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Book Title: Common Sense & The Rights of Man|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 985 KB
v The author of the book: Thomas Paine
Edition: Phoenix Press
Date of issue: January 1st 2001
ISBN 13: 9781842121078
City - Country: No data
Read full description of the books Common Sense & The Rights of Man:The Greatest Radical of a Radical Age
Paine turned Americans into radicals, and we’ve remained radicals at heart ever since.
By Harvey J. Kaye
You want to understand American experience? You want to make sense of why you despise injustice, inequality, and oppression? You want to know why you yearn to turn the world upside down? Read Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet, Common Sense.
In fewer than fifty pages, Paine not only inspired Americans to declare their independence and create a republic, he also emboldened them to turn their colonial rebellion into a world-historic revolutionary war, defined the new nation-to-be in a democratically expansive and progressive fashion, and articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise. Moreover, he afforded a vision of the United States that—despite the best efforts of conservatives to have it otherwise—has inspired and encouraged liberals, progressives, and radicals in every generation to mobilize their fellow citizens in favor of extending and deepening freedom, equality, and democracy in the United States. Indeed, Paine’s radical-democratic arguments continue to resonate in American life.
Thomas Paine was the greatest radical of a radical age. Born in England in 1737, he would come to America and help to turn not only the thirteen colonies, but eventually the entire Atlantic world upside down. The story is told of a dinner gathering at which—on hearing his mentor Benjamin Franklin observe “Where liberty is, there is my country”—Paine cried out: “Where liberty is not, there is my country.”
Yet this son of an English artisan and his wife did not become a radical until his arrival in America in late 1774 at the rather mature age of thirty-seven. And even then he had never expected such things to happen. But, of course, he brought volatile stuff with him.
Anything but elite, Paine’s career before coming to America had included corset making, privateering, tax collecting, preaching, teaching, labor campaigning, and shopkeeping. All of which was punctuated by bouts of poverty, the loss of two wives, political defeat, business bankruptcy, and dismissal from government service (not once, but twice!!)—hardly the makings of a man who would help to found a great nation and transform the world.
But Paine brought more than a record of tragedy and loss with him. His mother had instructed him in the Bible. His schoolteachers had educated him in Shakespeare and Milton. His father had taught him how to work with his hands (and told him of England’s seventeenth-century revolution, when the English showed the French how to take off the head of a king!). And his fellow artisans had lectured him on the ideas and arguments of science, natural philosophy, and deism.
Moreover, while Paine had seen and suffered aristocratic power and corruption and religious intolerance and persecution, he had witnessed working-people’s protests and experienced firsthand the solidarity and bravery of fighting sailors.
Nevertheless, it was not Britain, but America, that finally turned Paine into a revolutionary. Struck by America’s magnificent possibilities—not only its resources, but also the determination of its diverse people to resist British authority—he would dedicate himself to the American cause. In fact, he would transform it.
In words such as “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind,” “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” and “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” he harnessed Americans’ shared but as-of-yet unstated thoughts and—expressing them in language bold and clear—urged Americans to recognize their historic possibilities and responsibilities and to make a true revolution of their struggles.
Calling forth his critical memories of Britain and intense affections for America, drawing upon both eighteenth-century liberalism and classical republicanism, quoting the Bible, citing History, and raising up the force of Reason itself, he disabused Americans of their persistent affections for King and Empire.
Against those who revered the English Constitution, he insisted, “It is wholly owing to the constitution of the people, and not to the constitution of the government that the crown is not as oppressive in England as in Turkey.” Clearly revealing the monarchy to be a ridiculous institution whose origins were anything but divinely ordained, he wrote: “A French bastard [William the Conqueror:] landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original.” Then, appealing to Americans’ egalitarian sentiments, Paine added that “hereditary succession” compounds the evil of monarchy: “For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever.” And he humorously observed, “One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion.”
Paine even rejected the proposition that Britain was America’s parent. Embracing America’s diversity, he wrote: “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.” But he did not fail to speak to American economic interests. I particularly love his observation that America “will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe.”
Paine did not simply harangue his fellow citizens-to-be. He gave them definite ideas about what needed doing. He offered a vision of independence that enabled Americans to see themselves as “Americans”—a people no longer subject to king and noble but—as was their “natural right”—free and equal before God and “the law” and governing themselves through democratically elected representatives. In short, he made them see themselves as citizens, not subjects.
Urging unity, Paine portrayed America not as thirteen separate entities, but as a nation-state: “Now is the seed time of continental union, faith and honour. . . . Our strength is continental, not provincial.” He proposed a charter—a Constitution encompassing a Bill of Rights—both to bind the prospective states into a union and to guarantee that liberty, equality, and democracy would prevail. Most emphatically, he argued for “freedom of conscience” and, to assure it, the separation of Church and State: “As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.”
And in words that would reverberate through the generations he projected the new American nation serving as a model to the world and a refuge for immigrants: “O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”
Heartened and animated by Paine’s Common Sense—and his later writings such as The Crisis, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, and Agrarian Justice—we have pressed for the rights of workingmen; insisted upon the separation of church and state; demanded the abolition of slavery; campaigned for the equality of women; confronted the power of property and wealth; opposed the tyrannies of Fascism and Communism; and challenged our own government’s authorities and policies, domestic and foreign. We have suffered defeats, committed mistakes, and endured tragedy and irony. But we have achieved great victories and far more often than not, as Paine himself fully expected, we have in the process transformed the nation and the world for the better.
Through Common Sense, Paine turned Americans into radicals and we have remained radicals at heart ever since. Still inspired and encouraged by his words and vision we too can renew the spirit of the American Revolution and extend and deepen freedom, equality, and democracy.
To learn more, visit The Progressive Book Club: http://www.progressivebookclub.com/bl...
Read information about the authorThomas Paine was an English-American political activist, author, political theorist and revolutionary. As the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, he inspired the Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called "a corset maker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination".
Born in Thetford, England, in the county of Norfolk, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. His principal contributions were the powerful, widely read pamphlet Common Sense (1776), the all-time best-selling American book that advocated colonial America's independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and The American Crisis (1776–83), a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."
Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), in part a defence of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. In 1792, despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy.
In December 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of his pamphlet The Age of Reason (1793–94), in which he advocated deism, promoted reason and freethinking, and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. He also wrote the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1795), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to America where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral as he had been ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity.
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