From the President




During holidays, remember those who serve

December 19, 2018

By David Harmer

On this date in 1777, General George Washington led the bedraggled, oft-defeated, retreating troops of the Continental Army into Valley Forge, establishing camp just a few minutes’ walk south of the site from which I now write.

The Washington at Prayer Statue on the campus of Freedoms Foundation.

Snow began to fall. The weather worsened from cold to bitter to brutal. Refusing to take better shelter than his men, Washington initially insisted on camping in a tent. But heavy snow on Christmas Day made it impossible to conduct the army’s business there and forced him into a modest stone home, shared with his staff.

His men were hungry—at times, starving. The specter of famine haunted the camp.

His men were cold. Thousands lacked coats, wearing only blankets. Thousands lacked boots. Many resorted to rags tied around their feet, leaving bloody footprints in the snow.

His men were poorly sheltered, moving from tents into hastily constructed, primitive log huts—twelve soldiers in each.

The Continental Army arrived in Valley Forge with 11,000 men. That winter, more than a quarter of them—3,000—died of disease or exposure.

Meanwhile, British troops in Philadelphia were comfortably accommodated, warm, well-clothed, well-fed.

The same was true of most American civilians. In letters home, British regulars and Hessian mercenaries alike commented on the wealth of the colonists. But little of their prosperity reached the army. A feckless Congress repeatedly failed to provide. When Congress did act, corruption and ineptitude in the Commissary and Quartermaster departments prevented urgently needed provisions from reaching Washington’s men.

Of that ordeal, the founding chairman of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, said:

The freedom of the American people here experienced its greatest danger of extinction, here met its sternest challenge. Here also it fell heir to its finest example of courage and selflessness, of faith and conviction, of leadership and character.

As we enjoy the festivities of the season, may we remember with humble gratitude all those, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, who have spent their holidays far from home and hearth to secure the liberty, prosperity, and security of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries.

Warmest wishes to you and yours from all of us here at Freedoms Foundation.




Happy Thankgiving

November 21, 2018

By David Harmer

It’s been a beautiful autumn here in Valley Forge. Over the past few weeks, the hundreds of hardwoods that adorn our campus have displayed every imaginable hue of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds, their foliage iridescent not only in the forest canopy but even as it falls and blankets the ground. The air has grown crisp and cold, signaling the arrival of the harvest season, and prompting us to hasten our preparations for the busy year ahead.

As we do so, we pause to give thanks for a long list of blessings. High on that list is you. To work at Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge—to devote our professional lives to the ideals of the American founding and the cause of freedom—is a privilege. We never take it for granted. All of us on the staff recognize our reliance on the generous benefactors, members, alumni, and friends who make our work possible. For all the good you do, and enable us to do, we thank you.

We’re grateful, too, for the accelerating expansion of our programs. In each aspect of our three-fold mission—to educate, honor, and challenge—we’re poised to break the records for participation and involvement set just this year. Registration for several of the coming year’s workshops and seminars has already reached capacity. Pilot programs for remote education, adult education, and executive leadership are ready to launch or already underway. Reinvigorated chapters and newly enthused partners are setting ambitious goals, promising to sponsor substantially more students and teachers than ever before.

Meanwhile, we’re exploring strategic partnerships with additional organizations that share our aims and can help extend our reach and influence. Even as we increase our national presence, we’re more directly engaged with our local community, from the open space commission to the Chamber of Commerce, hosting events and striving to be good neighbors. And we’re in the early stages of developing a first-ever campus-wide master plan that will guide the refurbishment, upgrading, and long-term maintenance of the facilities that support our programs.


Of course, all these positive developments require increased support. Will you help?




Thanksgiving marks the start of the giving season. As you consider the causes that may merit your support, we’d be most grateful for your investment.


·     $1,400 will sponsor a teacher to any of our week-long, college-accredited, graduate-level professional development programs—in turn cultivating informed patriotism in hundreds of students for years to come.

·     $475 will cover a high school student’s participation in our four-day Spirit of America youth leadership program—a transformative experience with proven effects on civic engagement and responsible citizenship.

·     Contributions of any amount will be gladly received and put to good use.




Thank you for your consideration. Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. In counting blessings and giving thanks, as in so much else, we can profitably emulate the example of George Washington, whose proclamation of October 3, 1789, established the first national day of thanksgiving under the new Constitution. Reading this aloud before Thanksgiving dinner is one of my family’s treasured traditions.

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington




Thank you to our nation’s veterans

November 11, 2018

By David Harmer

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice between the allied nations and Germany took effect, ending the bloody hostilities of World War I. Today we commemorate the centennial of that occasion.

Originally celebrated as Armistice Day, November 11th later came to be known as Veterans Day—a holiday for which Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge has a particular affinity, because our founding chairman, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation:

Whereas it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace; and

Whereas in the intervening years the United States has been involved in two other great military conflicts, which have added millions of veterans living and dead to the honor rolls of this Nation; and …

Whereas, in order to expand the significance of that commemoration and in order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress … changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day:

Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain. …

In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.

Pursuant to President Eisenhower’s invitation, we here at Freedoms Foundation offer heartfelt thanks to all who have served in the armed forces of the United States. We are especially grateful to those veterans who also participate in our partner organizations:

  • American Veterans (AMVETS)
  • Military Order of the World Wars (MOWW)
  • National Sojourners
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)

Not only did those veterans serve their country while in the military, they continue to serve in many ways today. One way dear to our hearts is that they send students to our Spirit of America youth leadership programs. In the past year alone, MOWW sponsored and chaperoned 44 students; VFW, 48; National Sojourners, 60; and AMVETS, 85. MOWW recruited another 50 students funded by other sponsors. And National Sojourners aim to commemorate their 100th anniversary by sending 100 students next year!

In short, over the past year veterans organizations recruited and/or funded a total of 287 students from across the country. We are grateful for each one. In four days of residence on our Valley Forge campus, each of those students experienced …

  • Heated debates between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson;
  • Lively lectures from leading scholars of the American founding;
  • The Medal of Honor character development workshop;
  • A tour of colonial Philadelphia, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin’s print shop and grave, Carpenters Hall, Christ Church, Betsy Ross’s house, and more;
  • A tour of Valley Forge National Historical Park, crucible of the Revolution.

Each program culminated in a re-enactment of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with each student inscribing his or her signature on a parchment reproduction of the original.

What effect does all that have? Students leave our campus not merely informed, but transformed—infused with appreciation for our shared heritage as Americans, and committed not only to exercise the rights of citizenship, but to shoulder the corresponding responsibilities. The mother of one of our participants wrote:

Heartfelt thanks for the wonderful experience that our son had at Valley Forge last week! He was thrilled with the entire experience and actually moved to tears and speechless for a moment after getting in the car at the airport. It was surprising and highly unusual to see him choke up with such intense emotion when asked about the trip. [He] said the speakers were truly remarkable and the group of young people he was able to associate with was outstanding. As parents we are so thankful for the time, effort and dedication of everyone involved in providing this life-changing positive experience. 

So today, as we pause to salute all veterans, we express special appreciation to those who help us cultivate patriots in the rising generation. For all you have done and all you continue to do, we salute you. We are honored to partner with you.

David Harmer is president and CEO of Freedoms Foundation. Contact him at


Celebrating Independence Day

July 2, 2018

By David Harmer

Being entrusted with the leadership of a civic-education organization bearing a name like Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, I of course find my thoughts turning, as Independence Day approaches, to …

… pyrotechnics! Like virtually every other red-blooded American male, I’m eagerly anticipating an evening of experimentation with incendiary devices and explosives. Per tradition, the extended Harmer family will celebrate the Fourth by gathering at the home of my brother Joe, where, after a titanic barbeque, the brothers in attendance will compete to see who can impress the youngest nephew present, six-year-old Charlie (“six AND A HALF,” he routinely corrects me), with the brightest flashes and most percussive sounds from our fireworks—many of which will have been purchased across state lines (federalism in action!), and some of which will have been augmented with post-purchase enhancements of questionable prudence, if not legality.

We brothers are well prepared for this duty, as we’re all veterans of the Boy Scouts. In my day, the primary purpose of scouting—as an Eagle Scout, I speak as something of an authority here—was to channel the adolescent male’s congenital pyromania into relatively safe and supervised venues (“relatively” being a key qualifier). Ours was Camp Pahatsi, a bucolic clearing in the high Sierras near Soda Springs, California, which, in summer, became a veritable Manhattan Project of chemical engineering. Matches, flint and steel, butane lighters, welding torches (don’t ask), tinder of various types, aerosol cans, flammable fluids—we investigated them all, in venues ranging from the nearest fire pit to the furthest outhouse, losing most of our eyebrows in the process, and becoming familiar with scientific concepts such as the blast radius.

Happily, Joe’s neighborhood is thick with fellow former scouts who not only tolerate but seek to surpass the Harmer brothers’ employment of combustible substances for the occasion. If there’s anything more American than firepower, it’s competition; and the heads of household in the vicinity are engaged in a highly salutary arms race, with annual escalation in the magnificence of the resultant spectacle.

Shouldn’t we commemorate American independence with more solemnity? Shouldn’t we focus on the history of the holiday and the blessings of liberty?

Well, of course all Americans should pause to give thanks for our freedoms; and of course in my family we will. But Independence Day is an occasion for a little reflection and a lot of celebration. The Founding Fathers—who took human nature as they found it, not as they wished it were—would approve. Indeed, no less irascible a curmudgeon than John Adams said:

The Second Day of July 1776[1], will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.[2]

So by all means, start the day with contemplation and gratitude. Attend a sunrise service. Join AMVETS or the VFW or your local church for their flag-raising ceremony. Salute the scouts or the JROTC or the American Legion after they present the colors. Then celebrate! Enjoy family, friends, food, and fireworks.

And while you’re in a celebratory mood, please consider contributing to Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. There’s no better way to inculcate in the rising generation a commitment to the spirit and philosophy of the American founding. Give $300 — $25 a month — and you’ve offset the cost of a week’s worth of meals for a student on campus learning the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Or give $60 — just $5 a month — and cover that cost for a day. Contributions of any amount, large or small, are gratefully accepted and will be put to good use.


[1] The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776. The final written version of the Declaration of Independence was dated two days later, July 4, and was autographed by most delegates in a formal signing ceremony on August 2.

[2] Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776, written from Philadelphia.