Sunday, February 3, 2013

Common Sense

My last post mentioned the influential pamphlet Common Sense.  Given the similarity of the tyranny then and now, I thought it timely to reprint a chapter from my monograph -- the Justicide  Brief -- which surveyed Common Sense and its impact.

“This Humble Petition”

It was a hot July in Philadelphia when the Second Continental Congress took up a “humble petition” to King George III.  This of course was not the well-know Declaration of Independence, for the year was 1775, not 1776.

Rather the “humble petition” has become known as the “Olive Branch Petition”.  It was an effort to have the King address the differences of the colonies despite the fact that Canada had been invaded and Paul Revere, had  “on the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; Hardly a man is now alive, Who remembers that famous day and year” rode off to alert the Minutemen at Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill.

The Petition stated: 
Attached to your Majesty’s person, family, and Government, with all devotion that principle and affection can inspire; connected with Great Britain by the strongest ties that can unite societies, and deploring every event that tends in any degree to weaken them, we solemnly assure your Majesty, that we not only most ardently desire the former harmony between her and these Colonies may be restored, but that a concord may be established between them upon so firm a basis as to perpetuate its blessings, uninterrupted by any future dissensions, to succeeding generations in both countries, and to transmit your Majesty’s name to posterity, adorned with that signal and lasting glory that has attended the memory of those illustrious personages, whose virtues and abilities have extricated states from dangerous convulsions, and by securing the happiness to others, have erected the most noble and durable monuments to their own fame.
Among those who signed the Olive Branch Petition were the well-known founding fathers: John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Roger Sherman, Lewis Morris. 

Lord Dartmouth received the Olive Branch Petition on September 1, 1775; King George refused to receive the Petition.  Lord Dartmouth, when pressed for an answer reportedly said: “As His Majesty did not receive the petition on the throne, no answer will be given.”

Four months later, on January 10, 1776, a 46 page pamphlet appeared in the bookshops of Philadelphia.  The pamphlet was simply titled: “Common Sense” and its author was a relatively unknown Scot named Thomas Paine.  Remarkable for that time – or even this – it sold 120,000 copies in the next 90 days.  As the colonies only had about 3 million people at that time, it was a phenomenal market penetration any publisher today would envy.  Moreover, as Common Sense was read publicly and passed on to others, the actual readership was certainly several times the number of copies printed.

Common Sense decried the tradition, habit and superstition that created a population that “delighted in servitude than in freedom.”

First attacking the idea of a divine king, Common Sense pointed out that the British Monarch was created by a “French bastard landing with armed banditti” in 1066 – referring to William the Conqueror.  The idea of a monarchy was again attacked when Common Sense inquired: “How a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguied like some new species . . .”

Continuing to pull the monarch off its pedestal, Common Sense ask if King George was the colonists’ “father, how could he so mistreat them?  Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their own families.”

The deed was done.  Rational men could no longer maintain the pretense that a monarch was anything but a Tyrant interested in his own power alone.  Moreover, Common Sense brought home the point that a united front against the Crown was necessary.

It was the passions that Common Sense inflamed amongst the common man that gave clear direction to the delegates that would assemble the following July in Philadelphia.  This time, the result would not be an Olive Branch, but a Declaration of Independence.


Anonymous said...

#1: Birthers should avoid terms like "common sense".
#2: What you consider tyranny, is just "The people I voted for didn't get elected!". You wouldn't know what to do with yourself in the event of actual tyranny.

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