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THOMAS PAINE ADDS FUEL TO THE REVOLUTIONARY FIRE
We are often told actions speak louder than words but the life of Thomas Paine (1737-1809) tells a different story. Born in England, Paine found a home as resident radical in the Colonies ... his words inspiring a nation to independence. Common Sense, written anonymously as a pamphlet in January 1776 and read by every member of Congress, sold roughly 500,000 copies. (To perform a similar feat today, an author would have to sell more than 46 million books.) It stirred the spirits of colonial America by putting into words what those seeking freedom from British rule had been feeling for a long, long time.
Viewed through the prism of the twenty-first century, Common Sense reads, at times, like something one might hear at a hokey school play:
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mind.
But, dated vernacular aside, Paine does make clear what he is trying to provoke, e.g. "I have never met with a man, either in England or America, who hath not confessed his opinion, that a separation between the countries, would take place one time or other. And there is no instance in which we have shown less judgment, than in endeavoring to describe, what we call, the ripeness or fitness of the Continent for independence."
Common Sense popularized the concept that even a good government is, at best, a necessary evil. Paine effectively demonized King George III and argued against a small island nation like England ruling a continent on the other side of the ocean. Perhaps most importantly, Common Sense painted a post-independence picture of peace and prosperity. More so than the battles at Lexington and Concord, which preceded the release of Paine's influential pamphlet, it was Common Sense that served as the spark to light the revolutionary flame.
Even though Paine, denounced as a drunken atheist, died in poverty, his legacy remains secure. Common Sense is the precursor to all revolutionary manifestoes.
March 31, 1776: Abigail Adams writes her husband John: "Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws by which we have no voice or Representation."
September 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris is signed, formally ending the war for independence.CHAPTER 2
THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution: Ratified on December 15, 1791
The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;
Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States; all or any of which articles, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution, namely:
Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Amendment III: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Amendment VII: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
June 11, 1776: Congress appoints a committee to compose a declaration of independence.
1783: Noting the Bill of Rights proclamation that "all men are created equal," the Massachusetts Supreme Court outlaws slavery in that state.CHAPTER 3
Long before the cries of "support the troops" became commonplace during every U.S. military intervention, the powers-that-be made it clear how much they intended to follow their own advice.
"When Massachusetts passed a state constitution in 1780, it found few friends among the poor and middle class, many of them veterans from the Continental Army still waiting for promised bonuses," explains historian Kenneth C. Davis. To add to this, excessive property taxes were combined with polling taxes designed to prevent the poor from voting. "No one could hold state office without being quite wealthy," Howard Zinn adds. "Furthermore, the legislature was refusing to issue paper money, as had been done in some other states, like Rhode Island, to make it easier for debt-ridden farmers to pay off their creditors."
Perhaps heeding the advice of Thomas Jefferson that "a little rebellion" is necessary, Massachusetts farmers fought back when their property was seized due to lack of debt repayment. Armed and organized, their ranks grew into the hundreds. Local sheriffs called out the militia ... but the militia sided with the farmers. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts indicted eleven members of the rebellion. Those who had so recently fomented revolt were no longer tolerant of such insurrection.
Enter Daniel Shays (1747-1825): Massachusetts farmer and former Army captain. He chose not to stand by idly as battle lines were being drawn and friends of his faced imprisonment. In September 1786, Shays led an army of some 700 farmers, workers, and veterans into Springfield. "Onetime radical Sam Adams, now part of the Boston Establishment, drew up a Riot Act," says Davis, "allowing the authorities to jail anyone without a trial." Shays' army swelled to more than 1000 men.
Writing from Paris, Jefferson offered tacit approval for, at least, the concept of rebellion. Closer to home, the American aristocracy was less than pleased. Sam Adams again: "In monarchy, the crime of treason may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death."
In a classic shape-of-things-to-come scenario, Boston merchants pooled money to raise an army to be led by General Benjamin Lincoln, one of George Washington's war commanders. Clashes were fierce but the outnumbered rebels were on the run by winter. Most were killed or captured. Some were hanged while others, including Shays, were eventually pardoned in 1787.
Shays died in poverty and obscurity but the rebellion he helped lead not only served as an example of radical patriotism, it resulted in some concrete reforms including, as Davis states, "the end of direct taxation, lowered court costs, and the exemption of workmen's tools and household necessities from the debt process."
1788: Mercy Otia Warren is the only woman to take part in the public debate over the proposed Constitution. She called it a "many-headed monster."
1794: Pennsylvania farmers revolt against a whiskey tax. George Washington rides out with 13,000 men to put down the rebellion.CHAPTER 4
NAT TURNER PUTS THE SOUTH ON NOTICE
Nothing struck deeper fear into the hearts of southerners, whether they held slaves or not, than the idea of a slave revolt.
— Historian Kenneth C. Davis
Two earlier slave revolts — by Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey — had blazed the path and shattered the myth of African slaves as docile co-conspirators in their plight ... but it was Nat Turner (1800-1831) who brought reality into the homes of Southerners. Born in Southampton County, Virginia, the deeply religious Turner was prone to visions and dubbed "The Prophet" by his fellow slaves.
As a young man, Turner was sold to Thomas Moore. Upon Moore's death, Turner moved to the home of Joseph Travis, the new husband of Moore's widow. In each setting, he was remembered for his praying, fasting, and visions.
A solar eclipse in February 1831 was interpreted by Turner to be the sign for him to take action. He and a few trusted friends commenced planning an insurrection. Originally slated for July 4 but postponed due to Turner being ill, the plan resurfaced on August 13, when an atmospheric disturbance made the sun appear bluish-green. Again construing this as a sign, Turner and his fellow slaves decided to act. On August 21, they killed the entire Travis family as they slept. Thus began a house-to-house murdering spree that swelled Turner's "army" to more than 40 slaves. By the morning of August 22, word of the rebellion had gotten out ... prompting a calling up of the militia and a wave of fright through the region. Turner and his men continued marching and killing but were badly outnumbered by the white militia. Many slaves were arrested or killed, but Turner eluded capture for two months.
"The whites around Southampton ... were thrown into an utter panic, many of them fleeing the state," says Davis.
By the time Turner was finally caught on October 30, 55 whites had been stabbed, shot, and clubbed to death. Turner's actions, while doomed to end with his death at the hands of the state, had impacted the South and its "peculiar institution" in a permanent manner.
As Davis explains, "To whites and slaves alike, he had acquired some mystical qualities that made him larger than life, and even after his hanging, slave owners feared his influence."
Turner and 54 others were executed but the rebellion brought Virginia to the verge of abolishing slavery. The state chose instead to clamp down harder on slaves but this served only to heighten awareness of how untenable the situation had become. In the immediate future lurked John Brown, the Underground Railroad, Frederick Douglass, The Liberator, and, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation.
The South had indeed been put on notice.
William Styron's 1968 novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
1808: Slave importation is outlawed.
1820: Women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony is born.
1828: The Cherokee Legislative Council begins publishing the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper in both English and Cherokee.
1830: Mary Harris "Mother" Jones is born. The lifetime agitator was known to say: "I'm not a humanitarian. I'm a hell-raiser."CHAPTER 5
THE SEMINOLE–AFRICAN ALLIANCE
The Native American Indian people that comprised the Seminole Nation grew out of the Creek Nation in Florida. Multilingual and diverse, the Seminoles (from a word meaning "runaway") became infamous for intermingling with runaway slaves from Georgia and the Carolinas ... slaves that, as historian William Loren Katz explains, "Since 1738 had built prosperous, free, self-governing communities."
Katz explains the genesis of this alliance: "Africans began to instruct Seminoles in methods of rice cultivation they had learned in Senegambia and Sierra Leone. Then the two peoples forged an agricultural and military alliance that challenged slave-hunters and then U.S. troops. Some African families lived in separate villages, others married Seminóles, and the two peoples with a common foe shaped joint diplomatic and military initiatives. Africans, with the most to lose, rose to Seminole leadership as warriors, interpreters, and military advisors."
"The two races, the negro and the Indian, are rapidly approximating; they are identical in interests and feelings," said U.S. Major General Sidney Thomas Jesup at the time. "Should the Indians remain in this territory the negroes among them will form a rallying point for runaway negroes from the adjacent states; and if they remove, the fastness of the country will be immediately occupied by negroes."
What Katz calls "the first foreign invasion launched by the new U.S. government" was the 1816 assault on the Seminole Nation ... an assault met with fierce resistance. After Spain sold Florida to the U.S. in 1819, America's full military might was put to work reclaiming the land from both former slaves and their indigenous co-inhabitants. In a scenario that would presage future U.S. interventions in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq, roughly 4,000 black and Indian fighters effectively utilized hit-and-run guerrilla tactics against more than 200,000 U.S. Army troops.
"Because they fought on their own soil, Seminole forces ran circles around the numerically and technologically superior U.S. armies," Katz says. "U.S. officers violated agreements, destroyed crops, cattle and horses, and seized women and children as hostages. They tried to racially divide the Seminole Nation. Nothing worked and resistance only stiffened."
Although the sheer numbers would eventually bring defeat to the brave Red and Black Seminoles, the resistance of Christmas Eve 1837 remains a powerful example of the cunning forces of right prevailing over the arrogant power of might.
Excerpted from 50 AMERICAN REVOLUTIONS YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW by Mickey Z. Copyright © 2005 Mickey Z. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 23, 2005
This is the perfect gift book for anyone who is disillusioned or trying to find inspiration in American history. From Thomas Paine to Muhammad Ali. From Emma Goldman to Public Enemy. You'll love every page.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.