January 9:  Pamphlet Day

On this date in 1776 one of the most influential pamphlets every written was published, a pamphlet that convinced the American colonists to fight for their independence from Britain.  The pamphlet was Common Sense, and although it was originally published anonymously, today we know its author was Thomas Paine (1737-1809).

Commonsense.jpgBorn in England, Paine spent his early years struggling to make ends meet in a number of jobs:  corset maker, sailor, English teacher and tax collector.  Paine’s fortunes changed, however, when he met Benjamin Franklin in London in 1774.  With a letter of recommendation from Franklin, Paine travelled to Philadelphia where he began work as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine.

Even though the colonists fired in anger at the British at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, full fledged rebellion was not inevitable.  Many favored reconciliation with mother England.  Paine, however, called for full on rebellion.   Paine’s pamphlet published on January 9, 1776 presented his argument for independence, not in the legal or philosophical language of previous treatises, but in the plain, forceful language of the common man:

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 (1).

Paine ends his argument by asking his readers to stand up to tyranny and to fight for freedom:

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 mankind (1).

Common Sense was a publishing sensation, going through 25 printings in just its first year of publication.  It sold at least 75,000 copies, making it America’s first best seller (2).

Today’s Challenge:  No Paine, No Pamphlet

What are some examples of revolutionary ideas from the past or present,  ideas that either have changed the world or possibly may change the world in the future?  In the era in which Thomas Paine was writing — the 18th century — challenging the divine right of kings was a revolutionary idea.  Research other revolutionary ideas from the past or present, and create a pamphlet making your argument for or against one of these ideas.  Like Paine, make your argument in clear, forceful language. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  No pamphlet, no book, ever kindled such a sudden conflagration, a purifying flame, in which the prejudices and fears of millions were consumed.  To read it now, after the lapse of more than a hundred years, hastens the blood.  It is but the meagre truth to say that Thomas Paine did more for the cause of separation, to sow the seeds of independence, than any other man of his time. –Robert Ingersoll on Paine’s Common Sense in 1892


2- Prothero, Stephen.  The American Bible:  How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2012.




December 25:  Call to Action Day

On this date in 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware, leading the soldiers of the Continental Army in a surprise attack on a Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey.  

After suffering defeat in the Battle of Long Island and losing New York City to the British, the Patriot forces were in danger of losing the Revolutionary War. Hoping to mount a comeback and surprise the Hessians who were celebrating Christmas, Washington planned a night crossing of the half-frozen waters of the Delaware River.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851.jpgWashington had an unconventional attack planned, but another key element of his strategy was to employ some especially motivational words, words that would light a fire under an army that was freezing on the shores of the Delaware. On Christmas Eve, the day before the crossing, Washington ordered that Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis be read aloud to troops of the Continental Army.

In words that he had written just one day before, Paine frames the situation with stirring words that challenge the Patriots to move forward with courage and to seize this opportunity to transform the trials they face into a triumph:

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. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever,” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God. . . .

Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.

After successfully crossing the Delaware, Washington and his men arrived at Trenton the next day.  Catching the Hessians off guard and hung over from their Christmas Day celebrations, the Americans won an easy victory.  

Victory in the Revolutionary War would not come for five more years, but the success of the Colonial Army at Trenton revived the spirits of the American colonists, showing them that victory was possible.

Today’s Challenge:  Say It So You Can Make It So

What is something you feel so strongly about that you would advise everyone to do it?  As Paine’s writing demonstrates, words have the power to move people to action, the kind of action that can change the course of history.  Write a speech in which you argue for a specific call to action on the part of your audience.  As the title of your speech, finish the following:  Why everyone should . . .

The following are some examples of possible topics:

Why everyone should learn a second language.

Why everyone should meditate.

Why everyone should study abroad.

Why everyone should take a self-defense class.

Why everyone should sing in the shower.

Why everyone should read more fiction.

Why everyone should vote.

Why everyone should use the Oxford comma.

Provide clear reasons, evidence, and explanation.  In addition to logic, move your audience with emotion by showing how important your suggested activity is and how it will bring fulfillment to their lives.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. -Albert Camus