Each week the Watcher's Council hosts a forum as well as a weekly contest among the members for best post. This week's forum question is "Who Are Your Three Favorite Heroes In American History?" I have been kindly invited to respond.
The first great American hero is our deity, God, or at least our relationship to him through religion. 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. He did not start the Civil Rights movement, but 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.