#1292 Common Sense

Paine refused to take proceeds from this book.
— Clay S. Jenkinson

This week, we present another of our Jefferson Hour Book Club episodes and discuss Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. 1776 Club members can download Common Sense as an audio book, read by David Swenson.

Download this week's episode.

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What Would Jefferson Do?

WWTJD_1292 Thomas Paine.jpg
I would urge everyone to read Common Sense.
— Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson

Tune in to your local public radio or join the 1776 Club to hear this episode of What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

Listen to this week's episode.

The following is a rush transcript.

David: 00:00 Good day citizens and good day, Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast listeners, and thank you for listening.

Clay: 00:07 The second installment of our Thomas Jefferson Book Club. The first one was on First Family about John and Abigail Adams by our friend Joseph Ellis and then we chose of Common Sense by Thomas Paine, that pamphlet that sold over 500,000 copies and probably changed the course of human history. Amazing fellow, Jefferson and Paine were friends and after — Paine nearly died during the French revolution. He was imprisoned. I don't know if you know the story, but he was imprisoned and he was. He was on the list of people to be beheaded.

David: 00:41 You told, you know, we didn't get to that story.

Clay: 00:45 So the white x, so they're going to the everyday, the, the, the radicals of Robespierre's faction would go into the prisons and they would take a piece of chalk and mark on the door, the people that were to be taken out and beheaded that day and Paine was very ill, near death, and he always made friends amongst the working class. He was working class, and so the jailer said, well, I know you're not going to go into escape. I'll open your door so you can get a little fresh air. And by opening the door he inadvertently hit the x. If the door had been closed, the lynch mob that came in to take these people out to be beheaded would've pulled Paine and he would have suffered under the guillotine in that day. But because the door was open, they didn't see the x and they passed him by. And then shortly thereafter Robespierre fell and Thomas Paine was released from prison.

David: 01:39 It's, it's really a fascinating book. Uh, the arguments, the structure of the book and how he convinces the citizens of that time that now is the time and how bad it would be to stay connected to the monarchy of Great Britain.

Clay: 01:54 You know, what's so interesting is that all of the other founding fathers, even people who didn't like Paine, acknowledged that the book went viral and it changed the course of things. And so you have to ask yourself, what, when does that happen in, in the history of a culture that a pamphlet — Paine could not have known when he wrote this, that this would have this effect.

David: 01:54 That's a good question.

Clay: 02:15 How does this happen? It's like, timing and genius — and but something happens and Paine writes this pamphlet, one of 400 during this period. And that's the one that goes viral. It does change the course of history. It makes him one of the world's most important citizens. He winds up being a part of two revolutions. First, he's part of the American revolution. Then he goes to France where he's made an honorary citizen of the French Republic. And, and here's the interesting part to me, David, when the French decided to behead Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, he argues against it and says, no, I don't — You can, you can get rid of them without cutting their heads.

David: 02:55 Oh, he really was a pacifist.

Clay: 03:01 And a Quaker. His father, Quaker. Mother, Anglican. He, he did not believe in the death penalty. And he believed that Louis the 16th was himself not really the problem that monarchy was the problem and that he and Marie Antoinette should be spared. It's a, it's an amazing story because he, he in this case, as in so many others, he did things that were not going to work out for him. It would've been so much easier for him to say, I'm an American. Go ahead and cut his head off if you want.

David: 03:29 Maybe I'm wrong in calling him a pacifist, but I know that from reading about him and what you share in the program, he was really aghast at the violence. Um, that American citizens suffered at the hands of, of British troops.

Clay: 03:44 Well, he had just arrived. Ben Franklin invited him to emigrate. He came to the United States. He's kind of looking around for work. He's got some talents as a journalist. He works for the new magazine called the Pennsylvania magazine. And then Lexington and Concord happened and he has a conversion experience. He's like, okay, that does it. That, that we're not putting up with that.

David: 04:03 It's a perfect lead into next week's show too, which will be our annual fourth of July show.

Clay: 04:08 And because he, he says, this is not, there's not a direct causation, but he says in Common Sense, you know what we need now? We need some really gifted writer to produce a manifesto that will explain to the world why we're going to become independent. And so I don't — That's not what inspired Jefferson. Jefferson then did write the manifesto.

David: 04:27 Be he must have had it in mind, don't you think?

Clay: 04:31 Don't know. A book that I want to promote here in addition to Common Sense. And if you're a 1776 Club member, you can read or listen to David Swenson's voicing of Common Sense, but there's a beautiful biography that I really admire by John Keane, k e a n e: Tom Paine a political life. And I've been reading it. It's outstanding. This is not what I thought when I, when I started down this path as I thought, I haven't read Common Sense for 20 years. That in itself is bad. And frankly, if you're alive right now, given the constitutional crisis that we're in, Common Sense is a very clarifying book. But secondly, I thought, oh, I want to know more about Paine. I want to know more about Benjamin Rush. There's all these characters that kind of float around that fascinate —

David: 05:19 The fascinate always happens that way.

Clay: 05:22 Joseph Priestley, the inventor of oxygen. So Joseph Priestley, father of the Unitarian church, he discovers oxygen — before that everyone thought it was just air. This is the enlightenment — discovers oxygen — So these are like — Paine as an inventor. He has a an iron bridge. He has a smokeless candles, Jefferson's in inventor —

David: 05:22 We need time travel.

Clay: 05:47 Franklin's an inventor. I mean these were like. The enlightenment is such a great moment in human history and I just want to say this one thing. I'm the editor of this magazine, We Proceeded On, as you know. I was on Google images looking around for new images of Meriwether Lewis and I found this one David. It's by a man named Peter Waddell. People can find it online. It's a picture of Jefferson and Lewis in the White House and it's. It's dated June 20th, 1803. That's the day that Jefferson gave Lewis instructions and it's — Jefferson is surrounded by his world, theodolites and compasses, gardening tools.

David: 06:26 Can I make a request for a show? There's this magazine that you just mentioned. We Proceeded On.

Clay: 06:31 Which people should subscribe to.

David: 06:33 Summertime is the time to talk about Lewis and Clark. Could we schedule a show to talk about Lewis and Clark that magazine? Some of the articles in it. The map?

Clay: 06:41 I'm going to give to our webmaster this image, we'll post it, and then we'll do a show about what's in it. Because I did all this research on this. It's fascinating because the White House historical association that commissioned the painting said everything that's in it has to be authentic. You have to be able to show the Jefferson had it and so Peter Waddell did this research with the help of Monticello and with the White House historical association and they're like 30 objects that you can identify in this painting. It's like Jefferson's world

David: 06:41 We got to see it.

Clay: 06:41 Yeah, it's cool.

David: 07:11 So that's all coming. Let's go to the show, but before we do

Clay: 07:11 cultural tours

David: 07:16 we have cultural tours to talk about.

Clay: 07:23 So the summer tours full, but next spring, March three through nine, the Steinbeck trip, amazing trip. Then the two winter humanities retreats at Lochsa lodge west of Missoula, one on Shakespeare, one on water and the west

David: 07:37 Lewis & Clark trip this year? You're out of luck. It's booked.

Clay: 07:40 And then we're going to Jefferson's France. That's back on folks. Jefferson in Greece. He never went, uh, also Shakespeare's England. So go to the website.

David: 07:40 We need to revisit the book that we were so kindly sent about tours.

Clay: 07:40 A guide to Thomas Jefferson's Virginia by Laura —

New Speaker: 07:40 And we could spend some time on that as well.

Clay: 07:40 And also Tim Patrick's book, self evident, which he kindly said to us. Thank you very much for that generosity. So we love gifts than them all. Jeeps and airplanes.

David: 07:40 Before we go, I just want to say that if you enjoy the Thomas Jefferson Hour please go to Jeffersonhour.com to support the show. We need your support. We appreciate your support as very easy to do. Click on the donate button and you can make a donation to the show to keep us on the air or you can join this 1776 Club.

Clay: 07:40 And if you do, you can listen to David Swenson voicing Common Sense — Listen now to this edition out of character of the Thomas Jefferson, our, our Jefferson Book Club, the Book Thomas Paine's. Common Sense. Thanks for listening.

David: 08:57 Good day citizens. And welcome to the Thomas Jefferson, our, your weekly conversation with or about President Thomas Jefferson. Then this week we are joined by the creator of the Thomas Jefferson, our Mr Clay Jenkinson. I'm your host, David Swenson. And seated across from me is Mr Clay Jenkinson. Welcome sir.

Clay: 09:16 Welcome to you. This is the Jefferson book club. We created it a few months ago. Our first book was founding family by Joseph Ellis about John and Abigail Adams, a splendid book. And the question was, what shall book number two be? I proposed Tacitus, you said, oh wait,

David: 09:35 I said, oh my gosh, I got a lot of reading to do

Clay: 09:35 So we went to Common Sense by Thomas Paine

David: 09:40 I'm sure we'll make it to Tacitus at some point or another

Clay: 09:43 but you then did this extraordinary thing, which

David: 09:45 I do not know that it's extraordinary.

Clay: 09:49 You sat down in the studio, not in the barn but in studio and voiced the entire panel.

David: 09:53 It was raining pretty hard last week. And what was that like? You know, interesting. Um, you know, in an earlier program you talked about, uh, I don't know if you use the word dumbing down as a phrase

Clay: 09:53 I have used it

David: 09:53 a how in his time

Clay: 09:53 it was plain truth, Common Sense, easy prose.

David: 10:11 Right and in our time it's a, that's an unusual sentence structure. Boy, I haven't seen that word used very often. Um, and it. But it is an interesting book.

Clay: 10:22 When you were reading it into a microphone, could you hear the book or are you too busy performing the book?

David: 10:28 No, no, no. Yeah. You, you would hear the book

Clay: 10:31 tell me about your own impressions of reading this book.

David: 10:34 Whenever I do anything historical like this in nature, of course I feel unqualified, but to read it out loud is, um, it's, it's a different experience than reading it to yourself. You know, you, you sit down and you read the book, but when you bring the words to life in a reading it out loud, it, it, it just has a much different effect on you. Does that make sense?

Clay: 10:59 Of course. No, I have, I do this quite a bit and I have a hard time. Very good at it. I have a heart. You have, you know, you have to understand the book in order to read it because it's easy to get it wrong. You get the cadence is wrong to emphasize the wrong word in the sentence. Not, not to pause at the right moments,

David: 10:59 I undoubtedly did at times

Clay: 11:18 well we all do, but, but you can only really read a book out loud if you understand its contents. And so let's just outline it. It came out on January 10th, 1776. Uh, Paine had been, it was a recent convert to the American cause. He was born in England. He was a corset maker and an excise man. He was a tax collector. He had gotten himself crosswise with British authorities. He met Benjamin Franklin in 1774. Franklin was in England. Franklin liked him, admired him, uh, and encouraged Paine to emigrate to relocate to leave England and to move to the United States. He did. He arrived in Philadelphia. He then went to work for a new magazine at a time when magazines were an innovation in the world called the Pennsylvania magazine. And he began to write and at some point the cause of American independence struck him and he spent a couple of months writing out a draft of a pamphlet which was meant to, to persuade the American people that we just had to do it, that there was no reconciliation, that the time had come and We mustn't, we must not miss the opportunity to declare independence. And he wrote this, he showed it to Franklin. He showed it to several other people. One of those people was a Dr Benjamin rush and rush said, I don't think you should call it plain truth. I think you should call it Common Sense and so Paine agreed and here's what's so interesting to me about it. He published it, but he refused to take revenue from it. He said that the revenues would go to buy mittens and other winter clothing for our troops and he's one of those extremely high minded people. They're very rare in the world. Who could. Bertrand Russell was another one who he had the chance to be rich and he refused because he believed that there was something corrupting about being rich and that his, his purposes should not be tied to money and so Paine refused to take proceeds from this book. It sold 150,000 copies within weeks and eventually it sold about 500,000 copies, was translated into German and French and it was. It was one of the world's first great bestsellers.

David: 13:40 I've read somewhere. I don't know if this how accurate it is, but if if you translated those numbers into today's numbers, it would be over six and a half million copies sold and

Clay: 13:50 in his own time, if, if you sell 500,000 books, you should be able to retire, but he didn't. He didn't take any of this cash. He bought Mittens and he let publishers take the money and he there was. There were not adequate copyright laws, so the book was reprinted all over the United States in the world without any attribution at times, and certainly without any emoluments, but my point is that this book was one, I think I just read today that there were 400 pamphlets about this independence and sovereignty in our quarrel with Britain published in the 18 months around this 400 other pamphlets. One and only one burst onto the world and became one of the world's most important books. And that's Common Sense. And so the question you have is why? There were other people making these arguments. Is it because of the timing? Is it because of his unique prose style? What enabled Common Sense too to go viral when most things don't?

David: 14:48 I think he made an excellent argument.

Clay: 14:48 What's the argument?

David: 14:52 To me, there's two central.

Clay: 14:52 Okay. Let's hear your two

David: 14:56 That is that hereditary monarchy is inherently corrupt and I've over the British system is something we can no longer tolerate

Clay: 15:05 First section is on Monarchy and he says it's absurd. No rational being would do it. There's no — There's no defense. Defensive monarchy, especially hereditary monarchy. It's a historical accident and we should. We should break ourselves from that whole world of monarchy and especially hereditary monarchy once and for all. That's the first part.

David: 15:24 The second takeaway is that he makes the case that the time is right for America to break bonds with Britain and declare her independence

Clay: 15:32 you know, what struck me in the. So there are these sections in the second section is about the timing and we have to do it now — what he says, really you want to reconcile. They sent troops that stirred up slave insurrections. They've, they've convinced the native peoples of the West to attack our border settlements. They burned towns, they've killed American citizens. You really want to reconcile with these people? I mean, they're, they're terrorizing us. We can't reconcile with them.

David: 15:57 The other thing I kind of took away from it is he almost made it as if it was a sermon that was given, you know, at the parts in, in chapter two that are, I don't know if you want to say antisemitic, but borderline. Um, and, but he does, you know, he makes all these biblical references.

Clay: 16:14 Well, he shows that there's no biblical basis for monarchy. Very interesting. He says, look, when the, when the Israelites wanted kings, their prophet said, don't do it. It's a bad idea. God's the only king humans should govern themselves.

David: 16:31 Don't you think that had some, uh, attraction to citizens of the time?

Clay: 16:37 It shocked people because, because there were books written, there's one called Patriarcha that was written in the renaissance and the in the 17th century that said that kingship is the natural form of government. Just as the father is the center — its argument is that just as the father should be the patriarch of the family, so to, there should be a patriarch of the culture that this is God's will and that so kingship is not an artificial form. It's, it's inevitable and it's right. It's natural and Paine 's view is, No, it's not right. It's not natural. It's artificial and the he goes, he's very Jeffersonian in many respects, or Jefferson is very pain. Like he says. It might be one thing to make David Swenson the king if you're unscrupulous or lucky or powerful or or maybe wise, but what makes you think that your children and grandchildren deserve to be kings? You know that the idea of hereditary monarchy is just on the face of things moronic and absurd. That's a very convincing argument. And Jefferson followed. He once said to Hamilton before we have hereditary monarchy, should we try hereditary calculus now? You know, that's all — Let's try a hereditary mathematics. See how that works out?

David: 16:37 Great argument.

Clay: 17:58 So it is a great argument that the and the argument for hereditary monarchy, which was put forward by Alexander Hamilton, is that it's stable. So you make George the second may be a good King George. The third may be a weak king, but at least there's no succession crisis. There's no legitimacy crisis, but Paine shows that's not true. He says in the history of the British monarchy from the time of William the conqueror and he has the x number of rebellions and y number of civil wars and he says it's not a smooth transition at all.  It's attended with chaos. So don't, don't argue that it's a more stable form of government. It isn't. And it's an. It's absurd on the face.

David: 18:38 You talked earlier about when Thomas Paine arrived in America, how Franklin had something to do with him coming. So he got here in November 1774 and that was like right before the battles of Lexington and Concord. My impression is that had pretty big effect on him —

Clay: 18:53 the violence. He said, you know, people in America think we'll work this out. We'll reconcile. But he said, don't call it your mother country. Your mother country sends troops, including foreign mercenaries to kill you in the streets. That's not natural. You can't reconcile after that. That's not like a dispute in parliament where you you shout at each other, but then you go have supper together or you agree to disagree. They're waging war against America. They've sent the largest body of troops in the history of the Atlantic to put down a rebellion. George, the third, is denounced the American rebels in parliament. There are bills of attainder and prescription lists for people like Jefferson and Washington and others. There is no reconciliation possible. You cannot work this out, and he says, independence is going to come one way or the other. The American resource base, the huge geographic land base and the population increase are such that there's. It's inevitable that at some point America is not going to be part of Britain anymore, and so the time has come. That's your timing argument. Let's get it over with. If we miss this, we're not only ducking this thing that we're going to have to do at some point anyway, but we're actually, we're betraying the human project because we are vindicating the idea of the dignity of man and the freedom and equality of man, and if we fail at this, we become part of the problem, so now is the time. It's a — There's an urgent sermonic feel to it that we mustn't duck this opportunity that has been forced upon us by a bad king, a bad ministry in a bad parliament.

David: 20:30 He also wasn't real impressed with the American public. Two years after the publication of Common Sense. He wrote that the American product, might've found he. They might have been led by a thread and governed by a read. Their attachment to Britain was obstinate

Clay: 20:49 and Jefferson notices that to that. At any given moment, if there had been a plebiscite, the American people would probably have wanted to stay under the British crown.

David: 20:57 Where does that come from?

Clay: 20:59 Jefferson talks about this and says that the people were conservative. They didn't like this change. They liked being British citizens, but they were tired of being mistreated.

David: 21:08 Wow. So much. For majority rule, Mr Jefferson

Clay: 21:10 Jefferson admitted that the revolution was done by a junta of very smart revolutionary character.

David: 21:17 We've got to talk about that — right now, we need to take a short break, but we'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jr.

David: 21:28 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson, our your weekly conversation with her about president Thomas Jefferson. Seated across from you this Week is the creator of the Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Clay Jenkinson

Clay: 21:40 We're in studio, because this is the second installment of the Thomas Jefferson book club. Where better to be. Well, you don't want to be in the barn. Well, not with all these books in front of. You don't want that. That kind of stale manure smell in your library. So wait, before we took this break, you said that Jefferson kind of knew this wasn't the majority that want a more than majority of American citizens. Wanted to find a way to reconcile with Britain and in fact Common Sense deals with that throughout. Well, Jefferson understood that it's hard to do what we did in 1776, that people are essentially conservative and remember in the declaration, he says, um, we do not want to do this for light and transient causes. Mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing their former systems of government. He says, look, none of us really wanted this. There might have been a few hotheads who wanted this, but we didn't really want this, but it's been forced upon us and now that it's been forced upon us, we're going to do it. But Jefferson understood that the great majority of the american people just wanted to be left alone. They wanted to be untaxed or lightly taxed. They wanted representation. They didn't want to be taxed without their consent. They didn't like some of the things that great Britain was doing, but they didn't really get upset in a big, big way until after the British close the port of Boston following the Boston tea party and then sent troops and burned Norfolk. For example. The British came and burned to the ground and you know, killed people, and then I read, I read Joseph Ellis' book as you did about the summer of 1776 and he talks about how the hessian mercenaries bayoneted the people they wanted, so they shoot a bunch of american colonists and then they'd go and killed them. They bayonet them. This was not like, okay, we've wanted to do. You're now our prisoners will release you at a certain point. And the. And the sense one gets is that the British were way too forceful in the violence with which they tried to put down the rebellion and if they hadn't done that Paine says we might not have wanted independence. It was the violence of the parent to the child that that forced us to do, to swallow hard and declare independence. Jefferson is of of much the same point of view. David, he wrote a letter to another. John Randolph, not our John Randolph who had moved to England a loyalist and he said, look, nobody in this course. So Jeffersonian. Nobody wishes more than I do to reconcile and to. He's a but, but there's one thing that I that I hate more than a rebellion and that is being enslaved by the British ministry so we don't want to rebel, but we have to because the only thing that's worse than that is the way Britain has systematically treated us and we can't be human beings and hold our heads up if we put up with that, and so Jefferson understood that, that the american people were not really right for revolution and John Adams understood the two and in his deepest frustration in the second continental congress, as he couldn't even get the other members of the of the congress to agree to independence. They were like, well, maybe we can work it out. Let's go back to our home constituencies. We better write back for advice and Adam's view was, look, folks, there's no return. There's no going back. You've got to have the moral courage to do this, but it took more than Just the circumstances that took propaganda and whatever else you call Common Sense. It is a propaganda piece and Paine knew that it was a propaganda piece. He was trying to convince the american people to take this grave step, and he used all of the tricks that a master pamphleteer can use. He called George the third the royal brute of England, and he uses ridicule sarcasm. And then he has these inspiring passages in which he says the american causes the cause of all mankind. Where it's like not, you're not just some guy from Virginia, you're not just some, some merchant from Boston. This is the cause of humankind.

David: 25:49 I think that comes from the introduction. If you want to try reading it out loud, read the introduction. It's not long. And it's wonderful because he makes those arguments. And then in the end he says, uh, these are what citizens should be like. And I am one. And, and I think it's, I don't know if you mentioned earlier that when we were talking about his difficulties with publishers and things he — he wanted to be anonymous. And uh, and, and the original edition is by an american.

Clay: 26:22 the amazing thing that I read in reading this about this in this, I'm reading a wonderful biography, and of course I've read Christopher Hitchens, who left, who for some reason Just adored Thomas Paine

David: 26:34 I have not. I should read that one.

Clay: 26:39 Christopher hitchens was — I'm deeply unarmored of hitchens. I've got his book, arguably, which is his essays. If you look at the index, you think, how did one man know all that? It's unbelievable. He loved Paine. He liked jefferson, but he loved Paine. I'm also reading John Keane's, excellent biography. Tom Paine a political life, and one of the things that's so interesting given the fact that our first book club selection was Joseph Ellis founding family. when Paine finished Common Sense, it was anonymous. There were lots of people thought franklin had written it. No one was quite sure. Well then he publishes these 13 essays called the crisis papers, one for each of the colonies, and Abigail Adams is reading the crisis papers which are anonymous, and she says in a letter to john, I think this is the same guy who wrote Common Sense. She is one amazing woman. She's reading an anonymous newspaper set of essays and she recognizes that — That's got to be the guy who wrote Common Sense. Now John Adams as usual david, both admired Paine and detested him. He admired him because of course paine did this great thing. He probably changed the course of human history with his propaganda.

David: 26:39 say that again?

Clay: 27:59 Yeah. This book by. I read this twice in this book by john keane. Tom paine a political life and he says, thomas paine changed the course of human history and he didn't know it when he wrote Common Sense.

David: 27:59 He kind of declares that

Clay: 28:15 but you can declare what you want.

David: 28:17 You know this. This is the cause of all mankind

Clay: 28:20 but I could write this and it could be stillborn. He wrote this. He did not know that this was going to become one of the greatest moments in the history of publishing

David: 28:29 right place, right time.

Clay: 28:31 Who knows. genius too. I mean, he had a genius for making the sale. You know, writing the argument, convincing people, lifting you up, sarcasm, hope, dreams, viciousness, solid argumentation. George Washington said in praising Common Sense, he said, it's unarguable. His arguments cannot be refuted. His arguments are unarguably good. So he had all these different qualities plus this plain prose style. Remember at this time most people were writing in this artificial ciceronian way with subordinate clause after subordinate clause, things like knowing that humankind has always been given over to vicious vicissitudes and aware that humans try things that don't always work out and furthermore and so on, all that stuff that wasn't Paine. It was noun, verb, noun, noun, verb, noun, direct, simple vocabulary didn't want to, to use any of the rhetorical tools that were associated with cicerone in english.

David: 29:34 And he made people think about government in a way I suspect they did not, right away in the, in the first section, you know, he talks about he, he makes this argument about government is a necessary evil

David: 29:34 society is good, government is bad

David: 29:48 And uh, one is, is for our betterment and one is for our vices.

Clay: 29:54 And John keane in this biography, which I'm touting, says that he was the first political thinker in the english language to separate government from society. Previously government and society had been sort of the same thing, the same cookie, but Paine said, no, society is good. You and I live in a place. I want to build a boat. I can't build it by myself. I come to you and say, david helped me build a boat. You do. Then you can get your harvest hearing jefferson this Way all the time to build the bar.

David: 30:23 One man on an island, another —

Clay: 30:27 So he says, that's good. You know, you and I, if there were six of us, we come together and we agree to put up each other's barns and harvest

David: 30:35 If there was only one of us, we may perish,

Clay: 30:37 we could perish. So society is inevitable and natural and good. But he says, however, at a certain point, person x is going to spin out of control and try to cheat his neighbors. Now what?

David: 30:49 or even more. At a certain point, We're going to decide we need a leader and we appoint a king

Clay: 30:53 Right so we appoint a leader to solve our disputes. So we say, look, uh, no one's minding anyone else's fence lines here. We're going to have to create a government. And he says, government is about human frailty. Government is about evil. Government is, is, is what you have to do, because human nature is not always benevolent. Of course he's right and so you create government to be the arbitrator, but he says society is more important than government and we must always remember that. So that's one of the distinctions that he likes to make. And then he says, all right, so we need a government, how should we do it? And he says, if you were really being rational, the last thing you would do would be to create monarchy. The monarchy is just a, an inherently stupid idea. You should have a rotating presidency or you should have a counsel or representative system. He says, he says it's an absurdity. And he says, and you know what people say, they say two things about it. They say that it's biblically based and he says, not so and proves it, and he says, they say it's stable, not so, and then he points to the like the wars of the roses and james the second and charles the first and says it is a highly unstable system. This monarchy, he traces it back to william the conqueror and says, how about that? The british love their kingship and comes from a usurper who came from France in the 11th century and they're okay with that. That the french invaded their island and broaden the norman invasion, 1066 and all that. And they praise the system. The Hanoverian kings date from the norman conquest where foreigners occupied  and took over your country.

David: 32:36 That's a great example of him bringing forth an argument that probably

Clay: 32:36 no one thought about

David: 32:42 especially common folks. Uh, and it was a really good point.

Clay: 32:46 He is a tremendous use of sarcasm. And to say, you know, in our time you can say anything you want about anybody, but back then remember voltaire — same age, criticized the aristocracy of France and he was beaten up by roughians who were employed by french aristocrats, I mean he was publicly beaten in the streets almost to death for saying that aristocracy is flawed, so Paine when he says that george, the third is the royal brute of england. He's saying Things that are much crazier than they seem today when we are all rude and vulgar

David: 33:26 When you say sarcasm, we think of it in our own terms, but he writes in england, a king hath little more to do than make war and giveaway places, which in plain terms is to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears — so that that's, that's his sarcasm, right?

Clay: 33:44 Of course. And he says that, you know, the, the people praise the british constitution and say, well, the king is, is no longer absolute, but he said, we get we, we left him the key. We left them the key to absolutism and he says, the fact that he gives out places, he creates jobs. He, he, he gives pensions. He, he creates knights and, and nobles and gives people cabinet positions that gives him essentially unlimited power over england.

David: 34:09 Pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed 800,000 sterling a year for and worshiped into the bargain of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of god than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.

Clay: 34:31 Crowned ruffians. Say that to george, the third or louis the 16th.

David: 34:33 well, maybe that's why he was anonymous. What do you think?

Clay: 34:36 How about this? This is from the first page, how impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm who in the midst of his splendor, his crumbling into dust. He calls a monarch is just a worm dying like the rest of us

David: 34:51 There's that american spirit about, hey, you the establishment, take this. Really

Clay: 34:57 But then there's the more inspiring side. So there's the deep angry, sarcastic and vicious side, but then he says, this is my page 11. The son never shined on a cause of greater worth does not. The affair of a city, a country, a province or kingdom, but of a continent of at least one eighth part of the habitable grow. A globe does not. The concern of a day, a year or an age posterity are virtually involved in the contest and we'll be more or less affected even to the end of time by the proceedings now. Now is the seed time of continental union faith and honor the least fracture. Now won't be like a name engraved with a point of a pin on a tender rind of a young oak and the wound will enlarge with the tree and posterity. Read it in full so when you did the pin oak and large, with

David: 35:45 all these arguments that he makes using nature as an example

Clay: 35:51 very jeffersonian that, and he says of America, the commerce by which he hath enriched yourself are the necessaries of life and will always have a market. In other words, the fact that America is this giant resource base means that we're always going to win because the world is going to want our tobacco and our trees and our indigo and our flax — that that America is set up in a way that no other nation is. Finland, Sweden, Germany, britain. They have tiny resource bases and they must trade, but America has that which everybody wants and so you're always going to be all right and you don't need great britain.

David: 36:30 In section three, thoughts on the present state of american affairs. Um, he talks about the hostilities between england and the american colonies, but then he gets into some pretty specific suggestions about how a government would work

Clay: 36:46 So he knows that the, the people are going to say to him, fine. We get it. Monarchy doesn't work. It's absurd.  So what's your, what's your positive idea? That's what we always say. Remember when you were 18 and your, your teacher in high school would say — yeah david, but what, what do you want to build? We know what you want to tear down — They talk like, yeah, what's your positive thing? But they said that they say to paine, okay, so what's your. And he says, well, we need a representative democracy. We're too big for democracy. So we'll have representation. He has this ingenious thing that each state is going to put up a presidential candidate and we'll rotate so that every state will get represented over time He has a whole series of proposals,

David: 36:46 Calls for a congress made up of at least 390 representatives from thirteen colonies

Clay: 36:46 We're 535 in the year, 2018, he wanted three 90 in the year, 1775 or six and at

David: 37:47 the congress would meet annually and elect a president. Um, each colony would be put into a lottery. The president would be elected by the whole congress, so it gets pretty detailed about how this could work.

Clay: 37:56 So, so many people are like Patrick Henry or Samuel Adams, they know how to tear down, but they don't have a positive plan. Paine saying, I do, want to hear the positive plan? Here it is.

David: 38:06 He also says that smarter men than me could refine it.

Clay: 38:11 And you know who one of them was? John adams, because he said this kind of, you know, this is so out of like, this guy knows nothing about government. He's, I mean, you look at as positive suggestions they're nuts. Adam's just couldn't stand it. He couldn't ever stand for anyone to be popular and he and he didn't like Paine's popularity, and so he got him in the only place he could, which was that he, John Adams, had worked out a smarter system for the positive future of our constitution

David: 38:37 Not that I don't believe you, but can you tell me the historical reference for knowing that adams was jealous of thomas paine?

Clay: 38:43 in the letters to jefferson He goes on and on about how Paine was overrated.

David: 38:43 Really?

Clay: 38:50 Yes. Just look him up in leicester captain's edition of the letters of jefferson and adams, or go to passionate sage and look up thomas paine adams. I mean, there has to be said that I know that you're going to object as an adams rite, but adam's couldn't stand anybody. Celebrity. he tried to bring down Jordan, Washington's celebrity, jefferson's celebrity, Franklin's celebrity, Paine's celebrity.

David: 39:12 I agree with you. I think it may. In a case of Adams, it was not so much he was trying to bring people down, is bring himself up and it was the wrong way to do it — He never thought

Clay: 39:23 Listen to this from Common Sense. Oh, ye that love mankind either — dare oppose not only the tyranny, but the tyrant stand forth. Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and africa long expelled her. Europe regards. You're like a stranger and england have given her warning to depart. Oh, receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

David: 39:23 That's great.

Clay: 39:47 Isn't that great? That's that kind of stirring sermon. You America — That's what's on the statue of liberty. Bring us your tired, your poor. The idea of the american dream that everyone who's who, who couldn't get a chance somewhere else in the world might get a chance in America. We're facing that battle right now on our southern border. our greatness has been welcoming those who can't find freedom or due process or the rule of law somewhere else, and there are other saying enough already.

David: 40:13 This is great to hear your insight on this. But we need to take a short break. We'll be back in just a moment to continue our discussion about Common Sense. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour

Clay: 40:28 and welcome back to this special edition of the Thomas Jefferson. Our I'm clay jenkinson and seated across from me is my friend david Swenson, the semipermanent guest host of the Thomas Jefferson or you suggested Common Sense. I'm glad you did. And then you read it out loud for our 17, 76 club members.

David: 40:45 well, I made an attempt. I listened to you read and go, You should have done it.

Clay: 40:49 I want to say this about paine. This was just the beginning. So Common Sense is a famous document that almost nobody reads. He went onto write the age of reason, which — We all have heard about it. Yeah. He also wrote the rights of man and other things, the crisis papers and a whole range of things and in the course of his life he developed a kind of a plan and he's really the father of the welfare state. He wants workman's comp. He wants old age pensions, he wants unemployment insurance. He's a feminist, I mean he is a, and he was viciously anti slavery. In fact, he came to the attention of Benjamin Rush — of the great physician from philadelphia — because of antislavery article he wrote for the Pennsylvania magazine. I was making a list of this as I read book this weekend. I thought, okay, Benjamin Rush was a principled antagonist of slavery.

David: 41:37 He just pops up everywhere.

Clay: 41:39 Joseph priestley was a principal, the antagonist of slavery, hamilton and adams, paine. How did jefferson do this? Like people that admire him deeply have written about how slavery has no defense and jefferson finds a way to convince them that he's okay. That's a lot of very close personal friends who admired him deeply, who found slavery to be an unbelievable blot and somehow they kind of gave jefferson a pass. It's a strange phenomenon that he knew so many antislavery advocates and they corresponded about all sorts of things and they all kind of agreed not to bring up the elephant in the room with jefferson. it just makes you sad because you love Benjamin Rush. You love tom paine, you love joseph priestley, you love Richard Price, you love adams and so on, and all of them thought, you know, if we're going to do a revolution, let's see this thing through and let's stop that thing. Slavery. and jefferson was like tragically foot bound, tragically bound into the world of slavery, he couldn't wriggle his way out of it, and he somehow made it clear that he was an okay guy

David: 43:00 in your argument, which I agree with as you also have to look at this other group of men as perhaps enablers

Clay: 43:06 because they didn't challenge him

David: 43:08 well. We don't know or do we?

Clay: 43:11 Well, once John Adams did, we've talked about this and laid in their correspondence. Adam, this is during the Missouri compromise of 18, 19 and 20th. Adam says, look, all this time I've known you. I've never brought this up. I don't really want to bring it up now. I trust you and Washington and madison and monroe. You're good men. I've always thought you would have to figure out a way out of this and this. Not for me, you know, in new england, but he says, but the Missouri compromise makes me dream at night of of apocalyptic armies of black people and white people and he said it sort of — we're going to have to talk about this and he says, and that's all I want to say, and then he says, but I shouldn't maybe even have brought it up because I trust you. I know you, I believe in you. And then jefferson of course doesn't respond because he doesn't have a response.

David: 43:11 How could he?

Clay: 44:03 He doesn't have a response, but it's the only time that adams ever said to him, what? I mean you're jefferson. You're bigger than this. You're like, you're the last person who should be defending slavery by, by omission or, or inaction or. So you're saying they enabled him. They did to a certain degree because they understood

David: 44:25 I was asking if you thought they did

Clay: 44:28 I do think they did because they knew that you. You can't win argument, but they knew that look, I mean, this is how I see it too. Thomas Jefferson is this renaissance man. He's gifted in everything he does. He's the most elegant writer. Perfect penmanship. He's a universal genius. He's like, in some ways the greatest american. There is this really severe problem, but that's not enough to discredit him. There's so much that's great about him. We won't bring that up much because there's nowhere to go with it. Anyway.

David: 45:04 Obviously there are. There are those who think it is enough to discredit him, but you're talking about his time —

Clay: 45:12 — of his friends, and, they made a bargain and the bargain was, there's so much that is admirable about this man. He's been so important. Tool are caused to this world that we have to somehow not get stuck there. It's not that we agree with him or or or give him a pass, but we're not going to get stuck there because he's so very, very admirable and so many other ways. Today, It's just the reverse. As you know, there are people who say, I don't give a darn whether he knew ancient greek or could build a nice edifice. He was a slaveholder, and so we get letters about this. I get that, but in his own time, there was a kind of a tacit, unspoken bargain that there's no point in going after jefferson on slavery because there's nowhere to go with it.

David: 46:01 A couple things. One is, it's agreed that without thomas paine's Common Sense, the revolution may not have occurred. John adams said, without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.

Clay: 46:18 So this is about the power of language

David: 46:18 right

Clay: 46:22 Did you see the new churchill film?

David: 46:22 Yes

Clay: 46:24 We're the last line by his enemy. His sworn enemy is. Oh my. He's marshaled the english language into the war

David: 46:24 right

Clay: 46:24 That's jefferson and Tom Paine. George Washington couldn't do it

David: 46:24 That's a great comparison.

Clay: 46:35 James madison couldn't do it. I mean, there are a handful of people who have this capacity with language. Jefferson had it, Paine had it, madison didn't, monroe didn't. John adams didn't. George Washington didn't, but there are a handful of people who somehow bring to bear a certain way of communicating at a certain moment with a certain persona and it clicks into place and it's like nuclear detonation. What happens? It goes viral and changes the world.

David: 47:07 Paine ends this argument in the book. What he does is he lays all this stuff out. He's, he's got the reasons of nature and god and against kings and monarchy and how we could put this whole plan into place. And then in the end he says, and oh, by the way, America, you are the strongest and best and most able to create this form of government that will last through the ages and here's why. And he does it through the idea of why America is so capable of creating its own navy. And I just think it was. I thought that was brilliant. Um, that you, you, you're nodding your head.

Clay: 47:47 There'll be. Well, first of all, he has three arguments, really. One is that we can be fortress America

David: 47:47 right

Clay: 47:52 Because we're 3000 miles from them

David: 47:52 right

Clay: 47:55 Number two, we have the resource base that no other nation in human history has ever had. And so we're, we're set, we're going to be fine.

David: 48:00 Then it gets into details about how, you know, the dutch can't do this. They can build the ships, but they need our raw materials and oh, by the way, if we build these ships, we can get their gold and silver and — that's a great argument

Clay: 48:12 The third thing is that he's anticipating Alfred Thayer Mahan's view that the influence of sea power on history, that the nation that controls the seas controls the world. That that changed the life of theodore roosevelt, but he's saying you have the timber to build a navy that britain can't build. They don't have the timber. you, you will be the hegemon if you wish to be. And he says it has to be now because if you don't do it now, where's your self respect? You know, it's like what you say to someone, a battered spouse. When you say, you know, you gotta just do it. You just got to move into the shelter. You, you're enabling If you stay and he's basically saying America, if you stay with britain and try to work it out, you're enabling more abuse. You've, you just have to do it. You have to. You have to take the moment to have the moral courage to do the thing you know you're going to have to do, and by the way it's coming no matter what you say, but if you don't do it now, it's shame on you because look, they're, they're mowing you down in the streets, guys

David: 48:12 great discussion

Clay: 48:12 They're burning your houses down.

David: 49:12 Great discussion. I, I have learned so much from you this week.

Clay: 49:14 you're the one who voiced it. I want to hear it. I had to read it. If I could have listened to you while being out in the garden.

David: 49:20 Well, let's not pitch it too much,

Clay: 49:22 You have to be a 1776 club member to hear this?

David: 49:24 That's right. Go to jeffersonhour.com.

Clay: 49:28 If you want to hear Swenson Read — By the way, do you know christopher hitchens? You got to read his books. He, for some reason, he adored tom paine.

David: 49:28 I've read hitchens, but not this one.

Clay: 49:38 So I'm going gonna leave this with you and

David: 49:40 bless your heart. Thank you

Clay: 49:41 hitchens the author of the number one bestseller, God is not great. this was thomas paine's the rights of man. what an interesting story. You know, thomas Paine. Our next book, the histories of Tacitus.

David: 49:51 Can we wait till after gardening?

Clay: 49:53 Okay, well, what's the next book? Because we have to do one.

David: 49:55 Well, we'll talk about it, but right now sir, it is time for this week's jefferson watch.

Clay: 50:01 When thomas paine died in june 1809. He was buried on his farm in new rochelle, New York. The farm had been awarded to him by the state of New York for his work on behalf of american independence. Paine was not much of a farmer, but he was glad to have a piece of property from which he could derive some income and a refuge from the press of urban life and the persecution of his many enemies. He had a lot of enemies. Most american people then were pious and righteous and Paine was wrongly considered a filthy atheist. He was not an atheist. like his steady friend Thomas Jefferson, Paine was a deist. That is, he believed in a god ordered universe, but had significant doubts about the divinity of jesus, the miracles, the trinity, and the apocalyptic matter in the new testament. Jefferson wisely kept such thoughts mostly to himself. Paine published the age of reason in 1794 and 1796, and it may be said that his reputation in the United States never recovered. Two things are important to note about this. First, the age of reason was not an atheistic or impious book. Though of course one's enemies invariably use whatever club they can find or fabricate to damage those with whom they disagree. Second and more important, paine wrote the age of reason in a filthy death row prison cell in France. Think of that the age of reason on death row. He was jailed by the marat/robespierre faction of the french revolution for being to moderate and humane. He famously pled for the lives of louis the 16th and marie antoinette against those who wish to cut their heads off. That Paine was not himself. Beheaded during the reign of terror would be regarded as nearly miraculous, but of course both Paine and jefferson would have declined to see his survival in such god. Active terms, jefferson's refusal to join the chorus of american leaders who denounced Paine was politically costly to him, more controversial than most things jefferson did in his public life when Paine was finally ready to return to the United States in 1802 jefferson offered to bring him to his adopted home country in a public sailing vessel. This did not actually happen, but Paine haters denounced jefferson for almost fairing and infidel and of vulgarian from France to the United States. Then Paine stayed with jefferson for a short time in the white house about a month, and this is you might expect drove the most vicious element in american life. Insane. Sound familiar, but what interests me today in the early summer of 2018 are two ironies. First paine's, great book, Common Sense, which was for the american revolution. What president lincoln said, harriet beecher stowe, uncle tom's cabin was for the civil war, was a stunning success because it was written in plain, straightforward, unadorned, simple and racy Prose, in fact, Paine wanted to call it plain truth, but as new friend Benjamin Rush suggested that it might better be called Common Sense. I read Common Sense for the first time in many years, last weekend, I wish every american would take time to read it. This week after you hear this, it is available in all sorts of free online formats and now for 1776 club members and david swenson's voice, but here's the great irony. I expect that many who started, we'll put it down because they find it too difficult to read, too difficult to follow the argument. Think about that for a moment. We have dumbed down our national cultural literacy to the point that a book written so that every american of its time could read it and grasp its meaning is now probably too difficult for the mass of people that Paine sought to reach and persuade. If this is true, if I'm right about this, we are in very, very deep trouble. As a nation, a self governing people can only govern itself sensibly if it understands what's at stake. When America became a mostly materialistic society of stuff and entertainment delivery engine, we lost any chance to be the world's most remarkable republic. The establishment, by which I mean the institutional culture of government, church, educational institutions, foundations, nonprofits, the media, museums, galleries and libraries, the establishment is the part of America that still believes in the program of the enlightenment. It is very far from perfect the deep state. We all know that, but it should be reformed, not destroyed, and we all know even it's torchbearers know that a kind of cultural nihilism. As at the heart of the trump revolution. This will sound simplistic, but, uh, people who can no longer read Common Sense can no longer serve as a shining lamp to the world. Here's the second irony. After paine's death and admiring journalist and political radical named william cabot decided that a citizen of the world like Paine should not be buried in an obscure farmstead in rural New York. So he exude the body and took it to britain to be buried in some more honorable Way at some location where painted my iris could make a pilgrimage to visit the grave of one of the most important rights advocates of the modern world. But for reasons that cannot now be sorted out, cabot never accomplished his goal, and if you can imagine it, thomas paine's bones were lost and never rediscovered. All you can say is, how can this be that thomas paine's bones were tampered with for seemingly admirable reasons. And then lost. I have a little experience along those lines. Not worth mentioning here, but it seemed to me all of my life and especially since 9/11, that archaeology is a fundamentally problematic business. If you could find an x ray machine that would show us where all the annex zoomed greek, persian and chinese statues are buried. The mycenaean jewelry and the gold death masks the vote of objects, the effigies and vases and headdresses deep in the earth where corrosive oxygen cannot get at them. Your instinct would be to dig them up, conserve them, and place them in museums. But the minute something is yanked up and into the world, into the air, into the uncertainty, greed, theft, and vandalism of the world, its sanctity and security become eroded. When pompeii was excavated, the archeologists found magnificent frescoes on The walls of the roman city shops, homes and taverns. Many of those priceless treasurers are now lost because oxygen went to work on them for the first time since 79 AD, and some ironic sense, the safest place to leave a classical greek amphora or vase or the bones of sacagawea for that matter is where they were buried either deliberately or by the record builder earth. If al qaeda hit the library of congress with the bomb or the national archives of the smithsonian, the louvre, the british museum or the chicago art institute, we will lose many of the world's greatest treasures in an instant, but 40 feet beneath crete or jerusalem, whatever is there is safe until someone with a backhoe or toothbrush starts nosing around. If cabot had just left tom paine's bones on the farm in new rochelle where they belonged, thousands of pilgrims would make their way to new rochelle every year to pay their respects to one of the great men of the enlightenment, one of the few individuals who can accurately be sad to have changed the world. Indeed, new rochelle would be blessed with all sorts of tourism possibilities, including no doubt, a tom paine interpretive center, but cabot wanted more for Paine and wound up giving him less. We think we are the enlightened ones, not we, but we are human. All too human and american troops stood by during the second gulf war and watched as the iraqi national museum was looted by the poor, the greedy and the nihilists. I'm clay Jenkinson. We'll see you next week for another exciting edition of the Thomas Jefferson hour.

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