Many freethinkers and non-religious people feel somewhat left out during the Christmas season. We don’t feel right pretending we believe the Bible story of God impregnating a virgin who then gave birth to the son of God in Israel. We strongly doubt, and many of us openly reject, this irrational religious story which violates our gift from God of innate reason. Thankfully, God gave us our innate reason and not any of the “revealed” religions.
Fortunately, there is something very real, very inspiring and very positive that really did happen on December 25th. To be specific, it happened on Wednesday, December 25th and Thursday, December 26th in 1776 – the Deist George Washington and his army of rebels crossed the Delaware River on the night of the 25th and successfully fought the Battle of Trenton on the morning of the 26th.
This was much more than a military victory for the American rebels. The Continental Army had just been pushed out of New York and New Jersey by the most powerful military force on Earth at that time, the British army. The Americans in 1776 still saw themselves as British subjects, so the army they were fighting was really their own army. This is made evident by Paul Revere who during his famous ride to warn the rebels of the approaching British army did NOT yell, “The British are coming!” but much more than likely did instead yell, “The regulars are coming!”
General Washington knew the unsuccessful end of the American Revolution was very near. It had been a long time since the rebels had a victory on the battlefield. Their ranks were thinned out by soldiers killed in action, those who had been captured, those who died from illness, those who were wounded or too ill to fight and those who deserted. To make matters much worse and to put even more weight on Washington’s shoulders, at the end of December the enlistments of his remaining men would be up. George Washington knew the only way to keep the American Revolution alive was to have a battlefield victory in this crucial hour. If he did not attack, his army would be gone at the end of the month and the American Revolution would be over. If he attacked and lost, the American Revolution would be over. But, if he and his men beat the odds and won, the American Revolution would survive to fight another day. That’s when he devised his plan to attack the Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey. (It’s instructive and inspiring that the Deist George Washington had the writings of the Deist Thomas Paine, The Crisis, read to his men prior to crossing the Delaware River.)
On Wednesday, December 25th, the American rebel army began their dangerous crossing of the Delaware River into New Jersey at sunset. Due to the courage and skill of John Glover and his Massachusetts fishermen, they had the rebel army and their horses and supplies across by the early morning hours of the 26th. Washington’s battle plan called for three columns of troops to all attack before sunrise. Unfortunately, only one column was able to make it across the river into New Jersey, and by the time the one column was ready to attack, it was already past sunrise. Washington must have believed in the philosophy of doing the very best you can with what you have, for in spite of his battle plan not fully being realized, he decided to attack. After a march through the snow to Trenton, they commenced their assault and soundly defeated the surprised Hessians.
This rebel victory at Trenton helped greatly to inspire Washington’s men as well as inspire the discouraged supporters of the American Revolution to continue the fight. It also gave Washington and his men much needed food, supplies, weapons and ammunition they captured from the Hessians.
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Deism does not have any man-made dogmas pretending to be directives from God. The only belief that is common to all Deists is belief in The Supreme Intelligence/God. Beyond this individual Deists are free to make up their own minds regarding such topics as life after death, God intervening in human affairs, etc. Regarding the latter, the Deist George Washington believed God did intervene in human affairs through Providence, but wrote that he believed Providence is “inscrutable.” The truth to this would seem evident regarding the Battle of Trenton. There were no Americans who were killed during the battle and only two officers and two privates were wounded. One of the wounded officers was the Deist James Monroe. James Monroe is the person responsible for freeing the Deist Thomas Paine from the French prison of the Luxembourg in 1794, which saved Paine’s life and allowed him to write part three of The Age of Reason and to work to promote Deism.
Celebrating Trenton Night and Day on the 25th and 26th of December is a very meaningful and real way of showing heartfelt appreciation for these heroes of free-thought and progress. Without their courage, dedication and sacrifice the world would still be living under the sickening belief in divine rights of kings and the ungodly combination of religion and government. We all owe the Greatest Generation of 1776 more than we can realize!
An outstanding and inspiring film about the Battle of Trenton is The Crossing.
Bob Johnson is a freelance writer in the Tampa area of Florida. He was raised Roman Catholic, but after a stint in Marine Corps infantry and reading Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason he became a Deist.
In 1993 he founded the World Union of Deists, and in 1996 he launched the first website devoted to Deism. He is the author of God Gave Us Reason, Not Religion, Deism: A Revolution in Religion, A Revolution in You and An Answer to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. He has also written the introduction to Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition and Principles of Nature by Elihu Palmer.