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Reasons & Remarks Redivivus: Shaping The U.S.

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News December 2016

Two Christmas Day events that led to the creation of our nation

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As we enter the Christmas season, I usually take the time to look up what historical events took place during this significant day many of us celebrate. There are two in particular that are significant in our history. Their importance will become evident as you read the brief story behind these events.  

When we were struggling to form our nation and in a difficult battle with the British over our independence to form that nation, we were fighting a professional army with untrained and untested troops. The British had continually defeated the citizen soldiers, militia and small army that were fighting for American independence. The Colonial army had been fighting with little food and no pay. 

 In the winter of 1776, Gen. George Washington was camped with the Continental Army on one side of the Delaware River, where his troops were enduring vicious winter conditions. 

On the other side of the river, Hessian soldiers under British control camped to prevent Washington’s troops from gaining any ground. There was little concern by the British because of the difficult winter conditions. Consequently, they had no guards at the river.

Despite the terrible weather, Washington rallied his men and led them across the 300-yard river on the evening of Christmas Day in 1776. Not only did the Continental Army cross the Delaware River, it went on to march 19 miles in a major blizzard and begin a drive which resulted in a defeat for the British and our nation declaring its independence.

The second of the significant events took place in the mid-1800s. The American Civil War started in 1861 when ultimately 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and declared their independence. As the split grew, the Confederacy spread to the west and claimed two more states and several territories. It was a vicious war which pitted friends and family against each other.

The conflict between the North and the South lasted until 1865, when the North ultimately won. Although the Union Army had won the war on the battlefield, in actuality the war was not over. The end of the war left bitter resentment between the participants. Campaigns such as the one led by Gen. William T. Sherman in his march to the sea, where he burned everything in his path, were a cruel blow to the South. The North placed laws on the South to punish them.  

Despite the victory, President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessean who had been Lincoln’s running mate and became president after Lincoln’s death, was determined to continue to punish the South. The cruel laws and restrictions placed upon the secessionist states continued the war in a different way. 

The difficulty went on for three years until President Johnson was persuaded by his Attorney General, James Speed, that such behavior would not mend the country. Finally, on Christmas Day in 1868, Johnson signed a law that gave “blanket amnesty” to the Southerners. A war in which more than 620,000 Americans were killed was finally over.

These two Christmas Day events are significant because they led to the creation of our nation. Had Washington’s leadership and the Colonial army’s determination to attack the English king’s soldiers failed, we may not have won the war and might still be a colony, although a large one, of the English crown.

The Northern army’s victorious win over the South left them in terrible economic and civil conditions. Johnson’s signing of blanket amnesty, which forgave the Southern states and population for trying to secede from the Union, allowed them to begin to recover and become a part of a united country. The states which made up our nation may not have been called the United States of America otherwise.

So, as we celebrate Christmas Day this December, pause for a moment and reflect on these two events that helped make the United States of America the country it is. A country whose Constitution has been copied by many other nations and a country which is seen as a place where freedom does indeed reign.      

 

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Reasons & Remarks Redivivus: Shaping The U.S.

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