Friday, February 19, 2010

THOMAS PAINE, 1737-1809


There is always that individual, in any situation, that you can say stays above the fray. The guy that seems to speak for all of us, but really takes no sides. He makes us all think and finally, when it's all said and done, makes us all agree. We read what he's wrote, nod our heads, and say, yeah that's how I feel too. What he writes sells wildly and it becomes the way we all speak to make our point.

In the days before, during, and after the American Revolution, that guy was Thomas Paine. In Political Science speak, he was the ultimate libertarian. Paine was against restrictive government, in fact, he despised it and his words in his writings are a treatise against it. Revolting against the King was, in essence, a libertarian view, I think. If anything, Thomas Paine got revolution.

Thomas Paine believed in revolution so much, that he was in France during the French Revolution which began in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille. He arrived in 1790 and became a vital part of the revolution. As the French Revolution spun out of control he was arrested in 1794. He was nearly beheaded and escaped only by the lucky stroke that his cellmates concealed chalk marks that designated those to be executed.

He didn't return to America until 1802 where he died in 1809. Paine was incapable of avoiding revolution which led him to be elected twice to the French Convention, once before he was jailed and once after. I admire his words, although I am not so sure of his love of revolution. Being integral in both the American and the French Revolutions is testament to his acumen and inspiration as a writer.

If John Adams was the conscience of the revolution and Thomas Jefferson was the voice of the revolution, and George Washington was the inspiration of the revolution, Thomas Paine was the spirit of the revolution. His words were read throughout the colonies and kept Americans on the road to revolution. I would love to match words with him, but alas, I'm not worthy.

Suffice it say that Thomas Paine is in reality one of the Founding Fathers. Read these words from his pamphlet, "The Crisis." If you are a student of the revolution, read "Common Sense." When you are finished you will understand what the Founding Fathers intended us to inherit from them.

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. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

Thomas Paine, The Crisis

14 comments:

Z said...

"If John Adams was the conscience of the revolution and Thomas Jefferson was the voice of the revolution, and George Washington was the inspiration of the revolution, Thomas Paine was the spirit of the revolution"...how well put, Law and Order. As I just commented about on your Adams piece, I finally did see the HBO series and all the facts I'd learned in school (and promptly forgotten!) just came together so well........suddenly, I understand your piece about Thomas Paine better than I would have! His quote makes even more sense to me than it would have.
Wonderful stuff, wonderful people, our founding fathers....and the HBO series showed the differences, the agreements, the things they showed which were most important to them. I couldn't help thinking these men would be the ones leading the Tea Partiers again TODAY! "Join or Die" "Don't Tread on me" and "Appeal to Heaven".....
And, of course, there was Adams telling his daughter when he left for a long time to France "Be good and do good". Imagine a day when one didn't have to DEFINE "good". lovely

Carl Wicklander said...

Law and Order Teacher, I am with you when it comes to admiration for Paine's words but not for his apparent love of revolution.

Paine's support for the French Revolution has always troubled me. It gives me pause about Thomas Jefferson too, although Jefferson was later horrified by it. It does speak to the need for order and in that, I appreciate men like Washington and Adams more than Thomas Paine.

Mark Wilensky said...

I'm a fifth-grade teacher in Jefferson County, and an crucial part of teaching civics is providing students with our primary sources: the founding documents. This is critical in understanding what “We the People” really means. Today, as they did over 230 years ago, those documents instill in students the belief that all our voices are important. Every one of our citizens are given the right to pursue liberty. Futures do not have to be inevitable and "Little voices" can make dramatic impacts on events. That is Thomas Paine's greatest contribution to our country. His pamphlet, Common Sense, spoke to all the voices in the 13 colonies during a time of great fear and indecision. He gave a vast number of citizens a vision of what each could do, 176 days before the Declaration of Independence. A belief that power should radiate from the citizens. That message is still paramount to all our students today. For that pamphlet alone, Paine needs to be recognized as a integral part of the American miracle.

Mark Wilensky,
author of "The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine: An Interactive Adaptation for All Ages"

BB-Idaho said...

It should be kept in mind that Payne was also a bit of a socialist. From his 'Agrarian Reform.
"Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.

Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came."

Law and Order Teacher said...

Z,
I haven't seen the HBO series, I got my appreciation for Adams from my study of history and from the McCullough book. As for the Tea Parties, I'm with you, although I have a problem with supporting the Republicans as the lesser of two evils. The two major parties should be inspired to emulate the Tea Parties and find candidates that speak to them. Thanks for visiting.


Carl,
I too, am alarmed of their love for revolution. But I chalk it up to snail's pace of communication. Once Jefferson became familiar with the atrocities of the French Revolution he cooled on it considerably. You're right, they wanted order and were conservative at heart. Paine, well he seemed to strive on all discord. He still deserves a place among the Founding Fathers and has earned it through his inspirational writings. Did you see that Ron Paul was the preferred choice of CPAC to run for president? What a change in preference. Libertarian? Wow, progress.

MW,
Thanks for the visit. I would say I'm an amateur when it comes to Paine. I agree that Paine gave a voice to all Americans. My question to you is how do your fifth graders do with Paine. My AP kids, 10-12, have to work to get him. I'll get onto your site and check out how to get one of your books. Thanks again.

BB,
I would agree that Paine had a little socialist in him. While the series was started as a learning experience about conservatism, Paine is so outstanding that he needs to be in the group of Founding Fathers.

I think all these Founding Fathers were conservative by today's standards, but your point is well taken and I did it because of the strong streak of self-sufficiency in his writings. Thanks for reading.

Carl Wicklander said...

I don't put too much faith in straw polls - not that I'm disappointed in the outcome of this one! But I am certainly encouraged that people seem more receptive to him now than they were just a couple years ago.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Carl,
We'll see if it lasts. Interesting turn of events though.

Donalbain said...

So, a libertarian is one who supports publically funded education, a minimum wage and a progressive income tax?

PRH....... said...

Not totally sure about Paine, but I need to read more "non-revisonist" history about him.

As far as Revolution...put me on the "love" side...we need one today, to toss the bastards in Congress and that Marxist in the White House out!

rockync said...

Afraid Thomas Paine would probably be appalled at the narrow minded religiousity of the tea baggers and they would probably disparage him if he were alive today for his deist beliefs.
Of all the founders of this country, Paine was probably the most radical.
His pamphlet "Common Sense" finally turned the tide when it came time to sever ties with England. Seems most of the conservative landed gentry (rich guys) wanted to remain under English rule for fear of losing their wealth.
It's nice to look so far back through rose colored glasses and see a united nation of patriots, bravely fighting the evil king for freedom! But that's not really how it was at all.
Mostly it was messy and confusing and there were arguments coming from all sides and people couldn't agree on much of anything - sound familiar?
Thomas Paine pretty much polarized the masses and brought them to that converging point where they would finally band together and form a nation.
But it wasn't long afterward that the divisions would once again be evident as the Federalists jockeyed for power. Paine publishing "The Age Of Reason" which expounded on deist beliefs did not further endear him to this group.
Paine, once hailed a hero, returned to the states shunned by most except for Jefferson who never abandoned his friend despite harsh critism. Paine's death would pass with little regard.
Looking back, not much has changed in this country; not really.

Law and Order Teacher said...

donalbain,
First, thanks for the visit. I am honored you have seen fit to engage me. I have never seen any of these founding fathers as pristene in their beliefs. Having said that, I don't fancy any of these as libertarians. I would, however, say they are conservatives. I personally have a problem with libertariansism. If it wasn't for children it would be a great philosophy. Public education, with caveats, good. Minimum wage, not so good. A progressive income tax? I'm for a flat income tax. Paine, still a founding father.

Pat,
As for Paine, I agree with him on some things. He was a great voice of the revolution and I judge on that. Take him at his word and enjoy that. Nothing more.

RockNYC,
Where to begin. First of all, most tea party people (sorry I'm not a teabagger, I'm married for 35years) are not narrow minded people. I refuse to accept your premises, so let's talk.

My religion doesn't tell me to be narrow-minded. I'm Catholic and have been my whole life. Catholicism is hardly a narrow-minded religion. In fact, it's too liberal for me.

As for those conservative rich guys, Washington in no way, shape or form, needed to be involved in the revolution. He was independently wealthy and soldified that by marrying Martha who was also wealthy. So what did he have to gain from being involved?

He had the best of intentions for his involvement. He refused a salary as the commander of the Continental Army. The first president? How'd that work out for him? He was away from Mt. Vernon for many years and it suffered from his absence.

When he decided to step down from power in 1796, he wanted to go home. He had served his country almost continuously from 1775 until 1796, much to his personal detriment.

Adams wasn't a rich man. He owned a farm and was a lawyer. He spent many years in Europe (France, England, Netherlands) negotiating for his country. Franklin spent over 20 years abroad to negotiate for America in England and France.

Jefferson lost his wife early in their life together and he spent a lot of the years post Declaration in Europe. All those rich white guys gave up a lot to bring about this country.

I know that current history says otherwise, but facts are stubborn things. What did all these rich white guys have to gain from starting a country? Surely, they would have been better off laying out the war and staying Englishmen, right? But they didn't. Really, that's how it was.

The part of the population that was most adamantly against the revolution was the lower class. They didn't see any way that the Americans would win. They were hedging their bets. Check the rebellions: Paxton Boys, Bacons, Shays, Whiskey, etc. This wasn't some rich white guy thing. Please read some history.
Don't rely on leftist revisionism. Read what really happened.

As for Paine, he was a great voice and founding father of the revolution. I don't take on faith (pun intended) that the founding fathers were deists, because who really knows. I've read both sides. The upshot is that in their minds God was the overriding influence. "We are endowed by our creator,"

Thanks for the visit.

rockync said...

Actually, I did read some history; Paine's "Common Sense", Ben Franklin's autobiography and some other books, including the Jefferson papers.
No leftist revisionist works in there - and there were a good number of wealthy land owners who were resisiting outright revolution, at least that's what Franklin wrote.
I did not name Washington, Adams Franklin or Jefferson as being rich and against revolution, you just assumed I meant them and you know what happens when you assume...
Not everyone agreed on how to proceed which is why Franklin spent a lot of time in Congress trying to convince others what needed to be done.
Paine was compelled to write his pamphlet because of the division in Congress. And while the majority moved to revolution,there were still those who refused to join the fight and aided the English as you well know.
As for Paine's deism, you might want to read "Age of Reason." And then look into John Locke. Deism is not a disbelief in God, but more of a rejection of organized religion. I like to think of it as Religiousity vs spirituality.
Neither should be the basis for forcing increased religious influence in our schools and government functions.
A happy weekend to you!

Law and Order Teacher said...

Rock,
Thanks again for commenting. My citing of the Washington et.al., was for an emphasis that not all rich, white males were comfortable enough to stay away from revolution. Some were motivated by high ideals. Certainly there were those who sat it out for personal gain. I never assume.

As for deism, I am uncomfortable citing someone's religious leanings in an argument. I don't know what they thought. I can only know that they saw fit to cite God numerous times in documents, buildings, in the case of the Statue of Liberty she is holding the tablet of laws given to Moses. I don't ever think I want to inflict my religion on anyone else.

But by the same token, I don't want someone robbed of their religion by anyone either. Excluding religion from schools is, I think just as wrong as making someone participate who doesn't want to. One size does not fit all. Thanks again.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Rock,
BTW, I've read Age of Reason and Two Treatises on Government by Locke. It's available on the web. Kind of thick, but it gives a good grounding on Enlightenment philosophy so prevalent in our founding documents. Locke was great influence on the founders, especially Jefferson. Thanks for the visit.