Wanted: A leader with courage


"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 by 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."

When polemicist Thomas Paine penned these words in late 1776, the American quest for freedom was on the rocks. The lusty early days of the war crashed into the reality of fighting the world's most powerful army. After suffering repeated defeats, American troop morale was low, reenlistments were down and defections up. With enlistments terminating on Jan. 1, 1777, George Washington was on the verge of losing his army and the American cause when Paine wrote the first of a series of articles in his American Crisis series on Dec. 23, 1776.

Washington desperately needed a victory and he had just a few days remaining to pull it off. With his army lodged in southeastern Pennsylvania, he would famously cross an icy Delaware River on Christmas Day, demolish the Hessian troops at Trenton, and make another crossing on Dec. 29 with a larger force and chase the British out of southern New Jersey.

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Washington got his inspirational victories, morale soared, troop numbers swelled, and the Virginian would lead America to victory in 1783. Washington's courage was the key to this stunning turn of events.

Do we value courage when electing leaders today?

From his youth Washington was known for his bravery. The Delaware wasn't the first icy river he had crossed. As a 21 year-old, on Dec. 29, 1753, Washington's raft was demolished by ice as he was crossing the Allegheny River in present-day Pittsburgh. He was returning to Williamsburg, Va., following a treacherous assignment from the governor Virginia to tell the French to abandon their forts in western Pennsylvania and their plans to control the rich Ohio territory. An Indian ambush nearly killed Washington the day before he was hurled into the icy Allegheny. He pulled himself from the river and slept on an island wearing frozen clothes.

Courage. Washington had it from an early age and he passed it on to his troops on Christmas Day in 1776. If America is to survive its present day crisis, and it can, a leader with great courage and commitment to the American cause of ordered liberty must emerge soon, for these too are the times that try men's souls.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.


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