American Hero: Thomas Paine

Hitchens Book on Thomas Paine
Hitchen's Book on Thomas Paine

I finished reading Christopher Hitchen’s book on Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man.” It was interesting to learn more about Thomas Paine and with today being Independence Day in the US, an appropriate blog post.

Paine is famous in the US for his pamphlet, “Common Sense.” This was an era before television and blogging, and it is today’s equivalent. Paine with his writing, motivated Americans to break free from England. He was the first to use the phrase, “United States of America” and his line, “a continent ruled by an island” resonated with the revolutionaries.

I still am amazed at the experiment called the USA and on its 233rd birthday, am proud to be an American. I admire the wisdom and boldness of the founding fathers to do something so original and new. What a great concept and opportunity – to start a nation based on individual freedoms and ideals (especially the pursuit of happiness) and not on race, religion, or a higher power anointed monarch or individual. Of course over the past two centuries, we have not lived up to the ideals set forth by our constitution and declaration of independence, but we have led the way for a better world.

The world is my country, all mankind my brethren, and to do good is my religion.
"The world is my country, all mankind my brethren, and to do good is my religion."

Getting back to Paine, I didn’t realize that he really didn’t spend much time in the US. He didn’t come to the US until 1774 and he was 39 years old. He lived a full life back in Thetford, East Anglia, and if his wife hadn’t died, and his second marriage didn’t fail, he never would have come over. It reminds me of Simon Bolivar. His bride died a few months after reaching Venezuela, and if not, he probably would have lived a quiet existence as a plantation owner instead of liberating 5 countries. The same with Paine, and he could have just worked in the customs office and own his tobacco shop. I did like the “Headstrong Club” a group of guys at the local tavern in Thetford that would get together for “spirited dining and debate.” This practice would help him in the Pennsylvania.

I liked many of Paine’s ideas such as being anti-slavery, anti-monarch, anti-church controlled government, and seeing the absurdness and contradictions in the Bible. These beliefs were ahead of their time and he took a lot of criticism and back lash for them. After writing Common Sense and helping the US gain their independence, he left for 20 years and became a French legislator during the French revolution.

He eventually returned to US and died penniless in New York. But what a life he lived. His works still are quoted often and he continues to influence politicians and thinkers like Hitchens. Obama quoted him in his inaugural address and his works are required reading for many important leaders in the US. He was at the center of two major revolutions that changed the world. He experienced the equivalent of several lifetimes of others, with two families and two careers in England, and then his two famous periods in the USA and France. And what a nice legacy to leave with his published works. I can’t disagree with one of his quotes, found on the bottom of his portrait above.

So on this Independence Day, a big thank you to Mr. Paine!

New Vocabulary For Me from the book

absolutism – The idea of all power or authority vested in an individual

pertinacity – the trait of being determined to do or achieve something; firmness of purpose

repudiate – to reject the authority of, to refuse to recognize

demotic – of or relating to the common people (from demographics)

The Jacobins – a political group during the French revolution that believed in the need to remove all social classes, universal vote, and social welfare for the poor

Robespierre – A leader of the French revolution who is known for leading the “reign of terror” and who also ended up on the wrong end of the chopping block

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