There’s just something about Independence Day+, huh? Maybe it’s the summer sun. The chance to get outside and soak up some rays with friends and the fam. Fireworks. History. Patriotism. And one humdinger of a birthday party!
We’re doing something a little different today in honor of the holiday: “hiking” down a list of the 18 Greatest American Patriots Ever.
Granted, any attempt to compile a list of the greatest American patriots, plucking a handful of people out of 200+ years of U.S. history is, of course, ridiculous. So naturally we’re going to dive right in. With both feet. But first, a few qualifiers.
I am not including the Founding Fathers. That’s because Ben, Tom, George, James, John, et. al. are pretty much no-brainers here. (Besides, anyone can do that). I’m going for more of a “color-outside-the-lines” look of patriots whom you may or may not have heard of. Capiche?
Of course, the salient question here is, “What’s a ‘patriot’?” And there’s the rub. Ask 100 people that question and you’ll get 100 different answers. So I’m not even going to try to answer that. Besides, it’s my list. My criteria.
It includes those who majorly advanced or protected freedom. Ditto life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Demonstrated fidelity to essential liberty and founding principles. Went above and beyond the call of duty in service to their county. Ordinary people who attempted or accomplished something extraordinary for their country. Those who got outside themselves, took a stand, and/or sacrificed for their country. Patriots are those who fought, composed, rescued, competed,inspired and/or otherwise dared for their country, in a wide variety of diverse contexts – often against the tide.
Although the context of those who appear in this list varies widely, each of these patriots – some well-known and others mere dust motes on the canvas of history – all exhibit elements of boldness, tenacity, selflessness and loyalty to something greater than themselves: America.
So, without further ado, here’s my highly subjective, purely unscientific list of 18 Greatest American Patriots Ever. In no particular order, they are:
1.Clara Barton – Founder of the American Red Cross. One of the most honored women in U.S. history, Barton began teaching school at a time when most teachers were men. She was among the first women to gain employment in the federal government. Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. At age 60, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and led it for the next 23 years. Her understanding of the needs of people in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to them guided her throughout her life.
2. Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain – hero of Gettysburg. Professor of Rhetoric and Natural and Revealed Religion, Bowden College, Maine. Four-time governor. Medal of Honor winner. You may know Chamberlain best for his famous line in the 1993 Turner Classics movie, Gettysburg: “Bayonets!” (If you haven’t seen that movie, here’s a tip: do.)
But Chamberlain made another speech. It may not be as fiery as the one delivered to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, but it’s just as crucial. Maybe moreso (“Here we judge you but what you do, not by who your father was.”):
3.Margaret Cochran Corbin – “The first American woman to take a soldier’s part in the War for Liberty,” Margaret fought alongside her husband in the American Revolutionary War. On November 16, 1776, while they were stationed in Fort Washington, New York, the fort was attacked by British and Hessian troops. When her cannoneer husband was killed, Margaret continued loading and firing the cannon by herself. She was an excellent shot. The British noticed and soon targeted her with their own cannons. Margaret was critically wounded. The British eventually won this battle, but hers was the last cannon to stop firing.
Margaret never recovered from her wounds. She was the first woman to receive a pension from the United States government as a disabled soldier.
4.Crew of Apollo 13 (James Lovell, Fred Haise, Jack Swigert) and Mission Control. True to the indomitable American spirit, they proved that “Failure is not an option.” Also the entire crew of Apollo 11 and Mission Control.
5.Franklin Graham – probably our best hope for a modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
6.Nathan Hale – American Revolutionary officer who attempted to spy on the British and was hanged. He is supposed to have said before his death, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
7.Francis Scott Key – Lawyer and poet. He also wrote a famous tune…
8.Laodicea Langston – A courageous young girl of about 16 years, the South Carolinian provided valuable information to the Whigs and harassed the enemy during the entire Revolutionary War. An expert shot and rider, her patriotism to the American cause was so great, it earned her the pseudonym “Daring Dicey.”
9. Abraham Lincoln. Don’t make me explain this.
10 & 11. Sybil Ludington and Israel Bissell – Hate to tell you, but The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere we all learned in grade school is an historical myth perpetuated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Revere was arrested on the road to Concord. But on the night of April 26, 1777, 16 year old Sybil Ludington mounted her horse, Star, and rode to alert American colonial forces to the approach of the British. She covered more than twice the distance that Revere did.
Twenty-three year old Israel Bissell warned more colonists than anyone else, riding so hard on the first day that his horse dropped dead under him. Bissell galloped through Massachusetts, Connecticut, and into New York. He rode for four days without rest and covered more than 300 miles.
12.Tim Murphy – Saratoga rifleman. Revolutionary War hero and the most famous marksman of his day. In 1777, Murphy was one of 500 hand picked riflemen to go with General Daniel Morgan to Upstate New York and help stop General John Burgoyne and his invading British Army. Tim not only helped defeat the British, but was a major contributor to the victory.
As the battles around Saratoga raged, the British, having been pushed back, were being rallied by Brigadier General Simon Fraser. General Benedict Arnold (still a good guy at the time of Saratoga) rode up to General Morgan, pointing at Fraser and shouted ” . . . that man on the gray horse is a host in himself and must be disposed of.” Morgan gave the order for his best marksmen to try and take Fraser out.
Timothy Murphy climbed a nearby tree, took careful aim at 300 yards, and squeezed off a shot. General Fraser tumbled from his horse, shot through the midsection. He died the next day. Another British Senior officer, Sir Frances Clarke, General Burgoyne’s chief Aide-de-Camp, galloped onto the field with an important message. Murphy’s second shot dropped him. He was dead before he hit the ground!
These two unerring shots did more than anything else to shatter the morale of the British and to turn the tide of the most important battle of the Revolution.
14. Jesse Owens – World-class athlete and Olympic legend. The first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad (Berlin, 1936). During a time of deep-rooted segregation, Owens not only discredited Hitler’s master race theory, but also affirmed that individual e6cellence, rather than race or national origin, distinguishes one man from another. Post-Olympics, Owens devoted his life to helping others.
15. Thomas Paine – of Common Sense fame. If you want to know more about this writer and prodigious beer drinker, read To Try Men’s Souls, by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen.
16. Ronald Reagan.
17. Harriet Tubman – legendary “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. She never lost a passenger.
18. John Wayne – the epitome of “true grit.”
Who would you add?
+ I don’t do “Happy 4th of July.” I celebrate Independence Day. When the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776 and the 13 colonies declared themselves no longer a part of the British Empire. Independence Day goes to the heart of what it means to be an American. This holiday is not about a day on the calendar. It’s about an idea. An experiment in freedom, liberty, and self-governance.