To the casual observer, January 10 is just like any other day on the calendar. Yet on this day, two events occurred that would help to shape our world. Two men, born in different eras and of different vocations would commit themselves and others to “treasonous” actions they both deemed necessary.
On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine’s most famous work, “Common Sense,” was published. By April of that same year the pamphlet had sold over 100,000 copies. An amazing feat for its time. So powerful was this pamphlet some dubbed Paine the “voice of the American Revolution.”
As it just so happened on January 10 in 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his legion while supposedly uttering the word “alea iacta est (“the die has been cast).” Prior to the crossing, the Roman Senate stripped Caesar of his power as governor and ordered him to disband his troops. Caesar’s actions on that day would also lend itself to the phrase “crossing the Rubicon,” which we use whenever somebody goes past the point of no return.
Both the actions of Caesar and Paine would in one form or another lead both of them to Civil War within their lives. One by the sword, the other by the pen.
Caesar’s crossing led to Roman Civil War, and his eventual rise as the “dictator for life” of the Roman Republic. Paine’s writings would help to clarify and give purpose to the cause of independence from a small island and its king.
In “Common Sense” there were two main themes that Paine explored. The first being that the American Colonies needed to declare independence. The second was that we should form a nation based on the values of a republic. A nation where “The Law was King”’ In essence what that phrase means is that no one person or institution is above the law.
Further still, that the law was made by the people for the people. Some of you may miss the conflict within that statement or believe that I am talking about one person. Depending on your political views, you may have attached that statement to a particular person. But I am not speaking solely to the individual, but to society and government as a whole. When one is out of balance with the other, conflict arises to the extreme. That is not just a lesson we learned in 2020, but throughout human history.
Paine knew that government in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one. Since our birth as a nation most have us looked at our government from both perspectives. For too many, hypocrisy and loyalty to the “politics of a party” tends to drive their state of mind more than balanced, rational thought.
Caesar was driven by his belief that the Roman Empire was falling apart, in large part because he believed that Rome had become a weak central government, and that political corruption was destroying the faith that people had in their government. When he crossed the Rubicon, his intent was to create a strong central government, to quell all resistance from the individual provinces, believing that he could forge a stronger Roman Empire, thus achieving a cohesive nation in which all would need to kneel and look to Rome.
Later in 1776 Paine would release the first in a series of writings entitled the “American Crisis,” more simply known at the time as “The Crisis.” It is within that first release in which Paine would lament that “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.”
Today I can’t help but reflect on Paine’s thoughts and the actions of Caesar and look to the fate of a country I love and have defended. Looking across our nation, listening to our citizens, I believe we have been miscast, constantly forcing ourselves to hate the “other side.” Contrary to hyperbole, this is by no means a new phenomenon. We are a nation in constant crisis, often of our own making. We are also a nation that has the capacity of great things in spite of our differences.
Above all else, I may disagree with some of you, but at the end of the day I don’t hate you and would do everything in my power to help those in need. That belief will always drive me more that any political differences we may have. There are times when we need less political talk, less social media, and a chance to step back from the “point of no return.”