Paine vs “Plain”
A debate over loyalty and rebellion by Thomas Paine (author of “Common Sense”) and James Chalmers (author of “Plain Truth”)
Thomas Paine's Common Sense was like a lightning bolt in the colonies. Its message was simple: Britain had no right to govern America, the Monarchy system itself was basically corrupt, and Americans would be much better off on their own. His arguments certainly struck a chord. The French and Indian War of the 1750s had shown the colonists just how far they had drifted from their English counterparts in nearly every aspect of politics and culture. England saw colonists as crude and uneducated, while the English were seen as drunk with power and subservient to a monarchy that had no meaning to the average colonist, who pretty much lived by his own rules.
Not everyone, though, read Paine's work and nodded with approval. Hard-core loyalists were realizing that they had been blindsided by a powerful piece of propaganda. Anxious to put out the fires that Common Sense was igniting, they attempted to strike back. One of the very first to do so was a gentleman of means from the colony of Maryland -- a planter named James Chalmers.
While Paine had written in the plainest language possible in order to reach the common man with his argument, Chalmers took the high road with a strong emphasis on literary references and history through the ages. A semiliterate blacksmith who could muddle his way through Common Sense must have looked at “Plain Truth” and shrugged his shoulders. Many educated and learned men were already loyalists.
By the time of the revolution, the American colonies were about the best place in the world to live. Opportunity was everywhere, land on the frontier was for the taking (or stealing as the case may be) and taxes were almost nonexistent in comparison to what the inhabitants of England were forced to pay. Best of all, the heavy-handed authority of King George and Parliament was diffused by several thousand miles of ocean.
…[in his pamphlet, Chalmers] moved on to the heart of all loyalist argument: the colonists couldn't possibly win a war against Great Britain. At every level, England outgunned and outmanned the colonies. On paper, the weakness of the colonies was almost comical. A nonexistent navy, badly disciplined recruits, and a great scarcity of heavy industry to produce arms and ammunition combined to create the picture of a colony of wishful thinkers who didn't stand a chance once England roused what Shakespeare called "its sleeping sword."
…Chalmers felt that a simple desire for liberty wasn't enough to keep the colonists from losing a war with England. Alone, they didn't stand a chance. To win, they would have to have a great European power such as France or Spain on their side.
Here, Chalmers made an important and often overlooked observation: he found it illogical for any foreign power to side with the colonists against England, and with good reason. "Can we be so deluded, to expect aid...