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The Secret Of Valley Forge

By Stacey Roberts

If you went to school in the United States, you learned about the American encampment at Valley Forge over the winter of 1777-1778.

The Continental Army was in trouble – no one had food, no one had shoes, and everyone had dysentery. George and Martha Washington were in camp with the soldiers, but there were those in the army and the Congress ready to fire George as commander-in-chief and replace him with someone who had won a battle recently. Someone like Horatio Gates, who got an entire British army to surrender at Saratoga while still in his bathrobe.

The Congress itself was in trouble – all the heavy hitters from the signing of the Declaration of Independence had left town – John Adams and Ben Franklin were in Europe looking for loans and alliances. John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson had all gone home.

Not to mention, the Continental Congress had to flee Philadelphia when the British captured it.

The cause of American independence was in trouble – no money, political leaders in exile who couldn’t manage to pay, clothe, or feed the troops, a commander-in-chief under threat, a massive enemy force that now held two of America’s biggest cities, and winter was coming.

Strike that. Winter was here.

The only saving grace for the beleaguered Americans was that major military operations stopped when it got cold, so the army and the Congress had a few months to get it together. Come springtime, the British were going to launch a major offensive to end this pesky rebellion once and for all.

But the pesky rebellion beat them. So what happened?

George Washington and his wife stayed in camp with his officers, proving to his soldiers that he was going to be with them no matter what. It was while at Valley Forge that George began to be called the “Father of the Country.” Congress sent a delegation to the camp to see for themselves what was going on. The representatives were so ashamed by the condition of the barefoot soldiers they took off their own shoes and handed them over. George convinced them to let his own man – Nathanael Greene – take charge of provisioning the army. The cabal that wanted to oust Washington as commander was quietly defeated.

Washington got a profane European drill sergeant – Baron Von Steuben – to train and discipline the troops. He took charge of showing them how to load and fire their muskets, how to march and countermarch, and where and how to dig the latrines so everyone stopped getting dysentery.

The officer corps figured out that fighting among themselves for selfish things like rank and perks wasn’t working for them or the cause, so they got with the program. Food and shoes and weapons made it to Valley Forge.

Men and officers from different parts of the country, with different opinions and agendas, trained together in the snow and realized that their fellow soldiers were the only ones they could count on when hell and damnation was coming their way. Regional, religious, and cultural differences took a back seat to national unity and the cause of the United States of America.

That’s what really happened at Valley Forge.


We’ve taken a huge lesson from this episode of American history – it’s why we used the name for our project.

But like the original Valley Forge, our project isn’t just about Constitutional amendments to eliminate corporate money from politics and term-limit Congress any more than the American experience at Valley Forge was about bullets and beans and shoes and beating the British.

Those are the results. But what really got us there was discipline, sacrifice, and most importantly, unity. A fractious and divided army wasn’t going to beat anyone. As Washington told the Congress, if things had kept on the way they were, the army was going to disperse or dissolve on its own. An ideologically divided citizenry wasn’t going to form an effective government.

The Americans at Valley Forge, the Continental Congress, and the people of the new United States of America needed to understand that the cause of independence was more important than their own political beliefs, their own ironclad opinions, and their own feelings. They had to believe that every American—even the ones they didn’t like—was their ally in building a nation.

Passing any amendment to the Constitution is impossible in today’s political climate. As divided as politicians are, as biased as the media is, and with all the money and power and perks to be gained from leaving everything broken, this kind of fundamental change will never happen.

Unless the people of this country in overwhelming and undeniable numbers tell their parties and their elected officials that this must happen. And that the cost of not getting us what we want is the only thing they want – another term in office.

It will only come to pass if the citizens of the United States set aside their own political beliefs, their own partisan opinions, and the press of the stress of their daily lives to support this cause.

You will have to make noise. You will have to write your Congressman. You will have to spend money. You will have to rouse your friends and neighbors to action. You will have to be relentless. You can never give up, even in the face of struggle and calamity.

Just like the soldiers at Valley Forge.

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

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