The Aurelian Column "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

The Forge of Friendships, Alliances, and Empires

Thomas Paine once penned the words “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

And they were.

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Winter of 1777. One of the darkest times for the American Revolution and those who fought in it. Almost nobody would’ve been betting on the Americans if they took the entirety of the situation into account. Everything was against them. Even the weather.

But we know how the story turned out. We all know what happened and what has happened since. That ragtag bunch of rebels who believed in something no one else in history had believed in, and that it could be achieved. Ideas that would eventually lead to the rise of the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and the reshaping of human destiny. The creation of the United States of America is an example of how embracing long odds can sometimes result in amazing wins.

Most of the stories of most of the men who fought with Washington and survived Valley Forge, and their subsequent trials and tribulations, are lost to us. They are unknown heroes who, in many cases, gave their very lives so their descendants could live the dream that drove them on.

But there is another set of heroes who don’t get talked about as much as the honored dead. And they are those who survived and went on to build the country when the smoke of battle had cleared, and the glory of victory had faded into history.

Their individual stories were as varied as any that can be found in the human condition. Some perished early on. Some never made it very far and failed miserably. But many went on to achieve success in different ways and in different measures. They worked hard for the rest of their days in various professions and industries and contributed to their growing republic and the welfare of their fellow citizens.

History is filled with many such examples, and not just when new nations are created. During times of notable difficulty, there is a class of people who keep their heads, their noses to the grindstone, and soldier on to keep the wheel of civilization turning. The folks who keep going when those of a lesser mantle are ready to give up and surrender.

The American Civil War. The Great Depression. The Second World War. The assassinations and social turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s. All of these eras had points when the darkness was truly dark. Times when many people thought everything was over and everything was done. Even events that we associate with victory, like World War II, were often filled with darkness and terrifying uncertainty. Days when the odds were against everyone. Not just at the national level, but at the individual level.

There are also many rags-to-riches stories from The Great Depression, and this should not be surprising. It’s the way of things. Times of difficulty — times of strife — times of great danger — are the fires of hell in which the steel of the future is foraged.

Enter the year 2020. The Annus Horribus for many of us. A combination of events — both natural and manmade — has created a whirlwind of difficulty, discomfort, and suffering for millions. This is also a time of political and social turmoil. A condition almost always brought on when weak cowards are in positions of power, and many of the strongest among us are subject to their whims.

Yet this sort of situation never endures for long. The strong — the truly strong — who always occupy the moral high ground, eventually regroup, reform their lines, and fight back. And after many a battle, they drive the evil in the world back into its many holes and crevices.

It will be the veterans of these trials — the survivors — who will eventually be rebuilding things. Both material and metaphorical. They are the people you now see enduring the unendurable, yet keep moving forward. The ones who refuse to give up. The ones who know that when one finds oneself going through hell, the best thing to do is to keep going. The individuals who many write off as being in hopeless situations with almost no chance of survival. It will be them, and only them, who will be restoring and rebuilding the world we now see suffering hit after hit and blow after blow.

But they will not be making it alone. No one ever does. Friendships, alliances, partnerships, and even marriages that come into being in these times will often be cast in iron. They will last like few other things created by the endeavors of man. Political movements and economic empires will not emerge out of the minds of the people contributing to the problems, but from those who are working on the solutions.

Many of those you see struggling and trying to survive today are being made into steel blades with razor-sharp edges. If they make it, they will make it big. Really big. And those who help them will make it big as well. These days saving someone’s livelihood is effectively the same thing as saving their life. And such acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity are not easily forgotten. Loyalties are then created that can not only last an entire lifetime but well into subsequent generations of families. All around us, the foundations of dynasties are being laid.

It’s often said that “business is not personal." But this is a total falsehood. There are very few things more personal than business and the ability to make a living. If one can’t feed or cloth one’s self or one’s children, it’s personal. If one can’t keep the roof over their head, it’s personal. If one ends up losing everything they have worked for all of their life and are pushed to living in the street and eating out of dumpsters, it’s personal. All very, very personal. Interfering with someone’s ability to earn a living is a very real, physical attack. A literal threat to their life. Not much different than having a loaded gun in their face. So someone who comes to the rescue is a hero in every sense of the word.

These are times of real and growing hardship. And most of the people feeling the worst of it did nothing to deserve it. Millions of hard-working, capable, competent people have been locked out of work because of the global pandemic. And even though the ability to earn an income has been greatly disrupted, the need to earn income to survive had not. The need to eat and pay bills is still there, only without the means to do so for vast numbers of the population. And this situation cannot long continue without devastating consequences. Governments have failed us at so many levels that action needs to be taken at the personal, individual level to stave off disaster.

For those of us with resources and means, this is the time to consider making investments. Not in traditional things like stocks, bonds, or other intangibles. But in people. People with a future. People who build things that can be seen and touched. Builders, not just architects. Achievers, not just dreamers. These are the times to seek out these men and women who will be creating the future and help them do it. Be their friends and be their allies. Help them, invest in them, finance them and, most important, encourage them. It’s the only way we’ll make it out of the current darkness and back into the light.

Another historic figure from America’s revolutionary period also knew the importance of believing in the potential of others and helping them when they needed it: Benjamin Franklin. Among his many accomplishments, Franklin was one of American’s first genius business leaders. He was also the creator of what we now refer to as “the franchise.” With this innovative business model, Franklin was able to become a wealthy man while still relatively young. He then had time to pursue other interests such as science, philanthropy, and, of course, politics. Franklin’s financial freedom also allowed him to take on the most challenging, and dangerous, of political careers: revolutionary. And as such, he contributed greatly to the founding and establishment of the United States in a capacity few others ever could have.

But it almost didn’t happen. The older, experienced, wise, Franklin the Revolutionary — The Great Man — came very close to never existing.

Back in the mid-1720s, a young Franklin found himself stranded in London as a result of a business venture gone sour. He spent a year and a half working at various odd jobs and print shops, desperately trying to save enough money to return to Philadelphia. But no matter how hard he worked, or how much he tried, he wasn’t able to save enough for his ticket home. All seemed hopeless and lost. There was a very real chance he would be stuck in London for years, if not the rest of his life. That is, until a Quaker businessman by the name of Thomas Denham saw Franklin’s potential, and helped finance his passage back to America.

The future Great Man then returned to Philadelphia to take up his destiny with the Ages. Franklin went on to help create the Declaration of Independence, secure an alliance with France during the Revolution, and even helped write the Constitution of the United States. Had Mr. Denham not chosen to help that young, struggling expatriate colonist, history — world history — would have taken a very different course. And the United States may not have come into existence.

Franklin never forgot the kindness of his benefactor, nor the impact he made on his life. Denham was mentioned prominently in Franklin’s autobiography with affection and reverence. Perhaps he's a man history should consider an in-direct Founding Father.

There are many such stories being written right now. Men and women of ambition and talent who have the potential to change the world as much if not more than Franklin did. Such people have never had it easy. But these days the challenges they face are even harder. Find them. Seek them out. And do what you can to help them with their dreams and ambitions. They need you now more than ever, and so does the world.

All danger, anxiety, and discomfort aside, and all the discouraging news of the daily headlines notwithstanding; it’s an amazing age we now find ourselves in. One where generosity can walk hand-in-hand with opportunity.

No one is an island. No one is a sovereign state. Franklin knew that nations are not just a gathering of individuals but a collective soul with unique components. We as a whole are the sum of us all.

It was Franklin’s secret of success. He never forgot it. And neither should we.


“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

— Benjamin Franklin, 1776

Words to remember the next time a bolt of lightning strikes, and everyone remains safe and sound as the storm passes harmlessly away.

© 2020 Thomas Michael Caldwell. All Rights Reserved. This written work is not to be copied or reproduced without the permission of the author. Links to this page from other websites or social media accounts is permitted and encouraged.