PATRIOTISM AND COURAGE
Patriotism means love of country. How do we demonstrate our love of country? At the most basic level, we do so by voting with our feet -- by remaining here in this country rather than living elsewhere. But there are more active ways to be a patriot. We stand for the national anthem. We obey the laws. We vote, and hold elective offices. We celebrate our national birthday, the Fourth of July, and throughout the year, we observe other national holidays, such as Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving. And in times of war, Americans risk their lives to fight for their country and its ideals.
Another way for us to be patriotic is to learn about the deeds of the Founders. Without knowledge about the men and women who fought for the establishment of this country and who formed our political institutions, it would be difficult for us to carry on the American experiment in self-government.
The Founders' love of country was deep and profound. On a hot July day in 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged to each other their "lives," "fortunes," and. "sacred honor." By signing the Declaration, those men were signing their own "death warrants," as Benjamin Rush, one of the signers, put it. Many lost their fortunes, some their lives, but despite their struggles, the signers stood firm for independence. Their "sacred honor" and their patriotism sustained them throughout the struggle to become a nation.
This chapter contains the examples of the patriotic deeds of the Father of our Country, George Washington, on and off the battlefield. Washington made many sacrifices to serve his country. He served as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and as our first president (without pay, for he believed we should all gladly serve our country). Washington once wrote that "when my country demands the sacrifice, personal ease must always be a secondary consideration." Many of our patriots paid the ultimate price for our country, including Nathan Hale, whose story of courage and sacrifice is retold here as well.
Some of our other Founders served their country off the battlefield, and fought with the pen, not the sword. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were brilliant men who thought long and hard about how to devise a government that would render justice and liberty to all. And they made their own sacrifices as well -- in time, energy, and enduring long separations from their loved ones while they served their country. James Madison, who was a frail and often sickly man, worked so hard at the Constitutional Convention that he confided to a friend that his labors "nearly killed me." Abigail Adams noted that women make difficult sacrifices for the country as well and that those sacrifices are equal to those of men.
The Founders remain inspiring to us today because of what they did for their country, and for us. We have much to learn from them. For example, Thomas Jefferson advised a young boy, who had been named after him, to "Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself." To love one's country more than oneself is not an easy thing to do. But so many heroic Americans, from the Revolutionary War to the present, have risked and even sacrificed their own lives because they did love America and her ideals that much.
Benjamin Rush to John Adams, July 20, 1811
The signers of the Declaration of Independence were men of courage. By affixing their names to that document, they risked death by hanging. And they knew it. But some of the signers bravely (or perhaps nervously) laughed in the face of danger: While writing his bold and now famous signature, John Hancock, the first to sign, reportedly said: "There! His Majesty can now read my name without glasses. And he can double the reward on my head!" To encourage the other signers, Hancock would later tell them that they must all hang together. To which Benjamin Franklin quipped: "We must all hang together, or we most assuredly will hang separately." In this letter, Benjamin Rush, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, remembers another humorous exchange that took place at the signing. But he also recalls the "pensive and awful silence" that filled the room as these patriots of '76 prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Dear old Friend,
The 4th of July has been celebrated in Philadelphia in the manner I expected. The military men, and particularly one of them, ran away with all the glory of the day. Scarcely a word was said of the solicitude and labors and fears and sorrows and sleepless nights of the men who projected, proposed, defended, and subscribed the Declaration of Independence. Do you recollect your memorable speech upon the day on which the vote was taken? Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants? The silence and the gloom of the morning were interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by Colonel Harrison of Virginia, who said to Mr. Gerry at the table: "I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead." This speech procured a transient smile, but it was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted.
Richard Stockton, Delegate from New Jersey, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence suffered reprisals from the British. Consider the delegates from New Jersey -- Francis Hopkinson, John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark, John Hart, and Richard Stockton. Hopkinson and his family fled their home shortly before British soldiers came and destroyed it. Witherspoon, who was also president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and James Madison's teacher, had to flee his home with his family, as the British raided the college, occupied its buildings as well as nearby homes, and burned its library, which contained many of Witherspoon's prized books from Europe. Enemy soldiers aggressively pursued Hart, who had to leave his wife at her sickbed and go into hiding. He finally returned to his farm, now destroyed, to find his wife had died from the trauma, his children scattered. He died a despondent man a few years later. And Clark's son, who was a captain in the American army and a prisoner of war on a British prison ship, was singled out for his father's deeds and tortured and nearly starved to death.
In the following, I share a re-telling of the ordeal Richard Stockton went through -- an ordeal that eventually killed him. Who could have blamed any of these men if they had renounced the cause of independence to avoid persecution to themselves and their families? But none did -- their "sacred honor" was at stake, and that sustained them.
The families of those who had signed the instrument which severed the colonies from the parent state, were peculiarly obnoxious to the British forces; and Mr. Stockton was constrained to retire from congress to convey his own to a place of safety. After having conducted them into the county of Monmouth, about thirty miles from his residence, he resided with Mr. Covenhoven, a patriotic friend of his; and he, together with Mr. Covenhoven, was surprised, and made a prisoner, by a party of refugees, who had been informed of the place of his temporary residence, by a treacherous wretch. They were dragged from their beds at a late hour of the night; stripped and plundered of their property, and conducted to New York. They first conveyed him to Amboy, shut him in the common gaol, exposed him, thus destitute, to severe suffering by the cold weather; and in New York, he was subjected to a similar confinement, and extreme suffering. The severities he endured, during his imprisonment in Amboy and New York, laid the foundation for the disease which closed his life not long after. While in the latter place, the enemy withheld from him, not only the comforts, but even the necessaries of life; and this, notwithstanding his respectability of character and standing in life, and a very delicate state of health. At one time he was left absolutely without food more than twenty-four hours; and afterwards supplied with that which was coarse in quality, and scanty in amount.
The complicated sufferings he endured while in captivity, the burning of his papers and fine library, the plundering of his property, particularly of his stock of horses and cattle; the general depredations committed on his estate, real and personal, wherever it was exposed to the ravages of an incensed foe, and the losses he sustained by reason of the ruinous depreciation of the continental paper currency, left him only the remnants of a large fortune, exhausted so entirely that it seemed to him only a mass of ruins; and finding himself so destitute of the means for providing comfortably for his family, he was compelled to resort to friends for a temporary accommodation, to procure the absolute necessaries of life. This caused a depression of spirits, out of which he never fully rose; and aggravated a lingering disease which terminated his life. He languished for a time under this calamity which, in the latter part of his life, was much increased by a cancer in his neck, whose insidious and fatal approaches are always clearly perceived, without the least hope of remedy. He died on the twenty-eighth day of February, 1781, in the fifty-first year of his age.
A minute delineation of character, does not comport with the design or limits of this work; only a brief summary can be given. The character of Mr. Stockton as a patriot, inflexibly devoted to the liberty, rights, and independence of his country, may be easily understood by what has been already stated. He not only pledged "his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor, for the attainment of his country's independence; but he fully redeemed the pledge by becoming a martyr to her cause. His life was a sacrifice; his fortune was nearly so; and his sacred honor attended him to his grave; and remains behind him an untarnished legacy to his posterity and his country.
From Nathaniel Dwight, The Lives of the Signers, 1876
"Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" Patrick Henry, Speech at St. Johns Church, March 23, 1775
This is one of the most famous speeches of the revolutionary era. With the growing presence of British forces in the colonies, Patrick Henry introduced a set of resolutions for organizing and arming a state militia. Henry believed it was time to prepare for war with Great Britain, which he believed to be inevitable.
The church in which Henry gave the speech was packed, and the windows were thrown open to allow more people to hear. When Henry finished, his fellow delegates, who included Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, sat in awed silence.
"We have petitioned -- we have remonstrated -- we have supplicated -- we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon, until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained -- we must fight! -- I repeat it, sir, we must fight!! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts, is all that is left us!
"They tell us, sir," continued Mr. Henry, "that we are weak -- unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger. Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable -- and let it come!! I repeat it, sir, let it come!!!
"It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! -- I know not what course others may take; but as for me," cried he, with both his arms extended aloft, his brows knit, every feature marked with the resolute purpose of his soul, and his voice swelled to its boldest note of exclamation -- "give me liberty, or give me death!"
From William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry
Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 19, 1776
Thomas Paine was a writer who was born and raised in England. He came to America in 1774 and soon became a strong advocate for the American cause. For those colonists who didn't know why American independence was so important and worth fighting for, Paine's famous pamphlet, Common Sense, released in January 1776, told them. The following excerpt is taken from a later work, The American Crisis, written at a critical juncture of the Revolution. George Washington was leading the Continental Army on a retreat through New Jersey after a disastrous defeat in New York. Paine accompanied Washington and his troops and saw firsthand the growing sense of desperation among the army. The American troops were greatly outnumbered by the British. Many were ready to give up and reconcile with Great Britain. It looked as if the rebellion was coming to an abrupt end.
Paine wrote The American Crisis -- reportedly using a battle drum for a desk -- by the light of campfire to boost morale. He left the camp for Philadelphia to have copies printed, which Washington ordered to be read aloud to his men on Christmas Eve 1776. After it was read, the American troops crossed the Delaware and launched a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers at Trenton. The American victory at Trenton infused new life into the patriots' cause and showed the British that the American army was not ready to bow out just yet.
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: 'tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious, for so unlimited a power can belong only to God...
I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state; up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you. It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now, is dead: the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever," to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman: whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. Let them call me rebel, and welcome, I feel no concern from it...
I thank God that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it.
Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 18, 1775, and John to Abigail, July 7, 1775
John Adams, America's second president, and Abigail Adams were married for fifty-four years. During their courtship, Abigail Adams asked John: "Don't you think me a courageous being? Courage is laudable, a glorious virtue in your sex, why not in mine?"
Abigail's courage was to be later tested many times and in many different ways during the revolutionary war years. The following exchange between John and Abigail Adams concerns the Battle of Bunker Hill (which actually took place on Breed's Hill). John Adams was in Philadelphia serving in the Second Continental Congress; Abigail was alone, taking care of the farm and their four children in Braintree, Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams, her son, would later recall that during this time his mother along with his siblings were "liable every hour of the day and night to be butchered in cold blood, or taken and carried into Boston as hostages."
On a hill near her farm with her young son Johnny, Abigail watched the smoke rising from the sky of Charlestown from the battle of Bunker Hill. A week later, John Adam's "heroine" would reassure him that although she and others "live in continual Expectation of Hostilities" that "like good Nehemiah[,] having made our prayer with God, and set the people with their Swords, their Spears[,] and their bows[,] we will say unto them, Be not affraid of them." And she was not afraid.
Abigail Adams to John Adams
The Day; perhaps the decisive Day is come on which the fate of America depends. My bursting Heart must find vent at my pen. I have just heard that our dear Friend Dr. Warren is no more but fell gloriously fighting for his Country -- saying better to die honourably in the field than ignominiously hang upon the Gallows. Great is our Loss. He has distinguished himself in every engagement, by his courage and fortitude, by animating the Soldiers and leading them on by his own example. A particular account of these dreadful, but I hope Glorious Days will be transmitted you, no doubt in the exactest manner.
The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Trust in him at all times, ye people pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us. -- Charlstown is laid in ashes. The Battle began upon our intrenchments upon Bunkers Hill, a Saturday morning about 3 o'clock and has not ceased yet and tis now 3 o'clock Sabbeth afternoon.
Tis expected they will come out over the Neck to night, and a dreadful Battle must ensue. Almighty God cover the heads of our Country men, and be a shield to our Dear Friends. How [many ha]ve fallen we know not -- the constant roar of the cannon is so [distre]ssing that we can not Eat, Drink or Sleep. May we be supported and sustaind in the dreadful conflict. I shall tarry here till tis thought unsafe by my Friends, and then I have secured myself a retreat at your Brothers who has kindly offerd me part of his house. I cannot compose myself to write any further at present. I will add more as I hear further.
John Adams to Abigail Adams
It gives me more Pleasure than I can express to learn that you sustain with so much Fortitude, the Shocks and Terrors of the Times. You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine. And you have Reason to be. For the worst that can happen, can do you no Harm. A soul, as pure, as benevolent, as virtuous and pious as yours has nothing to fear, but every Thing to hope and expect from the last of human Evils.
Am glad you have secured an Assylum, tho I hope you will not have occasion for it.
George Washington Crosses the Delaware
One of the great turning points of the Revolutionary War was the American victory at the Battle of Trenton. In the summer and fall of 1776, General George Washington and his army had been defeated in New York and chased throughout New Jersey by British troops. Morale was fast sinking among the American soldiers. It looked like the American rebellion was coming to a quick end. In December of 1776, Washington decided it was time to go on the offensive and planned a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers (German soldiers fighting on the British side). On December 25, 1776, Washington led his men on a perilous crossing over the Delaware River to reach the Hessian camp at Trenton, New Jersey. The river was swirling with frozen chunks of ice that threatened to capsize their boats, which were propelled through the water with long poles. Once the American troops reached land, a storm of frozen sleet and snow made their march extremely treacherous. Many marched barefoot and left bloody footprints in the snow. Somehow, these men, led by George Washington, persevered and went on to defeat the Hessian soldiers at Trenton.
On the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Trenton, President Calvin Coolidge celebrated the courage and leadership of the Father of our Country, George Washington.
Intrenched behind the Delaware with a ragged, starving army, poorly equipped, broken in morale, dwindling through the expiration of enlistments and daily desertions, while the patriotic cause was as its lowest ebb, on December 18 Washington wrote to his brother:
You can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them. However, under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause I can not entertain an idea that it will finally sink, though it may remain for some time under a cloud.
There you have the full measure of the Father of his Country. He faced the facts. He recognized the full import of their seriousness. But he was firm in the faith that the right would prevail. To faith he proposed to add works. If ever a great cause depended for its success on one man, if ever a mighty destiny was identified with one person in these dark and despondent hours, that figure was Washington.
Such was the prelude to the historic events which, notwithstanding their discouraging beginning, were soon to culminate in the brilliant victories of the patriotic armies in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton....
After a series of engagements and retreats which can only be characterized as defeats, running from April to late December, Washington now decided to take the offensive.
It was finally decided to attempt the crossing of the Delaware from Pennsylvania into New Jersey on Christmas night, 1776, for the purpose of a surprise attack on the Hessians who occupied Trenton. Orders were issued to Colonel Cadwalader, commanding three Philadelphia battalions, to cross at Trenton Ferry. Washington planned to take his army over at McKonkeys Ferry. The crossing has ever since been well-known history. The cold, the sleet, the wind, the great cakes of floating ice made the effort well-nigh impossible. But for the skill of a regiment of fishermen from Marblehead, Massachusetts, under the command of Colonel Glover, the effort would have failed. The commands of Cadwalader and Ewing were unable to reach the New Jersey shore. Tradition relates that Washington said to General Knox: "The fate of an empire depends upon this night." It was not until 4 o'clock in the morning that the little army of 2,500 men began their march on Trenton. The password was "Victory or death." The storm of sleet was freezing as it fell, the mud was deep, the night was dark. Being told the muskets were too wet to use, Washington continued the advance and ordered that where gunpowder failed the bayonets be used.
About 8 o'clock the Americans emerging through the storm surprised the Hessians at Trenton, then a village of about 800 inhabitants, killed their commander, Colonel Rail, and captured between 1,000 and 1,500 men. It is said that Washington personally directed the artillery fire. Alexander Hamilton commanded a battery. Being unsupported and outnumbered three to one, Washington recrossed the Delaware and again took up his position on the Pennsylvania shore.
It can not be said that this ranks as a great battle, but it was the turning point in the Revolutionary War at which defense and defeat became offense and victory. From that hour the spirit of the patriot cause rose. The inhabitants of this region began to remove their loyalist flags and to manifest their open adherence to the American cause. Early on New Year morning Robert Morris was busy waking people in Philadelphia making appeals for money to support the army. He secured $50,000, which went largely to pay the soldiers, encouraging them to remain after their enlistments had expired...
Washington and his generals are gone. The bloody tracks which their barefoot armies often left on the frozen ground have long since been washed away. The smoke of the conflict in which they engaged has cleared. The civil strife and disorder which followed have been dissipated. But the institutions which they founded, the Government which they established, have not only remained, but have grown in strength and importance and extended their influence throughout the earth. We can never go to their assistance with supplies and reinforcements. We can never lend our counsel to their political deliberations. But we can support the Government and institutions which are their chief titles to the esteem and reverence in which they are held by the common consent of all humanity.
From Address of President Coolidge at the 150th Anniversary of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton
Trenton, NJ, Dec. 29, 1926
We are all familiar with this tune, but perhaps we are unfamiliar with its origins. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the tune was written by a British surgeon in 1755 out of "derision of the provincial troops" of American colonists who had fought with the British against the French in the French-Indian War. In British eyes, these American soldiers appeared to be a bunch of country bumpkins. "Yankee" was a derogatory term for a New Englander; "doodle" meant a "silly or foolish fellow;" and "macaroni" meant a "fop or dandy." During the Revolutionary War, the American colonists, however, soon claimed "Yankee Doodle" as their own song, and sang it with pride on their way to defeating the world's biggest empire.
Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-ridin' on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it Macaroni.
Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.
And there we saw a thousand men,
As rich as Squire David;
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it could be saved.
And there was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion,
A-giving orders to his men;
I guess there was a million.
And there I saw a little keg,
Its head was made of leather;
They knocked upon it with two sticks
To call the men together.
And there I saw a swamping gun,
As big as a log of maple,
Upon a mighty little cart,
A load for father's cattle.
And every time they fired it off
It took a horn of powder,
And made a noise like father's gun.
Only a nation louder.
I can't tell you half I saw,
They kept up such a smother,
So I took my hat off, made a bow
And scampered home to mother.
Yankee Doodle is the tune
Americans delight in,
'Twill do to whistle, sing or play
And just the thing for fightin'.
Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy,
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.
Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 17, 1782
It should not be forgotten that during the Revolutionary War, both men and women made sacrifices for their country. While women did not fight on the battlefield, they contributed to the war efforts in their own indispensable way. John Adams's service to his country took him away from wife Abigail for a total of ten years during their marriage. Below, as John served a diplomatic mission in France, Abigail gives voice to the form of patriotism that she and so many other women displayed. Abigail Adams makes an extremely powerful argument in this letter that women's patriotic virt
Our Country's Founders
This adapted version highlights the speeches, letters, poems, and articles of the brave men and women who founded our great nation, including George Washington, John and Abigail Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. Their advice on values such as patriotism, love, civility, education, industry, justice, and piety still rings true for young people today.
Our Country's Founders also includes important documents such as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, a time line, and biographical notes on our revolutionary forefathers. This essential volume provides all the background needed to appreciate these timeless lessons and advice from America's founders.
- Simon Pulse |
- 320 pages |
- ISBN 9780689844690 |
- June 2001 |
- Grades 7 and up
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