Thomas Paine: Contribution to American Literature

Also Read

      THOMAS PAINE (1737-1809) was an Englishman who came to America in 1774 and speedily made himself master of colonial thought and feeling. Early in 1776 he published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense, which advocated complete political independence of England. The sledge hammer blows which he struck hastened the Declaration of Independence. Note the energy, the directness, and the employment of the concrete method in the following:—

Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine

      "But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families; wherefore, the assertion, if true, turns to her reproach…. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still."

      Thomas Paine, was a radical politician and prominent American political prose writer, shared the Crevecoeur’s belief in the possibilities of the American society. He was born in Thetford to an Anglican mother and a Quaker father who ran a small farm and made corsets. Until the age of 13, he attended the school. And later he became an apprentice in his father’s shop. He made an unsuccessful attempt to run away to sea. In 1756 he began to work as a haymaker. In 1757 two years later, he opened his own shop in Sandwich, Kent. He became a customs officer in 1764 but he was dismissed in the following years because he organized workers organizations. Then he moved to London and worked as a school-teacher in 1768 when he reappointed again in the same department in Lewes. The publication of the first pamphlet The Case of the Officers of Excise (1772) leads to his second dismissal from the post in 1774 he returned to London immediately and there met Benjamin Franklin who sent him to America with a letter of introduction. He arrived in America in 1774. He remained for only thirteen years but his impact on America’s developing vision of itself was enormous. He published his great work Commonsense (1776) in which he argued for the Independence of America and the formation of a republic government.

      Having a gift for firing arguments into life, often with an imaginative use of maxims, Paine wrote The Rights of Man (1791-1792) as a reply to Lord Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). He had a passion of the Revolutionary literature. Mainly, he wrote in the form of pamphlets - the most popular form of political literature of the day. Over 2,000 pamphlets were published during the Revolution. The pamphlets thrilled patriots and threatened loyalists. They filled the role of drama as they were often read aloud in public to excite audiences. The American soldiers read them aloud in their camps, the British Loyalists threw them into public bonfires. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense sold over 100,000 copies in the first three months of its publication. It is still rousing today. “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.” He wrote, voicing the idea of American ‘exceptionalism’ still strong in the United States. In some fundamental sense since America is a democratic experiment and a country theoretic experiment and a country theoretically open to all immigrants, the fate of America foreshadows the fate of the humanity at large. His next important work entitled The Age of Reason (1794-6) was a stark critique of accepted religious beliefs and practices.

      Paine, the patriot, returned to America as an infidel in 1802. His former friends such as John Quincy Adams ostracized him for his “atheism” and refused to bury him in the consecrated ground. He was interred on his own farm at New Rochelle at a funeral of nobody attended. Corbett, his friend, exhumed his bones 10 years later and brought them back to England wherein he was not allowed to bury and hence the things disappeared.

      In the latter part of 1776 Washington wrote, "If every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty nearly up." In those gloomy days, sharing the privations of the army, Thomas Paine wrote the first number of an irregularly issued periodical, known as the Crisis, beginning:—

"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 his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

      Some have said that the pen of Thomas Paine was worth more to the cause of liberty than twenty thousand men. In the darkest hours he inspired the colonists with hope and enthusiasm. Whenever the times seemed to demand another number of the Crisis, it was forthcoming. Sixteen of these appeared during the progress of the struggle for liberty. He had an almost Shakespearean intuition of what would appeal to the exigencies of each case. After the Americans had triumphed, he went abroad to aid the French, saying, "Where Liberty is not, there is my home." He died in America in 1809. He is unfortunately more remembered for his skeptical Age of Reason than for his splendid services to the cause of liberty.

Previous Post Next Post