New York City has seen dark times, but in the spring and early summer of 1776 the outlook was especially grim. The Revolutionary War was in its early, chaotic days, the British fleet sailed en masse toward the city, and in a desperate defensive measure, General George Washington ordered thousands of his Continental troops into lower Manhattan. Almost a third of the city's citizens fled, and Washington's filthy, untrained and undisciplined soldiers quartered themselves in the elegant houses left behind. They were hungry, cold and scared, and they numbed their fear with drink, gambling and prostitutes. They were about to face the greatest military force in the world, outgunned and outmanned, fighting for a country that hadn't been created yet.
In hindsight, America's victory against the British seems like one of history's inevitabilities, but in the beginning it was anything but. And had a small group of pro-British conspirators had their way, the Glorious Cause might have lost its essential leader — George Washington — to imprisonment, execution or assassination.
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George Washington was a lot of things: An amazing portrait-poser, father of numerous national legends and myths, boon to the world of memes, career soldier, consummate badass, and yeah, our first president.
In June 1775, George Washington, appointing Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler to a major command, gave explicit instructions about what he wanted Schuyler to do and to try to do: “You will be pleased also to make regular Returns once a Month to me and to the Continental Congress (and oftner as Occurrences may require) of the Forces under your Command—Of your provisions, Stores &c.; and give me the earliest Advises of every piece of Intelligence, which you shall judge of Importance to be speedily known.”
Above a stack of voting assistance pamphlets near my office at battalion headquarters, there’s a poster of George Washington with a quote of his from 1775: “When we took up the Soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.” The message from my voting assistance officer is clear: The father of my country wants me to do my civic duty and vote.