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  • Prof: Okay.

  • Today we are going to be discussing certainly one of the

  • biggest bestsellers in early American history,

  • and that's Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense.

  • Before I plunge in to Common Sense,

  • I am going to answer the question that was asked from

  • this section of the room on Tuesday,

  • about how do you vote on voting--the little brain teaser

  • of the Continental Congress.

  • And I found the answer to this question.

  • Okay.

  • So the answer to the question is: they actually had a pretty

  • animated debate in the Continental Congress on the

  • whole voting question, and some people said it should

  • be according to population and some said,

  • 'Well, you should put property in with population,' and some

  • people said one colony, one vote.

  • And with--after apparently arguing for quite some time,

  • what they realized was they actually really didn't have an

  • orderly way to figure out population and property worth,

  • [laughter] and so they ultimately just

  • decided one colony, one vote, [laughs]

  • --like, that's all we can do.

  • And they were really concerned because they didn't want that to

  • be a precedent.

  • They were all worried that they'd be setting a precedent

  • for all time.

  • So when they wrote it down in the minutes,

  • they said, we're deciding one colony,

  • one vote, but not with the idea that it will be a precedent for

  • all time.

  • Of course, it then becomes a precedent for Congress under the

  • Articles of Confederation.

  • But the answer to the question--how did they vote?--

  • is apparently someone made a motion--

  • 'I make a motion that we just do the one colony,

  • one vote thing'--and people just voted on the motion as a

  • group.

  • So that is the answer to the question: How do you vote on

  • voting?

  • I had not thought about it before and yet historians have

  • addressed it so there you go so--Okay.

  • That is the answer to the question.

  • On to Common Sense, which really,

  • truly unquestionably was a bestseller.

  • It actually sold over 120,000 copies in its first few months

  • in print, and a little bit later in the

  • lecture I'm going to give you a sense of how that compares with

  • how some other things might have sold in this time period.

  • You'll really get a sense of what kind of a bestseller this

  • was.

  • And certainly many scholars consider it to be the most

  • brilliant political pamphlet of the Revolution,

  • not necessarily for the subtlety of its argument but

  • certainly for the way in which it's argued,

  • and I'll talk more about that in the course of the lecture.

  • So what we're going to be looking at is the pamphlet

  • itself and what specifically made it so remarkable.

  • And then we're also going to look some at its author,

  • Thomas Paine, who he was and how he came to

  • produce this influential pamphlet.

  • But I actually want to begin with something that I just--

  • in my head when I think about Thomas Paine I think about this,

  • so I feel like I can't start this lecture without discussing

  • it.

  • And that has to do with the death of Thomas Paine or

  • actually, to be more accurate, the body of Thomas Paine.

  • Okay.

  • It's one of the sad ironies of history that this person who--

  • all through this lecture I'm going to be talking about the

  • great influence of his pamphlet, had this great influence

  • throughout the Revolution-- and he actually died pretty

  • much poor and not very much liked by Americans of all

  • political stripes, more having to do with his

  • politics later in his life than what he was doing during the

  • Revolution, but he was not a happy camper

  • in the years of his death.

  • But the most horrifying thing about Paine's death has to do

  • with the question of his body.

  • Okay.

  • So Paine first asked about being buried in a Quaker

  • cemetery, and the Quakers weren't very

  • excited about that because they were not really hoping to have

  • that cemetery become a tourist attraction so that didn't work.

  • So he basically ended up at first being buried on his small

  • farm in upstate New York.

  • A few years later a newspaper editor named William Cobbett

  • decided that what he was going to do was disinter the body and

  • take it back to England, and then in England they would

  • set up a memorial to Thomas Paine.

  • This was his plan.

  • So he did.

  • He disinterred the body; he went on a boat;

  • he and dead-body Paine went sailing back to England.

  • Got back to England, raised the issue and apparently

  • did not get very much support for the idea of a memorial of

  • some kind.

  • At this point it gets a little sad.

  • Okay.

  • So not knowing what else to do--and why at this point he

  • didn't think to bury him someplace else,

  • I don't know--but apparently he had the bones put in a trunk and

  • kept them on his farm for a while.

  • Okay.

  • So, body of Paine sitting on his farm in England.

  • Then he died--Mr. Cobbett died and the trunk and Paine was

  • passed on to his son, and then his son I guess went

  • into debt in some way and his belongings began to get

  • auctioned off and the person doing the auctioning didn't want

  • to have anything to do with auctioning off a body.

  • Like, I've never auctioned off a body before,

  • I don't want anything to do with this--and basically Paine's

  • corpse disappeared.

  • We really do not know where Thomas Paine is.

  • Truly, there was a trunk and it had Paine in it and then it

  • vanished.

  • And I went searching today before I gave this lecture,

  • trying to figure out like--okay, maybe there's been a

  • recent development in the search for Thomas Paine,

  • the corpse, and no actually.

  • Although I did discover that in 2001 there was a society that

  • wanted to create some kind of memorial here in America and

  • they decided that they were going to try to trace the body

  • so they set out trying to trace the body.

  • What they found was, all over the world are people

  • who claim to have a piece of Thomas Paine,

  • right?

  • Well, his skull might be in Australia but his leg--that

  • might be in England.

  • So the sort of--the horrifying end to Thomas Paine is his body

  • disappeared and perhaps little pieces of Thomas Paine are

  • floating around as little relics all over the world.

  • So that's Paine's sort of weird ending,

  • certainly not the kind of ending that you would wish for

  • the person who has written the pamphlet we're going to be

  • talking about today.

  • And we are given that--what he ended up writing was so

  • influential and so different from much of what was being

  • written at this time.

  • Now as I said at the outset, it's not the great subtleties

  • of its argument that made it stand out.

  • And in fact its popularity was due to the very things that were

  • its greatest strengths: the fact that it was

  • passionate, the fact that it had a really

  • simple style, that it spoke to the common

  • man, that it captured and completely overturned prevailing

  • colonial ideas about the relationship between the mother

  • country and the American colonies.

  • As someone wrote at the time, Paine spoke a language which

  • the colonists had felt, but not thought.

  • One of the remarkable things about the pamphlet is that it

  • was written by a somewhat bankrupt English corset-maker a

  • mere fourteen months after he had arrived in America from

  • England.

  • Basically speaking, Paine knew relatively little

  • about colonial affairs when he decided to write it.

  • He wasn't really an established writer.

  • He had done writing before.

  • I'll talk a little bit about this today, but he wasn't this

  • sort of well-known and established writer.

  • He wrote some for newspapers.

  • And actually the idea for the pamphlet initially wasn't really

  • his.

  • He wrote it at the encouragement of Dr. Benjamin

  • Rush.

  • I mentioned that in the first lecture, and I'm going to come

  • back to that too.

  • So Paine is relatively new to the colonies,

  • not really an established writer, so how is it that he

  • ends up writing this pamphlet?

  • Well, more than anything else it actually was Paine's

  • experience of events in the colonies between 1775 and 1776

  • that inspired what he wrote.

  • Now let's look for a moment at--to see here what Paine is

  • experiencing in that year before he wrote the pamphlet.

  • What is happening around him.

  • I'm going to talk about this really briefly here because I'll

  • be talking in more detail about this on Tuesday,

  • but one thing I will mention here very briefly is,

  • part of what happens between 1775 and 1776 is the meeting of

  • the Second Continental Congress.

  • And that actually begins meeting in the spring of 1775.

  • I'll talk about the details of the Congress Tuesday.

  • For now, I'll just talk about the general mindset.

  • For one thing, no colony instructed its

  • delegates to this Second Continental Congress to work for

  • independence.

  • That was not the agenda.

  • Delegates were pretty much still acting under the

  • assumption that they were trying to force Parliament or the King

  • or someone to acknowledge their liberties and redress their

  • grievances, and the overall assumption

  • still was that balance had been thrown off within the British

  • constitution and it needed to be rebalanced.

  • So they're talking about trying to figure out a way of balancing

  • things, maybe a new balance,

  • but they're not talking about throwing the entire system

  • aside.

  • Actually, in the minds of many at the time they probably were

  • thinking, why destroy what had for a very

  • long time been one of the most successful political empires in

  • the world.

  • John Adams noted in his diary at the opening of the Second

  • Continental Congress that at what he called an "elegant

  • supper" at the opening of the Congress,

  • many representatives and their friends toasted,

  • quote, "the Union of Britain and the Colonies on a

  • constitutional foundation."

  • Okay.

  • So that's what they're hoping for as this Congress opens.

  • As an example of this initial mindset of the Congress--

  • again more about this Tuesday--moderates attempted one

  • last stab at some kind of basic reconciliation with the Crown,

  • and they issued what came to be known as the Olive Branch

  • Petition.

  • It failed for a number of reasons--again more next week--

  • one of the most basic reasons being the King refused to read

  • the Olive Branch Petition, which pretty much is the way to

  • guarantee the failure of a petition.

  • By doing that, the King basically gave some

  • credence to the views of the more radical members of the

  • Continental Congress, and radicals got even more

  • credence on August 23, 1775, when the King issued a

  • proclamation that declared the colonies to be in rebellion,

  • and then made plans to send 20,000 British troops to the

  • colonies, including Prussian mercenaries.

  • Okay, a big change in things, much more detail Tuesday,

  • but this is important to the setting of Common Sense.

  • So the King ignores the Olive

  • Branch Petition.

  • He's sending troops, not just any troops but

  • literally hired guns, right?--foreign hired guns to

  • go to the colonies.

  • So the colonies have now been declared in rebellion.

  • An army is coming.

  • At this point the colonists realize that they need to maybe

  • take some form of action and make some kind of military

  • preparation, not in an aggressive way but

  • certainly in a defensive way.

  • Even as they began to do this and try to stock up on military

  • supplies and engage in militia training,

  • still a lot of colonists considered it pretty unlikely

  • that a string of relatively weak--

  • prosperous as they were--colonies could hope to

  • defeat England, the most powerful nation on

  • earth.

  • And even if they did miraculously somehow manage to

  • do that, certainly also most people in

  • the colonies would have assumed that instantly,

  • foreign powers would have come zipping over to North America

  • and would have swallowed up these helpless little colonies,

  • and so now instead of belonging to England they would have