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Time for Every Man to Stir PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Bradley Harrington   
Wednesday, 17 December 2008 02:24

Thomas Paine's The Commonsense April 1775: The British are fighting American colonists in Concord and Lexington, and the siege of the British in Boston commences shortly thereafter.

January 1776: Despite these military conflicts, the large majority of the colonists favored reconciliation with Britain and had no truck with wild-eyed revolutionaries.

July 1776: The Continental Congress - with the landslide support of those same colonists - adopted the Declaration, told King George to take a hike, and the war was on.

What happened in between? What created this incredible realignment of public opinion in six short months?

Was it the war? Partly - but, although the presence of British troops rankled deeply, they had been here nearly a year, and even after Concord and Lexington, we offered up the "Olive Branch Petition" as an attempt to settle without further conflict.

No, it wasn't war that turned the tide, it was words: "Common Sense," published by Thomas Paine in January of 1776. Paine's pamphlet sounded a deep chord within the hearts of the colonists: In one eloquently written swoop, Paine argued for a clean and immediate break with Britain, and his impassioned push for absolute independence sparked the fumes within us. His incendiary words saw dozens of reprints in 1776 alone, sold more than 500,000 copies, and were nearly singlehandedly responsible for the motivation and justification of the American Revolution.

Why did Paine pen this work? Two years later, as the war raged on, he wrote: "But when the country, into which I had just set my foot, was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir." ("The Crisis No. 7," 1778.) Finally fed up with the King and his control, Paine and his contemporaries rebelled. With a plan for change, not merely a wish. With a reasoned, principled approach to self-government, not merely as a plunder for power. "We fight not to enslave," Paine declared, "but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in." ("The Crisis No. 4," 1777.)

Bradley HarringtonAs we survey the current political landscape of the United States, some interesting parallels present themselves:

(1) Britain sought to dictate to us economically, to regulate our every method of commerce. So does our current power elite. Smothering our social intercourse like a large, fat, floundering toad, our very own government reaches its grasping fingers into every aspect of our lives: transportation, housing, banking, schools, money, communications, commerce, energy. The list is endless.

(2) King George viewed us as his subjects and denied us political representation. While we officially possess it today, what of it? Just a few short months ago the American public flooded the offices of their "representatives" with negative opinion on the $700-billion bailout in ratios of 200 to one or greater. Unfazed and unmoved, our power elite enacted the "plan" anyway. Isn't the lesson clear? Seriously threaten the government's ability to exercise wider and wider power over our lives, and "representative government" quickly turns into a fiction.

(3) Taxation, ever a thorny issue between Britain and the colonists, proceeds at levels today undreamed of by our Founding Fathers, or by King George. Even as late as 1900, "Tax Freedom Day" arrived on January 22 (5.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product). Today, government on all levels consumes a full 30.8 percent of GDP, driving Tax Freedom Day out until April 23 in 2008 - an increase in taxation levels of 522 percent. What are we getting for our money? A collapsing economy, rising unemployment, spiraling inflation, worthless paper dollars, and ever more control.

Few of us, today, recall our rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Perhaps now, as government threatens to engulf ever-larger sectors of our society, is the time to recall that government's original purpose in America was to "secure these rights," not to dictate, manipulate, and lay waste to them - and that "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it." (Declaration of Independence," 1776.)

Is it time for a second American Revolution? Most of us, today, would emphatically declare that it is not. Do not forget, however, what has happened before in the space of six short months. The United States, in desperate need of another Thomas Paine, is "being set on fire about our ears," and I'll tell you this much: It is time to stir. It is time for every man to stir.


Bradley Harrington is a former United States Marine and a freelance writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming.


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