Commentary: The precedent for America’s support of Ukraine



History is watching. The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten. Now is the time for us to stand strong with Ukraine and stand united with our Allies and partners … — President Biden, Feb. 23, 2024

By Linda Stamato

To stand united… just as the French did for the 13 colonies as they dared to form an independent country free of King George’s tight grip.

That critical help, and the consequential difference it made, leads me to hope for greater awareness of the role France played in America’s independence, as we prepare for our 250th anniversary.

A solid starting point is Thomas Paine.  We can draw inspiration from his words and actions as we face our contemporary challenges, and as we strive to support democracy around the globe.

We understand that freedom for Ukraine is a fight for all democracies, and for all people who cherish freedom. Along with our many state partners, we know that Putin’s drive to conquer Ukraine cannot continue unabated.

Linda Stamato
Linda Stamato

The end for that war isn’t clear. But the objective of Ukraine’s resistance is. The resilience of the Ukrainian people and the power of their profound cause echoes our own. We now know the outcome of our struggle against England; those living at the time did not know how things would turn out.

Our struggle was difficult and costly, for sure. As is the battle that rages now as Ukraine and its allies refuse to cave to Putin.

Paine was with Washington’s troops on their agonizing retreat through New Jersey in 1776. He witnessed mass desertion and the near disintegration of the army. It moved him, indeed compelled him, to produce his greatest eloquence:

“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 everything its value.”

George Washington reportedly had Paine’s words read aloud to the remnants of his army.

In a 1943 introduction to Paine’s most famous words, Howard Fast had this to say:

“It is for no period, no time, but for the cause of free men always – and more than a century and a half later, the transmitters of OWI [the Office of War Information], at a time when we had no victories to tell, sent [Paine’s words] to all of Europe, where underground newspapers published once more the words with which Paine had rallied America in her darkest hour.”

It’s time again.

Think about those who provided aid to the colonies as they faced the battle for their independence. And think about Russian patriot Aleksei Navalny, and his ultimate sacrifice for freedom and democracy in his country, as we recall Paine’s efforts for America.

I invite those who would abandon our role in the world order, who would end support to Ukraine, to acknowledge that our country secured its independence because we were aided by France, and by the defensive alliance led by France.

Paine, as the appointed clerk of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, had frequent opportunity to observe American troops at the end of their patience. Pay and supplies were scarce.

In 1779, Paine took $500 from his salary and started a subscription for relief of the soldiers. Two years later, he sought help from France. The money, clothing, and ammunition he brought back were important to the Revolution’s success. Paine also appealed to America’s fledgling states to cooperate for the well-being of the nation.

Thomas Paine statue at Burnham Park, Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Thomas Paine statue at Burnham Park, Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

May those who look to “revisit” our nation’s history, find themselves in the company of Thomas Paine and think, seriously, about what they are doing by denying aid to Ukraine—when our own experience tells us that external assistance was essential to our victory in the American Revolution.

Ukraine is facing a similar challenge. It needs our aid as well as cooperation of other states to survive as an independent, democratic state.

We can’t ignore the lessons from our own history. Those who do will put our nation on the wrong path.

At the Morris Museum recently, I picked up a document that details the route taken by General Washington and France’s General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, from Massachusetts to Yorktown, VA, for the pivotal battle in our War of Independence.

This quote from the 1778 Treaty of Alliance appears on the cover:

“The essential and direct End of the present defensive alliance is to maintain…the liberty, Sovereignty, and independence…of said United States.”

These words, and Paine’s, should hold us to the core values that molded our young country so long ago.


Linda Stamato is treasurer of the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media. She also serves as a commissioner on the Morristown Parking Authority, and a trustee of the Morristown and Morris Township Library Foundation. And she is Co-Director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, where she is a Faculty Fellow.

Opinions expressed in commentaries are the authors’, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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  1. Your passion and opinions are appreciated but this isn’t a direct parallel to what is happening in Ukraine.

    A better analogy would be Hitler’s rise and occupation of Eastern and Western Europe and the spread of Fascism and Naziism liberated only by Ally troops, specifically American.

    Let us learn from our past.

  2. How do we get this wonderful commentary to the Republican members of the House? Most of them probably have never heard of Thomas Paine.

  3. An excellent historical comparison that brings both insight and encouragement to our contemporary discussions about aiding Ukraine. I wonder how many French politicians and talking heads (in salons, not on social media, I would guess) objected to France’s aid to the struggling colonies in their battle against tyranny. Great to read again the quote from Thomas Paine and learn more about Paine the man.

    Unusual. Insightful. Worth reading.