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August 29, 2007

Princeton University in the Independence War

Filed under: Toast Master — Tags: — Fei @ 8:04 pm

Disclaimer: This speech is solely for the fun of toast master international speech. The stories may not be historically accurate, nor is impartial. Please listen with discretion.

Thanks Mr. Toast Master…

Fellow Toast Masters, and honored guests. Today, I want to talk about Princeton University in the independence war.

When we talk about a war, what do we talk about? We talk about the start of the war, the turning point of the war, and the success of the war. And I tell you, Princeton University played a significant role in all three historical events.

The war formally started after the declaration of independence was signed, which was 1776.  A total of 56 people signed the declaration, and three of them were the alumni of the College of New Jersey, which only later changed its name to Princeton University. But a fourth person also signed the declaration. He was even more famous at that time, and among the Princetonians today. He is, John Witherspoon, sixth president of the College of New Jersey. He is the only clergyman, and college president that signed the declaration, not Harvard, not Yale, but Princeton.

After the war broke out, general George Washington really had a hard time. The continental army was defeated repeatedly. General Washington was in great need of a victory to boost the morale of the troops; to show his leadership; to prove that the independence was the right way to go. So the time came to the Christmas eve of the year 1776. In that evening, when it was supposedly a time for family reunification and peace, general Washington crossed the Delaware river, and attacked British troops the day after Christmas. We call it, the battle of Trenton, which was only 13 miles south of Princeton. On January 3rd, 1777, Washington’s army marched to a place only 3 miles south of Princeton, a place we now call it, the battlefield. As you can see from the name, it is where the battle of Princeton took place.

When we talk about the battle of Princeton, we have to talk about the story of the three canon balls. During the battle, Nassau hall, which was the only building for the College of New Jersey at that time, was exchanged hands three times by the British troops and the continental army. At one time when the British troop was in position of the Nassau hall, the continental army had to fire three rounds towards their own building. They fired three canon balls. The first canon ball, obviously, missed its target. The second canon ball.. hit the south wing of the building and bounced back, left a permanent scar on the wall, which can still be seen today… What’s interesting is the third canon ball. It went through a window of the prayer hall, which is now called the faculty room, and decapitated a portrait of King George II, the king of Britain at that time. The canon ball, however, left the frame and other parts of the portrait intact, only the King’s head was gone. The British troops must have thought it as an omen, since they promptly withdrew from the building shortly after the attack. And the continental army re-occupied their own building.

It was at Princeton and Trenton that Washington made his first major victory. After that, the British crown lost most of the cities of New Jersey; and the continental army recruits tens of thousands of new solders. It changed the course of the independence war. So… battle of Princeton was the turning point of the war.

After the battle, the continental army achieved more and more victories, fewer and fewer defeats… and the time soon became 1783. In that year, the Continental Congress met at Princeton’s Nassau hall from July to October. This, made Princeton the capital of the United States for four… whole… months… It was during that time at Princeton, the Continental Congress learned of the signing of the treaty of Paris, which basically ended the war. And welcomed the first foreign minister from Netherlands. It was during that time, general George Washington attended the commencement of the College of New Jersey, donated 50 guineas as a testimony of his respect to the College, and had a portrait taken in front of the Nassau hall. If you know about general Washington, you should know that he did not want to have portraits taken. It is said that in his lifetime, only three portraits were taken, and one of them was at Princeton. The portrait depicted his definite success at Princeton that changed history. After the painting was finished a year later, it was framed using the same frame for the portrait of King George II. Today, you can still see this portrait in the faculty room of the Nassau hall. To show the Princetonians all-encompassing culture, on one side of the window hangs the portrait of general Washington, on the other side is a portrait of King George II. When you go to Princeton, don’t forget to see those portraits.

Princeton University is the only university that played such an important role in the independence war. It participated the start of the war; it was the turning point of the war; and it signaled the success of the war. Without Princeton, we may still be ruled under the British Queen today. In every year’s July 4th, the independence day, we should not only think about the founding fathers: Washington, Jefferson; we should think about, Princeton.

Mr. Toast Master

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Time: 6 minutes 45 seconds
Date: 08/29/2007

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