Franco-American Alliance (1778)


Following the American victory at Saratoga, negotiations between French and U.S. Diplomats culminated in the signing of two treaties.  The Treaty of Amity and Commerce encouraged trade between France and America.  The Treaty of Alliance provided a military alliance against Great Britain.  Ratified by Congress on May 4, 1778, these became the first treaties entered into by the U.S. government.  The Convention of 1800 dissolved the Franco-American Alliance.  Upon learning of the alliance, General Washington ordered a celebration.

“It having pleased the Almighty ruler of the Universe propitiously to defend the Cause of the United American-States and finally by raising us up a powerful Friend among the Princes of the Earth to establish our liberty and Independence upon lasting foundations, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine Goodness & celebrating the important Event which we owe to his benign Interposition.

The several Brigades are to be assembled for this Purpose at nine o’clock tomorrow morning…  At half after ten o’clock a Cannon will be fired, which is to be a signal for the men to be under Arms…  At half after eleven a second Cannon [will] be fired as a signal for the march…  A third signal will be given upon which there will be discharge of thirteen Cannon; When the thirteen have fired, a running fire of the Infantry will begin on the right of [Gen.] Woodford’s [Brigade] and continue throughout the whole front line…

Upon a signal given, the whole Army will Huzza! “Long Live the King of France” —The Artillery then begins again and fires thirteen rounds, this will be succeeded by a second general discharge of the Musketry in a running fire —Huzza!—“And long live the friendly European Powers”— Then the last discharge of thirteen Pieces of Artillery will be given, followed by a General running fire and Huzza! “To the American States.”  George WashingtonGeneral Orders, May 5, 1778

James Still (Sep 2018),

First Presidential Inauguration (1789)

Ten years after the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot gave a speech on the Fourth of July, reminding his audience of theNewburgh Conspiracy.  During the war, soldiers had been fighting and dying for their country while their families were surviving mostly upon charity.  Now that the war was over, Congress was still broke and it looked as though the soldiers would return home with nothing.  When George Washington learned of a military coup against Congress, he ordered a meeting with the Officers and promised to do whatever he could on their behalf.  The Officers quickly denounced the scheme.  In closing, Boudinot encouraged his audience to emulate the Newburgh Veterans.

“The war-worn soldiers, reduced to the calamities of a seven years arduous service, now solemnly pause and reflect on… their critical situation…   want and dire distress stare many in the face…  [And now,] Their country’s exhausted treasury cannot yield them even the hard-earned pittance of a soldier’s pay…

Brotherly affection [however] produces brotherly relief [and] the victorious bands unite together… and instead of seizing their arms, and demanding their right by menace and violence, they… determine to give one more proof of unexampled patriotism…    [They] unite in a firm, indissoluble bond… to continue their mutual friendship… and to effectuate [offer] every act of beneficence [benevolence]… to any of their number and their families who might unfortunately be [in need]…

[Allow] me to congratulate you on this seventeenth anniversary of our happy independence.  Long, long, even to the remotest ages, may the citizens of this rising empire enjoy the triumphs of this day!  May they never forget the invaluable price which it [Independence] cost…  [And] May we, by the uniform conduct of good citizens, and generous, faithful friends, show ourselves worthy of such valuable connections!”  Elias BoudinotOration before the Society of the Cincinnati, July 4, 1793

James Still (July 2018),

First Presidential Election (1789)

On April 6, 1789, as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution, “… [Congress] counted the votes of the electors for President and Vice President of the United States…”  George Washington was unanimously voted President and John Adams was voted Vice President.  (The terms “Electoral” and “College” would not be referenced in law until 1845.)  Here are some events over the next few days.

April 7  “In pursuance of the orders I received from the Senate [to inform Washington of his election], I left New York…  [Though] much impeded by tempestuous weather, bad roads, and the many large rivers I had to cross, yet, by unremitted diligence I reached Mount Vernon [on April 14], the seat of his excellency, General Washington…”  Charles Thomson, Letter to John Langdon, April 24, 1789

April 14  “I am much affected by this fresh proof of my country's esteem and confidence, that silence can best explain my gratitude.  While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me, and feel my inability to perform it, I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice.  All I can promise is, only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.”  George Washington, Noted by Charles Thomson, Apr 24, 1789

April 16   “About ten o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York… with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.” George Washington, Entry in Diary, April 16, 1789

April 23  “… the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people which rent the skies, as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful… as they are pleasing.”  George Washington, Entry in Diary, April 23, 1789

James Still (May 2018),

Valley Forge (1777-1778)

On December 19, 1777, one day after America’s First National Thanksgiving, Washington’s army marched into Valley Forge to begin preparations for winter camp.  Valley Forge, named after an iron forge on Valley Creek, was about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, PA, the site of the British army’s winter camp.  Winter conditions were already difficult. Henry Dearborn noted in his Journal, “The weather still Remains uncomfortable- this is Thanksgiving Day thru the whole Continent of America—but god knows We have very Little to keep it with this being the third Day we have been without flour or bread…”

Why was Valley Forge chosen?  Washington explained, “The General ardently wishes, it were now in his power, to conduct the troops into the best winter quarters— But where are these to be found?  Should we retire to the interior parts of the State, we should find them crowded with virtuous citizens, who, sacrificing their all, have left Philadelphia and fled thither for protection. To their distresses humanity forbids us to add.

This is not all, we should leave a vast extent of fertile country to be despoiled [stripped] and ravaged by the enemy, from which they would draw vast supplies, and where many of our firm friends would be exposed to all the miseries of the most insulting and wanton depredation— A train of evils might be enumerated, but these will suffice—These considerations make it indispensably necessary for the army to take such a position, as will enable it most effectually to prevent distress & to give the most extensive security; and in that position we must make ourselves the best shelter in our power— With activity and diligence Huts may be erected that will be warm and dry— In these the troops will be compact, more secure against surprises than if in a divided state and at hand to protect the country.”  George WashingtonGeneral Orders, December 17, 1777

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 CongressFirst National Thanksgiving, November 1, 1777


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.

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 in 1776, 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. She may, therefore, be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders. She is, therefore, an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her she conceals in the roof of her mouth… but their wounds, however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her. Was I wrong sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?”  Benjamin Franklin, The Meaning of the Rattlesnake, December 27, 1775

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?  In a Community consisting of large Numbers, inhabiting an extensive Country, it is not possible that the whole Should assemble, to make Laws.  The most natural Substitute for an Assembly of the whole, is a Delegation of Power, from the Many, to a few of the most wise and virtuous…  [The] Representative Assembly, should be an exact Portrait, in Miniature, of the People at large… [and] great Care should be taken in the Formation of it, to prevent unfair, partial and corrupt Elections.”  John Adams, Letter to John Penn, March 27, 1776


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


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. He was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, & a great man.

… [It] may truly be said that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance.  For his was the singular destiny & merit of leading the armies of his country successfully thro’ an arduous war for the establishment of it’s independence, of conducting it’s councils thro’ the birth of a government, new in it’s forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train, and of scrupulously obeying the laws, thro’ the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.”  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Walter Jones, January 2, 1814