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The Freedom Forum

George Washington


It’s probably not gonna be a fantastic year for me, I fear. The above Tweet© is our President’s New Year’s statement to the nation, where he advises us all to just relax, bend over and enjoy the reaming he intends to administer to us all. The year started out well enough, although with Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Fox News conspiring to lock the American people out of 25% of their government (apparently, all run by the dedicated hard work of Democrats, according to The Donald), in Trump’s bizarro-world, our slow motion dismantling of democracy should be something to enjoy, not fear. Donny also tells a seven-year old back on Christmas Day that Santa is a fiction, so here Trump chooses to reveal the first kernel of truth as president in two years — in one of the few places that we actually want our president to lie — when talking to a seven-year old on Christmas Day about the legend of Santa Claus.

This incident reminds me of a man that I’ve used as a Trump doppelgänger or a metaphor or whatever you want to call him, the ‘former’ Mayor of Las Vegas, and fellow Democrat, the Hon. Oscar Goodman. What comes to mind recently is when the mob lawyer-turned politician Goodman visited a grade school in Sin City where little Cindy-loo asked him a question that any reasonable kid would want to know: “If you were marooned on an island, what item would you like to take with you?” I suppose the best answer to this question was answered in a recent Progressive Insurance commercial where the usually air-headed Jamie quips to Flo that instead of the ‘name your price’ tool, he’d choose a boat. The last mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman (who also played himself in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) answered the fourth-grader [as an aside, is believing in Santa by a five-year old marginal?] that if he were stranded on a deserted island, he’d want a bottle of gin.

Young Cindy may have grown up by now to see the brilliance of that answer, after going to college and studying the philosophy of Kafka and Nietzsche to finally decide that life is absolutely meaningless, but back in 2005 when the mayor said that all you need is “A bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin,” and when asked by another kid about his other hobbies, Goodman listed drinking Bombay Sapphire Gin as one of his favorites. Later, when asked to clarify his statements, Goodman doubled-down, saying: “I’m the George Washington of mayors. I can’t tell a lie. If they didn’t want the answer, the kid shouldn’t have asked the question.” To salve little Cindy Loo’s ennui, truth be told that Oscar Goodman was on the Bacardi payroll at the time, the owner of Bombay Gin (also totally legal and totally cool) where it was revealed that he was paid $50,000 to pitch the spirit to his constituents. Fox News reported at the time, “I’m not going to lie to children. I’m not going to say I would take a teddy bear or a Bible or something like that.” Asked by a reporter if he had a drinking problem, Goodman answered, “Oh, absolutely not. I love to drink.” Moments later, he cut off questions and walked out of the news conference. He hosted regular “Martinis with the Mayor” events and induced a bidding war between two gin companies in 2002 before becoming a spokesman for one. “He donated half the $100,000 he made to an agency that provides shelter and substance abuse programs and half to a private school founded by his wife. Goodman was at Mackey Elementary on Wednesday as part of Nevada Reading Week.”

Oscar’s embalmed wife Caroline is currently the shill, um, Mayor of Las Vegas as Oscar was ‘term-limited’ in 2015. As news reports overflow with stories that our national parks (Ken Burns’ Greatest Idea) are being overrun with trash, squatters and human waste, with a metaphorical clown for a president and no end to the impasse in sight, our democracy has never looked so tattered and worn. Perhaps another occasion that our tender democracy was at greater risk, however, was exactly 242 years ago, for on that day the Battle of Princeton broke out in northern New Jersey, a running skirmish between Washington’s Continental Army and King George III’s Redcoats, part of a series of events that would occur over ten days that would end up changing the world forever.

Considering that as late as the War of 1812 that the ‘vanquished’ British were capable of burning down the newly-built White House, (then called the Presidential Mansion) it was fully 37 years earlier that the ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ reverberated from Lexington. As the winter of 1776 fell into its darkest days, George Washington was the commander of an army in retreat. After the rash Bostonians started the whole mess and fired AT THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES, the miffed British and their German cousins had been slowly and inexorably positioning their awesome military strength against the upstart rebels in North America, only hindered by post-conflict smites with France and Spain following the Seven Years War. The mood was foul in London in 1775, perhaps not dissimilar to the current Brexit debacle we witness today, where everything was put on the line in pre-Victorian England versus these ingrates living among the Native Americans in the ‘New World.’

A few thousand resolved Patriots would blunder into the whole operation and smash up the fine Wedgewood china back in Westminster, for in Parliament, British General William Howe seemed to be handling the ragtag Americans with relative ease. The professional, Erik Prince-level assistance from the mercenary German Hessians gave the British a cudgel to beat back the ill-equipped, revolutionary zealots in nearly ten decisive victories in the war’s Winter Campaign. As Christmas, 1776 approached, there were few gifts to place under the tree as General George Washington encamped his men in Pennsylvania across the Delaware River from a garrison of Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey. Morale was running low among the ranks and enlistments, set to expire by the end of the week, weren’t being renewed and Washington understood at that time that he was losing his men.

The saying ‘fortune favors the brave’ (or the bold) was burnished by such men as George Washington, one of the Founders to actually take up arms against the mightiest army in the world, yet his true passions were farming, reading and writing. This man who couldn’t tell a lie (itself a lie, of course, regardless of what Oscar Goodman tells you) and he was the embodiment of good judgement, resolve and restraint. This particular (former) British officer was a truly great man, yet his greatness also came from his surroundings as well, as the food and family which nourished him from childhood, grown from the seeds of Puritanism transported across the Atlantic by the pilgrims of the Great Migration. These earliest settlers were fleeing a king, from a long line of insane and murderous kings and they were looking for a new start based on the governing principles of ordinary people.

It’s been a relatively mild winter here in New England this year, knock on wood, and we ‘Massholes’ can talk your ears off about our own particular obsession with so-called ‘Nor’easters, also known as ‘Yankee Clippers,’ and if it was ever a good thing to have the twisting, winter storm known as a Nor’easter, it was certainly on Christmas Eve, 1776 — and we celebrate this date in American history to this day. We’ll never know for sure what the peculiar smell in the air or what the breeze and cloudy sky spoke to Washington on that fateful day, yet the general would stage this most brilliant attack in military history, known to us as The Battle of Trenton, which would turn the tide of the revolution in a way that could never be reversed.

Divine Provenance (combined with hot lead and iron) delivered directly to the head of the king’s hired killers, these mercenaries from Hesse-Cassel, Germany, they would face searing wind, snow and Washington’s muskets and cannon, after ferrying them all across the Delaware with ‘Seal Team Six’ stealthiness, this little army group represented our infant nation’s first Navy as well, along with the guidance of the plucky Pennsylvania Navy, while the French held the English at bay, not yet fully committed to the American cause. These American jacks-of-all-trades set out on tiny, repurposed boats over an ice-cold torrent to get to the other side unscathed and unnoticed. After a twenty-mile hike, using the storm at their backs to descend upon a cadre of almost two thousand well provisioned, highly-trained Hessians hailing from Germany’s House of Hanover; these distant Saxon cousins needed the money, unfortunately, because King Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, had pissed it all away. Anyway, these hungover (my guess) Germans, roused from their slumber after a night of bleary-eyed Christmas cheer to a nightmare wake-up-call of a howling American ‘Noreaster’ thing, which it turned out was a lot bigger and badder than they had ever imagined. Washington used his home-field advantage in weather prediction to deliver a Biblical blow to the king at Trenton, which would see the vanquished Germans fleeing their barracks, half-naked and shivering from fear and the biting cold, ‘escaping’ to the only refuge left to them in the Town of Trenton, a stone house, only to be greeted by General Nathanael Greene and his cannon.

A week later, on January 3rd at The Battle of Princeton, the war graduated to Nassau Hall at the College of New Jersey, where a young artillery officer by the name of Alexander Hamilton would be waiting for the Hessians after the initial battle to ‘mop up’ any of the enemy keen on ruining the big party. Hamilton brought along with him three of his cannon as well and, fortuitously and providentially, trained one of the pieces at an institution that had REJECTED his college application three years earlier. Seems Alex asked for too much time to complete his degree. When the cowering Hessians fled into Nassau Hall, Hamilton was waiting for them and promptly sent a cannonball sailing through a near window, across the cavernous hall through a far wall, signifying once and for all that the jig was up. Lucky for these Germans, they remembered their dear old ‘Frau Hofbraus’ and quickly surrendered to the American Gods of thunder and war. George Washington lied to the American people after the Trenton and Princeton battles, claiming over 100 dead and 300 captured at Trenton when at most 25 Hessians were killed and 100 imprisoned. Washington was a shrewd and calculating leader, with unequaled ’touch’ long before they invented the game of golf for future presidents to enjoy and he was a brilliant mind, for an uneducated farmer and soldier. In an early letter to friend (and Loyalist) Robert MacKenzie, then a critic of the hot-headed rebels up in Massachusetts, Washington wrote him directly on October 9th, 1774,

For my own part, I confess to you candidly, that I view things in a very different point of light to the one in which you seem to consider them; and though you are led to believe by venal men, for such I must take the liberty of calling those new-fangled counsellors, which fly to and surround you, and all others, who, for honorary or pecuniary gratifications, will lend their aid to overturn the constitution, and introduce a system of arbitrary government, although you are taught, I say, by discoursing with such men, to believe, that the people of Massachusetts are rebellious, setting up for independency, and what not, give me leave, my good friend, to tell you, that you are abused, grossly abused, and this I advance with a degree of confidence and boldness, which may claim your belief, having better opportunities of knowing the real sentiments of the people you are among, from the leaders of them, in opposition to the present measures of the administration, than you have from those whose business it is, not to disclose truths, but to misrepresent facts in order to justify as much as possible to the world their own conduct; for give me leave to add, and I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or interest of that government, or any other upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independency; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and privileges, which are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which, life, liberty, and property are rendered totally insecure.

Washington’s collected papers include documents from his childhood education, his first career as a surveyor and his experiences as a Colonel during the French and Indian War, where you can also read, in his own hand, his observations as General of the Continental Army and the Presidency of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as well as his two terms as President of the United States. Some may be interested to find George Washington’s tax return for the year 1788 in Series 4, General Correspondence: George Washington, April 1788, Taxable Property in Truro and Fairfax Parishes (including slaves). Also documented in his letters are his management of Mount Vernon, his plantation home in Virginia and the lives of his family, servants, and slaves. Anyone may access these treasures of American history online here.

Washington was our #1 Founding Father for good reason, yet another of our revered Founders, Alexander Hamilton, as he fired his cannonballs through Nassau Hall in his own turn-of-the-tables, also entered hero status when he destroyed a painting which had hung high on the wall of the school for decades. In fact, the cannon ball punched a hole almost perfectly decapitating the image of King George II, the daddy of our sovereign ruler at the time — mad King George III. The apocryphal story of the painting punctured by Hamilton’s bull’s-eye was strengthened after the war, when a new painting was commissioned by Washington’s friend and portraitist, Charles Willson Peale at the behest of the College of New Jersey, later to change its name to Princeton University. This famous portrait of General Washington, painted just after his daring follow-up raid when he was rebuffed by his war council from raiding a British Army pay chest filled with millions of loot in New Brunswick (titular seat of the House of Hanover) and after following the advice of his general staff (ahem) that Lord Cornwallis was moving to Brunswick, Washington was consoled with the task of taking the Town of Princeton, New Jersey. Awe inspiring in it’s nimble simplicity, the Battle of Princeton and the preceding Battle of Assinpunk Creek would push the British into Southern New Jersey and the last phase of the war and eventual American victory.

There were many miles to still go for the Continental Army, such as the winter at Jockey Hollow, New Jersey, the harshest winter of the war, from 1779-1780, where the Wick family was one of the oldest and most patriotic of any family in America. They made their homestead available to our nascent nation to serve as one of the most strategically important ‘forts’ in the early American Colonies and Wick Garden at Jockey Hollow was the very place where the Marquis de Lafayette told General George Washington, after his decisive victories at Trenton and Princeton, the news that the French government would be sending a large fleet to reinforce the Americans in their quest for freedom. Wick Garden is one of New Jersey’s primary tourist attractions, yet during the shutdown Americans may not visit their shared history there, also used as headquarters for General Arthur St. Clair and also a temporary barracks used by Captain Alexander Hamilton. It’s the only building still standing in Morristown, New Jersey from the 1770s and its usually open to the public days and weekends, unfortunately it’s closed because of Trump’s shutdown now, the verdant garden untended since before Christmas.

In the Trump lockout if you’re visiting the Capitol and were hoping to see the Star-Spangled Banner, you’re out of luck because all seventeen of the District’s Smithsonian museums are closed as well as the National Zoo. The National Air and Space Museum, including their fantastic World War I and World War II exhibits are now off-limits to all but essential workers and the American Art Museum’s Diane Arbus: A Box of Ten Photographs, which ends on January 21st, might never be seen by anyone. The National Park Service’s Ellis Island museum is now closed, along with all the facilities mentioned in Yosemite National Park in California, the very first national park, protected by naturalist John Muir in 1890.

The National Gallery, both the East and West wings as well as the skating rink in the sculpture gardens are locked tight, and also the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site as well as the National Archives have been shuttered since the shutdown began way back on December 21st of last year. The National Park Service-run museum at Ford’s Theatre is closed, the infamous site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the theater named for impresario John T. Ford. Neither may you visit the Ford Mansion, the Georgian house that was Washington’s headquarters from December, 1779 to June, 1780, the Ford family of Morristown operated a black powder mill that supplied early firepower to the American cause in the war and on the homestead of these unsung heroes of the American Revolution a captured, bronze six-pounder field cannon from the British Army, won at the Battle of Princeton, is usually on display for all to touch this piece of history, but not today. Also, don’t visit so-called ‘Fort Nonsense‘ in Morristown, New Jersey where at the very top, more Revolutionary War-era cannon are there to admire, overlooking the commanding heights held by the Continentals and eastward, the entire New York City skyline, on clear days the view is to die-for, but today, the park is closed to all citizens.

When Trump shut down the government, he owned it as his very own lockout when he exclaimed, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” reminding me of Richard Nixon when he told Charles Colson, caught on tape during the Watergate scandal saying, “Don’t let the bastards get you down, Chuck… I don’t think they’re going to see a great uproar in the country about the Republican committee trying to bug the Democratic headquarters.” Over the holidays, Trump’s frenemy Senator Lindsay Graham tried to talk some sense into our ‘sixth or seventh-grade’ level president, removing himself to the Rose Garden to tell CBS News, after an audience with the king, that the president ‘get’s it’ and that “The wall has become a metaphor for border security. And what we’re talking about is a physical barrier where it makes sense. In the past every Democrat has voted for these physical barriers.” Sounds reasonable to this Democrat, however few Americans are willing to spend $5 billion on a metaphor, no matter how small-minded, hateful and ineffectual a stupid fucking wall might actually be, so perhaps a metaphor for Donald Trump may be a sad clown, or perhaps a two-bit, phony mayor, or maybe a naked, bedraggled Hessian, but whatever the metaphor for Donald Trump to emerge, he will never be favorably compared to our first and greatest president: George Washington.

Back in New Jersey, after the Battle of Trenton and before the British knew that the war was lost, the New Bridge in New Jersey was a key to controlling the peninsula between Hackensack, the Hudson River and New York City, (which was never taken by the Continentals during the war) and even though we Americans can’t visit the Zabriskie-Steuben House today — back on October 22, 1777, Hessian Commander Carl van Donop volunteered to attempt the capture of Fort Mercer at Red Bank at what is now National Park, New Jersey. Despite the name, the Town of National Park is neither a national park nor is it associated with one, so it’s actually open for business folks! With command of 2,000 Hessian troops, Donop re-crossed the Delaware River looking for sweet revenge against Washington and the Americans and that afternoon, the Germans surrounded the militia from the ‘Littlest State in the Union,’ Rhode Island and demanded the surrender of Colonel Christopher Greene with the promise of no quarter in battle. Greene, with his four hundred, stout ‘Swamp Yankees,’ rejected the offer and Donop promptly led three successive attacks on the fort, all to be beaten back with incredible valor and heroism by the Patriots from ‘Little Rhody,’ resulting in nearly 400 Hessian dead, including Donop himself. Fatally wounded in what would become known as the Battle of Red Bank, Donop died two days later on October 25, 1777, buried on the sacred battlefield, his final words were recorded as, “I die the victim of my ambition, and of the avarice of my sovereign.”

John Underhill
January 3, 2019

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