Good evening. I’m David Harmer, president of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. I thank:
Tonight, Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge presents its highest honor, the Distinguished Citizen Award, to the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust (represented by Jeff Grubb) and to Joan Carter and John Aglialoro.
Recently, accompanied by our chairman, Wally Nunn, and executive vice president, Jason Raia, I had the pleasure of meeting Joan & John over lunch. In getting acquainted we discovered several mutual friends, including Manny Klausner, founding editor of Reason magazine, and Shawn Steel, the California counterrevolutionary. Wally, who also chairs the David Horowitz Freedom Center, called David then and there, passing the phone to John. General bonhomie ensued.
As our conversation continued, the pleasure of finding common connections was replaced by the alarming realization that if our party of five knew so many of its participants … perhaps the freedom movement wasn’t all that big. Each in our own ways, we’ve been at this for years—and sometimes it seems that only a few hundred people care.
“Are we growing?” Joan asked. “Seriously, are we growing at all?”
I’ve brooded over Joan’s question. Tonight, I’d like to answer.
General Washington must have wondered the same thing. In December 1777, his bedraggled troops, demoralized by a string of recent defeats, camped just south of here, a few minutes’ walk from this hall. 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. Exposure! The troops expected to win America’s independence were freezing to death.
“Are we growing?”
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 for the troops. When Congress did act, corruption and ineptitude in the Commissary and Quartermaster departments prevented urgently needed provisions from reaching Washington’s men.
Adding insult to injury, they went months without pay—a problem that persisted throughout the war.
Even as he masterfully negotiated these travails, Washington was the subject of backbiting and second-guessing. A cabal including several members of Congress, and even some of his own officers, attempted to depose and replace him.
Imagine the temptation for the troops to seek a strongman. Imagine the temptation for Washington to become one.
Speaking here on our campus, former Supreme Allied Commander and future President Dwight Eisenhower said:
Meeting on this spot, it is difficult to avoid giving away to emotion so intense as to still the tongue and to leave any American silently grateful, humble, reverent.
Here Washington waged and won the greatest fight of a fighting career. The long winter of the Valley Forge encampment brought to his army the last ounce of endurable suffering, while Washington was called upon to bear seeming collapse in his rear, desertion in his ranks, hostility in his associates.
The freedom of the American people here experienced its greatest danger of extinction, here met its sternest challenge.
“Are we growing?”
Washington’s remaining force constituted perhaps two-tenths of one percent of the population whose independence they were seeking to secure. But they persevered. After coming close to dissolving, the army was at last replenished, then enlarged. It emerged from Valley Forge stronger, more disciplined, more effective. After eight long years, it prevailed over the greatest military power on the planet. Then, remarkably, Washington relinquished power, returning to Congress his original parchment commission. Unprecedented.
Wrote Jefferson: “The moderation and virtue of a single character … prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”
True friends of freedom have always been few. For every thousand who enjoy the blessings of freedom, only one or two fight for it—or donate to defend it. But a small rudder turns a large ship. A pinch of yeast leavens a whole loaf. And a handful of patriots can obtain and retain freedom for an entire nation.
What does that have to do with Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge?
Back to General Eisenhower:
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.
For you, and others to come to this same spot, will always live a priceless realization—the truth that the American dream, with worthy disciples, can and will survive every threat.
Creating those “worthy disciples” of freedom is what we do. Throughout the school year, we bring to this campus students from around the nation for immersive multi-day courses in the history of the American Revolution and the responsibilities that accompany their rights as American citizens. They visit the places where history happened. Through superb re-enactors, they experience the debates and events that shaped the American founding. Having directly engaged with the past and its heroes, they leave informed, inspired, empowered.
It’s a great experience for them—judging from unsolicited testimonials, often transformative. But in a typical week, we’ll host perhaps 100 students. To Joan’s point, that’s not many.
So in recent years we’ve re-emphasized reaching teachers, each of whom may influence entire generations of students. Each summer, we host teachers from around the nation for critically acclaimed, accredited graduate courses, where they experience American history in its natural environment, with a pervasive focus on character building and responsible citizenship.
What makes these programs unique is our relationship with the recipients of the Medal of Honor. As we explore the links between character and freedom, we incorporate their examples of courage and sacrifice, integrity and commitment, patriotism and citizenship. Our Medal of Honor Legacy program is the only one of its kind. It introduces teachers to living heroes whose acts of valor demonstrated the greatest love. Those teachers return uniquely enabled and motivated to inspire their students with the price and the value of our freedoms.
So, Joan, back to your question: “Are we growing?” Emphatically, yes. Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge is growing the freedom movement. We’re equipping the rising generation with an understanding and appreciation of the freedom that’s been bequeathed to them, and a determination to preserve and extend it.
And now, to each of you: we have the programs, the campus, the Medal of Honor relationships, the applicants. What we need are the funds. At your place setting, you’ll find a pledge card. Grasp it now. Fill it out. For just $1,400 you can sponsor a teacher. I challenge you to do so. If that exceeds your capacity, contributions of any amount will be gratefully received and put to good use. You need not pay tonight; we can bill you later.
“Are we growing?”
This is your opportunity to answer. The larger your pledge, the more resounding your “Yes!”