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The Shot Heard Round The World: The Story of America [Ep. 5]

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 1, 2023 3:00 am

The Shot Heard Round The World: The Story of America [Ep. 5]

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 1, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Bill McClay explains how a divided America found strength in Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" 

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Actual charge time varies based on charging unit output, temperature, and other factors. Call 562-314-4603 for complete details. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And to search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app, to Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Up next, another story from our series about us, the story of America.

Here to tell it is Hillsdale College professor Bill Maclay, author of the fantastic book, Land of Hope, and the Young Readers edition as well. With new taxes came new divisions in the colonies. 30% of people favored revolt, 30 favored remaining loyal to Britain, and the rest, well, they were hiding under the table. But things were about to heat up even more. Let's get into the story.

Take it away, Bill. The first actual combat in the war comes well before the Declaration of Independence since April of 1775. General Thomas Gage was instructed to go to a colonial armory in the town of Concord. So he took a deployment of a few hundred men. He was met along the way in Lexington by militiamen called Minutemen who greeted them with their rifles in hand. And there was a tense standoff with a lot of name calling and shots were fired. In the end, eight Minutemen were dead.

Gage and his troops proceeded to Concord where they found the armory had been cleared out. And on the way back to Boston, they were picked off by the fire of the rebellious colonists and lost three times more men than the colonists did, which is not good math if you're a British leader. And the Americans went on to have a brilliant victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill. But the country was still very divided.

The 30-30-30 rule that I know that doesn't add up to 100, but roughly takes effect. It was one thing to say the British were being horrible. It's one thing even to take up arms. It's another thing to say we're divorcing the British. We're leaving. We're out the door. We are going to set ourselves up as an independent country. That was a prospect that was still off in the distance. There were those, some very honorable patriots, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, who said this could be disastrous for us if we cut ties to the mother country.

Where else will we be able to look for help? This is only a few years after the French and Indian War. His sense that America would be too weak to stand on its own had some real legitimacy to it. With all that was going on in a very divided country, even though conditions of war had crept into the situation, people were not sure whether a divorce was the right answer.

It may seem obvious to us looking back at it, but at the time it was far from obvious. Something had happened that required a decisive change, but was total independence, total separation, was that the right answer? What would happen, for example, if the war were won, the British abandoned the Western Hemisphere, and whether it would be a united country or a collection of independent countries. What was to keep another European power from coming in and taking over where the British had been? The enemy you know may be better than the enemy you don't know. There was a fear that we couldn't win a war against the most powerful empire in the world, quite possibly the most powerful empire in human history.

It was a formidable task, and we had a lot of things working against us. Then onto the scene comes one of those moments, one of those documents, expressions of ideas, that changes the course of human history. A lot of people think, a lot of historians believe that the real motive forces of history are material.

It's the economic, it's climate, military power. But as we have seen in this collection of stories, America begins in some ways as an idea. Ideas have always been very powerful here. They were powerful in this case, in helping us to the idea of revolution, and not for the first time in American history, it was a foreigner who did that. Thomas Paine wrote a document that you can say, without any fear of contradiction, moved history.

Common Sense was published at this strange moment between Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, and the actual Declaration of Independence. It was a huge bestseller. 150,000 copies were sold, which may not sound like a lot, but it's a lot for a country of two and a half million people.

It means a very high percentage of people bought it. And the number of people who had it read to them, who had portions of it posted in public places, all the ways that pamphlets, political pamphlets, made their way in the world, it had that extensive ripple effect of influence. And it is an illustration of the ways in which the written word can have a powerful and lasting, decisive effect on history, on historical change. People had to see things differently in order to really entertain the idea of independence, and Paine helped them to do that. And you've been listening to Bill McClay setting things up, and setting things up the way only he can, and that is what great historians do in the end. They put us back in the place where the people were when the events were happening, not treating them as if they knew what was going to happen.

None of our founders knew what was going to happen, any more than we know what's going to happen in our lives. When we come back, more of this remarkable story here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Plan your getaway at visitdenver.com slash summer. Sponsored by Visit Denver. And we return to the Story of America series here on Our American Stories with Hillsdale College professor Bill McClay, author of the fantastic book, Land of Hope. When we last left off, Bill told us about the shot heard round the world and the confusion and concern the colonists felt about what would come next. Things felt uncertain, but onto the scene stepped a master rhetorician named Thomas Paine. Let's get back to the story.

Here again is Bill McClay. He addressed his pamphlet to the inhabitants of America, and he challenged the very idea of being ruled by kings. He didn't just challenge King George III, he challenged the very notion of monarchy. And by the way, he was doing something very rhetorically clever here in making the king the target. One of the things he did was challenge the very idea of being ruled by kings. Making the king the target. One of the interesting things when you go back and look at the build up to the actual revolution, is it took a long time for the colonists to see the king as their foe. They were very happy to blame parliament, to blame particular individuals in the parliament for bad policies. But the king didn't always get included in those criticisms. He was seen in very favorable terms as a kindly individual, well disposed to the colonies, slow to anger, etc. Paine focused all of it on the king, on the person of the king. He used that, the plausibility of the king as a villain in this case, to challenge the very idea of kings. Let me read some of this to you. We're going to spend some time with the language of Paine.

He was a failure in many other ways in life, but when it came to this kind of rhetoric, well you'll see, you'll hear. Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance. The distinctions of rich and poor may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh, ill sounding names of oppression and avarice. Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the means of riches.

And though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitiesly poor, it generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy. But there is another and greater distinction from which no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned, and that is the distinction of men into kings and subjects. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven, but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest and distinguished like some new species is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.

So, we're off to the races here. He's going after a big, big game here, monarchy itself. He challenges one of the byproducts of monarchy, hereditary succession.

And again, here's Paine's language. To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession, and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever, and though himself might deserve some decent degree of honors of his contemporaries. Yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them. And what about the people who advocated for reconciliation with King George III? Paine had very stern words. I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation to show a single advantage that this continent can reap by being connected with Great Britain.

I repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any part in market, and our imported goods must be paid for by them where we will. But the injuries and disadvantages we sustain by that connection are without number, and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance. This is a larger mission that he's calling them to. And they were receptive to this.

Americans were receptive to the idea that they were on a mission that had a larger import than just what affected them. So Paine is aware that it's hard for people to understand what a republic, what a form of government without a king, without a final say, something that is beyond refutation, that is authoritative, what that would look like. And he answers that. Where, says some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter. Let it be brought forth, placed on the divine law. Let a crown be placed thereon by which the world may know that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. The law is king.

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. And he closes out saying this. Until an independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.

It's almost as if he's saying, you know I'm right. You know this has to be done. The time is now.

Don't put it off another day. It's a lot of confidence in the sway and the power of his own rhetoric and its ability to connect with what he saw happening. Now King George's speech to Parliament, shortly thereafter, is worth talking about. George described pain and others stoking the fire of independence with these words, Those who long to successfully labor to inflame my people in America by gross misrepresentations, and to infuse their minds with a system of opinions repugnant to the true constitution of the college, and to their subordinate relationship to Great Britain, now openly avow their revolt, hostility, and rebellion.

And he closes the speech with condescending words that would just grate on colonists' ears and prove to further the cause of independence. And I quote, When the unhappy and deluded multitude against whom this force will be directed shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy. And in order to prevent the inconveniences which may arrive from the great distance of their situation and to remove as soon as possible the calamities which they suffer, I shall give authority to certain persons upon the spot to grant gentle or particular pardons and indemnity. Who is the law? The king is the law. The law is not king. Couldn't have said it more clearly, could he?

So, returning back to America, with the colonial government's blessing and urging, the Continental Congress introduced a motion or resolution in early June of 1776 directed towards independence. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Bill McClay. He's on the board of the Jack Miller Center.

He's a professor of history at Hillsdale College and the Victor Davis Hanson Chair in classical history and Western civilization. His book, Land of Hope, is terrific. So, too, is the Young Readers Edition.

Pick them up at Amazon or The Usual Suspects. The story of how America was born or The Usual Suspects. The story of how America came to be. A continuing series called The Story of America.

Here on Our American Stories. In Denver, a girl's getaway to the city comes with a side of rocky mountains. Shopping in Cherry Creek turns into delicious Larimer Square eats. Sunny days in Wash Park lead to sizzling nights in River North. And a concert at Red Rocks means dancing with a view. When you're planning your girl's trip, come to the intersection of life and however you like living it. Denver, always welcome.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-01 04:13:14 / 2023-08-01 04:21:13 / 8

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