I was stumped. He just stood up. Then, he walked away! No one had ever done that to me in an interview before. But what could I do? I still had two other well-known and admired men that I needed to ask the question to. But make no doubt. That man, who stood and strode proudly away, left a more profound impression on me about what freedom was than the other two who just laughed at me as I sat there looking confounded. But let me start from the beginning.
I am the Interviewer. It was my job to round up three men of some importance during the Revolutionary War. It was not an easy task, let me tell you because all these men were already dead. Failure was assured in my endeavor, but I was persistent. Now, let me introduce you to my interviewees:
The Boston Massacre
In 1770, something terrible happened. A man by the name of Crispus Attucks was killed in the Boston Massacre and was hailed by George Washington and John Adams as America’s first hero and martyr in defense of freedom. He was also an African American.
“When the Colonists were staggering wearily under the cross of woe, he (Attucks) came to the front and bore the cross to the victory of the glorious martyrdom." George Washington
"...with one hand (he) took hold of the bayonet, and with the other knocked the man down!" John Adams
Attuck’s was half Native American and half African American. It is believed that he was a slave in the South but escaped to the New England area where he made a living as a whaler. During a fateful stop in Boston, he was among the leaders of the patriot crowd caught in an escalating argument with British soldiers. When the one-sided shooting began by the British, he was fatally shot. At the age of 47, Attucks had unknowingly inspired a nation to follow his example of bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
The next martyr I interviewed was the celebrated Nathan Hale. He was the first spy to be hung for his patriotic duties and was a 20 year-old officer in Washington’s army. Hale’s death deprived the patriots of a worthy soldier. His last words still hang defiant in the air these many years later and continue to inspire all true patriots of freedom: “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” -September 22, 1776
Freedom for every man, woman, and child makes sense, right? This man would say that it is actually Common Sense. Thomas Paine, an immigrant from England, hit the revolutionary scene in 1776. The book, A Patriot’s History states,
“…arriving as a failure in almost everything he attempted in life…, He (had) wrecked his first marriage, and his second wife paid him to leave. He destroyed two businesses and flopped as a tax collector. But Paine had fire in his blood and deviance in his pen.”
Yet Paine’s most iconic lines were published eleven months after Common Sense, “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Instead of claiming the wealth that came from selling over a half-million copies of his works, a fortune for the time, he donated every penny to the revolutionary cause.
The Interview of Three
On this bright July 4th day, I had three strong men of various build sitting in front of me on sturdy wooden stools, and I posed to them one question…
Attucks: I have some business I need to attend to while I am here, so this will need to be quick.
Interviewer: Oh, yes, sir Mr. Attucks. I only have one question for the three of you. “What does it mean to be a free citizen?”
All three of them sat there, staring at me for a moment, and I felt somewhat awkward. Had I posed the wrong question, I wondered? Attucks looked especially annoyed, and he was the first to speak.
Attucks: This is what it means to be a free man….
(Attucks placed his hat on his head, looked pointedly at me, then stood up and walked to the door closing it abruptly as he went on his way.)
Hale: Ha! Ha! Ha! That is just splendid!
Paine: Yes, quite. Well, I can answer this. In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no Kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion.
(Nathan, who was sitting stalk straight, began rolling his eyes. Before Pain could continue, Nathan interrupted.)
Nathan: Thomas, step off your stump. I admit you are brilliant, but just say it straight, man, we don’t have enough time to hear all 50 pages of your book. Here let me have a go. True freedom is the opportunity to fail and fail gloriously. Kind of like I did, considering I was caught on my very first mission and subsequently hung.
Interviewer: Yes, that was very unfortunate.
(I didn’t actually mean to say that out loud. Note to self, when interviewing a dead man, don’t interrupt them too often. With a deep breath, he cleared his throat and continued.)
Nathan: This whole revolutionary war is laced with a vast number of perspectives on why we fight for freedom, but the lynchpin that we can all agree on is the freedom of braving failure according to our individual beliefs and not according to the dictates of a fatherly tyrant. Free citizens need the opportunity not just to grow, but thrive, and this is not possible if they are not allowed to experience the most crucial part of learning, failure.
Interviewer: Are you saying that the more opportunity a person has to fail, the more likely he is to succeed? How does that make sense?
Paine: Oh, yes, well you see, society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer….
Nathan: No. Paine. Just…here is some pen and paper write this down. You see, freedom to fail allows a man or woman to stand tall like a soldier at attention who bravely accepts the mission they have either been given or sought, willing to provide the ultimate sacrifice. Only with true freedom, can they change failure to success, chaos into order. But none of this can happen unless there is an equal opportunity to either succeed or fail. A government that does not allow their citizens this natural right to fail, subjects them to the worst kind of oppression, the oppression of entitlement.
Interviewer: Well, that is all very radical thinking indeed. Thank you for your thoughts. I will consider what you have all said and thank you for your time. Mr. Paine any additional words of inspiration?
(Sheepishly, Paine looked up from his scribblings first to me then to Hale who reluctantly nodded. With gusto Paine declared the following:)
Paine: And here without anger or resentment, I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others.
- Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A Patriots History of the United States: from Columbus Great Discovery to Americas Age of Entitlement. Sentinel, 2014.
- Paine, Thomas. Common Sense. Applewood Books, 2002.
Contributed by Angélica Mecham