by childish politics, drained by increasing taxes and rising costs of living, wearied by daily news of outrage and tragedy, we isolate ourselves and grow cynical. In so doing we cede our rights and power to those who would use them for their own selfish gain and interests.

Hard though it may be, we need to go outside and stand in the snow and learn how to fight. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens and demand that Congress do better. We must unite under fire and stand in the face of adversity, even though it is easier to give up.


It’s time to amend the Constitution to counteract Congressional dysfunction and partisan corruption:


TWENTY EIGHT No monetary or in-kind contributions, or any gift or emolument of monetary value, shall be made to any candidate for federal office under Articles I and II of the Constitution, or to any state or national political party or organization by anyone other than a living human being born in the United States or naturalized as a citizen. The annual monetary amount of these donations shall not exceed a number equal to two hundred times the federal minimum wage per hour as defined in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

TWENTY NINE

No person shall serve in the United States Congress for longer than twelve years.


These amendments would get us the Congress of statesmen the Founders intended. But more importantly, it will show the American people what is possible when we unite in common purpose and speak in one voice.


Like Washington’s army, the American people have to leave the forge better than they were when they went in, and start winning.



Stacey Roberts is the author of “No One Left But All Of Us” and the founder and executive director of the Valley Forge Project. He can be reached at stacey.roberts@valleyforgeproject.org.


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