A web-log on history has many avenues available to the author and as I explore them I find that sometimes the thoughtful exploration of a quote* from an historical document can give enlightenment to history as a whole. A few lines of prose or poetry, short and succinct, allows time for analysis when hundreds of pages of reading is too demanding.
Ideas are carried in words and none more so than those of Revolutionary era America. I find myself, during times of upheaval, turning to the words of the men and women who influenced the founding of the United States or later recorded their stories. Ironically, those individuals saw the dangers that faced the generations to come after them. Over two hundred years later, we are witnesses to the dangers they foresaw.
“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 his 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. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ’tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
– Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776
“I will take praise to myself. I feel that it is my due, for having sacrificed so large a portion of my peace and happiness to promote the welfare of my country which I hope for many years to come will reap the benifit, tho it is more than probable unmindfull of the hand that blessed them.”
– Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 17, 1782
Watchfulness and Courage
“So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm –
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore.
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” last stanza
* All quotes from Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems, and Speeches edited by William J. Bennett