Friday, January 14, 2011


"But where some say is the king of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind."
-Thomas Paine

As I look back on 24+ years of life and reflect how I got to be where I am now, I can't help but feel gratitude to those who have participated in my formation. I could spend time reflecting on the countless faces who in a way, some more than others, are responsible for Sean McGrath (whether good or bad). I could spend paragraphs explaining how the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ gives me the hope to continue on, how the unwavering faith and love of my father has set an indelible example of how to love and treat a women, or how my sweet  mother has taught me faith amidst insurmountable trials, or Martin Luther who had the courage to say that something was wrong, or Joseph Smith for being brave enough to ask for the truth and the courage to follow it through and so on and so forth.

However, recently, I have developed a new hero. Someone, who to me, embodies all that is American, virtuous, and courageous. This hero goes by the name of:
Thomas Paine. How many of us have heard of Thomas Paine? Probably a good majority, and we probably can name his most famous work: Common Sense. However, how many of us have read it? How many of us are familiar with both the story contained within its pages as well as the story behind this book? Few. Few indeed. How many of us know that we can accredit the name "the United States of America" to Thomas Paine? Him being the first to publish it in writ. We now very little about one whom all should know about. He died a rather embarrasing death. Only 6 mourners came to his funeral and it was said that "he did some good, and much harm." Yet, this man was so immensely important that John Adams reportedly said "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,' the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."

So, who was this man? He was born in England, failed in almost everything he tried on that continent. He got fired twice from his job as a tax collector, failed in two marriages, and lost a store to bankruptcy. He barely survived the trans-Atlantic voyage. He would not have recovered if it were not for a chance encounter with Benjamin Franklin in England and the letter of recommendation from Franklin that he carried. Upon arrival in America, fate placed a pen into his hand and the world changed dramatically because of it.

He began by writing many things of inconsequential nature. Every so often he would write an article that shook the foundation of people's faith and the society in which they lived. He had the audacity to write (100 years too early) on the evils of slavery or (nearly 150 years too early) in defense of women. However, due to his miraculous and fortunate connection with Franklin, he was able to call many a great man friend. Some of these men included Washington, and Sam and John Adams to name only a few.

These associations, coupled with his life experiences, molded him into the most influential man of his time. It was early 1776 when he immortalized himself. During a time when speaking words like "revolution" and "independence" sparked fear into everyone's hearts and treason was still looked down on, he had the courage to issue a pamphlet. This pamphlet was called "Common Sense" and we owe our freedom to it.

This book spread like wildfire. The initial printing of 1000 copies sold in days. After being cheated out of its profits by a greedy publisher, Paine switched publishers, lowered the price to something affordable, and published many, many more copies. This pamphlet could not stay on the shelves. It spread like fire throughout the American colonies. However, it didn't stop there. Copies made their way to "Quebec, France, Warsaw, London, Edinburgh, New Castle, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Dubronvik, and Moscow."

This humble man could have made a fortune on this work. Did he? No, not one bit. In fact, for the second printing, he donated the proceeds to Washington's Continental Army so they could have gloves. He said, "As my wish was to serve an oppressed people, and assist in a just and good cause, I conceived that the honor of it would be promoted by my declining to make even the usual profits of an author." Furthermore, he publicly repudiated his own copyright, allowing this book to be published by whosoever wanted, how they wanted. His devotion to the cause of American freedom is unbelievable. He believed in what he wrote so much that he risked his life, on threat of treason, to spread his ideas. His first publication only bore the name "Written by an Englishman." However, for the second round, it clearly stated "Thomas Paine."

What made this document so influential? Reading through it, one cannot help but be awed by its simple, flowing language and clear argument. He attacks the commonly held thoughts in such a clear and sublime way that one cannot help but let himself be persuaded by these inspired words. Particularly potent is the way he attacks the mother (England), child (the Colonies) relationship that England used to mask their atrocities. This book became the the standard that our great and noble forefathers could rally around in order to find the courage and strength to do what they did.

When we look at what the birth of this nation meant to the people here, what it meant to the modern world, and what it means today, one cannot help but stand in awe at what one man helped spark.

I am so grateful for the example Thomas Paine left us. I am grateful that God inspires just and holy men such as him to carry forth His works and purposes for our salvation. I love that we enjoy the freedoms because of Paine, and many others no less noble and courageous. If I could exhort the few who will read these words to do something, it would be to learn of our history. Learn of Thomas Paine, of George Washington, and of our Constitution. Be active citizens to continue preserving the great freedoms we have.

"We have it in our power to begin the world over again." Thomas Paine

The inspiration and thoughts for this post come from "Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of the Modern Nation." I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. AWESOME!!! I'm so glad you wrote this, it makes me so sad to see how Americans are forgetting all about who they are and what it cost to obtain our freedom. And the fact that they seem to be letting go of it too easily. I could go on, but that'd lead to a looooong comment. =) And thanks for the book recommendation, sounds worth reading.