In the year leading up to the American Revolution there were many opinions among the people as to what the status of the colonies should be. A slowly growing number favored independence, but at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence it was far from unanimous. In fact loyalty to the English Crown was still high in many people's hearts. So many had been born there, or their parents had. To be loyal to the Crown was to be a patriot. To be disloyal was to be a traitor. And nobody wants to be a traitor.
And this was a religious land. To fight against the king whom God had placed over us was not only traitorous, many thought it blasphemous.
In order for the revolutionary conspirators to gain the public sympathy, and the public rifles, they had to wage a war of words before and during the Revolution. This war of words was not intended to defeat the Red Coats, but rather to win over the colonists themselves. Before you can win a war, you need to enlist an army. And to do that, they needed to convince the people that it was not treasonous or blasphemous to fight against the king. They had to flip the moral tables that existed in people's minds; they had to redefine everything: authority, rights, despotism, treason, Providence and liberty all had to be reworked in the people's minds.
In his famous series of pamphlets, The Crisis, Thomas Paine undertook this project. By the end of the series the American understanding of itself and its world and its God had radically changed. It has been said that Thomas Paine started the Revolution. It could also be said that he won it.
America won her independence. But what did she lose in the process? After the war we were never inclined to look back, to ask ourselves if freedom and liberty and brotherhood truly were what the propagandists had told us they were. We only knew we had won. Suddenly there were no more loyalists to the crown. Everyone was on the same side now. It was the winning side. We had the ball and we were going to run with it, no looking back.
I sometimes wonder how wise that was.
Below is the beginning of Thomas Paine's first pamphlet in the series, The Crisis. The first word he works to redefine in the public imagination is the word "Patriot."
"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."