Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Our Lives, Our Fortunes, And Our Sacred Honor

"Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." These are the last eight words of the Declaration of Independence. This is what the signers pledged, to gain the freedom of the thirteen colonies from a tyrannical despot who lived an ocean away. Would people today, upon their sacred honor, pledge their lives and fortunes, to accomplish anything. 

The world in those miserable days was ruled by royalty. There were the lords of the realm who received much but contributed little. There was a small class of successful trades people and skilled artisans. Then there were the rabble. The lowest class in England in those days lived a life worse than the most desperate of the homeless of today. They lived in disease, filth, and squalor, surviving on cheap gin.

In the American colonies, it was different. In spite of still being under the thumb of George the Third, a man could sail from England or the continent and make his own way. Most became farmers. Some went off into the wilderness to hunt and trap. There was room enough for all to make a new life.

As tyrants are want to do, George wanted to increase his piece of the pie. Hence the Stamp Act. This brought about the "Boston Tea Party". Which brought about the "Boston Massacre". Which brought about "Paul Revere's Ride". Which brought about the "Shot Heard Round the World".

Suddenly, America had something new to the world. Free men with guns who wished to remain free. A revolution of the common man against a tyrant. This had never happened in the world before. But, at this point, was it a true revolution? It was really a Massachusetts revolution for the most part. If it did not grow, and grow soon, it would die.

Most Americans know the name Thomas Paine. Some recall that he wrote a small book called "Common Sense". The leaders of the revolution and those that eventually became signers of the Declaration were educated men. Many were gentlemen farmers and lawyers. Washington and Jefferson were wealthy men with fine estates. Thomas Paine was English, a low class failed tradesman, and a lifelong drunkard. 

But Paine got to America. More specifically, he got to Philadelphia. After a period of wastrel living, he was given work by a printer who saw some potential through Paine's boozy haze. He got Paine cleaned up a taught him to set type. Paine started writing and discovered that he had a talent for words. But he wrote in the harsh language of the common man. He explained the revolution in words that would move the common man to understand what American freedom was worth to him, in this book. 

In a day when many people could not read at all, it is said that fully one third of the American population had read "Common Sense". By his efforts what had started out as a Massachusetts revolution became the American Revolution. There were still Tories and naysayers. But the fire was lit and he kept it stoked with pamphlets that he titled "Crisis".

Much of what went into the Declaration of Independence was inspired by Paine's writings. He was a man that truly gave his life for our country. He couldn't give his riches, for he had none. All he did get went into his one man campaign. And I think it is fair to say that without Thomas Paine, the United States of America, as we know it, would not exist today  

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