Saturday, June 22, 2013

Thomas Paine: Voice of the American Revolution

If you attend public school in America, you learn certain key names, key figures in American history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, etc.  And even if your actual knowledge of their lives is limited to a few key points, they stick in your mind.  One such name is Thomas Paine, a contemporary of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin.  Paine was most famous for writing the pamphlet Common Sense.  If you asked me yesterday what it's about, I would have shrugged my shoulders.  But the best cure for ignorance is reading, and so today, continuing my slow journey through the Norton Anthology of America Literature, I read excerpts from Common Sense and other writings by Thomas Paine.

Common Sense is an eloquent and straightforward argument for American independence from Great Britain, and it is quite convincing.  The people of America, he argues, suffer under the dominion of a far away king.  It is in America's best interests to separate, so that it may be free to grow and flourish.  Common Sense sold half a million copies and was an important voice in convincing the American public of the need for independence.  It's popularity rested on its simple eloquence.  It is full of memorable and inspiring quotes like this one:

"O ye that love mankind!  Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant stand forth!  Every spot of the old 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."

Paine was a good writer, and he is a testament to the fact that good writing can inspire people to change the world.  

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