Thomas Paine: Contribution to American Literature

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      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."

      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.

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