SAN JOSE, January 28, 2017 —Before the month of January ends, it is appropriate to reflect on the revolutionary fervor that has been stirred by the election of Donald Trump and his recent inauguration as president of the United States in relation to the original fervor that stimulated the founding of the nation that occurred in January of 1776. Certainly, the election of Mr. Trump has electrified the nation, one way or another. His candidacy, and then victory, in the 2016 presidential election has shocked the entrenched political establishment of both political persuasions, as well as the mainstream media.
A similar electrical shock shook up the colonial people after the shots were fired at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. In that time, Americans were alarmed and became seriously concerned about their fate, as the shots fired at the king’s troops would be equated with shooting directly at King George III — an outright act of war. Additionally, various nations of the world wondered about the fate of the British colonies, but it is doubtful that many of the ruling class gave the colonials much of a chance of success in any shooting war with Britain, as the nation boasted the most powerful military force on the planet.
In the wake of such a flagrant act of defiance came the rationale from the Second Continental Congress as it convened that May, to adopt the ragtag band of men and boys who dared fire upon and kill soldiers of the king. Such action to many colonists was insane, and a sure move toward political suicide. The Congress also took a subsequent decisive measure when patriots appointed George Washington to be the commanding general of the “army,” which was considered a suicide mission. However, the defiance in Massachusetts spread to Philadelphia when Thomas Paine shocked the nation as he published an electrifying and incendiary pamphlet that set in motion a chain of events that changed the world forever.
On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously published his provocative Common Sense, which immediately went viral without the help of the internet. And what Paine wrote was a very serious and common sense appraisal of the realities of possibility open to the citizens of Great Britain who lived in colonial America:
We have it in our power to begin the world all over again. A situation similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birth-day of a new world is at hand, and a race of men perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months.
From such sentiments, Paine stirred the minds and hearts of the American public, and gave the leaders in the Continental Congress a playbook for the course of action that needed to be pursued to plot a course towards independence. His words in Common Sense gave purpose and new meaning for those brave men and boys up in Massachusetts who had taken on the great bully of Britain, and his prompt gave impetus to the realistic pursuit of independence by congressional leaders that eventually met in May of 1776 to determine America’s future.
Indeed, Paine’s words from Common Sense were read by General Washington to his band of rebels that had surrounded and contained the British in Boston. It was those words of Paine in Common Sense, that made the dream of freedom and the dream of America begin to take on a more substantial form. Only a handful of months previous to the beginning of the new year, John Adams’ words in Congress emboldened the leaders of that assembly to assume authority for the various volunteer militias gathering in his home colony of Massachusetts intent upon armed conflict with the British. Adams had challenged the delegates to avert a potential disaster should the British troops manage to break out of barricaded Boston and “spread desolation as far as they could go.”
John Adams’ resolution in June of 1775 stimulated the Continental Congress to take charge of the band of volunteer troops, and Adams successfully recommended Col. Washington as the man appointed as commander of the “troops” in the field. Thus, Col. Washington became a new general of an “army” that was not really an army, for a nation that did not really exist. With Paine’s articulation of the cause in more specific terms, General Washington and the Continental Army would be fighting for the dream of independence, the hope of freedom. Paines logic in Common Sense emboldened a great portion of the American population to envision the possibilities and potential of freedom.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense boldly denounced the need for a king, the need for a tiny island country to rule over an entire continent, and outlined the need for a formal document to declare the colonist’s intentions to separate and become independent of Great Britain. The logic Paine proposed can be linked to very specific events that led to the deliberations in the Congress regarding severing ties with the mother country, and led to efforts to create the document that is referred to today as the Declaration of Independence.
Independence is the only Bond that can tye and keep us together. We shall then see our object, and our ears will be legally shut against the schemes of an intriguing, as well as a cruel enemy.
Paine had to help his fellow citizens look beyond the petty differences and artificial divisions that seemed to cripple the genuine advancement towards the cause that could “begin the world all over again.” In his conclusion he made an impassioned appeal to unity centered upon the greatest cause all mankind should be willing to fight for:
Wherefore, instead of gazing at each other with suspicious or doubtful curiosity, let each of us, hold out to his neighbour the hearty hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line, which, like an act of oblivion, shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissention. Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the RIGHTS of MANKIND and of the FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES of AMERICA.
Certainly, this time is a time that demands of Americans that we look at who we really are, and what our nation truly represents in the great scheme of things. Paine’s admonition to the Americans of his time, can also be transferred through time into this period of American history, as it applies to all Americans today. The revolution started in 1776 still continues!