Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 8. 1776: Year of the Revolution?

The Electric Franklin

January 10, 1776

"Mamma, Mamma, come quick, Gwanpapa is dancing! Quick, Mamma!

Watching from the window where he always waits for Grandfather's return, Benny is beside himself. Aunt Sally grabs my arm, whispering "Did he stop at some tavern?" and shaking. And what do we see? The cane on which the Doctor generally leans heavily is twirling over his head and he is, yes, doing something like a dance in the falling snow.

We rush to open the front door and he rushes in, along with a gust of wind, all smiles, all pink in the face, all snowflakes. He speaks directly to me:

"Temple, this is it! This is the day that will change history! This is the pamphlet that will electrify public opinion! Here, help me unbutton my coat, my hands are frozen ..."

Five or six pamphlets are scattered on the floor. I read Common Sense, but no author's name. "Who wrote this?"

Copy of engraving after George Rommey.
"The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of mankind. Where, some say, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, He reigns above."
–Thomas Paine (pictured), Common Sense

"It's anonymous," he says, "but I'm almost sure that the author is Tom Paine. Only he could write that way, with such zest, such biting humor, such fire, and such deep knowledge of our situation."

Benny pipes up: "Are we going to have a wevolution?"

Grandfather, surprised: "Bennyboy, what do you know about revolutions?"

Benny: I don't know what a wevolution is. But at morning bweak, I go to where the big boys are standing, and I listen to them. They talk about a wevolution, they say they want one and they hope you, Gwanpapa, will start it, but their papas and mammas are not sure they want one.

Grandfather: "And the big boys don't mind you listening to them?"

Benny: "No. They say I will be a... a... news... paper... man some day, always poking my nose into things. And they laugh."

Grandfather: "If you decide to be a newspaperman, Benny, I'll be right there to help you. That's what I did when I was young, you know. Meanwhile, ask your mamma to bring me a cup of hot soup. I'm freezing."

And to me, he says: "Temple, read this pamphlet before going to sleep. Your whole school will be buzzing about it pretty soon, but do not reveal that Tom Paine is probably the author. It is less than fifty pages long, but what power it packs! I told you we would be living History, didn't I?"

Could I, should I tell him that my father, having been put under house arrest a few days ago, is also History? That my heart is heavy, that I wish he would talk to me about his son's fate? But that would take more courage than I have. As for History, all it has done for me so far is to push me around.

And so, up in my room after supper, I start reading Common Sense. Right or wrong, I've decided that the author has to be Paine.

The pamphlet is not published by Paine's regular editor, who may have judged it too blunt, but by a Mr. Bell, a Scot. That makes sense: England and Scotland have been at daggers drawn for a long time.

And now, honorable descendants, I have a problem. Should this brewing revolution not take place, or should it fail, Common Sense and its author will disappear from History and you'll wonder why I'm spending so much time discussing it. On the other hand, should the colonies, carried away by this flamboyant appeal, throw themselves into a war that will win them their independence, the text will become a classic, you'll have to study it in school, and maybe you'll feel some affection for your fifteen-year-old ancestor who is about to tell you about it, as best he can.

The author starts with a frontal attack against the British royal government, coupled with an attack against monarchy in general, and hereditary monarchy in particular. Monarchy, he says, is a perverse, illegitimate, absurd system that flies in the face of God's will. Paine does not only demolish the sacred aspect of the British monarchy, but of any monarchy, of any political system that puts an entire people at the mercy of a single human being, the King.