To Begin the World Again
With Washington headed north to lead the army, John Adams needed to argue the cause of independence at the Second Continental Congress. Many delegates were Loyalists. They wanted to remain English subjects. They wanted to patch up the problems with the king. But things had gone too far. Most people's mood was changing. And, at that very moment, an eloquent writer appeared. He would convince many who had been unsure about the cause of liberty. His name was Tom Paine. He didn't hold back when he had something to say, and anyway this was no time for timid words. He began by calling King George "the royal brute of Great Britain." And he dismissed England itself as a mere island: "There is something absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. O Ye that love mankind! Ye that dares oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old World is overrun with oppression. Freedom has been hunted around the globe. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart."
As a boy, Tom Paine had been apprenticed to a corset maker, helping make women's tight-fitting undergarments. It wasn't much of a career for a boy with a mind like Tom's, so he ran away to sea. Later he worked as a school teacher, a tobacconist, and a grocer. But nothing seemed to work for him until one day in London he met Benjamin Franklin, who was visiting, and who helped him find a job in Philadelphia . That job, as a writer and magazine editor, was the perfect use of Tom Paine's talentsfor he was a magician with words. Paine was able to say clearly what people really knew in their hearts. In January 1776 he wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense , in which he said, "We have it in our power to begin the world again ."
We have it in our power to begin the world again. That's what they wanted to do. Start a new way of governing, something never done before. But it was the New England lawyer John Adams who more than anyone else convinced the congress to have the courage to "begin the world again." Adams kept talking and talking and talking until finally the delegates agreed to declare independence. When they did, he was elated, and said so in a July 1776 letter to his wife Abigail back in Massachusetts: "Yesterday, the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America.... A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony 'that these united Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.' ... It is the will of heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever."