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What Did Thomas Paine Write?

lakeside view
Thomas Paine's works include Common Sense.

Thomas Paine was an English-American political figure, activist, and philosopher who was born on February 9th, 1737. 

What did Thomas Paine write?

Thomas Paine wrote two prominent pamphlets at the beginning of the era when the American Revolution began: Common Sense and The American Crisis. 

These works laid out the author’s support of human rights and America as an independent nation from Great Britain.

Common Sense

Paine became known as the “Father of the American Revolution” due to his works and his stand for independence, mainly portrayed in his writing of Common Sense. 

The pamphlet was revealed on January 10th, 1776, being published in the city of Philadelphia. The signature is said to have been presented by “an Englishman,” yet this man’s name was unknown.

Thomas Paine plaque
Thomas Paine was born on February 9th, 1737, in Thetford, United Kingdom.

The first 100,000 copies 

The first 100,000 copies were produced within first three months and were read by more than two million people across 13 American colonies. This shows that it was a huge hit right from the beginning. 

Throughout the duration of the American Revolution, 500,000 sales were made in total, with some of the publications being unauthorized ones.

In the beginning, the pamphlet was set to be called Plain Truth. However, Benjamin Rush, one of Paine’s friends and an independence supporter, proposed the title Common Sense to him. 

The printing challenge

Paine agreed though he found it challenging to locate a printing shop that was willing to present his work. In the end, Robert Bell took over and offered his services for the printing of Common Sense.

It was originally presented in January 1776. This was around the time that the American Revolution had just gotten underway. It made its way into taverns where it was read, and the stance for independence from Great Britain and republican views and perspectives came to light among the people.

printing press
Paine initially struggled to get his work printed.

Paine seeks independence

In Common Sense, Paine attempts to give the readers and people of America an answer to the idea of totalitarian rule and instead offers a new way of life with independence.

It could be said that Paine’s Common Sense launched an assault against King George III. Paine took his stand directly to the king rather than the parliament or ministers, which was generally the route other opposing stances took. There’s no other pamphlet in all of America that was as popular as Common Sense when it was released.

While Paine wasn’t alone in providing a unique backlash against the monarchy, he could be seen as a pioneer as it pertains to the political democracy that he supported. 

His goal was to present ideas that would generally be difficult to grasp by the majority of people into ones that were in layman’s terms, making them easy to understand. His style combined clarity with a short, straight-to-the-point narrative that was popularly accepted, welcomed, and current at the time.

The democratic peace theory

What was contained in Common Sense was writing that alluded to commonly held positions of the people, especially for those in Congress and other leaders of America, but who hadn’t taken it upon themselves to mention Paine himself in many of their proclamations. 

Independence Hall in Philadelphia
Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

However, Common Sense probably wasn’t that influential in the Declaration of Independence being enforced by the Continental Congress. The focus of Congress was more on how American independence would impact specifically upon the war.

One point of focus that Paine made in the pamphlet relates to his republican position and what would later become known as the democratic peace theory.

Opposition to Paine

James Chalmers made proclamations against Paine’s work amongst others in 1776. He referred to the author of Common Sense as somewhat of a political phony. He advised that without the Crown, the country would retreat into one that was more inclined towards democracy.

Revolutionists, including John Adams, even stood in opposition to Paine’s ideas, proposing that he was a bit too far out there with his opinions. 

For example, his position was that those who weren’t land owners should still have the right to vote and stand politically. In 1776, in his Thoughts on Government, Adams presented a more conservative stance in opposition to the republican views that Paine held.

Paine’s ideas become popularized

Sophia Rosenfeld mentions that Paine was very creative in using common sense when presenting his ideas. Having included philosophical and political language, its mark was left on the country’s political stance as adopted by the people. 

In conjunction with the Scottish Common Sense Realism position, Paine believed that the average person was able to make informed decisions on political matters that would greatly impact the country’s ruling.

Paine also lent on the Continental Enlightenment for his ideas on common sense and that it had the ability to disprove commonly held positions that were ingrained within the culture. 

The term then was able to be used to the advantage of reducing the power of the Crown in affecting the beliefs of the people. Common Sense was said to have been popularized due to its adoption of ideas of the nation’s independence that were widely held and warmly invited.

Paine appeals to logic and reason

Robert Middlekauff, the historian, proposed that Common Sense was widely accepted as Paine spoke to the hopes and ambitions of the people for the nation in which they lived. 

The Bible
Paine drew upon the Holy Bible in his works.

He believed that the Crown was rooted in pagan ideas and those of infidelity, deeming them as devilish. In his defense, Paine alluded to the Old Testament scriptures of the Bible and the stories where Israel had been removed from following God to committing acts of idolatry instead.

He also spoke out against the aristocrats and referred to them and the Crown as making up the “two ancient tyrannies.”

This was since Paine had seen them as standing in opposition to natural physical laws, logic and reason, and the proper structure of the world, and that each of these had originated from Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Middlekauff criticized in response, stating that this was to appeal to the emotions of the people of the nation.

America comes together

Middlekauff referred to those who lived during the time of the American Revolution as being twice-born children, meaning that they grew up alongside the Great Awakening. 

He said that this was the first moment in history when the Americans were united as one, breaking down the barriers of race and religion, giving rise to a patriotic nature between them instead.

The American Crisis

Near the close of 1776, Paine’s The American Crisis, also known as The Crisis, was revealed in an attempt to provide motivation to the American soldiers as they fought against Britain. 

Paine sought to provide motivation to the colonists fighting against the British Empire.

This included a collection of pamphlets that made up the series. In support of Tom Paine’s work, George Washington presented the writings in a speech to the army.

The Series: From 1776 to 1783

The works that make up The American Crisis were published between 1776 and 1783. The initial pamphlet was published on December 19th, 1776, in The Pennsylvania Journal. The writings were synonymous with the current affairs of the American Revolution that was taking place at that time.

Paine was aware that the American colonist wasn’t behind the events surrounding the Revolution since they believed they had no true right to be.

Once more, Paine’s writings were presented here using common language, expressed in a way the average person could understand. He also included that going to war with Great Britain would be one that God favored.

Paine’s work inspired the colonists and supported the views of Britain as it pertained to the Revolution. It also helped unveil the reasons behind the Revolution taking place while opposing the desires of those who sought harmony between the two nations.

The American Crisis: Winter 1776

During the winter time in late 1776, Paine had the goal of rising up and taking a stance towards supporting revolutionary America in their war efforts. That’s when he presented his first writings as part of The American Crisis.

American colonist
Paine’s writings were inspirational during times that tried men’s souls.

Of all of the thirteen colonies, Paine gathered them in unison and inspired them to continue to strive in pursuit of victory against the difficult weather conditions of the winter. 

The army under George Washington was about to retreat only until Paine’s writings were read to them as they began with the line “These are the times that try men’s souls.” 

In addition, being presented to the Continental Army later in the season, on December 23rd, 1776, just ahead of the battle in Trenton, the people were uplifted along with the fight.

Paine’s patriotic position

The published work of Paine here revealed not only his patriotic standings but also his religious ones. For example, this is alluded to in his understanding that the British army was trying to display a force that only God himself could bear as they fought in the Revolution.

Paine, however, was of the position that God was on the American’s side, supporting his country. His writings say that God would never abandon his people, those of the American army, during battle to be defeated.

Paine’s stance on the colonies’ position

The revolutionary, Paine, doesn’t hold back. He makes great efforts to convey that the colonists aren’t weak but that they only wish to withhold themselves from the fight. He went on to state that if the Revolutionary War was to continue, it would eventually end up in a loss unless that is that a well-trained army of soldiers was added to fight in the battle.

Throughout all of his writings displayed in The American Crisis, Paine stays hopeful that it wouldn’t take too long for the American army to rise in victory. He adds that the power is all owed to God and that while the “flame of liberty” might not always shine, the coal would never run out completely. 

He speaks his thoughts that the British also would have no say in rising up against the American colonies in battle, showing that he held the understanding that they wanted to take them captive and place them under British rule.

As he progresses in his series, he talks about how the American Revolution has both allowed the colonies to progress in some ways but held them back in others. Moving on, he talks of his personal time in battle at Fort Lee and how the colonies also withdrew themselves from it.

The man and his child: Freedom now or freedom for the future?

Paine spoke of an instance when a man conversed with his child, informing him that he never wished to be in the middle of the war and that peace was more what he longed for. 

father and son
Thomas Paine wrote on how just the Battle of Fort Lee was.

However, Paine referred to this as an “unfatherly” way to speak, and in fact that the man should have supported the Battle of Fort Lee instead to prevent any future one from having to take place when his child grows older.

In the opening paragraph, Paine writes to inform about how America could improve its performance to give itself a better chance of winning the Revolution. 

He progresses on to talk about that time being the present and one in which to strive for independence and freedom. Winning should be held in high regard and sought to be achieved, especially in the most difficult of battles, was the position that Paine held.

Crisis Number One

He goes on to add in paraphrasing that what is gained with ease is too easy to overlook the value of and, therefore, the appreciation that’s due.

On Crisis Number One, he finishes by providing motivation and inspiration, together with his view of what the country’s future would hold if the American colonists would continue to stand back from the fight.

Crisis Number Two

In Crisis Number Two, Paine shows his position is that King George III can no longer perform his role to the same level of degree as he once had. He also mentions his beliefs that America would win the war and become the victors when the American Revolutions would come to an end.

One Response

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