Our founding fathers rarely used the word God in their correspondence and rhetoric. Perhaps it was in defiance of England’s close marriage of church to state, but more often our country’s founders could be quoted as referring to divine providence or one’s creator. While these, our American icons disagreed in many counts about the meaning or nature of the American Revolution, they all agreed about the divine providence that made it possible.
Let me share two of the most beloved stories of 1776 that allowed our country to survive and win the Revolutionary War by that divine providence.
In April 1775 a colonial military force (later to be called the continental army) surrounded the city of Boston to lock in the British military garrison encamped there. This 11 month siege was essentially a stand off. The colonials (despite their recent battles at Lexington and Concord) knew they didn’t have a strong chance at removing the army garrison from the city and the British didn’t have the men necessary to break through the lines. The newly appointed leader of the continental army, George Washington, sent a book seller and promising soldier to Fort Ticonderoga to bring whatever cannon and artillery possible to Boston to fortify the position of the army. Henry Knox, by the grace of that divine providence managed to bring over 60 tons of artillery to Boston by horse, dog sled, manpower, and boat across poor roads, two semi-frozen rivers, swamps, and forests in a little less than 3 winter months. Many have called this feat the most impressive logistical feat of the war. With these new cannons in hand Washington organized an effort to distract the British during the night of March 5th 1776 while his men pushed these cannons to the top of Dorchester Heights. During that night they fortified the heights with logs and what else they could find since digging trenches was impossible in the cold of winter. The occupation of Dorchester Heights was the necessary tactical advantage needed to force a British retreat. This miracle was sufficient enough to have caused the British Commander to say, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.”
Later that same year the now super strengthened British army and fleet was in New York facing this same Continental Army. After a defeating battle Washington knew he had to withdraw his troops in a retreat of New York. The newly arrived British fleet threatened to sail up the Hudson and destroy the army where they stood. For over 10 days a strange and unexpected south wind forced the British fleet to remain in the lower bay unable to sail up the river to the side of the island where Washington’s camp lay. Not knowing how much longer this divine providence would shine down on him he planned and executed an amazing over night retreat in which the entire army, supplies, horses, and artillery, were transported across the river on boats while a single unit stayed behind to keep fires lit and make noise sufficient to convince the British that nothing was out of the ordinary. An unusual and heavy fog settled over the island that night making the retreat much more feasible. Almost immediately following that retreat the winds changed and the British sailed up the Hudson.
Some would just call this lucky but like the founding fathers I believe in Divine Providence. I believe that this country was formed and continues to prosper in direct correlation with our obedience to God’s commandments. Most of the founders agreed in the complete separation between church and state but that doesn’t mean they didn’t see a direct correlation in the hand of the almighty and the work they were doing.
The American Gospel is not a specific religion, God, or Deity. The American Gospel is the belief that our creator has given us all unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The American Gospel is the belief that our country stands as something and for something far greater than our individuals desires and pursuits. It is this Gospel that we carry into battle, that we wave with the American Flag, and that we must emulate in all that we do.
Today when it seems like there is more division than unity among our people we must stay united in the belief of the “American Experiment.” We must all unite behind the symbols and actions that are the core of this rhetoric. Only together can we keep the dream that has become America alive and breathing.
I leave you this July with the final verse of our Nation’s Song: “The Star Spangled Banner.” The story behind this song is equally inspiring but we will leave that for another day.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!