In 1772 Samuel Adams wrote “The Rights of the Colonists” which was an appeal to natural rights, which would eventually go on to provide the philosophical foundation for the Declaration of Independence’s justification of revolution. Leading up to the American Revolution, long before emailed newsletters and Twitter, the most important political messages and arguments were delivered by pamphlets. These pamphlets were intended for a wealthy/elite audience and gave their authors the ability to develop their arguments and present them in more length than a traditional newspaper column. After the Continental Congress sent the “Olive Branch Petition” to King George in 1775 to try to mend relations it was actually Thomas Paine who convinced many Americans to embrace and pursue independence. He first penned “Common Sense” in January of 1776. This publication was easily one of the most important pamphlets written during the Revolution and achieved a remarkable footprint considering the average newspaper had approximately 2,000 readers but his pamphlet sold 120,000 copies in the first 3 months alone and went through dozens of editions. In his pamphlet Paine admonished the British government and the monarchy and helped push wishy washy Americans towards independence by convincing them to stop thinking they were Englishmen and subjects to the crown but to rather think of themselves as Americans. A large part of its success is the way his pamphlets were written. He did not use flowery Latin language and rhetoric like other writers. He assumed that the majority of his readers had no knowledge of any book but the Bible and so aimed his pamphlet at the common man.
Paine also penned a series of pamphlets in support of the cause of revolution entitled “The Crisis.” The first of which, “The American Crisis” was written after he witnessed the retreat and full measure of despair of Continental Army troops as they crossed New Jersey. It was published in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776 and later as a pamphlet that was distributed across the country. The first lines are some of the most famous in American history, “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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Later George Washington ordered that it be read aloud to his troops on Christmas Eve shortly before they crossed the Delaware and won their victory at the Battle of Trenton.
Another notable founding document was Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution and was a catalyst for the citizenry to stop vying for recognition as Englishmen and to start the journey to becoming their own nation. Lee’s resolution was introduced on June 7, 1776 and called for independence, securing foreign alliances, and creating a confederation government for the thirteen states. What is insane and at the same time, not-so-hard to believe is the fact that fighting with Britain started more than a year earlier and support for independence still was not unanimous within Congress. Lee’s resolution was tabled for several weeks while state delegations waited to see if they would be authorized by their governments to vote for independence…..On July 2 1776, twelve of the colonies voted for independence. New York was actually forced to abstain because they still lacked instructions (and this surprises no one, today, I’m sure) but they would join the other colonies and vote for independence on July 9. Congress later authorized a committee of five to draft what we all know today to be the Declaration of Independence. John Adams persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the initial draft, which he did, and changes were then made by other members of the committee and Jefferson complained that Congress butchered his initial draft (as Congresses do, apparently) and while the majority of the document is a list of grievances against King George and lawyer speak justifying the Revolution and separation from Britain, the opening lines still ring true today (Unless you’re Joe Biden and you can’t remember them): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Earlier this weekend I saw a tweet where someone said, “America doesn’t have a history, it is a melting pot of other cultural histories.” This was frustrating and highlighted the failures of our education system. America’s history is rich and profound and the rebellious blood that courses through the veins of so many of us came from men willing to stand up to an unrepresentative and tyrannical government and that’s something to be proud of and about which we should learn as much as we can.
I have decided, as a result, to start a “Founding Documents” series for my Patreon subscribers and it will be a bi-monthly, kid friendly series where Ainsley and I read and discuss some of the most critical founding documents of this country. Some of the writings will include: The Rights of the Colonists, Common Sense, The Lee Resolution, The Declaration of Independence, The American Crisis, Articles of Confederation, The Definitive Treaty of Peace, The Virginia Plan, The Northwest Ordinance, The Constitution of the United States, The Federalist Papers, The Anti-Federalist Papers, George Washington’s Inaugural Address, Federal Judiciary Act and the Bill of Rights. I hope you’ll join us and maybe, together, we can reinvigorate the history and culture that makes this the greatest country in the world. If you wish to have access to this exclusive content to either learn a little more yourself or to have a fun way to learn history with your children, please subscribe below. As always, take care and have a great week!