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American Independence (Chapter 4) by Ben Ponder

American Independence (Chapter 4) by Ben Ponder

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Chapter 4: Mechanics of a Revolution
Chapter 4: Mechanics of a Revolution

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Published by: Estate Four Publishers on May 02, 2012
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06/19/2012

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B
EN
P
ONDER
From
Common Sense
to the
 Declaration
Independence 
AMERICAN
 
Chapter Four 
 Mechanics of a Revolution
It is futile to expect a great advancement in the sciences from overlaying andimplanting new things on the old; a new beginning has to be made from thelowest foundations, unless one is content to go round in circles for ever, withmeager, almost negligible, progress.Sir Francis Bacon
 Novum Organum
 1620 What Archimedes said of the mechanical powers, may be applied to reason andliberty: “
Had we 
,” said he, “
a place to stand upon, we might raise the world 
.” TheRevolution of America presented in politics what was only theory in mechanics. Thomas Paine
Rights of Man, Part the Second 
 1792
 
A
MERICAN
I
NDEPENDENCE
127
P
 ART
O
NE
NATURAL PHILOSOPHY 
Rational Mechanics
midst the tension and bustle of Philadelphia in early 1776, the rul-ing elite began to grow nervous about the swelling influence of thecity’s “mechanics,” a group inclusive of everyone from staymakers(Paine’s family trade) to cobblers, coopers, chandlers, blacksmiths,printers, carpenters, and anyone else who produced goods with hishands. “Mechanic” was synonymous with “artisan” or “craftsman,” a“middling” class of workers who labored with their hands and gainedskills through an extensive apprenticeship in their trades—in everythingfrom clockmaking to plough repair. Mechanics as a group were trainedbut not educated, and most possessed only a basic competency in read-ing, writing, and mathematics as necessitated by their trade. The urbanelite was concerned that this massive demographic was beginning todemand a more active role in colonial politics, even though they lackedthe cultivation of a liberal arts education and the credentials of a landedestate.Although these mechanics would play a crucial role in thecourse of American independence, there was
another 
sense of “mechan-ics” in the eighteenth century that will be the focus of my analysis inthis chapter. As we have already observed, Paine was attempting to rep-licate the conditions and effects of the Protestant Reformation in
Com-mon Sense 
, a translation from the religious to the political sphere. He was also attempting a further translation, one perhaps more importantand pervasive, although more subtle. What Francis Bacon and IsaacNewton had done in the realm of natural philosophy—what we think of as science—Paine was attempting to accomplish in politics. Thus
Common Sense 
was also a translation in principle and language from thescientific to the political sphere. Paine was seeking to observe, explain,and predict the political events of the British-American controversy  with the accuracy and logic of “rational mechanics,” the principles thathad guided the scientific breakthroughs of the seventeenth and eight-eenth centuries. To understand the role of science in early Americanculture and, in turn, the overwhelming import of scientific languageand logic in
Common Sense 
, we must first look at the giddy fascinationdisplayed by a motley group of Philadelphia astronomers in 1769.
Useful Knowledge
 Two separate Philadelphia scientific societies merged in 1769to form “The American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia, forpromoting useful Knowledge.” Benjamin Franklin was elected the first
A

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