Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

Essay Read by Constituting America Founder, Actress Janine Turner



“But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.” – Thomas Paine, Common Sense, February 14, 1776.

It would be easy to conclude that the Declaration of Independence had been in development for a decade and simply finalized in the summer of 1776. The 1764 Sugar Act and the 1765 Stamp Act were the first in a long series of “repeated injuries and usurpations” cited in the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In fact, over the decade, numerous reconciliation appeals were made to the King of England to redress colonists’ grievances; the colonists were British citizens and wanted to remain so. It took a decade for the Continental Congress to be convened. Although the colonial militia had effectively defeated the British armed force in April 1775, the militia suffered defeat on Bunker Hill in June 1775. Therefore, one of the first acts of the Second Continental Congress was to pass the “Olive Branch Petition” in July 1775, an attempt by the colonies to avoid escalation into a full-scale war.

The Olive Branch Petition expressed loyalty to the King to avoid a larger war. The British Army and Navy were formidable and no American Army or Navy existed. To declare war on Britain in 1775 would have seemed an irrational act for a group of independent colonies. The delegates to the Continental Congress knew world history and knew that the odds of military success were slim to none should the British government send its Army and Navy in overwhelming force to defeat America’s militia. Debates for and against independence were vehement over the subsequent months, but the general mood was against declaring independence.

As happens frequently in world history, a single, unexpected spark turns events. Casual observers of recent American history can identify such events in our lifetimes, including 9.11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, among many others. So it was with the American Revolution.

That unexpected spark could not have been predicted. A man, Thomas Paine, arrived in America from England in November, 1774. He knew little about the American colonies and he was unknown among the members of the Continental Congress.

Paine’s personal and business life in England was unremarkable.  However, he engaged in what today would be called political activism; in the 18th century, publishing political pamphlets was the common method used by political activists. His political publishing activities in Britain enabled his introduction to America’s best known publisher then residing in Britain, Benjamin Franklin; Franklin encouraged Paine to strike out for America where his political activism might be put to better use – and where he might escape persecution by the British government.

Franklin’s letter of introduction proved invaluable in getting Paine immediately employed in the publishing business in Pennsylvania. His political activism in England, against a common adversary, the King, enabled Paine to rapidly understand the American issues and turn those issues into political pamphlets in the colonies. The 1775 battles in the Massachusetts colony, however, didn’t seem to move the needle politically; America’s Continental Congress, and most colonists, continued to seek Reconciliation, not Revolution. As Paine’s frustrations grew, he published a new pamphlet, distributed throughout the colonies in January, 1776. That pamphlet was called Common Sense.

Paine was not an intellectual philosopher. His writing style was directed towards the common man, of which he was one. Well over 100,000 copies of Common Sense circulated in the colonies. King George’s declaration that the American colonies were in open rebellion against the Crown arrived in the same month that Common Sense was published.

Paine had not been present during the preceding decade of colonial angst regarding the suppression of British rights in the American colonies.  However, the timing of his arrival in Pennsylvania, his recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, and his history of stirring political emotions in England against the King and Parliament proved beneficial. He arrived after the Boston Tea Party and the King’s enactment of the “Intolerable Acts,” and after the assembly of the First Continental Congress. Only months later, the battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill would stir the colonists’ passions more strongly against the dictates of a King on the other side of an ocean. “No taxation without representation” reflected the colonists’ views that the time for representative government of the people rather than rule by King had come.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran. He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries. Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.


Stamp Act – Fact, Reaction & Legacy (

Britain Begins Taxing the Colonies: The Sugar & Stamp Acts (U.S. National Park Service) (

What Was the Olive Branch Petition? – History of Massachusetts Blog

Paine, Thomas.  Common Sense.  New York:  Fall River Press, 1995

John Adams looks back on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, autobiography, early 1800s (

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