Americans Overcome the Odds
The American spirit is defined by and thrives in adversity. Rugged, individualist, and pioneering, our forebears forged ahead regardless of the obstacles. Despite hardship, disease, starvation, revolution, civil conflict, and war, the heart of freedom beats on. The nation’s founders opposed all those who sought to thwart their spiritual mission to live free or die trying.
That legacy is now threatened. An American generation is now thrust into the crucible of divine fire, testing the mettle of the citizenry to overcome a growing enemy – one that uses fear and lies to turn the state against the people. While the fate of the nation remains dim, the light of truth yet shines brightly. As a people, we must recognize that we have faced dark times before and have triumphed over the fiercest of enemies. And God willing, we shall prevail again.
The victory in Wisconsin’s recall election is but one step forward in a long march to take the country back from would-be tyrants. Much of the credit for Governor Walker’s success comes from the tea party faithful whose thousands of individual contributions help lift the incumbent’s tide against the union-backed opposition.
This is an opportune time to provide retrospective for the country’s long legacy of overcoming odds, and how we of the present generation must continue that steeped tradition. While progressives try to demoralize true patriots as they implement their state-centered society, we must frame our multi-generational struggle to restore liberty as a historic quest to liberate mankind from tyranny and oppression.
It is the year 1620. Captain John Smith presides over a ragged band of settlers who forge through a swampy countryside in the midst of heat and relentless mosquitoes to found a colony at Jamestown, Virginia. The ghosts of Roanoke provide sober testament to the dangerous nature of the task. Savage natives, plague, and starvation were the initial rewards for the hardy settlers. But hardship gave way to fortune as the introduction of tobacco marked the beginning of a promising new enterprise; one that would establish trade so vital for the preservation of life in the colonies. Americans find a way to survive.
Meanwhile, at Plymouth Plantation in later-day Massachusetts, William Bradford leads an exhausted but grateful party onto the shores of America. A devout and pious group, the English separatists known as the Puritans increase their numerous troubles by adopting common property. The deadly effects of this undertaking are well worth noting:
The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince they [the] vanitie of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte.
Plymouth Plantation was racked by starvation as long as the socialist measures reigned. After the adoption of private property, the former year’s starvation gave way to bounty. The cornucopia of the first Thanksgiving was replenished for years afterward, a tradition that taught men foresight borne of humility. Americans adapt and learn from their mistakes using commonsense and good judgment.
The eventual success Jamestown and Plymouth colonies would be followed by others, such as those of Providence and Pennsylvania. The trials in the wilderness proved formative as increasingly better-armed adversaries sought to deprive the settlers of their hard-fought gains. Predatory powers from abroad jostled in the New World to push out the resilient upstarts, who prepared the way for potentially easy-won empire. But Americans themselves are not imperialist; they expand liberty at the expense of tyranny.
At the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers began the dispute that the Quebecois would later call the La guerre de la Conquête or “The War of Conquest.” Americans and Brits would later refer to it as “The Seven Years’ War” or “The French and Indian War.” Pitting the French and native American tribes, such as the Algonquin, the Ottawa, and the Shawnee, against the Brits, their American subjects, and the Iroquois league, the war would rage in sporadic conflicts from Virginia to Nova Scotia from 1756-1763. The conflict would leave a deep impression on the minds of many of the United States’ founding fathers, such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. The hardships imposed by the British upon the Americans during the war’s course would be marked among the “long train of abuses” in Thomas Jefferson’s draft of The Declaration of Independence.
And indeed this declaration was a shot across the bough to tyrants across the world. It would proceed with principled opposition to tyranny; as opposed to the aimless anarchy of today’s left, who fancy their opposition to liberty as a continuance of the American tradition. It is no such thing.
Perhaps Americans’ inspiring history of perseverance is best illustrated by George Washington’s trials at Valley Forge. Near Mount Misery and Mount Joy, barefoot and ragged soldiers under Washington’s command dig in on the frozen terrain of Valley Forge. It is the winter of 1777. Starving and diseased, the sole comfort these men receive comes from the scores of camp followers, women and children who provide rations and affection to the brave defenders of the homeland. Washington’s men struggle through the wilderness while they fight one of the key battles of the revolutionary campaign; not solely against the British and their Hessian mercenaries, but against themselves. Their steadfast resolution to continue on, in the dead of winter and despite interminable hardship, proves the pivotal moment in American history. In this fateful hour, the Continental Army is forged into a steely weapon, and the spirit of a nation embodied.
No less a miracle occurs after the Revolutionary War than the series of improbable victories that culminate in the American victory. The resulting Constitutional Convention is marked by innumerable compromises, which are reached after prolonged wrangling; not only over the interests of the thirteen colonies, but over the key questions of American history: The institution of slavery and the power of the national government.
Northern and southern colonies sow the seeds of future enmity by compromising on the status of slaves; though rightly the Constitution bans the importation of slaves, the ratifiers as a whole do not allow the document to declare in full voice the citizenship of all men. Those who come to be called the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists argue over the crucial question of the relative power of the national government vis-a-vis the states. Both dilemmas would be resolved in the bloody affair known as the “Civil War.”
The climax that would settle the ideological contradictions of the Founding, and not all for the better, would be forestalled by more immediate considerations. Most pressing were the raging Napoleonic Wars in Europe, which would engulf the United States due to its close relationship with France. The dethroned Great Britain sought vengeance in America, as well as the reestablishment of its lost trade, while France embarked upon an expedition to embroil Europe in flames.
Truly, Washington and Jefferson foresee the danger of foreign entanglements, though practical considerations made them impossible to avoid. Trade proves a more troublesome matter than anticipated as warring powers view any assistance to their adversaries with hostility.
The period between the Constitution’s ratification and the War of 1812 was one of lost innocence and the disabuse of naivete. The suppression of Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the establishment of a central bank by the Federalists, throws down the gauntlet to the heroes of the American Revolution who fought to remove oppression from our shores. Creeping tyranny is established in the shadow of the glorious Founding.
The War of 1812 would expose the soft underbelly of the American experiment, as the lack of a standing national army made it vulnerable to attack. The British would send the ragtag outfits of the states into a scramble as it invaded and proceeded to cut a swathe to the nation’s capital. In August of 1814, the country’s defenders embarrassed and fleeing, the British occupied Washington and burned down the public buildings in a pretentious and vindictive orgy.
Yet their vainglorious display of renewed dominance would prove short-lived. General Andrew Jackson, earning his nickname of Old Hickory, is compelled to lead a campaign to return the British menace to its foreign shores. Harassing the red coats interminably, the American troops push the invaders down the Mississippi river to the Brits’ demise at The Battle of New Orleans. Other nations picked fights with the United States. Americans ended them.
As the British are driven south and out of the states, settlers head westward into the wild frontier. Following the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark led the way for Americans to fulfill the Manifest Destiny of a country straddling the earth between the shining seas. Along with the intrepid souls seeking land and fortune in the West, follow cattle, ox, and horse-driven carriages. The harsh terrain claims many victims from exposure and disease, but in the course of two generations, all foreign powers are either pushed out or their territories are annexed. The power vacuum that attracted imperialist ambitions from Europe has been filled, at the tragic price of the loss of many Native Americans’ and settlers’ lives. But Americans moved forward.
The haul of supplies by land from east to west proved slow and exhausting, spurring innovations in transportation like the steam locomotive, which was put into service in America in the 1820s. Within fifty years a railway line is built predominantly by Americans and Chinese immigrants that spans from New York to San Francisco. The golden spike marrying the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad is driven home at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869. Coast-to-coast travel in a matter of days, rather than months, is now a reality. Americans see their visions through to the end.
Industrial forces transform America further, accentuating the cultural divide between north and south. While the southern states remained agrarian and slave-owning, the northern states grow urban, cosmopolitan, and liberal. Abolitionists struggle fiercely to see the establishment of rights for all Americans come to fruition. The Underground Railroad provides a passage to freedom for those blacks willing and able to escape. All Americans yearn to breathe free.
Resentment of the North grows, and every compromise, including laws that seek to cordon off the institution of slavery, seemed to delay the inevitable clash. Secession becomes a watchword in the air since the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798-99, which are a response to federal overreach. Written secretly by Jefferson and Madison, they provide legal and principled rationale for state oversight of federal law and the non-enforcement of unconstitutional laws known as “nullification.” Slavery is far from the only wedge that divides the northern and southern states.
The election of 1860 brings to power Abraham Lincoln of the newly formed Republican Party, which splits from the Whigs over the issue of slavery (but not much else) and combines with the “Free Soil” Democrats. By Lincoln’s inauguration, seven states have already declared secession. The divorce would not be amicable.
Lincoln declares the secessions “legally void,” invoking the familiar rationale of forming a more “perfect union.” Though he states that he would not invade the South, or end slavery, he would rightfully reclaim “federal property” if necessary. Needless to say, southerners bristle.
Years of miserable war wracks the conscience of a nation; children orphaned, fathers killed and maimed, families torn apart. Sherman burns his way through the South, slaughtering thousands, while southern dispatches scramble to re-form into a cohesive army. The moment of truth for a nation, entailing southern submission or the freedom of the slaves, is fast approaching.
On July 1, 1863, Confederate troops approach Gettysburg to seize much-needed supplies, including shoes for their bare and aching feet. Because Gettysburg is an important thoroughfare for supply lines, Union troops under General Mead move hastily to cut off the Confederacy. The armies collide, sparking the pivotal battle of the Civil War.
After two days of intense fighting, the fate of a nation hangs in the balance. Lee gambles on a desperate maneuver to collapse the middle of the Union army. One account sums the last push for the South:
Thinking the Union center had weakened from these attacks, Lee decided the next day to hit it first with artillery, and then an infantry charge led by George Pickett’s division. Stuart’s late-arriving cavalry was to come in behind the Union center at the same time, but they were held off by Union cavalry led by a young General George Custer. After an hour’s duel, Union artillery deceived the Confederates into thinking their guns were knocked out. Then 13,000 Rebels marched across the field in front of Cemetery Hill, only to have the Union artillery open up on them, followed by deadly Federal infantry firepower. Scarcely half made it back to their own lines. In all, Lee lost more than a third of his men before retreating to Virginia. Meade, a naturally cautious man, decided the loss of one-quarter of his men had been enough, and only feebly tried to pursue Lee, missing an opportunity to crush him.
The Confederacy fights on, surrendering nearly two years later on April 9, 1865. A war that had been in doubt for the Union prior to Gettysburg, becomes its triumph. Five days later, an American president tragically dies along with the South’s cause. Americans fight to the end.
Though the South’s defeat was a consequential day for the freedom of slaves, it gave the North nearly unlimited powers to dictate terms to the defeated. Reconstruction is marked not only by the prodding of the South to turn slaves into freemen, but by the placement of a national yoke on all states who sought escape from the Union. The United States has become a nation, for better and for worse.
The second founding of the United States concentrates the central power that most of the original founders thought so dangerous. The ambitious and power-hungry flock to the epicenter of politics and economy, seeking to wield influence over their presumed inferiors, as the vanquished Anti-Federalists had predicted. Freedom is on the run, although American clout is on the ascendancy.
The people of the United States weather a series of painful global depressions ranging from 1873 to 1896. By the turn of the century, the crucial elements of the modern state as we now know it are present. The South is consolidated, as the intellectual opposition to statism erodes under governmental control of education. Powerful trusts forge ties to corrupt politicians for both influence and protection, pulling the strings for tariffs, subsidies, and military adventurism. The Progressives pitch an intellectual and moral justification for unlimited state intervention; indeed, under the rubric of protecting the consumer, particular monopolies develop and a central bank is formed. And then came World War I.
President Woodrow Wilson promises not to enter the European war as one of many campaign pledges he would later break. After stalling for three years, the U.S. is pulled into the fray by a combination of understandable German hostility to U.S. trade with Britain and an elaborate propaganda campaign undertaken by the Wilson administration. American sailors and doughboys charge off to foreign shores, striking decisively against the Germans and Austrians and helping to end the bloodiest war in world history. The victory establishes America as a great power for the next century.
Despite an immediate depression upon the termination of the war, America quickly recovers and a post-war boom ensues. Fueled by fantastic technological innovation and easy money policy, the 1920s roars towards a devastating crash in 1929. State interventionists like Hoover and FDR are quick to seize upon the opportunity to orchestrate the economy’s “recovery,” which would not nominally come for another decade. Americans suffer famine, drought, and rampant unemployment, ending only with a catastrophic war foisted upon them by the imperialist Japanese.
The Great Depression becomes the proving grounds for innumerable social and economic engineering schemes, although they only exacerbate America’s problems. The Alphabet Soup becomes the alphabet soup kitchen, conditioning Americans to become accustomed to paternalistic government. And re-elect FDR is what they did time and time again, apparently not knowing any better. There was not the example of the demise of a Hitler or a Mussolini or a Stalin to teach Americans the danger of concentrated state power. But fortunately for the nation, World War II would acquaint millions of Americans with the hard reality of fascism; the defeat of the Nazis, the fascists in Italy, and the imperial Japanese reforges American patriotism as well as instills an antipathy for virulent nationalism and socialism. The triumphant D-Day invasion, June 6th, 1944, is emblematic of the nation’s courageous advance despite the most daunting adversity. Americans oppose tyranny when they see it.
The statists, not dissuaded in the least by the experience, nonetheless learn to conceal their designs on America. Keynesianism, a brand of Fabian socialism, was taken worldwide as a result of the Bretton Woods conference. The rise of the USSR would provide a bi-polar foil to the freedom-loving USA that would rule out the promulgation of naked socialism out-of-hand. Intellectuals lament this state of affairs.
The sacrifice of heroic Americans for the sake of their nation’s security and their European allies would not be appreciated for long overseas. The “greatest generation” shows tremendous heart and determination, and inspires countless other countrymen; but in Europe, its accomplishments are all but taken for granted. America stands for freedom in the world, even if others take it for granted.
In addition, the U.S. faces the task of rebuilding war-ravaged Japan, which it was compelled to bomb into submission. The examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are seared into the minds of America’s adversaries, and deters others from utilizing the unconscionable weapons. The nation feels that the least it can do is get the courageous country back on track, even in light of the cowardly act at Pearl Harbor. After America kicks an enemy down, it offers a hand back up.
When the communist armies of the northern territory of Korea invade the south, a U.N. resolution is quickly dispatched; and it is assumed that America would do the bulk of the fighting. And fight it did. For three long years, Americans fight on a strategically irrelevant peninsula for the freedom of millions. When the North Koreans push, Americans fight on. When the Red Chinese entered the war, Americans fight on. And having pushed back the combined armies to the 38th parallel, America draws a line in the sand and make a promise to defend it. It does to this very day. When Americans come back from this “Forgotten War,” they don’t speak of it again. Not only are Americans brave, they are humble.
The height of the Cold War brought fierce competition between America and the communists; a deadly arms race and an equally significant space race was launched in the 1950s. The Soviets shock Americans not only with its first nuclear bomb test in 1949, but by beating them to space with Sputnik in 1958. It would take an endeavor of immense proportions, entailing dedication, imagination, and courage for an American to reach space with Apollo 8 in 1968. In the face of numerous setbacks and even a number of astronaut deaths, the U.S. would land a man on the moon with Apollo 11 in 1969. America’s pioneering spirit reaches strives for new zeniths.
But along with this extraordinary high comes terrible lows. The Vietnam Conflict becomes one of the longest gut-wrenching episodes in American history. Pulled in by a combination of French weakness and principled opposition to communist expansion, America is entrenched over the course of years in highly intense pitched guerrilla warfare. Tens of thousands of soldiers face nauseating heat, stifling humidity, and relentless insects, in addition to the merciless Vietnamese. After twenty years of escalating warfare, without the forceful impetus from the political elite to win the war decisively, the United States withdraws. Vietnam War vets came home without parades or fanfare. In light of America’s history of victory at all costs, this must have sown undeserved shame and guilt in the honorable veterans’ hearts. The determination of the troops was not matched by the resolution of the political establishment. The heart of America was being severed from its political head; the fortitude of the citizenry has been unmatched by political courage from its elected leadership.
The 1970s were a time of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety. The oil embargo, stagflation, and the prostrate regime of Jimmy Carter culminates in humiliation at the hands of Iranians and the growing scourge of international terrorism. It would take a return to principle to steady the nation, and that is exactly what governor of California named Ronald Reagan does.
For the first time in a generation, an American president speaks of freedom and actually means it. Reagan is loved by the heart of the country and despised by its head. The Great Communicator speaks to the nation’s passions and identity in a way that few presidents have ever done. Americans see themselves as capable and resilient, as the political leadership had grown comfortable to seeing them as dependent and obeisant. President Reagan breathes fresh air into stale politics and makes Americans feel good to be themselves again. When Americans are given the latitude to get back to leading the economy, the greatest boom in the nation’s history develops.
But Reagan marks his place in our history not only for his wisdom in unleashing the American spirit to create and build, but for confronting a long-time adversary – not just with weapons but with morality itself. The “Evil Empire” is a rotten, decaying state, and President Reagan knows that a combination of military-economic pressure and moral challenge would accelerate the Soviet Union’s demise, thus making the world a better place.
On June 12, 1987, after two terms of vigorous and principled opposition to socialism at home and abroad, Reagan issues a moral demand:
We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Gorbachev would not need to tear down the wall, the Berliners would do it for him. Reagan strikes a great blow for freedom. The political elite shrugs and plans its next subterfuge. Americans rejoice, for they had helped to liberate their fellow men. Progressives scheme to recreate East Berlin on American soil.
Reagan’s principled opposition to statism does not last for long in Washintgon. Although President George H.W. Bush serves under Reagan, he is not a great fan. Initiation of the First Gulf War becomes Bush’s most memorable decision, and a tremendous victory for the country’s fighting forces abroad. Millions are spared death, mutilation, or rape at the hands of the genocidal Saddam Hussein. But again, political courage fails to resolve the matter while the capability of the American military is demonstrably sufficient to do so. Afraid to upset regional powers, Hussein is allowed to remain dictator and to flaunt peace terms for another decade. It would take a national emergency of unprecedented proportions to cast new light on the lingering danger of the Iraqi regime.
September 11th, 2001 is quite possibly the darkest day in American history. The nation’s psyche is so shaken that a profound sense of unease penetrates all spheres of life for several years. But as the country struggles to combat an invisible menace named terrorism, it is also forced to confront the precarious nature of freedom itself. The War in Afghanistan brings a pledge from George Bush to bring the evildoers to justice, providing some salve to the injury. But this just war combines with an Iraq war that sullies the image of America in the minds of many citizens. The Iraq War, for better or for worse, tests the limits of people’s patience.
The U.S. military comes under assault not only by ruthless enemies overseas, but by hostile press at home. They fight in unimaginable conditions with less than first-rate equipment. In sand, wind, and heat they continue on. They hunt down the most despicable and cruel of men and bring them to justice. They protect women and children, help build schools, provide food and medicine, and no doubt comfort as many as practicable. The living hell of war is made that much more unbearable by the scorn and ridicule of their very mission. Liberation is no longer a worthy cause for the elite, belying their own shallow valuation of freedom.
Yet American troops fight on, plugging away in the face of daily casualties. The picture in Iraq appears bleak, by all media accounts. When President Bush proposes a surge to quell the stubborn insurgency, the left balks. Future president Obama questions the wisdom of the plan, and votes against it. Bush deprives the Democrats of a quagmire along the lines of Vietnam, which had given the left so much political capital. The success of the surge demonstrates that when Americans are allowed the freedom to take action, they win, regardless of the odds. If the Democrats had gotten their way, the surge likely doesn’t happen.
The challenges that face our country today are immense. Massive debt, intrusive government, and a president demonstrably hostile to freedom are among the obstacles that are placed before us. The Roman senator Cicero, who lived during the collapse of the Roman Republic, and who opposed the rise of Caesar, describes the menace of traitors, and their ability to bring down a country:
A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.
Calling Obama a traitor for his abuse of The Constitution is not necessary, for he is but a sign of the intellectual decay of the nation; although the scourge Cicero speaks of is worth noting in the big picture. President Obama is just one man. Removing him from office would be a resounding success, but it signals only another step in a long and arduous process to restore freedom. A powerful cadre has infiltrated the halls of government to establish itself as a ruling elite who, unchecked, will dictate terms to a permanent underclass, in flagrant disregard of our Constitution. We must fight to preserve America’s place in history; we must act like historic men.
Will we be so cowardly to cede the lamp of liberty to those who would snuff it out, casting the world into untold darkness? That is surely our fate should we relent and today’s political elites prevail. It is time to take up the mantle of our forefathers and become the champions of liberty. After all, we are Americans. And we will overcome the odds.