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January 11th, 2010

The political pamphlet Common Sense was published in 1776 calling for American colonists to rebel against the British monarchy and proclaim their independence. Its author was Thomas Paine who had recently arrived in Philadelphia from England. Called by historian Bernard Bailyn “the most brilliant pamphlet written during the American Revolution, and one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language,” it helped persuade the majority of colonists, who had hoped for a peaceful resolution of differences with England, to take the path of revolution.

The colonists had a mission of greatness, he said, to rebel against “a violent abuse of power” and throw off tyranny. “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind…. We have it in our power to begin the world over again…. The birth-day of a new world is at hand.” The pamphlet also demonstrated the practical advantages to the colonists of independence from the mother country. It had a phenomenal sale of some 120,000 copies in the first three months and 500,000 copies in 1776.

While a soldier in the revolutionary army, Paine followed Common Sense with The Crisis, a series of inspiring political pamphlets. The first began with the famous lines: “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.” [1]

George Washington called [it], “unanswerable reasoning”; and what others argued were just the right words to stroke the common man’s heart, and inflame the common man’s nobler passions to believe in, and fight for independence. Just as importantly, the book and its arguments were blatantly Christian.” [2]

In Common Sense, after a lengthy argument based on God’s word, he declares who is the King of America? Paine answers, “God.” And what is his Constitution? “[T]he divine law, the Word of God.” Here is the specific quote from Common Sense:

But where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is. [3]

[1] The Reader’s Companion to American History, edited by John A. Garraty and Eric Foner, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991
[2] No Kings in America! Paine’s Appeal to the Bible by Steve Farrell, Meridian Magazine, Copright 2003, All Rights Reserved
[3] Common Sense, Thomas Paine [as published in Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, Simon & Shuster, 2009, Page 152]

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