Although the Revolutionary War started well for the American troops, it was not long into 1776 that things took a turn for the worse. New York City was conquered in a mere three-month period between August and November after British troops landed in Long Island. From there, Washington, with six thousand men, fled the city southwest across New Jersey, chased by General Cornwallis. Eventually, the American Commander settled on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.
Though many of the thousands of troops made it to the encampment safely, nearly two thousand were in need of hospital care, and a significant number of others had deserted the young army out of fear that the war had already been lost.
A brutal winter was imminent, and morale was low. Nearing late December, Washington was given a copy of a pamphlet published by Thomas Paine on the 19th of that month, which began as such:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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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.
The last decade or so of American life has had Christians and Conservatives of all stripes on their heels. Despite laws passing, for example, at the state level opposing so-called same-sex “marriage” (California included), the nation’s high court deemed them—in a stretch worthy of a yoga instructor—unconstitutional. States have declared themselves abortion sanctuaries and passed laws permitting the killing of the unborn that have Kim and Putin blushing.
And that’s just the laws.
Culturally, it has been a tidal wave, and across the board of public life at that. Don’t fall in line? You’re a bigot. Won’t fly this flag, and turn your back on my parade? You’re a hater. Believe in objective truth? You’re anti-freedom. Think timeless institutions deserve the benefit of the doubt? You’re obviously un-American. You’re teaching your children to believe in God and love of neighbor? The government is God, you freakish weirdo; I’m calling Child Protective Services. We have been chased, and we have retreated.
When Washington read Paine’s words, he requested that they be read to his men, which boosted morale and ushered in a new wave of courage that would be needed a few short days later. Despite icy waters and uncooperative weather, the men crossed the Delaware River. Men who couldn’t swim, horses, and artillery boarded boats and whatever could float and crossed that river. The unsuspecting enemy, grown dull to surprise by frequent skirmishes and led by drunken men off their guard, were delivered the greatest Christmas present in American history.
In these last two weeks, we have won a victory. A victory for the Constitution. A victory for America. A victory for the unborn. A victory for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The flag-waving majority were caught off guard in their own month, drunk on their side of the river. Roe is dead!
Though the victory, these are the times that try men’s souls. The-end-justifies-the-means Left has been dealt a blow; but like Bilbo in the cave of Smaug this, I believe, is just the awakening. The summer soldier who can’t stomach the cultural and intellectual battles to come needs a good shaking about the shoulders and the conviction that truth and souls, like bodies, are worth dying for, even though it may come by the mere spilling of sweat or the burning of bridges.
The American troops’ return to the western side of the Delaware River, it has been said, was more dangerous than the first crossing. But the danger was softened by the celebratory mood (and the spoils of war). Though it was a winter of victories, the war would drag on through blood and mud and betrayal and broken promises and death and hell for seven long years. Those of us who were not alive to see the institution of Roe have seen its death; but, in this war of attrition, we are in for another 50 years of the slow conversion of hearts that have characterized the pro-life movement in recent decades.
There will be blood, of that there is no doubt. There always has been. Tolerance, according to Chesterton, is the virtue of the man without convictions, and it is truly a one-way street. There has always been a fight. From the French ten-day week to the quill in the hand of Marx to the present day there has been battle, and far too often Catholics in modern America from the top down and everywhere in between have shivered at the prospect of confrontation. But confrontation it must be. Winning for the sake of winning? Certainly not. Winning for the sake of souls, of truth, of freedom? All are worthy of the shedding of blood, either metaphorically or physically.
But today, in this moment, a respite, a deep breath. Yes, like Washington’s men, a celebration, a victory! But, shortly thereafter, the reality: gather your conviction, for though the corpse of Roe may rot, the ghost will continue to haunt, and thus the struggle is just beginning. And indeed, as Paine said so truly nearly 250 years ago, the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
[Image: “George Washington crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze]