"We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
– Benjamin Franklin
Setting The Scene
January 1: Four British warships fired on Norfolk, Virginia
January 8: Connecticut troops launch a surprise attack on Charlestown, MA, while British top brass are watching a farce entitled “The Blockade” at Fanueil Hall.
January 9: An agreement between Britain and Brunswick – Wolfenbuettel is signed to provide mercenary troops to the British in North America.
January 10: Knox and his guns reach the heights of the Berkshires.
January 10: In Philadelphia, Common Sense is published.
January 14: Washington writes: “Few people know the predicament we are in.”
January 16: Washington holds a council of war with Generals Putnam, Ward, Spencer, Sullivan, Greene, Gates, and Heath regarding the importance of taking Boston.
January 17: News arrives at headquarters about American losses at Quebec.
January 18: Knox arrives in Cambridge
The tea had been dumped in Boston Harbor, Paul Revere and four other riders had ridden shouting the famous warning, the Minutemen had rallied at the rude bridge in Concord in ’75. On January 1, 1776, a proclamation called for a new kind of soldier: a Continental soldier. The nascent war effort was stumbling with “soldiers” who slipped away in the night to harvest their crops or visit their girlfriends. Continental Soldier. It sounded grand, promised pay and, the kicker, the soldier served for three straight years, long enough to actually learn military decorum. Symbolically, a Continental Army would pull together the scattershot militias from 13 colonies into a force that just might be able to hold off the redcoats.
Truth be told, the 13 colonies were not a nation at war. Or even a nation. John Adams was to calculate, and later historians were to alter the proportions only somewhat, that one third of Americans "were averse to the Revolution... An opposite third conceived a hatred of the English [and] the middle third, comprising principally the yeomanry, the soundest part of the nation, and always averse to war, were rather lukewarm ... and sometimes the whole body united with the first or the last third, according to circumstances."
Emotions were high, but mixed. Ben Franklin said the year before that he had heard no American talk of independence, "drunk or sober."
A Virginian wrote to a friend: "May God put a speedy and happy end to this... contest between the mother and her children. The Colonies do not wish to be independent ... They would freely grant the King whatever he pleases to request of their own Assemblies, provided the Parliament has no hand in the disposing of it." That was the rub: the King. Angry as many Americans were at his government, they could not translate that fury to George III himself. Even in Boston, where the redcoats of General William Howe had held the city under siege for six months, as late as this very January, the officers in Washington's mess toasted the King's health every evening.
Not that there weren't some hawks, drunk or sober. In late 1775, the New York Journal reported from Newport, Rhode Island, that: '''Early last Saturday morning, one Coggeshall, being somewhat drunk or crazy, went on the long wharf and turned up his backside towards the bomb brig in this harbor, using some insulting words, upon which the brig fired two four-pound shot at him; one of which went through the roof of Mr. Hammond's store ... and lodged in Mr. Samuel Johnson's distill house." Coggeshall was quickly hustled out of town.
The Founding Corset-Maker
Tom Paine had been a dabbler at many things, a failure at all. Some of it he blamed on King George. It rankled even after he left England, so one day he took his quill and decided to put it all down on paper.
On January 9, 1776, in Philadelphia, a pamphlet titled Common Sense was published. It said in public what even most of the red-hot hawks had dared think only to themselves:
that the King was a tyrant and the only path for the colonies was independence. It uttered – screamed aloud – the unutterable. Probably more than any one event, more than any one person, Common Sense made it respectable for the general citizenry of the 13 colonies to conceive that their Revolution would be revolutionary; indeed to think of a communal future in independence.
The anonymously published pamphlet and the mystery of the author stoked interest. King George III thought Ben Franklin wrote it; others assumed it was John Adams. No, Thomas Paine had, even though he signed it merely, "an Englishman." Thomas Jefferson once said Paine was "the only writer in America, who can write better" than Jefferson himself. That was a signal compliment coming from a college-trained lawyer who was about to do some significant writing of his own. It is even more surprising considering that Paine was a dropout from school, who failed twice as a...