Essential American Wisdom

Betraying A Nation: Pt . 3- Paine On America

[Author’s note: Part III and IV of Common Sense, together, present Paine’s thoughts and observations on America-specific issues and concerns. Respectively, they are titled “Thoughts on the present state of American affairs” and “Of the present ability of America, with some miscellaneous reflections,” and, together, these two comprise 10,000 words that cover a number of things Paine believed were worthy of discussion for the American people to take under advisement. What follows might be a bit long-winded, but I think, for the purposes of the longer series of essays on the topic of betraying a nation, they need to be considered jointly. Down the road, when we are discussing the Declaration and the war that ensued (The Crisis Letters), along with what follows after the war as it relates to formulating the American system of governance and the incredibly extensive debate (Federalist Papers) that took place before a constitution was written and ultimately ratified, my decision to compress these two essays will make more sense once we get there.]

In the first half of Part III, Paine puts a great deal of effort into trying to provide some perspective on the nature of relationships. He understood that, in a civilized society, there are many layers and types; there are those between neighbors, fellow townspeople, residents within the same colony, and between one colony and another, and so forth. There is also a relationship between the governing and the governed, and each of these types of relationships, in order to be productive and mutually beneficial, requires the parties involved to bring with them a few fundamental traits going in.

Paine observed that personal character, faith, honor, principles, honesty, and sincerity (not all of these are his exact choices of words) had to be employed in any successful, mutually beneficial relationship. He lamented the extent to which these things were increasingly breaking down in the relationship(s) with England and lamented the troubling increase in short-sightedness on the part of some colonists in their willingness to overlook the material injustices (his words) being perpetrated by Parliament, at their own expense in the short term, in exchange for some perceived longer-term post-reconciliation benefit that would doubtless never come. As it is with any relationship, trust, once broken, is never fully regained, and as it relates to the bonds of trust between the governing and the governed, the price of a broken trust inevitably is paid by human blood and sacrifice.

His observations on the nature of relationships between the American people and England, as well as the nature of relationships between England and other countries and the relationships between America and nations beyond England, were especially prescient. Remember, the civilized world in Paine’s time consisted primarily of Kingdoms and Empires, and the dynamics of the relationships between them were rooted, effectively, in either trade or conflict. He made much of his case for American Independence on the notion that being separated from England would allow America to trade with other nations independent of whether those Nations might be at war with England. Acknowledging, with dripping irony, that, to the ears of our modern globalist movement, this might sound like heresy, I think it’s fair to suggest this attitude of Paine’s was the early seed planted that would grow two centuries later into what some refer to as Nationalism. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t point out here that the nationalism that gave rise to American dominance in the world has somehow, in the modern era, been redefined as the new fascism… But we’ll deal with that conundrum a little bit farther down the road.

It is important that I point out here that this so-called “Global Reset” is presently being scoffed at and cast aside as some sort of “conspiracy theory,” and I will leave this topic to a much later essay, but I will just as quickly point out, as a placeholder to speak, that the same sort of reactions occurred in 1775 and 1776 on the matter of what would happen if we had chosen to reconcile with the King rather than separate from him, and those conspiracy theories turned out to be completely true. And I say as much because, unlike the God-given right to Freedom, Liberty, and Self-Determination the American colonists declared themselves to have been given to them by a higher power than the government, the ongoing transition to centralized oversight and constraint of their exercise across the span of the entire global population is already well underway.

To fully appreciate the simplicity of what Paine hoped to accomplish with common sense, particularly the second half of it, requires going back in time 11 years prior to Thomas Paine’s arrival in America. I’m not a professionally trained historian, but I’m handy enough at researching Britannica with the right questions in order to determine that the beginning of the end of positive relations between America and England began with the Stamp Act (1765), followed by the Township Act (1767). Readers can look deeper into the specifics of these two events, each of them levying taxes on Americans despite having no Member of Parliament present in the colonies, and the reaction was, as angry and violent protests against the heavy hand of government have always been, no different.

Three years later (1770), dubbed the “Boston Massacre,” shots were fired, and people were killed – on both sides – and it is still remembered as a massacre. Because the whole purpose of this series is to overlay the history of what we went through to become a country, with the way we treat this country and each other today and how we manage our relationships with our government, I simply cannot avoid taking a snippet from and ask you to think about what occurred in response to George Floyd’s death (BLM & Antifa and mostly peaceful protests) alongside January 6th (MAGA insurrection).

“As the smoke cleared, three men—including an African American sailor named Crispus Attucks—were dead, and two others were mortally wounded. The massacre became a useful propaganda tool for the colonists, especially after Paul Revere distributed an engraving that misleadingly depicted the British as the aggressors.”

Propaganda being what propaganda has always been, it’s fair to say we have made little progress in getting to and sticking with the truth.

A moment in early American history that just about everyone has heard of, “The Boston Tea Party (1773),” can be said to have taken the nature of relations between England and the colonies to a whole new low. Having eased much of its earlier legislation related to taxation, Parliament had kept the Tea tax in place, but with the introduction of the “Tea Act”, Parliament effectively undercut the ability of the colonies to independently conduct its own commerce, at least as it relates to the importation of tea and the freedom to sell it to consumers at prices they determined the local markets would bear.

Britannica offers a pretty good explanation as to why Parliament in England decided to interfere with Commerce in the colonies: “In an effort to help the financially troubled British East India Company sell 17,000,000 pounds of tea stored in England, the Tea Act rearranged excise regulations so that the company could pay the Townshend duty and still undersell its competitors.” The reaction to England effectively rigging the game to their advantage, at the expense of the colonists, unsurprisingly, was an angry and destructive protest, conducted by the so-called “Sons of Liberty”: “342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company were thrown from ships into Boston Harbor by American patriots disguised as Mohawk Indians”.

Not the least bit amused by the actions of the colonists in Boston Harbor, the British Parliament adopted (March 1774) “The Coercive Acts,” referred to as “Intolerable Acts” by the colonists, which were designed to punish the Massachusetts colony.

The new law provided for the closure of Boston Harbor until compensation was paid to the Crown. It also stripped Massachusetts of its Charter and installed a military governor to manage the Affairs of the colony. Interestingly, rather than having the effect of bringing the Colonists to heel, it brought the colonies together and steeled their resolve, setting into motion the beginning stages of revolt. From Britannica: “The Intolerable Acts lead to a convening of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September. The delegates adopt a declaration of personal rights, denounce taxation without representation, petition the British crown for a redress of grievances, and call for a boycott of British goods.”

Thomas Paine arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774. Five months later (April) 1775), the provisional governor of Massachusetts ((General Thomas Gage) who had been appointed by Parliament as part of the Intolerable Acts, “ordered his troops to seize the colonists’ military stores at Concord,” which led to a skirmish, along with a subsequent Exchange of Fire in Lexington, and is remembered as the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It was also, however, what inspired Thomas Paine to begin writing Common Sense – he started it in 1775 and published it in 1776 – and that body of work was a major factor in the National dialogue that led up to the Declaration of Independence being written and signed on July 4th, 1776.

My intentions for the historical review up to this point have been to provide context for explaining why Common Sense was written and what Paine intended to accomplish with its publication.

Born and raised in England, his earliest worldview was shaped by British attitudes and perspectives. It is fair to assume that what little he knew about America had come to him by way of the British press and the people he encountered in his daily life. When he landed in Philadelphia, there would have been no way for him to fully appreciate the extent of the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice of the eight Generations or so that had endured so much in Pursuit of their Freedom, Liberty, and right to self-determination and the hard work that had gone into standing up the first Nation ever built from the ground up.

Though not discussed much in any of the research I came across, it should be lost on no one that – despite knowing almost nothing in any great detail about the lives and experiences of the people he encountered once he got here – his ability to touch every nerve of the Colonists he did encounter, who’s collective memory and firsthand experiences during the nine years of rising tyranny from the King was still very fresh in everyone’s mind, defies any other explanation than that he was able to internalize for himself and communicate to the readers of Common Sense in a way that compelled them to summon the courage to do whatever was necessary… Including War… to bring the abuses of the King and Parliament to an end.

In considering “The Present State of American Affairs,” Paine emphasized the importance of putting aside, at least to some extent, the present issues confronting America to consider the future many generations down the road. While acknowledging that a war with England would come at a great cost of life and blood treasure, he emphasized that failure to stand against the tyranny of the King and Parliament at that moment would be met with a much greater expense to future generations that would face vindictive retribution leveled against their children, and their children’s children, all of whom would be made to suffer the Crown’s cruelty and avarice in perpetuity.

Near the end of Part III, admitting he once supported the idea of reconciliation, he made clear that the battles at Lexington and Concord brought with them the harsh reality that only Independence would save America. I think this passage is worth reading at least twice, especially if you consider the extent to which much the same could be said in the modern era about the seeming indifference our ruling class routinely projects with regard to the people who trust them to put “The People’s” interest ahead of their own: “No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April 1775, but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever; and disdain the wretch, that with the pretended title of father of his people can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul.”

Paine suggested that a free and independent America was destined, by divine intervention, to be a “sanctuary to the persecuted,” and that has certainly been our experience since the Constitution was ratified. But as we move into Part IV, there is a particular passage, stunning in its parallels to America’s current state of collapse, that cannot be ignored: “A government of our own is our natural right: And when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance. If we omit it now, some Massanello may hereafter arise, who laying hold of popular disquietudes, may collect together the desperate and the discontented, and by assuming to themselves the powers of government, may sweep away the liberties of the continent like a deluge.”

[Note: Paine’s reference to “Masaniello ” comes from a story out of Italy in 1647. From Britannica: “Masaniello was a young fisherman in 1647 when he was chosen to lead a protest against a new tax on fruit, levied by the nobility to raise money to pay the tribute demanded by Spain. The insurrection against the nobles was successful, but Masaniello became intoxicated and urged the people to slaughter the nobles. Shortly thereafter, he was murdered by assassins hired by the nobles”. I bring it up here because there is a jaw-dropping inverse parallel with the current state of modern-day American affairs that can be drawn; our Political, Civic, and Cultural leaders, at the highest levels, have become the Masaniellos Paine assured us we would avoid once we had a constitution and system of laws and justice. Yet here we are today, no matter where we turn, confronted by the highest levels of government actively dividing us against each other, inciting enmity amongst and between us, and “laying hold of popular disquietudes”, they have manufactured a collection of “the desperate and the discontented”, actively infringing on “the liberties of the continent like a deluge” wherever they can get away with it.]

That we gained our Independence and ratified our Constitution only to see it being weaponized against us wherever necessary to constrain or suppress the rights of American citizens surely was clearly not foreseen as Paine was assuring the colonists such a document would solve the problem being confronted in early 1776.

In the beginning paragraphs of Part IV, Paine emphasizes the inevitability of America becoming an independent nation. The primary objectives of this section are to make the case in favor of America being ready and sufficiently resourced, separate from England once and for all, to begin the work in earnest to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain an independent nation. Roughly 1/3 of the way down, he provides a series of tables that lay out the costs of things like ships and guns so that citizens might understand the details of the things necessary to engage England in a war.

He goes on, after the tables, to point out American superiority – or at least the potential for it – in all manner of manufacturing. He suggests, as well, that our continent has a naturally superior capacity to defend itself, unlike much of Europe, because our harbors and ports of Entry are much more readily defensible. Our shipbuilding capacity at the time being what it was, everything we needed to stand up a Navy far superior to that of England’s – would fairly quickly – defend us against any enemy. About 2/3 of the way into Part IV, however, he raises an interesting point that worked to the infant America’s advantage, which, two and a half centuries later, has proven itself to be a painful and obvious disadvantage.

As many times as I have read Common Sense, generally, as well as for the purposes of researching this series, it was only during the proofreading phase of this essay that I came to understand just how profound this passage is today when overlaid on top of the current state of affairs in America, apologizing in advance for adding so many more words to what has already become a lengthy essay, these two paragraphs simply must be included here, not only for posterity but to be mentioned again as this series progresses.

“The infant state of the Colonies, as it is called, so far from being against, is an argument in favour of independance. We are sufficiently numerous, and were we more so, we might be less united. It is a matter worthy of observation, that the more a country is peopled, the smaller their armies are. In military numbers, the ancients far exceeded the moderns: and the reason is evident. For trade being the consequence of population, men become too much absorbed thereby to attend to anything else. Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of patriotism and military defense. And history sufficiently informs us, that the bravest achievements were always accomplished in the non-age of a nation. With the increase of commerce, England hath lost its spirit. The city of London, notwithstanding its numbers, submits to continued insults with the patience of a coward. The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture. The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a Spaniel.

Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to form the Continent into one government half a century hence. The vast variety of interests, occasioned by an increase of trade and population, would create confusion. Colony would be against colony. Each being able might scorn each other’s assistance: and while the proud and foolish gloried in their little distinctions, the wise would lament, that the union had not been formed before. Wherefore, the present time is the true time for establishing it. The intimacy which is contracted in infancy, and the friendship which is formed in misfortune, are, of all others, the most lasting and unalterable. Our present union is marked with both these characters: we are young and we have been distressed; but our concord hath withstood our troubles, and fixes a memorable area for posterity to glory in.”

As Paine brings the book to a close, he reminds the Colonists that Independence from Britain, in light of increasing levels of local hostility with British troops, had become, effectively, safety, security, and personal survival imperatives (my words). One paragraph, in particular, caught my eye that I think should be considered as it relates to the sorts of failures our modern government is perpetrating at the expense of the citizenry. The context is the extent to which he implores the people to stand up a Navy strong enough to protect them from the sorts of Thieves, Bandits, and Pirates that could traverse interior waterways undetected and escape without notice. As you read this next snippet, think about the America we live in today, where law enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration have been vilified and denounced as somehow unjust. Consider, as well, whether or not you believe yourself to be safe and secure in your person and your property or whether, perhaps, we might be staring into the abyss of “failed nation” status and how much more of it you are willing to endure in much the same way Paine challenged the wisdom of those preferring reconciliation over separation from Tyranny: “We are not the little people now, which we were sixty years ago; at that time we might have trusted our property in the streets, or fields rather; and slept securely without locks or bolts to our doors or windows. The case now is altered, and our methods of defence, ought to improve with our increase of property.”

Knowingly getting ahead of myself in this series by mentioning it here, it occurs to me this is the perfect time to bring forward 35 words we will come across again soon that capture perfectly the sentiments threading through the national conversation in early 1776; they are put before the king a few months later, but let’s have a sneak peek: “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government.”

As I suggested way back in the introduction to this series, we are in the midst of a civil war, not only between the governing and the governed here in America but a global conflict unfolding between a small unelected few and the rest of the 8 billion of us that would like to be left alone to live in peace and harmony with our respective governments that we might attend to the affairs associated with exercising our God-given rights to Freedom, Liberty, and Self-determination. And no sort of shooting War is necessary or realistic, but if enough of the people in each of the respective nation-states refuse to be enslaved, wherever elections are held around the world, my money is on the 8 billion of us who refuse to be overthrown by the vein and self-indulgent doing everything they can to put themselves between our Creator and us.


An Engineer and Educator by trade, David has been a writer, developer, and accomplished web designer/administrator for more than 20 years. Descended from a long line of Appalachians, on the McCoy side of the feud, he was raised in a God-centric and American pride-influenced home in which kindness, human decency, humility, grace, self-respect, and good manners were expected and enforced. Blinded by three strokes and no longer able to read or write, David developed methods to compensate for these challenges in order to continue communicating; while acknowledging that there is more life in his rear-view mirror than whatever lies ahead through the front windshield, he insists this doesn't mean he has nothing left to say.

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