There was a point in the American bid for Independence where it appeared that the effort had failed. Washington’s army was stalled across the Delaware from Trenton, New Jersey. As soldiers commissions were running out they were not re-enlisting in the war effort. Washington was losing confidence of politician, citizen and soldier alike. Something had to change, that was certain. On Christmas day George Washington announced to his remaining troops that they would need to prepare. It was bitterly cold and uncertainty swirled about in the minds of the under-supplied, tired and cold soldiers. Washington asked that Thomas Paine’s “American Crisis” be read to the troops, the opening lines are likely to be familiar to many reading this:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
The next day Washington would lead part of the continental army into battle himself for the first time in the revolutionary war. He would also impliment a new bolder tactic, his army would move swiftly and decisively. The objective of the new approach was catching the Hessian garrison off guard across the Delaware River in the battle for Trenton. The plan paid off and the battle resulted in about 1,000 of the 1,500 Hessian garrison being killed, wounded or captured. Most importantly this moment is recognized as an important turning point in the war. Washington restored confidence in his leadership and the effort overall. In fact a few days later a huge portion of his continental army was coming to the end of their commission and Washington would manage to convince half of them to stay the course and re-enlist. News of the Battle of Trenton would travel fast and many more citizens would enlist as a result. Here are Washington’s words he used to inspire the troops to re-enlist:
“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than can be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances.”
Applying the lessons of this epic innovation and leadership example we can transform our own personal and professional lives. When we face challenges we can choose to give up and walk away like some of the soldiers of the continental army did. Or we can choose to demonstrate leadership, innovation and act quickly to overcome the challenge. I understand and recognize this as I have felt this very inspirational human experience on a number of occasions. While no-one wishes for this kind of adversity, there is a confidence in yourself that could not exist without successfully navigating them. Perhaps that is why the difficult lessons we learn from tend to have the greatest impact on our lives.
I hope you have enjoyed this Independence Day tribute on this 234th Birthday of the United States of America.