The First American Blogger Helps Start a New Nation –
The year 1776 is generally remembered for the signing of the Declaration of Independence by members of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
But the reality “on the ground” is not good for the nascent revolutionary cause, in the hands of George Washington.
In February of 1776 a young immigrant full of passion and ideas writes his first pamphlet (blog?) called Common Sense. His is a direct challenge on British authority and a call for a new nation born in the concepts of freedom, equality, and independence.
At the time, there is a great debate among the general population in the colonies as to what the proper course of action should be. Many feel that a total separation from England – the greatest power on the face of the earth at the time – is not wise, prudent, or even possible.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense becomes the rallying cry for independence. It is around his words and ideas that the colonies find their resolve and brings the rag-tag army to New York to face down the mighty British armada.
The summer and fall of 1776 do not go well for the new American army. By early winter they are in full retreat across New Jersey. With hundreds killed and thousands captured, George Washington has lost nearly half of his army. What’s more, morale has sunk into desperation and belief in the cause of American independence is in serious jeopardy.
Thomas Paine, traveling with the army as the first “war correspondent” sees first hand that this great ideal of freedom and self-government is but a breath away from being crushed beneath not only a superior army, but, more importantly, by the dejected spirit of those that must fight against it.
Paine then pens the words that begin, “These are the times that try men’s souls”. Finishing his first essay of his pamphlet (blog?) The Crisis in December of 1776, he rushes back to Philadelphia to set type and print as fast as he can.
Philadelphia at the time is a city in general evacuation. The Continental Congress has moved to Baltimore, and many of the city’s inhabitants have no faith that Washington’s men will stop the oncoming British.
Paine perseveres; using the technology available to him at the time, he is able to get this first essay distributed and into the hands of the freezing, hungry, and dejected men camped on the banks of the Delaware River.
Washington knew that his next move must be a bold one. One that will mean either the death of the Revolution or one that will breathe life into the continuing struggle. As his own words portray: “Victory or Death”.
Washington hatched a plan for a surprise attack on a Hessian garrison encamped across the Delaware in Trenton, New Jersey. Before the attack, Washington has Paine’s essay read to his men. On Christmas morning 1776, at about 8am, in a battle that lasted only about one hour, the Revolutionary army prevails – Victory!
The war is far from over, and independence far from assured. But this day means that the cause will go on.
There are many elements that play into the events at Trenton. From a mysterious fog that shrouded New York earlier in the year, allowing most of Washington’s army to escape certain defeat, to a normally brutal Hessian regiment that let its guard down.
But what carries the day is the spirit and resolve of the men, a belief in what they are doing; A sense of history unfolding before their eyes, of which they are a part.
Thomas Paine’s words have no small part in awakening that spirit in the nearly defeated American army. He is a man whose weapon of choice is well-hewn words forged in the fire of ideas.
As much as any musket, his words help create a new nation.