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
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
, 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
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
, we must first look at the giddy fascinationdisplayed by a motley group of Philadelphia astronomers in 1769.
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