Not all Presidential Christmas memories are ones of pageantry, decorations, beauty and tradition. Many of our presidents have found Christmas to be a difficult and challenging time in their lives and/or their presidency. You need only look back to the earliest days of the United States to find proof of this with General George Washington.
Christmas night 1776. The colonial troops were not faring well. General Washington was planning a night crossing over the Delaware River into New Jersey to launch a surprise attack on the Hessian troops amasses in Trenton. The challenge of his plan was incredible. Over 2000 men, munitions, and limited supplies to get across the river undetected. To make the difficult near impossible the conditions quickly changes from a cold rain to sleet to near blizzard, AND the river was full of ice. To inspire his men Washington read from the new work of essayist Thomas Paine- American Crisis. The inspiring selection begins with the timeless line “These are the times that try men’s souls”. Washington and his men were successful in their crossing. They moved towards the Hessians in the pre-dawn hours. The battle lasted a mere 45-minutes and ended in victory with the capture of over 900 HEssian prisoners. The colonials also gained much-needed supplies and ammunitions. This sacking of the British lead to the revolutionaries regaining control of New Jersey. The group crossing with Washington included not just our first President but other prominent patriots as well. Riding with Washington was fifth President Monroe, future Chief Justice John Marshall, and Alexander Hamilton.
The feat accomplished by Washington and his men that Christmas night has become a celebrated moment in US History. It has been faithfully recreated every year since 1952. Perhaps the most famous recognition came from German American painter Emanuel Leutze. Leutze created the classic painting Washington Crossing the Delaware in 1850. The painting was sold in 1851 for an amazing $10,000 (roughly $250,000 today). Leutze’s version of the events included future President Monroe on the boat with Washington. Monroe is the one holding the flag.