Summer Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” –The Crisis, Thomas Paine
Those immortal words were composed in a moment of inspiration by the famous pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, two days before Christmas in the first year of the American Revolution. They were read to General Washington’s men on Christmas day as his troops prepared to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on Great Britain, the greatest military power on the face of the earth.
Washington’s troops prepared to make the crossing to Trenton, New Jersey, in the dead of night. It was dark; it was freezing; and many of his troops were shoeless – leaving a track of blood that stained their journey. The Continental Army was also plagued with low morale. Though the war had been gone on for only a few months, the patriots suffered defeat after defeat. The dream of American independence was dying, and the idea was quickly becoming a silly fantasy. However, when those encouraging words were proclaimed to the troops in the theatrical, booming voice of General Henry Knox on that cold Christmas night, the men were filled with a sense of hope and the “sacred fire of liberty” was rekindled once again. (Being George Washington, pages 21-25)
The words of Thomas Paine ring as true today as they did in 1776. Every time I read them, I am filled with a warm sense of patriotism and the will to persevere, even in the darkest hours. If this lesson from history can stir your heart and motivate you to action as much as it does me, I am confident that this country will survive.
Thomas Paine warned against the troops becoming “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.” In other words, he urged his fellow patriots not to become fair-weathered fans of liberty. This resonated with those under Washington’s command. It truly was a dark and stormy night. It would have been easy, and perhaps justified, to leave the Revolution behind, to desert their fellow soldiers, and to return to their families. Yet, they did not quit; they did not give up.
We face similar challenges today. No, we are not in insurrection against the largest military power in the world. We are not shoeless, weaponless farmers. But we are on the verge of losing the very freedom for which our ancestors fought and died. Our country’s debt exceeds $15 trillion; the Middle East is going up in flames; and the moral order of our society is quickly decaying. All this transpires in the midst of a viscous election cycle in which media elites and the party establishment are trying to politicize these precarious issues and dictate solutions. The political and moral state of our Republic is indeed in risk of collapse, which would make the sacrifices of prior patriots in vain.
Let us take comfort then, on this cold January day, in the words of Thomas Paine. In this New Year, may each one of us renew his commitment to the cause of liberty and independence. Surely, “tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” It will be an uphill battle. The parties will try to pick our presidential candidate and the media will distort our message. We will be branded, as we already have been, as racists, radicals, and revolutionaries. We will be called dangerous, extreme, and hateful.
The only true stewards of freedom are we the people. We must wage the battle of ideas in our own communities and win those around us to our side. It is we who are on the front lines. It is we who have everything to lose, and it is we who have everything to gain. Yes it will be difficult; but so long as we maintain a “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” as did our Founders, we will succeed. For we know that “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Washington’s men crossed the icy Delaware, and they won the Battle of Trenton. The Hessian mercenaries were demolished in an embarrassing defeat that was nothing short of miraculous. Though the war was far from over, the Continental Army lived to see another day. In the midst of darkness and defeat, the patriots found victory and with it, a faith was forged that would ultimately carry them to independence. They were not summer soldiers. They were not sunshine patriots.
My biggest fear is that after the election, conservatives will take a breather and will surrender the cause of liberty to be fought in Washington where it will inevitably die – regardless of which party is in power.