By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
The cause of liberty in New Jersey seemed hopeless.?The government of?corrupt and self-serving officials was kept in power by?an army of hired soldiers and bureaucrats.? They constantly?raised taxes to pay their salaries, and imposed new rules and restrictions so they could reward their supporters with special favors, and burden?and punish everyone else.???? Leading business owners rushed to make deals with those in power to benefit themselves, rather than support the patriots who fought for “liberty and justice for all”.
It was the week before Christmas in New Jersey, in 1776.?? The American Revolution seemed like a lost cause.?
While the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, in Philadelphia, 30,000 British troops landed unopposed in nearby Staten Island, New York.?? Those British soldiers soon crossed into Brooklyn, where they easily routed George Washington’s Continental Army.?? The British then chased Washington’s men north into Manhattan, and then up to White Plains, New York in September and October.?? George Washington and fewer than 5,000 tired, hungry, and ragged soldiers fled first to New Jersey, and then barely escaped into eastern Pennsylvania.
On December 18, 1776, a disgusted George Washington wrote these words in a letter to his brother John:
???? I think our affairs are in a very bad situation. . .? from the
? ?? defection of? New York, Jerseys, and Pennsylvania.? In short,
??? ?the conduct of the Jerseys has been most infamous.
?? ? Instead of turning out to defend their country. . .
???? they are making their submissions as fast as they
??? ?can.?? If they, the Jerseys, had given us any support, we
??? ?might have made a stand at Hackensack, and after that
??? ?Brunswick, but the few militias that were in arms dis-
???? banded themselves. . . and left the poor remains of our?
?????army to make the best we could of it.?
Patriot journalist Thomas Paine was equally fed up with New Jersey.?? Why did the British army leave New England alone, and occupy New York and New Jersey instead?, Paine asked.?? Because “New England was not infested with Tories, and we are!”
Thomas Paine then related this? conversation with a typical Tory in Amboy, New Jersey.?? According to Paine, this Tory, like most, was a prosperous business owner. ? The Tory agreed that there would sooner or later be a showdown between the American colonies and the British Empire.?? But as this well-off tavern owner stood “with as pretty a child in his hand, about 8 or 9 years old, as most I ever saw”, the Tory told Paine he would not help the patriot cause, saying “Well, give me peace in my day”.
These words infuriated Paine, who called this Tory an? “ungenerous parent.”?? According to Paine, “a generous parent should have said, ‘If there must be trouble, let it be in my day so that my child may have peace’.”???Thomas Paine concluded that, “This single reflection, well applied is sufficient to awaken every man to his duty.”
This conversation in Amboy, New Jersey inspired Paine to write an essay called The Crisis on December 23, 1776.?? That essay was published the following month, and circulated throughout the colonies, including New Jersey. ? Most of us today know the opening words of that Christmas Eve message to the nation:
???? 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 his country; but he that stands 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.? What we obtain too cheap,
??? we esteem too lightly: ‘Tis dearness only that gives every
??? thing its value.?? Heaven knows how to put a proper price
??? upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so
??? heavenly an article as FREEDOM, should not be highly?
Thomas Paine urged Americans to forget the blunders and losses of the summer, and dedicate themselves to winning the war in the future.?? Paine declared that if three million Americans became united, organized, and determined, they could easily overwhelm and destroy the 30,000 British troops in New York and New Jersey.
Two days later, George Washington?proved Paine’s point.? On Christmas Day of 1776, George Washington turned his battered and dwindling army around, and attacked and overwhelmed? a garrison of 1,500 German soldiers hired by the British at Trenton.?? When regular British army units counterattacked?one week later,?Washington’s citizen-soldiers defeated them again and threw them back?at both Trenton and Princeton.????
In January and February of 1777, news of Washington’s victories, together with Thomas Paine’s essay, The Crisis, were published throughout all thirteen of the English colonies of North America.???Thousands of young men flocked to Washington?s army. ? But the biggest impact was here in New Jersey.?? The Tory state of New Jersey, which had so disappointed and discouraged both George Washington and Thomas Paine became a?patriot stronghold.?? That is when the motto of New Jersey became “LIBERTY and Prosperity.”?
For more information, visit www.libertyandprosperity.org or contact Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman at Grossman@snip.net or 609-927-7333.