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  • Morning Bell: Remembering the Providential Gift of America

    Christmas, 1776.

    Summer had begun with strong declarations of noble ideals, but by winter the cause of liberty seemed to be at low ebb. Having suffered defeat after defeat, many had all but given up hope. It looked like freedom would succumb yet again, as it had throughout history, to the forces of authoritarianism and tyranny.

    Then, on Christmas Day, 1776, a small band of colonial forces under the command of Gen. George Washington, having retreated all the way from New York, again crossed the Delaware River and brought battle at Trenton, New Jersey. Washington not only won the battle but regained the initiative and turned the war in the patriots’ favor. One week later, Washington defeated the British at Princeton and forced the enemy to withdraw, preventing its advance on Philadelphia, seat of the Continental Congress.

    When it announced itself to the world in 1776, the United States of America was little more than an alliance of 13 small colonies on a barren continent, thousands of miles from their ancestral homeland, surrounded by hostile powers.

    Now, well over two centuries after winning independence from the British Empire, America is the freest, wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth. Along the way it established sovereign nationhood, settled a continent and more and brought unprecedented prosperity to its citizens. It survived a devastating Civil War that threatened its very life, abolished slavery and raised up the emancipated to be citizens equal to their one-time masters. It triumphed in two world wars fought on foreign soil and a decades-long struggle against worldwide communism that, 20 years ago, led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.

    What accounts for this monumental success? The founding of the United States was indeed revolutionary. But not in the sense of replacing one set of rulers with another, or overthrowing the institutions of society. John Adams queried:

    What do we mean by the American Revolution? The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people. . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.

    Our revolution was about the ideas upon which a new nation was to be established. Permanent truths “applicable to all men and all times,” as Abraham Lincoln later said, proclaimed that principle rather than will would be the ultimate ground of government.

    What is truly revolutionary about America is that, for the first time in history, these universal ideas became the foundation of a system of government and its political culture. Because of these principles, rather than despite them, the American Revolution culminated not in tyranny but a constitutional government that has long endured.

    To this day, 233 years after Washington and his men crossed the Delaware, these principles–proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and promulgated by the Constitution–still define us as a nation and inspire us as a people. These principles are responsible for a prosperous, just nation unlike any other. They are the highest achievements of our tradition, a beacon to those who strive for freedom but also a warning to tyrants and despots everywhere. Because of these principles, not despite them, America achieved greatness.

    The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson later recorded, was “neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, [but] was intended to be an expression of the American mind.”

    As Americans, our aim must be a clear expression and forthright defense of the nation’s principles in the public square so that they become, once again, an expression of the American mind. Despite constant scorn by academic elites, political leaders and the popular media, most Americans still believe in the uniqueness of this country and respect the Founders’ noble ideas. They may fail a test of particulars – quick: when did Washington cross the Delaware? – but they overwhelmingly want to know about this nation and its meaning.

    We must give voice to all those who have not given up on their country’s experiment in self-government, have not concluded the cause of liberty and limited constitutional government is lost and have not accepted America’s decline as inevitable.

    The goal must be to restore the liberating principles of the American Founding as the defining public philosophy of our nation. As it was for most of American history, so it can be again.

    The joy of this wonderful season is about new beginnings and the eternal promise of redemption. We Americans have the immeasurable benefit, the providential gift, of having inherited a great country.

    We must never forget its confidence, optimism and promise, its endless capacity for renewal, are contained in our dedication to the enduring principles of liberty with which all men are endowed by their Creator.

    May you and yours have a merry and blessed Christmas.

    Quick Hits:

    • The EPA announced yesterday that it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries next year in an attempt to curb global warming.
    • The Interior Department announced new rules yesterday that will make it easier for the government to restrict development on federal land.
    • A 13-year-old boy was arrested last week for using a permanent marker while in class at his Oklahoma City middle school, a violation of an obscure city ordinance.
    • Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the U.S. government has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism.
    • China has said it is willing to bail out debt-ridden countries in the euro zone using its $2.7trillion overseas investment fund.
    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    38 Responses to Morning Bell: Remembering the Providential Gift of America

    1. Bob Godwin, Jarretts says:

      Another small band of patriots will arrive in Washington DC with the new congress to hopefully do the same!

    2. John, Aurora CO says:

      I fear that the time has come for another George Washington to lead us in another crossing of the Delaware…

    3. Brian J. Conway Vala says:

      A great article. Broad in scope and depth. It touched all the bases.

    4. Brian J. Conway Vala says:

      I hope that the incoming congress, hopefully more in tune with our constitution and respectful of the will of the people, will keep in check our

      domestic enemies.

    5. G. Hugh Bodell says:

      Thank you Mr. Spalding, what a wonderful message on this day, the quintessential celebration of new beginnings, Merry Christmas to you and all.

    6. Stephen D. Olmore says:


      Dear Heritage Foundation:

      Your statement is "right on the mark". It is about principles and doing whatever it takes to defend them. We are Americans and must fight to defend this country from numerous, real, not perceived, foreign and internal threats, with constant vigilance and certain response, right now, and in the near and distant future.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

      Steve Olmore

    7. Richard H. Irish, Ed says:

      I am afraid that I do not see any Patriots due to arrive in Washington after this Chritsmas holiday. I have yet to hear ONE new Member of Congress-to-be say he/she will stand up for the Constitution and demand that the usurper in the White House leave and stand trial for his crimes of fraud, extortion and treason. But then these newcomers have yet to take their oaths. That same oath that ALL current Members of Congress choose to ignore!

      I weep for my beloved homeland.

    8. Steve, Arizona says:

      Sad how history books are getting worse every year at glossing over the part where this was a covert early morning raid and the first half of that "battle" was killing German mercenaries in their beds.

      War is never a gentlemen's sport. Fighting dirty should be boldly included in these reports as a reminder that our first soldiers were humans not supermen.

      Merry Christmas

    9. Jim Uberti--New Have says:

      This morning's piece should be required reading for all Americans who have either forgotten our history, or if youger, were probably never taught it.We have turned the management of this country over to people(in both parties) who have forgotten just how our nation became great. I hope that the new Congress will begin the task of going back to our values. It won't be easy. There are those both in and out of the US who don't want us to go "there".

    10. david carter says:

      no, there is no band of patriots heading to Washington, no-one to do this heavy lifting for us, we the people as a whole need to change our behavior, to the highest standards of honor and integrity. social norms have brought us to this point, thievery and corruption are tolerated behaviors these days, if that were not so the tyrants could not hide themselves in plain sight the way they do. walk upright, strengthen yourself, your family, and your neighbors. this is our only recourse.

      "here i stand, i can do no other"

    11. Don Albanese, Lakewo says:

      In your comments above, you made reference to the concept of "relativism." I believe the single gravest threat to the very existence of "the American dream," is the ever- growing acceptance by our younger generation of that insidiously evil belief: "It's all relative!"

    12. Clearhead -- U.S.S.A says:

      Hey John — When George decides to cross that river again, SIGN ME UP !! And, the sooner the better.

    13. Ed Sizemore, McKinne says:

      As a Jew, I do not celebrate Christmas, but these well-expressed sentiments are worthy of our reflection on any holiday — ideed, any day of the year.

    14. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      Merry Christmas.

    15. David Howard Benner, says:

      My father's side: direct decedent of a Mass. Continental soldier; my mother's side: direct decedent of a Va. Continental soldier. Both Continentals, under Gen. Washington, were at the Crossing of the Delaware River and in the battles following. God Bless America!

    16. Mary............WI says:

      Perhaps 2011 will be the year the rest of America realizes what is happening to our country. Our founding fathers long hours of debate, the sacrifices endured by their families and the symbol of our country WILL BE/MUST BE restored.

      A Blessed and Merry Christmas to everyone at Heritage Foundation.

    17. Melba, Alberton, MT says:

      For the most part it is very inspiring. But you left out that they also defeated and for all practical purposed wiped out the "hostile powers" that surrounded them If they had not done that, much of the rest of the story might have been very different. It is all too often the piece that is left out of the moving stories of the early days of our nation.

    18. Brian Kelso, Irvine, says:

      Another George Washinton WILL come soon! Just as our founders looked to Devine Providence to guide them; let us all do the same and hit our knees during this time of years.

      Have a Merry & Blessed Christmas!

    19. Leith Wood Richmond says:

      Merry Christmas to all at Heritage and prayers for taking back our country in the new year. Thank you.

    20. West Texan says:

      Matt said "It [the Union] survived a devastating Civil War that threatened its very life …"

      Federalized social progressivism is finishing the job of America's demise.

    21. Laura says:

      I just want to say that the "work" you are doing by getting the word out is so important to our country. Thank you!! And Merry Christmas to all of you who stay up with all the important things. You are amazing!

    22. toledofan says:

      We can only hope the spawning of the Tea Party and the November election results signal a return to the principles that got us here in the first place. I think that our best days are still ahead of us and if anything else, from the last two years, we've learned how valuable and fragile our freedoms really are. 2011 will be the starting point for better things to come and once the 111th Congress left town we can pigeon hole another dark part of our history into the archieves and salute the incoming calvary.

    23. Martha, Pleasantvill says:

      A beautifully written and sincere homage to our country, its founding and enduring principles.

    24. and2therepublic, ill says:

      " … can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever." – Thomas Jefferson – Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18 – 1781.

    25. Mike, Chicago says:

      One of the best written pieces that I have read on your website.

    26. EWRoss says:

      What are you giving America for Christmas this year?


    27. Geneva Cook College says:

      With sincere thanks to you for the truth you give us and your stand for America and the principals it was founded on.

      I wish your organization a blessed Christmas.

      Geneva Cook

    28. Mark Linnes, Whittie says:

      Regarding the EPA: My opinion is that 90% of the enviromental issues are a are a collusion of political/scientific fraud. God takes care of the climate. The rains and wind clean the air, the rain cleans the earth and the oceans do the final rince. You can't improve on God's design. Of course, when goverments want more money, they create frauds such as "global warming, etc."

    29. Mike Van Vleck, Over says:

      Thank you for this timely reminder that America's greatness lies in her founding ideals of individual liberty..what a wonderful legacy has been given us by our predecessors, and may we be ever worthy of them!

    30. MN J says:

      Let's hope we have some of those angels who supposedly appeared?????? We need help but regardless, we must keep on trucking!!!

      Merry Christmas to all.

    31. Ann Egan, Coplay, PA says:

      Thank you Heritage Foundation and Matt Spalding for this Christmas Eve gift. It was a truly inspirational piece. God bless America.

    32. Barbara Watson, Mesa says:

      Thank you for your excelent column about General Washington and the crossing of the Deleware. We are facing our own crossing of the river of debt and government interfering in our lives. It is going to take all us who love and appreciate this wonderful country to get us across the river. We may not have a Washington, but as a people we can do it. It will take indomitable will and determination to win our battle. May we, as Americans have that will, and bring our country back.

    33. Ray Reed, Columbus, says:

      I wanted to say thanks to Matt for this wonderful and well-written posting. I think too many supposedly well-educated people fail to understand not only the sacrifices our founding fathers and their followers made, but also the true intent of them; the principles upon which this great American experiment is built and endures now for over 200 years.

    34. Pingback: Christmas 1776: Remembering the Providential Gift of America | Just Piper

    35. European Conservativ says:

      Perhaps the first thing "conservatives" should strive for is telling truth. Jingoistic articles like this only help preserve the bubble of ingnorance about the world so many Americans inhabit.

      "Now, well over two centuries after winning independence from the British Empire, America is the freest, wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth."

      Today (and for some time already), America is neither freest nor wealthiest nation on Earth. True, it is still the most powerful one, but the rest of the above quoted sentence is blatant nonsense.

    36. Gary Fore - Buna, TX says:

      What accounts for this monumental success?…these principles–proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and promulgated by the Constitution–still define us as a nation and inspire us as a people. These principles are responsible for a prosperous, just nation unlike any other. They are the highest achievements of our tradition, a beacon to those who strive for freedom but also a warning to tyrants and despots everywhere. Because of these principles, not despite them, America achieved greatness.

      Dear Heritage – this is a somewhat true article, yet, you did not give the real answer. The monunmental success of America is because of the God described in the Bible – Jehovah. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has brought great blessing to our land and world via "America". The original founders were the Pilgrims and Puritans, who clearly trusted in the Lord of Heaven, sought to worship Him and acknowledge their need of a Saviour, Jesus Christ. What has made America great is not "great principles", but instead a Great Lord and Saviour who blessed those who truly sought Him and extended those blessings to many generations, including the blessing of men and women, families, who lived by biblical principles, including in government. Now, even Heritage seems afraid to explicitly mention Jesus Christ, for fear of being too narrow or definite. Make no mistake – the Biblical Gospel embraced by many pilgrims and colonists and then the principles of Scripture that dealt with the sinfulness of man and the need for laws patterned after the Law of God in order to justly manage a new nation – it is this Truth in Christ that has provided the America we have known in the last 100 years. Now, however, we have rejected Him and thus, sealed our doom. The only cure is repentance according to the Bible. Heritage should acknowledge this. You even use Providence in the title of this article but barely mention Him and then not His Name – Jesus Christ. Make no mistake – it is this Jesus Christ whom most of our early settlers and pilgrims acknowledged and honored. Until we do the same, even though we do not "require" it of all citizens, we will see no lasting blessing in America, certainly no return to former days of blessing and glory.

      Gary Fore, Buna, TX

    37. Taylor says:

      Somewhat uplifting.

      I can do without the propaganda on the benfits of the Civil War (you didnt mention the shredding of the 10th ammendment and the distruction of the balance of power that leads to tyranny) or how free we are (I can throw a dart at a map and hit 25 countries with more relative freedom). I guess modern myths die hard.

    38. ckirkland says:

      Some very powerful messages have been written on this page that give me hope that this country will be what it was before this group got into office and those before him (far left Liberals) who have systematically began tearing down this wonderful country and the constitution and taking more and more of our liberties away. Hopefully, with God's help Americans will wake up to what is happening and do something too turn it around. God bless America, our troops and the Heritage Foundation. CK

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