By Lt. Col. James Marrs, 217th Training Squadron
/ Published June 17, 2011
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
When musket shots broke the silence early on the April 19, 1775, the American colonists on Lexington Green were presumably fighting only for their economic rights as subjects of the British crown. They had, to date, peacefully protested corrupt government, unfair taxation, and inadequate representation in the processes of government. The King responded by removing the elected colonial officials, appointing puppet administrators, and posting armed troops in colonial towns and villages.
Within 14 months, a strong movement for full independence from Britain had developed, and delegates of the Continental Congress were faced with a vote on the issue. In mid-June 1776, a committee which included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin was tasked with drafting a formal statement of the colonies' intentions. What had brought these merchants, farmers, and tradesmen to this seemingly desperate and likely dangerous action?
In his October 1775 message to Parliament, Britain's King George III railed against the rebellious colonies and ordered the enlargement of the royal army and navy. News of his words reached America in January 1776, strengthening the radicals' cause and leading many loyalists to abandon their hopes of reconciliation. That same month, a recent British immigrant, Thomas Paine, published a small pamphlet entitled Common Sense, in which he reasoned that American independence from British rule was a "natural right" and the only rational course. The pamphlet sold more than 150,000 copies in its first few weeks in publication. I borrowed the title of this article from that pamphlet. It was the title of one of the pamphlet's sections. Common Sense was widely read by our Founding Fathers and common citizenry alike in the six succeeding critical months in our nation's history. During this time, the loosely confederated British colonies in America were forged into an American nation.
The words of this and other publications by Paine are often considered instrumental in the forming of our national character and, in turn, the founding of our nation. One of his later pamphlets, The American Crisis, stirs an American Patriot's soul even today. During the arduous winter of 1778-1779, Gen. George Washington ordered that it be read to his beleaguered soldiers encamped at Valley Forge, when many had little food, poor shelter, and only tattered rags for shoes and clothing. The opening lines are deeply moving...
"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." [The American Crisis, by Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776.]
Paine's words are as relevant today as they were 235 years ago. Then, as now, nations come into being and peoples embark on daring new paths using various means: popular uprisings, military intervention, civil strife, heroism, treachery, twisted knots of lies, revelations of transcendent truth, professionally trained defenders of established orders, and ragtag citizen-soldiers of a bright and hopeful future - all these elements have marked critical times throughout history.
We see them in the news even today. The beginning of our own nation included them all. That beginning was distinctive, not only in the degree of its eventual impact on the course of world history, but also because so many of the fibers of our national tapestry run back through history to find their origin in one place, in one time, and in one document: the Declaration of Independence.
On July 1, 1776, Congress convened to steer a course towards independence. During the sometimes difficult deliberations of four fateful days, Congress offered only a few revisions to the inspired pronouncement drafted earlier by Jefferson and edited by Adams and Franklin. Then, late on July 4, 1776, church bells rang out over Philadelphia; the Declaration of Independence had been officially adopted and a new nation had been born. It still had (and has) much growing to do.
During this week leading up to the celebration of our Declaration of Independence, take time to read a copy of both it and our Constitution. Consider the high moral calling and profound hardships of those first members of our armed forces. You who have sworn to defend that same Constitution are no less highly called. Take care of each other during this holiday, relax and play responsibly, and return safely to faithfully fulfill your oaths and obligations.