J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nothing But Hope and Virtue

That lawsuit about how Chief Justice John Roberts would administer the presidential oath of office failed. But then Roberts misplaced a word in reciting or reading the oath to Barack Obama. Which word? “faithfully.” Here’s Ann Althouse’s analysis of the moment, and the conspiracy theory passed on by Wonkette.

And for the important stuff, the Revolutionary War allusion in President Obama’s speech:

In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words...
The quoted words are from the first number of “The American Crisis” by Thomas Paine, published on 23 Dec 1776. Now in fact the U.S. capital at the time, if we could say there was one, was Philadelphia. The Congress was still there [ADDENDUM: Whoops! Congress had bugged out after all. See comments section], and the Continental Army hadn’t abandoned it. That army had, however, been driven out of New York and across New Jersey, and things were looking grim for the Patriots. This moment, just before the battle of Trenton, was indeed one of the low points of the Revolutionary War from the American point of view.


Anonymous said...

Most of Congress had, apparently, fled: see comment at John Fea's place, with the link to the Letters of Delegates to Congress. I blogged on this passage, too.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the correction, Ben. I found the documentation here at famousamericans.net that on 11 Dec 1776 Congress insisted that it would not abandon Philadelphia, and on 12 Dec 1776 it adjourned to Baltimore.

So while the British never took Philadelphia in the winter of 1776-77, as they took the city in 1777-78, it wasn’t because Congress stood in the way.

I’d forgotten you were blogging at Publick Occurrences. I’m also glad to know now who has the philipvickersfithian.com domain.