Written by George Washington on December 25, 1776
My brave fellows. On our recent march through Jersey from New York, one of our own, Thomas Paine, aide-de-camp to Gen’l Greene, penned by firelight a tract which captures the essence of our present situation. Permit me to share with you a few lines…
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and 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 everything 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.
Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared, that she has a right not only to tax, but to bind us in all cases whatsoever — and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious, for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
Men, Your conduct during this recent campaign has been most commendable. You have sacrificed much for your country and brought much honor upon yourselves. I assure you that I am not insensible to the needs that you have and hardships we are enduring. We are indeed distressed beyond measure for clothing and other articles. Tents, blankets, flints, powder, cooking pots and food are in short supply. Our force is small and our defensive positions along the banks of the Delaware stretched thinly and quite exposed and vulnerable. About all of this I have made further mention to Congress and have pressed them for relief with all possible dispatch. I trust these matters will meet their earliest attention. As for this moment, I fear, we face a more critical and alarming situation…
You, the officers and men of this American Army must remember that you are free men fighting for the blessings of liberty. It is a great stake we are playing for. Every virtuous citizen is depending on you to rid this land of the ministerial troops that have brought wanton destruction to its shores and is attempting to enslave America. The time is now near at hand which will probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves, whether they are to have any property they can call their own, or whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed and they consigned to a state of wretchedness from which they cannot be delivered. Our cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance or the most abject submission.
Men, you are assembled here for tonight we cross back into JERSEY. Those of you who stood with me at Long Island and on the battlefields around the environs of New York, I entreat you to remember those actions. Those of you who have since joined our ranks from General Schyler’s army up north, I beseech you to listen carefully… Across that river not 10 miles distant in the town of Trenton and just beyond in Bordentown are posted the same regiments of base hirelings and merceneries that attacked us at Brooklyn Heights and White Plains. The same Hessian merceneries that spared not the bayonet and showed no quarter to many a brave American soldier who fell on those fields of battle. The same slavish merceneries that imprisoned hundreds of your fellow soldiers, captured at Fort Washington, on royal prison ships in New York Harbor. Those same merceneries hired by the Ministry then pillaged and plundered the good citizens of Jersey. And those same merceneries WILL….as soon as this river freezes over, march across and carry those atrocities here to Pennsylvania and throughout the rest of these United States should we let them.
Tonight, our mission, our duty as a free people, is to stem the tide of these atrocities, to retake what is rightfully ours and rid this great land of the plague of the merceneries, and those who brought them to our shores. At this fateful hour the eyes of all our countrymen are now upon us. The eyes of the world are watching. Let us show them all that a freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.
Yes Men, Tonight we cross back into Jersey. I beseach you all, remain close to your officers. They are good men. Heed their commands. On the march south a profound silence is to be enjoined and reflect upon what we owe those mercenaries. And when the hour is upon us fight for all that you are worth and all that you cherish and love. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct that you show. The watch word is VICTORY OR DEATH — For I am resolved that by dawn both Trenton and Victory shall be ours.