Every week on Monday morning , the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week’s question: Who Are Your Three Favorite Heroes In American History? Why?
Wolf Howling:The first great American hero is our deity, God. Rev. Jonathan Mayhew was the first, in 1750, to argue that the source of our British rights was God and to articulate a doctrine that can be summed up in the phrase “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” His writings spread throughout the colonies and were adopted in various forms by most of the “dissenting” religions. When, in 1775, Boston royalist Peter Oliver wrote of the causes of the Revolution, he placed the blame squarely on the “Black [robed] Regiment” of clergyman who so roused the colonists in righteous defiance against the British. It is fair to say that the dissenting clergy, from Georgia to Massachusetts, played an indispensable role in driving the Revolution. To paraphrase one Hessian soldier, this was not an American Revolution, it was a Presbyterian Revolution.
As late as January, 1776, it was not clear what we intended by our fight with the British. Most colonists still wanted no more than an adjustment of our relationship with Great Britain, not an independent nation. Yet in January, 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, the best selling book our nation has ever seen on a per capita basis but for the Bible. In it, Paine used largely biblical arguments against the divine right of Kings to rule. His arguments electrified the nation, and set us almost immediately on the path that ended less than six months later in the Declaration of Independence.
And then there were at least two “acts of God” during the Revolution that were so fortuitous and unusual as ought to leave in the most hardened atheist with a bit of uneasiness. The first was at The Battle of Long Island. The British had decimated our forces and had surrounded Washington and his 9,000 men. Had the British completed their attack, the Revolution would likely have ended there. Washington ordered a night withdrawal by boat. That night, a very unusual fog descended on the area, one so dense that soldiers said they couldn’t see further than 6 feet to their front. The fog allowed the withdraw to continue through night to the dawn and after, until all 9,000 soldiers had crossed to safety.
The second “act of God” occurred as the British, in June 1776, attempted to capture the wealthiest port city in the colonies, Charleston, S.C. Had Britain succeeded, the whole nature of the Revolution would have changed. The centerpiece of the colonist’s defense of Charleston was a half built fort on Sullivan’s Island that the British expected to easily defeat with an infantry attack across the ford separating Isle of Palms from Sullivan’s Island, a ford at low tide that virtually never exceeded three feet. Yet in June, 1776, a highly unusual wind pattern developed and, even at low tide, the water at the ford was over 7 feet deep. With the British infantry stopped cold, the fort survived the most devastating bombardment of the war even while the colonists wreaked destruction on the British ships, saving Charleston from occupation for a critical three years.
And then, of course, it was this view of God as the source of our rights that animated our Founders. Our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not bestowed by man. They are natural rights that come from God. The first and most important hero of our nation must be God.
The second most important person in American history is George Washington. People who study the Revolution call him the “indispensable man,” and that he was. He took charge of an army of amateurs and led them against the world’s superpower of the era. He was in an impossible situation against impossible odds.
Washington was never a great military commander. He was outfoxed all too often on the battlefield. Indeed, by December 1776, he had been beaten so badly over the preceding six months that everyone on both sides thought the Revolution was over but for the signing of surrender documents. Yet Washington, a man whose persistence and refusal to surrender was inhuman, on Dec. 25, 1776, led a beaten force of 2,500 across the Delaware River in horrendous conditions. The next morning, his soldiers surprised the best light infantry forces in America, the Hessians at Trenton, and won a victory so stunning that it literally saved the Revolution.
And while Washington’s command of the Continental Army over the next seven years was critically important, it was his actions at and after the end of the war that proved of importance equal to his victory at Trenton. The history of revolutions was equally a history of successful military commanders taking power as dictator or King, from Caesar to Cromwell. But not with George Washington, who not merely voluntarily relinquished all power at the end of the war, but put an end to a revolt of officers who had not been paid.
Then it was Washington, called out of retirement, who lent his credibility to the Constitutional Convention that resulted in the drafting of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And while all knew that Washington would be elected President – he was elected to two terms with 100% of the electoral college votes – Washington easily could have chosen to be President for life. But instead, he opted to go back into retirement after two terms. Washington was a hero and perhaps the single man indispensable to the creation of our nation.
The third choice for American hero is harder. There are so many who could legitimately take this position. Let me just give it to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The history of America’s treatment of blacks is indeed a mark on this nation. Even after the end of slavery and the enshrinement of equal rights in our Constitution at the end of the Civil War, racism and unequal treatment were still rampant in this nation. Rev. King was born in 1929, and while he did not start the Civil Rights movement, he became its most important voice. He shamed white America with their failure to live up to the promise of this nation, enshrined in our first Founding document, The Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Dr. King brought a moral message that our nation could not ignore, and he pushed it relentlessly, at great danger to himself, and he did so with non-violence. His speech in 1963 in Washington D.C., now known as the “I Have A Dream” speech, is perhaps the most recognizable speech in our nation’s history, and rightly so. He finished the speech with a stirring call for an America where people are judged “not . . . by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
In our unique nation, Rev. King’s call for equality was not only a moral clarion call, but a necessity if we are to survive as a melting pot. Since Rev. King’s death, the movement he started has been wholly bastardized by the left for their own ends. That does not in any way detract from Rev. King’s message, indeed, it only increases the need for us fulfill his vision.
Don Surber: Washington, Lincoln and King. Put lives on the line for a greater purpose. Four bulletholes in GW’s coat when he retired from the Revolution and he was only in battle for 3 years.
Meanwhile none of them are in my book. Maybe I am doing this wrong.
(Obligatory Book Plug — you do this when you author) Create Space
Bookworm Room: My three favorite heroes in American history are George Washington, James Madison, and, and . . . I can’t think of a third hero.
As far as I’m concerned, George Washington was the essential man. It wasn’t just that he proved, after a very steep learning curve, to be a brilliant general improvising guerrilla warfare as he went along, although that steep learning curve certainly deserves recognition. Many wars, and many more men, have been lost because generals were incapable of learning from their failures. And it wasn’t just because he was a person of such rectitude that all parties, north and south, knew that they could rely on and trust him, although that is a rare quality in either the military or political world.
What made General Washington the essential man in my eyes is that he was averse to power. Offered a kingship or an indefinite consulship, his primary goal was to get out of office and go home. While in office, his learning curve and integrity meant that he carried out his duties in this brand new role to the best of his abilities. But the most important thing he did was to leave office.
Around the world and throughout history, too many other people would have become invested in even the fairly limited power granted an American president (as opposed to a European monarch), but Washington didn’t. Instead, he began a tradition that lasted until FDR of staying no more than eight years in office. Moreover, this tradition was so powerful that, after FDR died following his third reelection, the American people passed a constitutional amendment to preserve Washington’s most important legacy: time-limited executive power.
If Washington’s was the essential personality, than James Madison had the essential brain. It is a rare man who understands the interaction between human nature and political power, and who seeks to craft a political system that optimizes man’s nature — even his basest nature — in order to control man’s access to unlimited power. I understand that, in the beginning, Alexander Hamilton was his partner in crafting this exquisite balance of power, but Madison, by virtue of avoiding such rash things as duels, managed to last long enough to become president, thereby cementing his reputation as a great political philosopher, long after Hamilton became something of a footnote.
As for the third essential person? Certainly there have been a great many important people in American history, whether politicians, civilians, or military personnel, but I don’t consider any of them essential in the way that I do Washington and Madison.
Laura Rambeau Lee, Right Reason: Growing up outside of Philadelphia and near Valley Forge, of course Benjamin Franklin makes my list of favorite heroes in American history. He is known as “The First American” for his support of the establishment of the United States of America. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he only went to school until 10 years of age, after which he became an apprentice printer to his brother James. At 17 he ran away to Philadelphia. He was a true autodidact; a voracious reader; and inventor of bifocal glasses, the lightening rod, and Franklin stove, among many others. He helped found the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin was the first United States Postmaster General. He was also the first president of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. He was also the only Founding Father to sign all four founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris, and the United States Constitution.
Another hero in American history came from my hometown, Trappe, Pennsylvania. The son of Henry Muhlenberg, minister of the first Lutheran church in the Colonies, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was also a Lutheran minister and member of what later became known as the Black Robe Regiment, a group of clergymen who rallied the people to take up arms against the King of England. On January 21, 1776, while delivering a sermon before his congregation in Virginia, he quoted text from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, which starts with “To everything there is a season…”; and after reading the eighth verse, “a time of war, and a time of peace,” he declared, “And this is the time of war,” and removed his robe to reveal his Colonel’s uniform. He later became a U. S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Finally, my favorite American hero of all would be Thomas Jefferson – He had me at sacred and undeniable.
JoshuaPundit: How to choose just three out of a pantheon of great and heroic Americans? Tough indeed. Obviously, the men whose likenesses are carved on Mount Rushmore have to have a claim on every patriot’s heart, and I expect that many of my comrades here would choose George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
George Washington, like all of the Founders was willing to risk his life, fortune and sacred honor in the cause of liberty. That was no small stake to risk, especially for a prosperous, wealthy Virginia landowner.
He had never really had much actual experience in military command, and it showed. But he never gave up, and more importantly he never allowed any of those with him to give up. There’s a famous story about him confronting his disgruntled, hungry and unpaid officers when things looked blackest to read them orders. As he was fumbling for his spectacles, he said, “Please forgive the delay, gentlemen. Not only my health but even my eyesight is a casualty for the freedom of our beloved country.”
As his officers realized how much he had sacrificed, many of them broke down weeping, but they also found their resolve; if General Washington could keep going, so could they.
After the victory, he became the model for future presidents, and a man universally respected by all, which molded 13 very diverse colonies into a nation. If you look at other countries whom have achieved independence in history and note how many of them have fallen quickly into corruption and despotism, you realize what a special man George Washington was.
While Lincoln behaved with fortitude and deserves great credit for his leadership, I’m going to pick someone else from the era, without whom Lincoln’s efforts would likely have been in vain.
Joshua Chamberlain was a seminary student who decided not to join the ministry and became a Maine college professor at Bowdoin college. When the Civil War came, he enlisted in 1862 and received a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 20th Maine. In spite of having no military experience whatsoever, he learned quickly and became a well regarded officer, being promoted to Colonel.
Chamberlain’s appointment with destiny came in the Battle of Gettysburg on the second day, when he and the 20th were assigned to hold the southern slopes of Little Round Top, the extreme left flank of the Union position and a key post, since losing it would have allowed the Confederate Armies to roll up the Union defensive positions and break the line, winning the battle.
Chamberlain’s men held out against repeated attacks by superior forces, and suffered so many casualties their battle line almost doubled back against itself. Finally, they had almost no ammunition left. Colonel Chamberlain didn’t hesitate; he ordered his men to fix bayonets and led a charge downhill from his left to ‘sweep the Rebs off the hill.’ Amazingly it worked, one of the chanciest and most surprising maneuvers in the entire war. And with Little Roundtop saved, the Union was able to dig in and consolidate their positions, repulse Pickett’s Charge the next day and win the decisive battle of the war. Joshua Chamberlain received the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Gettysburg. And he likely saved the Union as well. He was wounded six times, but he survived and finished the war as a Brevet Major General.
It was General Joshua Chamberlain whom was given the honor of commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony at Appomattox. True his character, he ordered his men to refrain from any cheering or demonstrations as the defeated confederates marched by, and to present arms and stand silently at attention in respect for their defeated enemy.
He later became Maine’s governor and president of Bowdoin. At the age of 70, he tried to volunteer for service in the Spanish-American War, and called being rejected ‘one of the greatest disappointments in my life.’
My third hero? Ronaldus Magnus of course. Elected president of a divided nation with a broken economy, in retreat from its foes worldwide and with a people who were wondering if America’s greatness was at an end, Ronald Wilson Reagan took charge and dived in with a message of hope and patriotism that inspired America. In spite of opposition from a Democrat-dominated congress, he pushed through tax cuts and reforms that restored America’s prosperity and its faith in itself. He was unafraid to call the Soviet Union exactly what it was, an evil empire and in spite of everything the foreign policy establishment said, he never had any doubts that it needed to be defeated. So he set the course successfully to do exactly that.
When the Iranians tried to shut down the Persian Gulf, he sent American forces in to sink most of their navy and had the Marines take and occupy Kharg Island, where the terminus of all Iran’s oil pipelines were located and held it for awhile to give the Iranians a message. They never challenged America again while Reagan was president…they knew better.
When Castro tried to take over Grenada and hold Americans hostage, he gave the order to drive them out and rescue our citizens. And he effectively ended Castro and the Soviet’s dream of subverting Central and South America.
Derided by the elites and Leftists in America, Ronald Reagan enjoyed massive support from his fellow Americans. His spirit, his eloquence, his leadership and yes, his superb sense of humor inspired the country. No president is perfect, being human. But President Reagan took us back from the brink. If I were president, I’d find some room on Mount Rushmore for him.
Well, there you have it!
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