ACRU Reception, Army-Navy Club, Washington, D.C., October 30, 2010

Transcript: Jed Babbin

Excerpts from Jed Babbin's speech about John Armor’s book These Are the Times That Try Men’s Souls: America — Then and Now in the Words of Tom Paine (American Civil Rights Union, 2010)

Paine as Never Revealed Before

“It's an honor to be here to substitute for John Armor. “…. let's just talk a little bit about this book itself… it's like John Armor went rummaging around in America's attic and he found under some piles of old curtains he had some sort of silver object there and it was in a couple of pieces and he took it down from the attic and he polished it very carefully and he put it back together. It was an old gift to America that people have forgotten and John Armor, may he rest in peace, went up there into our attic, got it, polished it, put it together and he has re-gifted us this great work.

“What he’s done is given us the forgotten Founder. Thomas Paine really is not known to many Americans. I would venture a wild guess to say most children in high school don’t even know who he is. Most college educated Americans have never read Thomas Paine. But now, it’s easily read, thanks to John Armor. Because what he’s done is, he’s given us effectively the encyclopedia of Thomas Paine. … He has assembled all of the bits and parts from Common Sense, The Age of Reason, all the other works, in accessible, readable parts. There is “On Tyranny.” There is “On Republican Government.” There is “On War.” The places that you would have to see and go and read those and find those all yourself – it must have taken John Armor months if not years to do all that.”

Founders Borrowed Heavily from Paine

“If you look throughout the works of the Founding Fathers you see Thomas Paine’s words and thoughts again and again and again. … Paine makes the case for the Declaration of Independence. And in Common Sense Paine wrote:

‘Society in every state is a blessing, but government even at its best state is but a necessary evil and in its worst state an intolerable one.”

…John shows us how Jefferson borrowed that and used it, translated it into his words and made it part of the Declaration of Independence:

‘To secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it.’

“If you study Paine, and now we all can, the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, you will find as John Armor guides us through the annotations, a lot of parallels like that.”

Parallels to Revolutionary Times

“How many of the troubles that we face today are the same or similar to the ones that our colonial ancestors faced? The unfortunate answer to that question is: a sufficient number to raise in even the most common and sober minds the question of whether our nation can continue to exist and if so, whether we can continue to enjoy the freedoms protected by our Constitution:

“We are a nation at war facing a relentless enemy that is both abroad and within our own society. And, as in Paine’s day, we are not united against it. We are a people divided politically, religiously, ethnically and even racially to a degree unseen in our lifetimes. Americans to a dangerous degree have forgotten the fundamental principle that with rights come responsibilities. Worst yet, we are governed by people who do not represent us, who do not act in the best interests of our nation and of our children, and are placing our common future at great risk. That is the status quo we face, and we all remember what Ronald Reagan said about the status quo: ‘That’s Latin for the mess we’re in.’”

The “Little Tyrannies” Add Up

“Many of our constitutional freedoms have been eroded gradually and I think few people really reflect on the magnitude of the problem. There are too many examples of the little tyrannies that fester in our minds but don’t spur us to rebel. And they have come from each branch of government. Consider some of these examples. Each one is bad enough, and then add them up in your mind; the sum is shocking. Freedom of speech, the press and religion are protected by the First Amendment. We all know that. And Paine wrote of religion that the only role of government is to protect the honest profession of it. But over how many years and how many times have our courts ‘protected’ us from things so outrageous as school prayer or the public display of the Ten Commandments? For how long have residents of many cities been denied the right to keep and bear arms even after the Supreme Court's Keller decision? The jurisdiction in which we now stand [Washington, D.C.] still burdens the right to bear arms in such a way that it is effectively denied to the citizens here.

Taxation as Social Tools

“…. Taxes are now a form, of course, of social engineering. They are not something the government imposes necessarily to raise money, although Lord knows there is more than enough of that. But if you are going to tax gasoline to reduce the consumption and give subsidies to ethanol, that’s social engineering. It’s not taxation for the revenue that the country needs …. And with taxation, the government seeks to control our individual freedoms without having to legislate, to outlaw them, which they know they can’t do.”

Ignoring Actual Rights While Creating New Ones

“While governments and courts have eroded many of the rights, they have eagerly created many more that, frankly, can’t be found in the Constitution. I mention only in passing Roe v Wade for one point and one point alone: It's just the biggest example that anyone can point to, to judicial tyranny. In the decades since that decision, no act of the judiciary has so divided Americans as the so-called right to abortion. And why? Because it is invented. It is found in a penumbra which, I guess, surrounds a right to privacy, which I can’t find in the Constitution. I can find the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, but I don't see penumbras hovering when I open my copy of the Constitution. …. Only yesterday a federal court, of course in California, said that the Don't Ask Don't Tell law is unconstitutional …. in effect, this decision says that – and I can hardly believe this – it says that the soldier's right to speak and write as he and she chooses is now inviolable. So now I guess every private Beetle Bailey can write a letter to the editor to his local paper to say that Gen. Halftrack is a moron. Look, the California judge did not mention the simple fact that there is no constitutional right to serve in the United States Military. You serve in the military on a condition of enlistment. .. under … the Uniform Code of Military Justice…Our constitutional rights are now under more of a threat and more severely so than at any time since Roe was decided.”

Violating Property Rights

“We had the Supreme Court decision in the Kelo [v. City of New London] case that said the government could take one person's private property and give it to another not for the purposes of the state but for the private commercial purposes of one versus another. The Kelo decision, just like Roe, was an act of judicial tyranny. Eminent domain was supposed to be under the Constitution limited to takings for public purpose, not the power of giving the government the right to choose between farms and shopping centers. It really was a decision worthy of King George.”

What Right to Vote?

“Last year, the Justice Department dropped the case against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation. We all saw the videotape… there was no reasonable doubt about the intent or the effect of the people who were walking around in front of that Philadelphia voting station with clubs in their hands. … It is a tyranny, ladies and gentleman, and not a petty tyranny, when the federal government chooses to not protect the right to vote. We have had an awful lot of people fight and die to protect that right. How dare they? How dare they not protect our right to vote?”

The Nature of Tyranny

“In this book, John Armor wrote: ‘Tyrannies are always disguised in show and pageant. They are defended with slogans; the tyrant is deified. Otherwise, the truth will bring them down. The cult of personality was not an accident in the Soviet Union and China or in many other nations. It is always a necessary ingredient of tyranny.’

“And let me tell you what other tyrannies we have had. … I know one [congressman who] literally went for about two months without sleep just trying to read this [ObamaCare] stuff. When a 2,000-page bill is introduced at 11 o'clock at night and you've got to vote on it at 10 o'clock the following morning, that’s a tyrannical act. When it is followed by another and still another, our congressional process fails. When you can’t read a bill before you vote on it, how can you try to write amendments to it to try to fix the problems it poses?”

Paine’s Unique Contribution

“In the introduction to his book, John Armor wrote ‘Others claimed independence for America. Others fought its war of independence. Others created its first government and served in it. But it was Paine who turned mere colonists into Americans, into citizens of a new nation.’

“Think about that. That is very literally true. Americans had no national identity before Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense. And people read that. Everyone, literally. About one-third of the Americans at that point were literate. Virtually every single one of them read it, and the ones who couldn't read heard it read aloud in pubs and taverns and everywhere else and churches. It probably was as well read as the Bible and that is a powerful, powerful thing. If only we could get everyone to read it today.”

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