In my opinion, Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware is the most symbolically important painting in American history.
I’ve attached the largest file I can find so you may click and zoom in on its complexity. You will likely find surprising details you never before noticed.
In Washington’s crowded boat are 13 people. They are soldiers from many parts of America, and each of them has a story to tell.
You see a Scotsman. You see an African. You see hard-faced riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings. Farmers in broad-brimmed hats.
And if you look closely, you see what might in fact be a woman—disguised in man’s clothing—pulling at an oar. This is America, coming together, to fight.
But there are many debunkers of this painting who dismiss it as overly romantic and factually inaccurate.
And in the 1950s it fell out of fashion among ‘sophisticated’ New Yorkers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but American people will forever cherish it as a timeless image of patriotism.
Because the artist perfectly captured an atmosphere of intense desperation among the soldiers on the boats.
On that Christmas night in 1776, they believed that the American cause was very near collapse.
In five months of heavy fighting after the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s army suffered many disastrous defeats, and gained no major victories.
It lost 90% of its strength. The small remnant who crossed the Delaware were near the end of their resources, and they believed another defeat would destroy The Cause (as it was called back then).
What the artist realized, better than many Americans at the time, is that our Revolution was truly a WORLD EVENT.
Washington’s Crossing and the events that followed had a surprising impact here in America, back in England, France, Germany, and beyond.
Our fight for Independence was a collision between two discoveries on the human condition:
1. People can organize a society on the basis of liberty and freedom (and actually make it work!)
2. People’s capacity for order and self-discipline
For many thousands of years, people have been made to serve others. People had to be controlled. People had to be handled. People had to be slaves, servants, or robots.
But our successful Revolution proved a new way, in which an individual can be part of society simply by activating their own free will and creativity.
In the summer and fall of 1776 our first American veterans fought old world order forces, losing most of the major battles.
But our new army of free men did not lose hope, fighting back, and winning the campaign that followed.
They did so not by imitating the ways of the classical European armies, but by developing the strengths of an open, decentralized system, in a more disciplined way.
The more I learn about General Washington, the greater his contribution becomes.
He and his team developed a new idea of leadership during the American Revolution…j
Just as President Trump and General Flynn are doing today for our own Modern War for Independence.