THIS WAS IN MY INBOX AND I WANTED TO SHARE IT WITH THE AI COMMUNITY. neverquit
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2007 1:31 PM
Subject: Thomas Paine – Words to Think About
It is July 4th.which means it is time for my “Celebrate the Revolution”
email. Treat it as spam if you like.
For those of you new to the list, I have an annoying habit of selecting a figure from America’s revolutionary past (or thereabouts) and forwarding some thoughts on the person and their writings. This year’s selection is Thomas Paine.a figure perhaps immediately outside “Founding Father” lore, but his contribution to the creation and substance of the United States of America was crucial.
His influence on Washington was immense, as well as on the other revolutionary leaders walking the same Philadelphia streets during 1776. His
early calls for independence and political action were instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence. His words also brought clarity and hope to the common individual in a time of almost unimaginable crisis. His words resonate in the world of today.
After the revolution, John Adams, my historical hero, but who had a personal dislike for Paine, gave credit where it was due: “History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine… Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.”
Because Paine might be a little less known (the shame!), I have included more biography and description than normal.
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Throughout most of his life, Thomas Paine’s writings inspired passion, but
also brought him great criticism. Paine’s strength lay in his ability to
present complex ideas in clear and concise form, as opposed to the
philosophical writings of his contemporaries in Europe. He communicated the
ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals,
creating prose that stirred the hearts of the populace.
Often tactless, Paine did provoke considerable controversy. His later views
and writings on religion would hurt his reputation, and by the end of his
life, only a handful of people attended his funeral.
Born in 1737, Thomas Paine’s early life was a series of misfortunes –
dropping out of school, a failed apprenticeship with his father, going to
sea, and tax officer. In 1774, by happenstance, he met Benjamin Franklin in
London, who advised him to go to America, giving him letters of
recommendation. His career turned to journalism while in Philadelphia.
Although he had only been in America for a short period, Paine committed
himself to the cause of American independence.
On January 10, 1776 Paine formulated his ideas on American independence in
his pamphlet Common Sense. Paine wrote that sooner or later independence
from England must come, because America had lost touch with the mother
country. In his words, all the arguments for separation of England are based
on nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments and common sense.
Government was a necessary evil that could only become safe when it was
representative and altered by frequent elections.
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial
appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in
defense of custom.”
“Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little
or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but
have different origins.”
“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best
state, is a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
Within three months, 120,000 copies were believed to have been distributed
throughout the colonies, which totaled only four million free inhabitants,
making it the best-selling work in 18th-century America after the Bible. Its
total sales in both America and Europe reached 500,000 copies.
During the War, Paine volunteered for the Continental Army, but he wasn’t
much of a soldier. He did publish a series of pamphlets, The Crisis,
credited with inspiring the early colonists in their struggle with the
British. Paine was convinced that the American Revolution was a crusade for
a superior political system and that America was ultimately unconquerable.
He did as much as any writer could to encourage resistance and to inspire
faith in the Continental Army. This pamphlet was so popular that as a
percentage of the population, it was read by or read to more people than
watch the Super Bowl. Overall, he had three best selling works in the 18th
Published on December 23, 1776, the first Crisis paper began with the famous
“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 it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and
woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this
consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the
triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness
only that gives every thing its value.”