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"These are the times that try men's souls."
- Thomas Paine

As Goodreads notes, Paine's (literally) revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense was published on this date in 1776. The manifesto ultimately provide some of the most influential moral and philosophical underpinnings for the American Revolution. No less an authority than John Adams once said, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." Sadly, his later years were marked by obscurity, and only six mourners attended his funeral. He was one of the greatest of our country's founders, but history has largely ignored him, at least compared to the deified Washington, Jefferson and Adams.

I've certainly been no help to Paine's legacy, having never read any of his writings. I hope to finally read Common Sense this year, probably sometime around Independence Day.

January 10, 2014 in Books, History | Permalink


I did read Common Sense some years ago, but I can't say I was overwhelmed at the time. I'm dense, though.

Posted by: Paul at Jan 10, 2014 10:38:06 AM

Based on the historical evidence, there's a strong argument to be made that the rest of the Founding Fathers quite literally drummed Paine out of a position of authority after the revolution was over, and that in fact the only reason they tolerated him in the first place was because he was so effective at riling up the blue-collar farmers who made up the majority of the actual Revolutionary Army. As I'm sure you've seen by looking at his work this week, Paine was MUCH more radical than any of the other revolutionaries -- for example, he wanted to skip democracy altogether after the revolution, and go straight to an early form of socialism, including the forced seizure of all rich Americans' money -- and there's strong evidence to support the idea that the Founding Fathers worried about Paine and his fans maintaining a perpetual state of revolution after the war that would eventually devolve into violence and chaos, just EXACTLY like what happened in France after their own revolution only a decade later. It leaves us with a complicated legacy to ponder regarding Paine -- yes, an instrumental figure in the revolution, a revolution that probably wouldn't have succeeded WITHOUT his firebrand publications, but a man who simply couldn't "get in line" with the peaceful transition to a capitalist democracy that happened after the war was over, and who was quite literally snubbed out of the history books by his friends and peers as a result. Would the "American Experiment" have fallen apart a decade later, if Paine and his radical cohorts been allowed to maintain positions of power? That's a fascinating question to ponder, especially because of us having so much empirical evidence about what happened to France in these same years, precisely BECAUSE such radicals were allowed to be in charge of everything after the revolution.

Posted by: Jason Pettus at Jan 10, 2014 10:52:19 AM