A Message from Henry Knox

Henry Knox is the Founding Father they don’t teach you about in elementary school.  Because he was way too much of a badass.

He wasn’t much for signing documents or paying visits to France in frilly shirt cuffs.  He was more about firing giant cannons right into the bad guys’ faces.

Brigadier General Knox was an artillery guy, you see…the man who made things go BOOM.  And when he ran out of guns and cannon, he set up the country’s first arsenal in Massachusetts to produce even more.

Away from the fighting, he was a stalwart confidante for the General and a disciplined organizer of men and provisions.  Knox was also the man in charge of preparing the Valley Forge camp for winter, a winter the Continental Army had no business surviving according to most war historians.

But none of these achievements could match what he did to force the British surrender of Boston.  He led an absolute suicide mission when there was no one else crazy enough to do it. Knox and a ragtag squadron of men journeyed 300 miles from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga in Upstate New York and then back.  The British had already surrendered the fort and ran to Canada the year prior, presumably to find an all-night Tim Hortons that served tea rather than coffee.  But Knox wasn’t there to capture British soldiers, he was there for the cannons and artillery.  His guys took all the guns and ammo apart for the impossible trip back to Massachusetts in the dead of winter.

It took them about 2 months to move all 60 tons of bulky weaponry.  The trip involved crossing rivers, frozen lakes and negotiating all kinds of hills and mountainous passes.  But finally getting those guns up to a hill that overlooked Boston was well worth it, it forced the British to surrender the city and run.  This mission and his route became known as the Knox Trail.  When people today look at what he did that winter they still can’t understand how it was even possible.

On the battlefield, Knox was like the American version of Braveheart.  He and his troops had fought ferociously at Germantown and Brandywine.  It should also be known that it was  under the direction of Knox that Washington accomplished his crucial crossing of the Delaware en route to the taking of Trenton, New Jersey.  This most decisive of victories is the reason we’re not all walking around talking like Colin Firth.

Anyway, after the war, Knox stayed on with his lifelong friend George Washington as Secretary of War and in other such posts.  In 1786 he wrote the below to George to let him know about all the shenanigans happening in Congress while the Big Man was out of town…

“…Our political machine, composed of thirteen independent sovereignties, have been perpetually operating against each other and against the federal head ever since the peace. The powers of Congress are totally inadequate to preserve the balance between the respective States, and oblige them to do those things which are essential for their own welfare or for the general good….”

You can replace one or two of the nouns from Knox’s letter and rewrite it for our current debt ceiling debate and the battle of the budget.  I’m sure Knox would be equally dismayed now to find a game of brinksmanship being fought over the sanctity of tax cuts for billionaires and an endless parade of social programs.

Knox has certainly earned the right to talk of debt and solvency and responsibility.  Shortly after British soldiers looted and ransacked the bookstore he owned in Boston, he still decided to make full payment of 1000 pounds to a London-based printer who had sent him a shipment that he never received.  It was a matter of principle, a concept totally foreign to some of the creatures we’ve been electing to represent us these days.

Knox was a loyal man who honored his debts and kicked major ass when he was called upon.  He may be relatively unknown among the founding fathers but he is my very favorite.

Anyway, Happy July 4th.

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