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Tyranny, Like Hell, is not Easily Conquered

April 23rd, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

figure it out

The American Revolution began with optimism as the British abandoned Boston as patriot militia inflicted heavy damage against the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill and the forced the British to abandon Boston in March of 1776. Early successes contributed to a debate in the Continental Congress over whether the colonies in revolt, not really yet a nation, should build a Continental Army or rely on local militias. More cautious deliberations led the Congress to commission an army with Gen. Washington in command, but the early days of the revolution exhilarated the colonists. How very easy it seemed to defeat the British!

All of that changed in the summer of 1776 when the British Fleet sailed into New York and landed 32000 hardened British troops to face Washington’s inexperienced army of 10000. Washington was forced to withdraw from New York, which fell into the hands of the British, and suffered a string of defeats that ended with the Colonial government abandoning their capitol at Philadelphia and Washington and his army suffering horrendous conditions as they wintered at Valley Forge. There were calls in the Congress to sack Washington, and many were having second thoughts about the wisdom of challenging to world’s great empire. It was probably the bleakest moment in American history, and the fate of the Revolution hung tenuously in the balance.

In the midst of this a disgruntled British ex-Civil Servant named Thomas Paine penned a series of pamphlets titled The American Crisis, the first of which began with the famous words,

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: it is 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 celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.[1]

For all that we Americans like to think of ourselves as exceptional, the American experience in revolution was not. Revolutions are hard. Revolutions require dedication, focus, and resilience.

If Washington or the Congress had abandoned the cause after the defeats of 1776 the revolution would have been later, and harder, if it happened at all. But Washington and his army, and all of the colonies, endured eight years of hardship and defeat and finally prevailed. The Americans didn’t win because of superior military strength, they won because their cause was just and they didn’t give up.

So here we are in Bernie’s revolution. We lost New York. The forces arrayed against us are massive. We are behind in the delegate count. Worse, we are beset by the forces of the empire with propaganda that seeks to demoralize. Why not be reasonable? We will never be able to beat the system. Let’s just settle for the lesser of two evils. The same power that controls these voices of doom controls the apparatus of the electoral system. The ruling class are ready and able to maintain the status quo by manipulating the machinery of state using almost limitless funds, dirty tricks, lies, and fear. Just as the British had every advantage in 1776.

After the signing of the Treaty of Paris that confirmed American independence, Washington surrendered his sword to Congress, giving up command of the army and retiring to private life. He remarked that he had been “diffident” to accept his commission at the beginning of the war. He had not been unsure of the cause of liberty, but his ability to carry out such a difficult task. He reflected that it was ultimately the rightness of the cause that led him to complete the task against such difficult odds.[2]

As we embark on another American revolution, a revolution as much for freedom and democracy as the first, we too must expect setbacks. But we must also lean on the rightness of our cause. These are the times that try our souls. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.


[1] Thomas Paine, The Crisis (Philadelphia: Publisher Unknown, 1776), accessed April 22, 2016,http://www.ushistory.org/Paine/crisis/singlehtml.htm.

[2] “George Washington Resignation Speech,” Dec. 23, 1783, Maryland State Archives Online, http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/stagser/s1259/131/html/gwresign.html, Accessed April 22, 2016.

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