James Still

Since November 2009, I have read our Founding History and written a letter each month containing quotes of the Founders. I believe a knowledge of our History is still vital for securing, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” “Should we wander from [The Founding Principles]… let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” -Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801 James Still, JamesStill@RetraceOurSteps.com

Recent Articles

An Appeal to Heaven (1775)

If found guilty in a court of law, an accused has a right to appeal to a higher court.  Prior to the American Revolution, the Colonists presented their grievances to the court of King George III many times and pleaded for justice.  The King, however, became increasingly hostile and offered no appeal.  Patrick Henry, in his “Give me Liberty or Give me Death”speech, summarized the feelings of many, “An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”  If King George would not rule with justice, the Colonists were determined to appeal their cause to a higher Court.  Here is an example of the phrase, “An Appeal to Heaven”, seen on a flag during the Siege of Boston. “Yesterday morning, according to orders issued the day before by Major General [Isaiah] Putnam, all the Continental Troops under his immediate command assembled at Prospect Hill [Boston], when the Declaration [‘The Causes and Necessities of Taking up Arms’] of the Continental Congress was read; after which an animated and pathetic [passionate] address to the Army was made by the Rev Mr. Leonard, Chaplain to General Putnam’ sRegiment, and succeeded by a pertinent prayer…

Then General Putnam gave the signal, and the whole Army shouted their loud amen by three cheers, immediately upon which a cannon was fired from the fort, and the standard lately sent to General Putnam was exhibited flourishing in the air, bearing on one side this motto, ‘An appeal to Heaven,’ and on the other side, ‘Qui transtulit sustinet’ [‘He Who Transplanted Sustains.’]  The whole was conducted with the utmost decency, good order, and regularity, and the universal acceptance of all present.”  Essex Gazette, July 19, 1775

James Still (May 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com

“We for ten Years incessantly and ineffectually besieged the Throne [of King George]…  [Now,] in defense of the Freedom that is our Birthright… [and] With an humble Confidence in the Mercies of the supreme and impartial Judge and Ruler of the Universe, we most devoutly implore [petition] his Divine Goodness to protect us happily through this great Conflict…”  Journals of Congress,  Declaration of The Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, July 6, 1775

“… to the Persecution and Tyranny of his [King George’s] cruel ministry we will not tamely submit- appealing to Heaven for the Justice of our Cause, we determine to die or be free.”  Massachusetts Provincial Congress, To the Inhabitants of Great Britain, April 26, 1775

Continue Reading →

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Thoughts on Government (1776)

In 1776, John Adams was asked to share his opinions on government.  In response, Adams wrote several letters and a pamphlet entitled, Thoughts on Government.  Adams touched on three branches of government and a system of checks and balances.  Thoughts on Government helped colonists embrace Independence and influenced several State Constitutions.  (In 1780, John Adams became the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution, the oldest functioning constitution in the world.)
“It has been the Will of Heaven, that We should be thrown into Existence at a Period, when the greatest Philosophers and Lawgivers of Antiquity would have wished to have lived: a Period, when a Coincidence of Circumstances, without Example, has afforded to thirteen Colonies at once an opportunity, of beginning Government anew from the Foundation and building as they choose.  How few of the human Race, have ever had an opportunity of choosing a System of Government for themselves and their Children? … All Sober Enquirers after Truth, ancient and modern… have agreed that the Happiness of Mankind, as well as the real Dignity of human Nature, consists in Virtue…   [And] great Writers… will convince any Man who has the Fortitude [courage] to read them, that all good Government is Republican… for the true Idea of a Republic, is ‘An Empire of Laws and not of Men.’
… As a good Government is an Empire of Laws, the first Question is, how Shall the Laws be made? Continue Reading →

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We Fight For Freedom (1776)

Following the American losses in the fall of 1776 and prior to the victory at Trenton, several States issued addresses in an effort to encourage their citizens.  Among the addresses given was one to the citizens of New York written by John Jay.  (John Jay became the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789.)  After reading a copy of this address, Congress “earnestly recommended” it to all American citizens and ordered it “printed at the expense of the continent.”
“You and all men were created free, and authorized to establish civil government, for the preservation of your rights against oppression, and the security of that freedom which God hath given you…  It is, therefore, not only necessary to the well-being of Society, but the duty of every man, to oppose and repel all those… who prostitute the powers of Government to destroy the happiness and freedom of the people over whom they may be appointed to rule…
But you are told that their armies are numerous, their fleet strong, their soldiers valiant, their resources great; [and] that you will be conquered…  It is true that some [of our] forts have been taken, that our country hath been ravaged, and that our Maker is displeased with us.  But it is also true that the King of Heaven is not like the King of Britain…   If His assistance be sincerely implored, it will surely be obtained.  If we turn from our sins, He will turn from His anger. … [Therefore] let universal charity, public spirit and private virtue be inculcated [taught], encouraged and practiced; unite in preparing for a vigorous defense of your country, as if all depended on your own exertions; and when you have done these things, then rely upon the good Providence of Almighty God for success, in full confidence, that without His blessing all our efforts will evidently fail.”  John Jay, Address of the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York to their Constituents, December 23, 1776
James Still (Mar 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com
“… we do not fight for a few acres of land, but for freedom — for the freedom and happiness of millions yet unborn.”  John Jay, Address of the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York to their Constituents, December 23, 1776

“… God himself hath told us that strength and numbers avail not against Him.  Seek then to be at peace with Him; solicit His alliance, and fear not the boasted strength and power of your foes.”  John Jay, Address of the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York to their Constituents, December 23, 1776
“… Continue Reading →

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Who was George Washington? (1732 – 1799)

George Washington was born in Virginia on February 22, 1732.  He was appointed County Surveyor at the age of 17 and joined the British Army at 21.  Washington was a Virginia Delegate to the First Continental Congress, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, President of the Constitutional Convention and unanimously elected first President of the United States.   Washington died at his Mt. Vernon home at the age of 67 on December 14, 1799.  Washington’s Birthday was set aside as a Federal holiday in 1885 in honor of America’s First President. Here is Thomas Jefferson’s description of Washington: “He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. Continue Reading →

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Life in Washington’s Army (1776 – 1777)

Soldiers often endure hardships and make many sacrifices while serving their country.  During America’s struggle for Independence, for example, many soldiers went without adequate food or sleep; clothing or bedding.  Most of General Washington’s troops, however, endured without a single complaint.  “It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes… but I have not heard a man complain.”  An Officer, Diary of an Officer on Washington’s Staff, December 25, 1776
William Hull, an officer serving with Washington, provided a good description of the soldier’s life in 1776 – 1777.  “When we left the Highlands [Hudson River, NY], my company consisted of about fifty, rank and file. On examining the state of the clothing, I found there was not more than one poor blanket to two men: many of them had neither shoes nor stockings; and those who had, found them nearly worn out. All the clothing was of the same wretched description. These troops had been almost a year in service, and their pay which was due, remained unpaid. Yet their privations [lack of provisions] and trials were only equaled by their patience. Continue Reading →

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Battle of Trenton (1776)

It was 3:00 a.m. when the last piece of artillery crossed the Delaware.  General Washington gathered his troops and, in the unrelenting storm, began the nine-mile march to Trenton.  Despite arriving after daylight and three hours behind schedule, the Americans surprised the Hessians.  The battle was brief, lasting only about an hour.   Two Americans died from exposure and only five were wounded in battle.  After the victory, Washington moved his troops back across the Delaware for safety.  The Battle of Trenton encouraged many troops to extend their enlistments and Washington’s army survived to see a new year. “It was just 8 o’clock. Looking down the road, I saw a Hessian running out from the house. He yelled in Dutch [German] and swung his arms. Three or four others came out with their guns. Continue Reading →

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Crossing the Delaware (1776)

The majority of Washington’s militia enlistments were expiring at the end of the year.  Suspecting few to reenlist, Washington desperately needed a victory.  Beginning at sunset on Christmas Day, Washington’s plan was to move his army and artillery across the Delaware River and march quietly to Trenton.  If all went well, his army would surprise the Hessian Garrison in an early morning attack.  River ice and a violent storm, however, created delays and prevented many troops from crossing.  Washington lost all hope of surprising the enemy but going back across the river was not an option.  When the muskets became wet, Washington ordered, “use the bayonets.  I am resolved to take Trenton.”
“… without tents and some of our men without even shoes, [we were ordered] over the mountains to a place called Newton, [PA]…   A day or two after reaching Newton we were paraded one afternoon to march and attack Trenton.  If I recollect aright the sun was about half an hour high and shining brightly, but it had no sooner set than it began to drizzle or grow wet, and when we came to the river it rained…  Over the river we then went in a flat-bottomed scow, and as I was with the first that crossed, we had to wait for the rest and so began to pull down the fences and make fires to warm ourselves, for the storm was increasing rapidly…
During the whole night it alternately hailed, rained, snowed, and blew tremendously. I recollect very well that at one time, when we halted on the road, I sat down on the stump of a tree and was so benumbed with cold that I wanted to go to sleep; had I been passed unnoticed I should have frozen to death without knowing it…”  John Greenwood, The Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood, December 1776
James Still (Nov 2016), RetraceOurSteps.com
“It is fearfully cold and raw and a snowstorm is setting in. The wind is northeast and beats in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet; others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain. Continue Reading →

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