I finished reading 1776 today. The whole time I could not believe that this little ragtag army of farmers and merchants, who were out-trained, out-numbered, out-paid, and out-clothed (not to mention out-weaponed) somehow managed beat the British. It turns out that 1776 was not a good year for the Continental Army.
From my perspective nearly 2 1/2 centuries later, I thought 1776 was a year of glory, the year our country was born. I thought it was full of the fire of independence, of certainty and action.
But it wasn’t until the final paragraphs that David McCullough tells us what 1776 really was:
“The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget.
Especially for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning – how often circumstance, storms, contrary winds, the oddities or strengths of individual character had made the difference – the outcome seemed little short of a miracle.”
It was and is a miracle. And it is reassuring to me to know that despite that awfulness of that year, all that uncertainty and indecision and bad luck and inexperience, Washington and his army persevered. They learned from their mistakes and moved forward, stronger and more capable.
That first year is never easy, I guess, whether it is the first year of marriage, or parenthood, or being a new country. It’s hard. And often seems foolhardy. But it’s also where the devotion and dedication and future successes are forged and sealed. The events themselves may be nothing to get excited about, but what grows out of them can be the stuff of legends.
Take that to heart.