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

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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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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