Three Great Perils
Washington was astonished by what he was witnessing. For a while, he could not even speak or move. According to Anthony Sherman, Washington’s visitor demonstrated “three great perils.” The first peril was thought by Sherman to be the American Revolution, for reasons the reader will soon discover. This was the only peril to occur within the lives of either Sherman or Washington. It is believed that the second trial was the Civil War, while the third is yet to occur.
The First Great Peril
The American Revolution was not the first European conflict to be fought on American soil, but it was certainly the largest of its time on this continent. While the primary forces were, of course, the states and the British Empire, the conflict also involved the nations of France and Spain. Indeed, the Revolution was unique in that it was the first of its kind to involve colonies separating from a major power to reclaim God-given rights. The following is from Washington in Sherman’s story, regarding the first peril.
“Presently I heard a voice saying, ‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ while at the same time my visitor extended an arm eastward. I now beheld a heavy white vapor at some distance rising fold upon fold. This gradually dissipated, and I looked upon a strange scene. Before me lay, spread out in one vast plain, all the countries of the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. I saw rolling and tossing between Europe and America the billows of the Atlantic, and between Asia and America lay the Pacific…At that moment I beheld a dark, shadowy being, standing, or rather floating in mid-air, between Europe and America. Dipping water out of the ocean in the hollow of each hand, he sprinkled some upon America with his right hand, while with his left he cast some over Europe.
Immediately a cloud arose from these countries and joined – in mid-ocean. For a while it remained stationary, then it moved slowly westward, until it enveloped America in its murky folds.” The Revolution was fought from 1775-1781, though it officially ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. America would fight Britain once more, during the War of 1812, but the two nations would later become great allies. Relating to Washington’s imagery, it is easy for one to see the Revolution as a perilous cloud that engulfed the nation.
Prelude to the Civil War
Flash forward to 1861, and the nation is engulfed in another major conflict. Throughout the early part of the 19th century, America became increasingly divided on the institution of slavery. While the founding fathers envisioned putting slavery on a course of extinction, the formation of the Democratic Party in 1828 soon saw a rise in the institution. By the 1830s, Andrew Jackson’s vice president – John C. Calhoun – had developed a “Positive Good” theory. This belief, Calhoun maintained, stated that slavery was good for both the master and the slave.
The abolitionist movement began to increase in northern states, and in 1854, the Republican Party was founded with an anti-slavery tenet. The 1850s witnessed more controversy surrounding slavery and its expansion, but the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 proved to be the final trigger for the secession of the Democratic South. The following April, Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
While the constitutionality of secession has long been debated, President Lincoln refused to acknowledge the Confederacy as its own sovereign nation, and considered the attack on Fort Sumter as an act of war against the US by rebels. Though the various secession declarations listed their own reasons for separation, the willingness to preserve the institution of slavery was virtually unanimous and primary among the Democratic South.
The Second Great Peril
For Anthony Sherman in 1859, there may have been little doubt that another major conflict loomed on the horizon. On the second great peril, Sherman’s imagery seemed to invoke the institution of slavery as a triggering cause. The second trial that Washington described is as follows.
“A second time, the angel dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it out as before. The dark cloud was then drawn back to the ocean, in whose heaving billows it sank from view…And this time, the dark shadowy angel turned his face southward. From Africa, I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land. It flitted slowly and heavily over every town and city of the latter. The inhabitants presently set themselves in battle array against each other. As I continued looking, I saw a bright angel on whose brow rested a crown of light, on which was traced the word ‘UNION.’ He was bearing the American flag. He placed the flag between the divided nation and said, ‘Remember, you are brethren.’ Instantly the inhabitants, casting down their weapons, became friends once more and united around the National Standard.”
The Third Great Peril is Yet to Come
Since the Civil War, there have been no major battles on American soil. For this reason, some who believe the story of Washington’s vision are not convinced that either world war could be the third peril that is spoken of. One small skirmish of World War I was fought in Arizona (simultaneous to the Mexican border conflict), and during World War II, Japanese forces reached the Aleutian Islands of Alaska at one point, but America was spared from the devastating results of battles in Europe and the Pacific.
Many have speculated as to what the third peril could be, but there are, of course, no definitive answers. In regards to the third peril, Sherman continued Washington’s story. According to Sherman, Washington remarked that Europe, Asia, and Africa were engulfed in a dark cloud, which resulted in a large army waging war on America. Nonetheless, the American people would emerge in victory.
“As the voice ceased, the shadowy angel for the last time dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it upon America. Instantly the dark clouds rolled back, together with the armies it had brought, leaving the inhabitants of the land victorious.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the vision rests in the notion that America – with God’s protection – will never fail. In the vision, the bright angel remarked, “While the stars remain, and the heaven send down dew upon the earth, so long shall the Union last.” Shortly after, the first visitor stated, “Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful for her is the third. But the whole world seated shall not prevail against her. Let every child of the Republic learn to live for his God, his land, and Union.”
May the American people always do their best to seek God’s guidance and follow Washington’s wisdom.
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