Grateful American® Foundation

October 16 — October 31, 2021

History Matters

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

In 1777, America’s Continental Army proved its prowess in the Battle of Saratoga; for the first time, it garnered official recognition as an independent nation. When word got to King Louis XVI of France, he was–suddenly–convinced that the colonials were not just the rag tag revolutionaries he had imagined. They were fierce and formidable.

That summer, British General John Burgoyne marched his 8,000 hardened troops, and joined up with British General Sir William Howe’s throng. They lost the first Battle of Saratoga on September 19 to an army of fresh but determined men under the command of American General Horatio Gates; Benedict Arnold captured victory with his forces in the Second Battle of Saratoga on October seventh.

Three years later, Arnold committed treason when he offered to turn West Point over to the British in exchange for money and a high-ranking position in the British army.

According to “By October 13, 20,000 Americans had surrounded the British, and four days later [on October 17] Burgoyne was forced to agree to the first large-scale surrender of British forces in the Revolutionary War.”

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Ghosts of Saratoga by David R. Ossont.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull, 1822

On October 22, 1962, America was positioned to engage in a Third World War with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR].

American intelligence had observed the Soviets supplying Cuba with weaponry; because the island-nation was only ninety miles from the U.S., missiles could be lobbed into its cities.

President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to keep Russian ships from reaching Cuba, and he called Russia’s actions a “clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace.” U.S. forces were then put on a DEFCON 2 watch, the highest military alert reached since World War II.

Nikita Khrushchev, meanwhile, the defiant first secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party, ordered the bulk of his ships carrying the nuclear hardware headed in the direction of Cuba to turn back. But one of them, the tanker, Bucharest, sailed on, – to confront the U.S. blockade. The aircraft carrier, USS Essex, and the destroyer, USS Gearing were sent to intercept it; as the tanker approached; the crew was ready to sink it, but President Kennedy gave the order to stand down, to deflect the risk of a shooting war.

The U.S.S.R. continued its military buildup around Cuba, but eventually they agreed to cease, if America dismantled its missiles in Turkey. The U.S. agreed. This was the beginning—and the end—of the prelude to World War III.

The Grateful American recommends Thirteen Days/Ninety Miles: The Cuban Missile Crisis by Norman H. Finkelstein.

Handwritten notes by President John F. Kennedy during Cuban Missile Crisis

Abigail Smith was a feisty, self-taught intellectual — who could also be considered America’s first suffragette. She married John Adams on October 25, 1764. Adams became the country’s second president. The two were Federalists and abolitionists; she was an attentive, devoted wife, but Abigail was no mouse. She spoke her opinions, regardless of the male-centric time during which she lived.

In a variety of letters to her husband, Abigail expressed her thoughts about the role of women in society. When John Adams ascended to the presidency in 1797, she wrote:

“All men would be tyrants if they could” and warned her husband of the consequences of ignoring the wants and needs of women as new laws are enacted. “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

The Grateful American Prize recommends My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams by John Adams, Abigail Adams, and Margaret A. Hogan.

Abigail and John Adams, 1766, painted by Benjamin Blythe. (Massachusetts Historical Society)

History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.

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