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

Articles of Confederation: Circular Letter to the States (1777)

The Articles of Confederation (and Perpetual Union) was the first Constitution of the United States.  Richard Henry Lee wrote, “In this great business, dear Sir, we must yield a little to each other, and not rigidly insist on having everything correspondent to the partial views of every State.  On such terms we can never confederate…”  Thomas Burke noted, “The United States ought to be as One Sovereign [power] with respect to foreign Powers…  But in all Commercial or other peaceful Intercourse they ought to be as separate Sovereigns.”  Once the Articles of Confederationwere approved, Congress encouraged ratification. “To form a permanent Union, accommodated to the opinion and wishes of the delegates of so many states differing in habits, produce, commerce and internal police, was found to be a work which nothing but time and reflection, conspiring with a disposition to conciliate, could mature and accomplish. Hardly is it to be expected that any plan, in the variety of provisions essential to our Union, should exactly correspond with the maxims and political views of every particular state. Let it be remarked that after the most careful inquiry and the fullest information, this is proposed as the best, which could be adapted to the circumstances of all; and as that alone, which affords any tolerable prospect of general ratification. Permit us then earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states. Continue Reading →

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Articles of Confederation (1777)

The Articles of Confederation (and Perpetual Union) was approved by Congress on November 15, 1777 and went into effect on March 1, 1781, following the ratification by all 13 States.  There was no provision for a president, judiciary or means of taxation.  Congress noted it would be impossible to agree on every political view.  It was “of the absolute necessity”, however, to unite “all our councils and all our strength to maintain and defend our common liberties…”  The Articles of Confederation ultimately failed, but helped to inspire the U.S. Constitution.  Here are a few highlights of America’s first Constitution. “Article 2. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress…

Article 3. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare…

Article 4. The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship… the people of each State shall [have] free ingress and regress to and from any other State, and enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce…

Article 5. Continue Reading →

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Valley Forge: Diary of Albigence Waldo (1777-1778)

Albigence Waldo was an army surgeon at Valley Forge.  Disease, especially smallpox, was one of the most dangerous enemies for Washington’s army.  John Adams noted, “Disease has destroyed Ten Men for Us, where the Sword of the Enemy has killed one.”  Of the 11,000 soldiers encamped at Valley Forge, over 2000 died from disease, cold and starvation.  Albigence Waldo described some of the extreme difficulties of army life.  Here are a few entries from his diary. December 14  “There comes a Soldier, his bare feet are seen thro’ his worn out Shoes, his legs nearly naked from the tattered remains of an only pair of stockings, his Breeches not sufficient to cover his nakedness, his Shirt hanging in Strings, his hair disheveled, his face meager; his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken & discouraged. He comes, and cries…  ‘I am Sick, my feet lame, my legs are sore, my body covered with this tormenting Itch… exhausted by fatigue, hunger & Cold, I fail fast [and] I shall soon be no more!’”

December 21  “A general cry thro’ the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, ‘No Meat! No Meat!’”

December 24  “… I don’t know of anything that vexes a man’s Soul more than hot smoke continually blowing into his Eyes, & when he attempts to avoid it, is met by a cold and piercing Wind.”

December 28  “When the Officer has been fatiguing thro’ wet & cold and returns to his tent where he finds a letter directed to him from his Wife, filled with the most heart aching tender Complaints…  Acquainting him with the incredible difficulty with which she procures a little Bread for herself & Children…  What man is there — who has the least regard for his family — whose soul would not shrink within him? Who would not be disheartened from persevering in the best of Causes — the Cause of his Country, — when such discouragements as these lie in his way?”

James Still (Jan 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one…  But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat.” Albigence Waldo, Diary Entry, Dec 22, 1777

“Mankind are never truly thankful for the Benefits of life, until they have experienced the want of them.  The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good.  He who is always at ease & has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate.”  Albigence Waldo, Entry in Diary, December 15, 1777

“… Continue Reading →

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First National Thanksgiving (1777)

In the fall of 1777, American and British forces engaged in two battles near Saratoga, NY.  After suffering heavy losses, the British army fled to Saratoga and surrendered when surrounded by additional American forces.  In recognition of this victory, Congress proclaimed America’s First National Thanksgiving.  News of the British surrender at Saratoga convinced the king of France to begin negotiations with the Americans, leading to an alliance between France and America in 1778. “Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of… it is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States to set apart Thursday the l8th day of December next for solemn thanksgiving and praise…

[That] it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea and all under them with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments under the providence of almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace…  [and] to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consists in righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”  Journals of Congress, First National Thanksgiving, November 1, 1777

James Still (Nov 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com

“Tomorrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutly to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us— The General directs that the army remain in its present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades…”  George Washington, General Orders, December 17, 1777

“… it is therefore recommended… that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor…”  Journals of Congress, First National Thanksgiving, November 1, 1777

“… Continue Reading →

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Marquis de Lafayette:  America loved Lafayette (1834)

Marquis de Lafayette served passionately during America’s Revolution.   Along with Benjamin Franklin, Lafayette helped to obtain France’s involvement in our Revolution.  Lafayette also helped secure a victory at Yorktown.  During his final visit to America in 1824, Lafayette became the first foreign dignitary to address the U.S. House of Representatives.  George Washington and Lafayette maintained a close relationship throughout their lives.  Lafayette looked to Washington as a father and named his son George Washington Lafayette.  Lafayette died in 1834 and was buried in Paris, France.  Soil taken from Bunker Hill was sprinkled over his grave.  Upon learning of Lafayette’s death, Congress ordered funeral honors similar to those given to Washington. “RESOLUTION… on the occasion of the decease of General Lafayette…  That the sacrifices and efforts of this illustrious person in the cause of our country during her struggle for independence, and the affectionate interest which he has at all times manifested for the success of her political institutions, claim from the Government and people of the United States an expression of condolence for his loss, veneration for his virtues, and gratitude for his services. And be it further resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to address, together with a copy of the above resolutions, a letter to George Washington Lafayette and the other members of his family, assuring them of the condolence of this whole nation…

And be it further resolved, That the members of the two Houses of Congress will wear a badge of mourning for thirty days, and that it be recommended to the people of the United States to wear a similar badge for the same period…  [And] That the halls of the Houses be dressed in mourning for the residue of the session.”   Statutes at Large, Death of General Marquis de Lafayette, June 26, 1834

James Still (Oct 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com

“… to have received at every stage of the Revolution, and during forty years after that period, from the people of the United States… at home and abroad, continual marks of their confidence and kindness, has been the pride, the encouragement, the support of a long and eventful life.”  Marquis de Lafayette, Response to John Adams, September 6, 1825

“The resolution which so powerfully honors my father’s memory shall be deposited as a most sacred family property in that room of mourning where once his son and grandsons used to receive with avidity [passion] from him lessons of patriotism and active love of liberty…  the affection and esteem of a free nation is the most desirable reward that can be obtained on earth.”  George Washington Lafayette, Letter to Andrew Jackson, October 21, 1834

“… 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

RetraceOurSteps.com Continue Reading →

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Marquis de Lafayette:  Lafayette loved America (1777)

Marquis de Lafayette was born into French nobility and inherited a large family fortune at the age of 14.  At the age of 19, and against the will of the King of France, Lafayette used his own money to secure a ship to America.  Lafayette described his feelings, “The moment I heard of America, I loved her; the moment I knew she was fighting for freedom, I burnt with a desire of bleeding for her; and the moment I shall be able to serve her at any time, or in any part of the world, will be the happiest one of my life.”  With the approval of Congress, Lafayette joined General Washington on the battlefield.  Unsure at first how to accept Lafayette, Washington quickly gained respect for Lafayette after observing him in his first battle, the Battle of Brandywine.  Washington wrote Congress and recommended Lafayette be given a command. “I would take the liberty to mention, that I feel myself in a delicate situation with respect to the Marquis de Lafayette. He is extremely solicitous of having a Command equal to his rank, &… it appears to me, from a consideration of his illustrious and important connections—the attachment which he has manifested to our cause, and the consequences, which his return [to France] in disgust might produce, that it will be advisable to gratify him in his wishes—and the more so, as several Gentlemen from France, who came over under some assurances [of appointments], have gone back disappointed in their expectations. His conduct with respect to them stands in a favorable point of view… and in all his letters has placed our affairs in the best situation he could. Besides, he is sensible—discreet in his manners—has made great proficiency in our Language, and from the disposition he discovered at the Battle of Brandywine, possesses a large share of bravery and Military ardor [passion].”  George Washington, Letter to Henry Laurens (Congress), November 1, 1777

James Still (Sep 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com

“Resolved, That General Washington be informed, it is highly agreeable to Congress that the Marquis de Lafayette be appointed to the command of a division in the continental army.”  Journals of Congress, December 1, 1777

“We are not, I confess, so strong as I expected, but we are strong enough to fight… Continue Reading →

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America: A Refuge for Civil and Religious Liberty (1776)

On July 8, 1776, a huge crowd gathered outside the Philadelphia State House, now called Independence Hall, to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.  John Adams witnessed the event: “The Declaration was… proclaimed from that awful [full of awe] Stage, in the State house Yard…   Three cheers rended the Welkin [Heavens].”  A few weeks later, just one day before the signing of the parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams spoke about the “infinite importance” of American Independence. “Our forefathers… opened the Bible to all, and maintained the capacity of every man to judge for himself in religion…  We have explored the temple of royalty, and found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes which see not, ears that hear not our prayers, and a heart like the nether [lower] millstone. We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious [merciful] eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun may His kingdom come. Continue Reading →

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Fourth of July: The First Anniversary (1777)

On the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Congress adjourned for the day and dined with military officers and various dignitaries.  British deserters and the Hessian band, taken at the Battle of Trenton, also joined the festivities.  A naval parade with cannon fire began the day’s celebration.  During the evening, candles were placed in windows, bells were rung and fireworks were set off.  John Adams wrote to his daughter, “I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity [cheerfulness] that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendor of every part of this joyful exhibition.”

The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported the event: “Yesterday the 4th of July, being the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, was celebrated in this city [Philadelphia] with demonstrations of joy and festivity. About noon all the armed ships and galleys in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colors of the United States and streamers displayed. At one o’clock, the yards [timbers with sails attached] being properly manned, they began the celebration of the day by a discharge of thirteen cannon from each of the ships… in honor of the Thirteen United States…

After dinner a number of toasts were drank, all breathing independence, and a generous love of liberty, and commemorating the memories of those brave and worthy patriots who gallantly exposed their lives, and fell gloriously in defense of freedom and the righteous cause of their country. Each toast was followed by a discharge of artillery and small arms, and a suitable piece of music by the Hessian band…

The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”  Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 5, 1777

James Still (July 2017), RetraceOurSteps.com

“Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.”  Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 5, 1777

“In the evening, I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise, and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows.  I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw…”  John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams II, July 5, 1777

“… Continue Reading →

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The Meaning of the Rattlesnake (1775)

The rattlesnake was a significant symbol used throughout the American Revolution.  The Dept of War, established in 1789, included a rattlesnake in its seal in recognition of the rattlesnake’s importance.  The Dept of the Army (1947), successor of the Dept of War, continued the tradition and included a rattlesnake in its seal.  The Gadsden Flag, “to be used by… the American Navy” beginning in1776, and the First Navy Jack, which is currently flown by the U.S. Navy, both contain a rattlesnake and the motto “DONT TREAD ON ME”.  The following article, written by Benjamin Franklin one month after the formation of the [U.S.] Continental Marines, was his explanation of the rattlesnake. “I observe on one of the drums belonging to the marines… there was painted a rattlesnake, with this motto under it, ‘Don’t tread on me.’  … I sat down to guess what could have been intended by this uncommon device. I took care, however, to consult, on this occasion, a person who is acquainted with heraldry [military artwork]… This rather raised than suppressed my curiosity, and having frequently seen the rattlesnake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished…

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness that of any other animal, and that she has no eyelids. Continue Reading →

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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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