October 19, 2010
The red-coated army band played The World Turned Upside Down as they marched out of their entrenchments. They were about to surrender to the victorious American and French forces at Yorktown, Virginia. The British army commander, Lord Charles Cornwallis, had been trapped with his back to the York River for three weeks.
When the French fleet under Admiral Comte de Grasse defeated the British fleet in the Battle of the Capes, Cornwallis escape hatch was slammed shut. The surrender ceremony for Cornwallis army took place on this day, October 19, 1781. Gen. George Washingtons Yorktown victory effectively ended the six-year American Revolutionary War.
To be sure, we date our independence from the signing of the great Declaration. Our countrys birthday is rightly July 4, 1776. But without Washingtons military success against British and Hessian forces, the Fourth of July might have been only a stumper question in a British Commonwealth game of Trivial Pursuit.
The Declaration that Congress approved, as drafted by Thomas Jefferson, with some amendment, contained lofty ideals and immortal words, to be sure, but that Declaration required men brave enough to risk their lives in order to give it force. Gen. Washington, Gen. Lafayette, Gen. Rochambeau, and a combined force of Americans and French soldiers were just brave enough to give it force.
Giving it force is what happened on this day 229 years ago. From that time, America has been free of kings, free of the need to bow down before any hereditary monarchs, free at last.
No small part of why President Obamas bowing to various foreign despots—-like the odious King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia—-is so disturbing is that it demonstrates his lack of understanding of his own countrys history.
Britains Winston Churchill knew Americas history better than Barack Obama does. Thats why Churchill called us the Great Republic.
Does it really matter in the modern world whether or not a President knows his countrys history? Well, yes. First, Barack Obama like every new President hopes to be a great one. No President-elect ever tells an interviewer My model for my administration will be Franklin Pierce. Millard Fillmore has very few fans, even in his home state of New York.
The fact is: weve never had a great President who was not steeped in U.S. history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt rode with Prime Minister Winston Churchill to George Washingtons home at Mount Vernon on New Years Day, 1942. The U.S. had just joined Britain in what they agreed to call the Second World War. You would think FDR and Winston would have bigger things on their minds than a tourist attraction.
But Roosevelt knew that millions of Americans still harbored strong anti-British sentiments. With his acute sense of history, he knew that it would help with U.S. public opinion for the British Prime Minister to be seen laying a wreath on the tomb of George Washington. And so they did.
Second, the National Archives Building, down the street from FRCs Washington headquarters, tells us the past is prologue. In other words, American history did not begin on January 20, 2009. The National Archives Building contains the recordsin words carved in stoneof the Glory and Romance of our History.
President Obama has said Brits think their country is exceptional. So do the Greeks. So do the Belgians. Therefore, if America is exceptional, we are no more exceptional than any other country. Thats what Barack Obama thinks.
American history proves that concept wrong. President Reagan used to challenge skeptical foreign students. The United States after World War II had an army and navy of twelve million. We had the only atomic bomb in the world. Ours was the only country that had suffered virtually no destruction at home.
Yet the only territory we asked for were the cemeteries in France and Belgium where we buried our dead. Could you say that of the USSR? Or of any other country that had just forced its enemies to surrender unconditionally?
Or, consider President Lincoln visiting the Confederate White House on April 4, 1865. Jefferson Davis, the Southern leader, had fled just hours before. Lincoln walked through the smoldering streets of Richmond, Virginia. He understood that anyone could have shot him from any second story window. Yet, fearless, he went there. And just as fearlessly he said of the defeated rebels: Let `em up easy.
A crowd of freed slaves surrounded him, cheering and praying, offering praises to God, and singing a powerful hymn:
Oh, all ye people clap your hands,
And with triumphant voices sing;
No force the mighty power withstands
Of God, the universal King.
Lincoln was deeply moved, as was the tiny band of U.S. sailors who formed his honor guard. One elderly black man approached the President and bowed down before him.
The President gently reprimanded him: Dont kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy. I am but Gods humble instrument; but you may rest assured that as long as I live no one shall put a shackle on your limbs, and you shall have all the rights which God has given to every other free citizen of this Republic.
Such a scene could have occurred in no other country on earth. It is one of the hundreds of reasons America is exceptional. Here, we kneel to God alone. Thats another reason to remember and be grateful for Yorktown Day.