Friday, July 31, 2009

Letters to the Citizens of the United States

The Jerome L. Wright essay to which I linked yesterday sent me scurrying first to my search engine and then to my library and a work I didn't realize I already possessed: Thomas Paine's Letters to the Citizens of the United States and Particularly to the Leaders of the Federal Faction. These are on pages 908-957 of The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, Volume 2, which I obtained through the wonderful online archive of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

This morning I read carefully and joyously through the first two letters, the joy a result of the encounter with an unapologetically free mind. Paine wrote to remind the citizens of the new United States of the principles behind their revolution 26 years earlier, and to call out the faction that he saw as turning back those principles in the name of "federalism."

One of Paine's observations gave me a small modicum of hope:
There is in America, more than in any other country, a large body of people who attend quietly to their farms, or follow their several occupations; who pay no regard to the clamours of anonymous scribblers, who think for themselves, and judge of government, not by the fury of newspaper writers, but by the prudent frugality of its measures, and the encouragement it gives to the improvement and prosperity of the country; and who, acting on their own judgment, never come forward in an election but on some important occasion.

When this body moves, all the little barkings of scribbling and witless curs pass for nothing.
Do these people still exist, and are they "a large body"? It's difficult to say, given the results of the last several elections — indeed, given the results of most elections — although much may be concluded by examining how many people don't participate in most elections.

Our days are filled with "little barkings of scribblings and witless curs" who advocate chains for all but their anointed rulers — scribblings, and their electronic equivalent in this modern age. Do those who think for themselves still exist in sufficient numbers to make a difference?

And by "make a difference," I mean nothing more than to make the witless curs and anointed ones irrelevant. Freedom means the ability to say, as the great fictional Independent Malcolm Reynolds once said, "I got no need to beat you; I just want to go my way." Reynolds was a great example of Paine's people "who attend quietly to their farms, or to their several occupations."

Two hundred and seven years have passed since Paine wrote his letters, and the barkings have continued unceasingly. The embers of the flame he started with Common Sense still glow, often just barely.

The halls of government are filled with men and women anxious to extinguish those embers. They have grown fat and sassy on the backs of those willing to allow them to hold the reins of power; a little more Thomas Paine in our intellectual diets may be the cure.

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Blogger Kent McManigal said...

Thanks for writing this. I found it inspiring. Sunni's blog sent me. Ain't she just the coolest snake?

9:52 PM  
Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

I never knew reptiles could be so, um, appealing to the senses until I met Sunni. Thanks for dropping by and welcome to anyone else who's here because of Sunni. Her words of encouragement were humbling!

8:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Wilensky said...

I wanted to introduce you to an adapted version of Common Sense that has been added into public schools and homeschool curriculum nationwide: The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine; An Interactive Adaptation for all Ages.

I'm a fifth-grade teacher in Colorado, and have been developing civics education that encourages our youngest citizens to read our nation's founding documents. I apologize if this sounds a bit like a commercial, but I thought you might appreciate that Paine is being read by students from ages 10 and up.

The book's interactive website (and description) is at

My best regards,
Mark Wilensky

12:14 AM  
Anonymous sunni said...

Congrats, gents, you've enabled another rarity: a blushing Snake! Thanks for the kind words.

1:07 PM  

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