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The Age of Paine

Posted on Jul 3, 2009
Thomas Paine
Portrait by Auguste Millière

Thomas Paine has sometimes had few readers beyond those students who are required to read his great revolutionary pamphlet “Common Sense,” the firebrand Paine wielded to spread the flame of independence throughout the British colonies in America.

By Scott Tucker

(Page 4)

“That filthy little atheist,” as Thomas Paine was called by Theodore Roosevelt (a man we might with more justice call that filthy little imperialist), has few monuments dedicated to his memory, and has sometimes had few readers beyond those students who are required to read his great revolutionary pamphlet “Common Sense.” This pamphlet was the firebrand Paine wielded to spread the flame of independence throughout the British colonies in America, with such success that John Adams claimed that “without the pen of Paine the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.”

Adams was honest enough to acknowledge the persuasive talents of Paine, but lost no time publishing his own pamphlet in 1776 opposing the more “democratical” politics of Paine, Jefferson and others. Many who had first hailed Paine as an archangel of light would later claim that he had become a son of Lucifer. The odor of sulfur always stuck to Paine after he wrote and published “The Age of Reason,” and yet all his infidelities to orthodox religion do not make him an outright infidel.

Paine began his public life by disavowing the divinity of kings; he proceeded to disavow the divinity of Jesus Christ; and during his last years he even disavowed the divinity of George Washington, which made most of his few remaining friends and comrades decide that the old iconoclast had finally gone too far.

Those ideas may not disturb the peace of many people today, at least not if taken one by one, or even all together. But in Paine’s time, such ideas carried great risks, and usually remained restricted to small circles of friends and readers. Paine deliberately stepped outside of those inner circles. He repeatedly made the decision to become Citizen Paine, a person in public life. If we assume Paine became a republican and a revolutionary all at once, we may as well assume that no larval stage precedes a butterfly and that no geological rift precedes an earthquake.


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The habit of public life has to be cultivated to create citizens and to preserve democracy. If that much seems too plain for words, we forget that the plain language of people like Paine was one of the great advances toward personal liberty and social solidarity. Paine added greatly to our common store of common sense. The men and women who first invented (or, in the 18th century, reinvented) the republican tradition were flawed, all too human and brave. Their courage and their ideals will have died with them if we allow the big corporate political parties to undermine both democracy and the republic in our own time.

Paine advanced the causes of universal suffrage, equality for women, abolition of slavery, separation of church and state, public education, and progressive taxation. He made the first proposal for a guaranteed minimum income. He advised a system of public funding to give starting grants to young workers, and to aid the poor, the unemployed and the elderly. He believed that only well-informed and active citizens could defend democracy, and he roused the hostility of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and others who were already a rising oligarchy of the wealthiest landowners and merchants.

Paine was an advocate of republican world revolution, and (if we consider his time and culture) he was a genuine social democrat. There are historians who claim he showed little originality of thought, only originality in his plain prose and telling turns of phrase. But the proof of his powerful mind was shown in his ability to survey and summarize a vast treasury of Enlightenment thinking; and his deliberate choice to address a wide audience of working people seemed original enough to the ruling classes of his time.

Most of Paine’s practical proposals of the social democratic kind appear in “The Rights of Man” (particularly part two), and in one of his last works, a long pamphlet titled “Agrarian Justice.” As historian Eric Foner noted in “Tom Paine and Revolutionary America,” “More than in any other essay, Paine seemed torn in Agrarian Justice between his customary desire to unite all classes in what he perceived as the common good, and his sympathy for the plight of the European poor.” Though there are utopian elements in these works, he took care to study and publish many relevant economic figures, so his criticism of existing conditions and his budget for reforms was not drawn from the clear blue sky. If we expect him to be as comprehensive as a modern economist (or indeed as a modern socialist), then we can easily prove how clever we are without ever acknowledging both the practical and prophetic dimensions of his thought.

Even so, the subject of public health is sketchy to a vanishing point in the works of Paine. Medicine was still emerging as an empirical field of knowledge, doctors were still shaking off a reputation for quackery, and the particular field of public medicine barely existed beyond the usual charity wards and hospitals. So Paine may have slighted this subject in real modesty. But he may have trusted his readers to fill in the gaps as well. This is suggested in one of the best studies of Paine’s work, a book by the British philosopher A.J. Ayer, titled simply “Thomas Paine.” Ayer drew a comparison between the social democratic proposals of Paine and the reforms introduced by the British Labour Party in the wake of World War II:

“This brings me to the end of Paine’s blueprint for what I have felt justified in calling his Welfare State. Its main difference from the package introduced in 1945 is the absence of a scheme of National Health Service. I suggest that the reason for this is that Paine’s principal aim was to abolish poverty. He may, therefore, have assumed that once this was achieved, there would be no need to make special provision for health. His measures would ensure that those who needed medical attention would be able to pay for it.”

We may get a better idea of Paine’s clarity and courage if we study how he anticipated public policies that would only be put into real practice under 20th century European social democrats, and in this country under Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. But even if we limit our interest to the timeline of his own life, he stands out among revolutionaries who not only dared to think but also dared to act. The historical gap between Enlightenment in theory and Enlightenment in practice is clear enough in a celebrated essay which Immanuel Kant wrote in 1784, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” Kant took care to drop a curtsey to the Prussian monarch when he claimed “this is the century of enlightenment, the century of Frederick.” Kant did not even propose a constitutional monarchy. Nor did he dare mention the American Revolution. He did make a plea for “the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters”:

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [Dare to know!] ‘Have courage to use your own understanding!’—that is the motto of enlightenment.”

All well and good. But precisely the failure to act in common meant that much of the European public remained subject to the will of hereditary rulers. The advice of Kant remained in the realm of German idealism, and of slow diffusion through the educated public of Europe. To be on the same page only in ideals could lead to political quietism, and even to an open divorce between theory and practice.

The republicans of the 18th century were not above using the blunt instruments of worldly power, or the sharp silencer of the guillotine. But Paine can be remembered and honored as an early civil libertarian among the early republicans. Behind the polemical heat of the attacks Paine turned upon dogmatic religions, we will find a sentiment much cooler and much closer in spirit to these words of Gotthold Lessing: “Let each man say what he deems truth, and let truth itself be commended unto God!” If that seems to be an empty piety, consider all that is implied in those words—including the strong suggestion that no single mortal mind or religious doctrine could encompass the whole truth. The search for truth requires pluralism in public life. For many republicans this meant daring to create a public sphere of conflicting voices, and therefore of conflicting claims to truth.

The early republicans took great personal risks to speak their minds, and Paine in particular became a guiding spirit for later American radicals such as Walt Whitman, Robert Ingersoll, Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs. Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, claimed that Lincoln had written an essay defending the deism of Paine in 1835. Herndon also claimed that the manuscript was burned by Lincoln’s friend, Samuel Hill, to protect Lincoln’s political career. Thomas Edison admired Paine as a fellow inventor and free thinker, and stated, “I have always regarded Paine as one of the greatest of all Americans. Never have we had a sounder intelligence in this republic. … ”

Big round anniversary numbers often roll the dead back to life, and the 200th anniversary of Paine’s death has brought him a new round of public honors, a revival of interest among scholars, and a recent discussion of his life and work on PBS’ “Bill Moyers Journal.” In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the writings of Paine generated a kind of solar energy among republicans throughout the Americas and throughout Europe. Yet his reputation also suffered a lunar fortune, waxing whenever people searched the past for present inspiration, and waning whenever people accepted the propaganda about the godless and bloodthirsty Jacobin. Even in his own country and lifetime, Paine’s fame gave way to infamy and finally to mere forgetting.

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By ardee, July 12, 2009 at 6:02 am Link to this comment

I find this response , which extols the virtue of keeping the thoughts of both Burke and Paine rather an improvement over what I believed to be a previous effort to place Burke above Paine when discussing the mechanics and future of this nation’s governance.

I would offer a, rather lengthy to be sure, discussion of Burke, and also Gibbon’s opinions of him, in brief. I suggest beginning around p.552 or so…Peruse at leisure I think it worthy of your time.

Gibbon did criticize the French Revolution, but only late in life I think, and he was indeed an ally of Burke in his support of the monarchy and detraction of the “Rights of Man”. This only meant that he was a product of his time and ,like Burke, one who cherished his privilege.

He did have a way with words though hated public speaking.

‘the great speakers’, he wrote memorably, ‘fill me with despair, the bad ones with terror’.

Politically, he aligned himself with the conservative Edmund Burke’s rejection of the democratic movements of the time as well as with Burke’s dismissal of the “rights of man

Some more , for those who are interested in pursuing arcane knowledge:

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By OzarkMichael, July 11, 2009 at 7:36 pm Link to this comment

So we see an extolling of a man, eloquent certainly, who supported monarchy, opposed the overthrow of one of the most decadent monarchies in all of Europe, and was considered insane by at least one of his peers.

Let me see how it works… if I can find at least one of Paine’s peers who wrote one sentence in a private letter saying that Paine is mad… perhaps in jest or over a disagreement or even for the sake of jealousy… then Paine becomes a zero!

My, what a powerful argument that is. But does ardee really trust Gibbon as an authority?  Because Gibbon agreed with Burke that the French revolution was bad. So if ardee appeals to Gibbon then we are back where we started and we need to dump Paine.

Better to argue the case on its merits. Which you seem to be capable of.

Burke was the father of conservatism to be sure, but the current crop thereof is unworthy of the name. Ill stick with Paine, as, I suspect, will most folks.

In the American Revolution we can keep both Burke and Paine, and yes Paine is nearer and dearer to American hearts.

In the French Revolution, Paine and Burke parted company and so do we, ardee. The American public in Paine’s day did not much like him for what he did in France. Much Later he was rehabilitated because of the good things he did in America. The French stuff was forgiven or forgotten. Which is typical good hearted America.

These days most people dont know Paine or Burke. Typical ignorant America.

By the way, ardee, i appreciate the effort.

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By ardee, July 11, 2009 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

“In London, Burke knew many of the leading intellectuals and artists, including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Joshua Reynolds. Edward Gibbon described him as, ‘the most eloquent and rational madman that I ever knew.’ wiki

So we see an extolling of a man, eloquent certainly, who supported monarchy, opposed the overthrow of one of the most decadent monarchies in all of Europe, and was considered insane by at least one of his peers. At the same time diminishing the greatest populist among the Founding Fathers of this nation.

Burke was the father of conservatism to be sure, but the current crop thereof is unworthy of the name. Ill stick with Paine, as , I suspect, will most folks.

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By prosefights, July 11, 2009 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment

“I am an American citizen and I wish to cooperate fully with your investigation.

I choose to exercise my Constitutional rights by refusing to speak with you or answer any questions until have consulted an attorney.

I am not consenting to any search of my person, property, vehicle or residence. If you have a properly executed warrant, please serve it.

If you have a tape or video recorder, please activate it at this time so that I may read this aloud for the record.”

Tom Tomasi distributed laminated card at concealed carry handgun class in Albuquerque, NM Saturday July 11, 2009.

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By OzarkMichael, July 11, 2009 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie said: Having read around in anthro a bit, I have come to doubt that there is any ur-order of human society, or that human social orders are static for very long.

So true! And let us add that if the means to redress grievances exists in our current order, let us effect those changes which we desire.

Hence, every ordering is also a reordering

Before we get carried away, focus on the instant reordering of the French Revolution, which basically tore things to shreds. Thomas Paine thought it was hot stuff. He was wrong.

and the major question is whether that order is achieved with violence and coercion or by some other means.

ok. But coercion is a tricky word.

One which is perpetuated by violence is no less violent than one which is established by violence, although the violence may be hidden for a time by custom or fraud.

Coercion, custom, and fraud. Tricky words. I have to pay taxes which are spent on causes I dont believe in, but I pay them anyway. The subtle question is whether that small measure of coercion is acceptable, in the balance of the larger freedom that exists. As far as fraud is concerned we dont have to look far from your or my point of view to see it in our government.

As frustrating as it is, I cherish our form of government. I dont mind when Americans talk about revolutions, because usually they mean it metaphorically. They want to improve things in the current order. But when Leftists talk about heads rolling, and when Rightists wave their guns, i dont let that pass.

When both sides quote the other as if that is their excuse to start shooting and executing, i wonder how close we are to pulling the trigger and tearing ourselves apart. That is the legacy of Thomas Paine.

We need a little more Edmund Burke.

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By Night-Gaunt, July 8, 2009 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment

Go to this address and scroll down to the section on the “Federal state” and it will tell you.

We could learn from the Swiss. Strange they call it a Federal state when it is more like a confederation there. All of Europe if not the world should follow them over us.

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By KDelphi, July 8, 2009 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

Night Guant—could you expound on the “1948 Switzerland” “regrouping”? I dont know anything abut it….

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By Night-Gaunt, July 7, 2009 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment

However in 1848 Switzerland did have a peaceful re-ordering of their society. Weirdly they used the USA as a model but it must have been from the 1776-1789 time period. We need such a re-ordering, but not along the fascist lines we are still going. Just as the Cabal continues in its mission to do to us.

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By KDelphi, July 7, 2009 at 3:00 pm Link to this comment

Very interesting answers, Anarcissie. Thank you.I agree with alot of it.

When I actually get complete answers on things, I like to think on them a bit, before coming to conclusions. Otherwise, I might type things I will later regret.

I will come back and also look elsewhere look for future posts…I am thinking about what you said about coercion and the necessary violence of the “state”...organization from the bottom up is not very romantic…but it would answer the question of “how? without violence”...

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By Anarcissie, July 7, 2009 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment

Having read around in anthro a bit, I have come to doubt that there is any ur-order of human society, or that human social orders are static for very long.  Hence, every ordering is also a reordering, and the major question is whether that order is achieved with violence and coercion or by some other means.  One which is perpetuated by violence is no less violent than one which is established by violence, although the violence may be hidden for a time by custom or fraud.

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By OzarkMichael, July 7, 2009 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie said: The use of government to order societies is fatally tainted by the central fact of coercion, which has invariably emerged in one repugnant form or another regardless of people’s intentions, the most striking example being the rapid deterioration of the Russian Revolution into the USSR and Stalinism (but there are many others).

Well said, I would make one change to what you wrote. “The use of governement to order societies” should be “the use of government to reorder societies.”

Also, I would like to point out that Thomas Paine’s foil(Edmund Burke) would not have found the rapid deterioration of the Russian Revolution a surprise. I will try to express it simply: Any revolution that tears apart the relations and customs and financial workings of a society will soon find itself choosing between chaos and tyranny. Since humanity can not bear chaos for very long, and since there is always and everywhere a plentiful supply of would-be tyrants… the end result is loss of whatever measure of liberty and equality that the original society had in the first place.

That is Burke in a nutshell. To call Burke a defender of Kings and privileges(as the author did) is simplistic if not completely wrong, since Burke predicted the success of the American Revolution, doing so from the floor of the English Parliament.

More by Anarcissie:

  A process of elimination leads us to the principle that we can obtain peace, freedom and equality only by practicing peace, freedom, and equality, not later, after just one more war and one more state, but now.

I agree. Neither revolution nor war are good things.

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By Anarcissie, July 7, 2009 at 7:30 am Link to this comment

KDelphi—I don’t think there is any inherent conflict between freedom and complex organization.  However, “organize”, like “liberate”, often seems to mean “make people do what I want”, so I can understand the confusion.

I think you are right in saying that the United States may not have a very long time to continue as it is, so that a cooperative movement from the bottom might be too slow to get anything done before some sort of catastrophe renders the question of our social organization academic.  However, social movements and cultural changes have sometimes taken place very suddenly after a long period of gestation or somnolence.  (On a personal level, this process will probably be experienced by suddenly meeting people who have ideas similar to one’s own, after a long period of isolation.)

In any case, I don’t see any alternative.  The use of government to order societies is fatally tainted by the central fact of coercion, which has invariably emerged in one repugnant form or another regardless of people’s intentions, the most striking example being the rapid deterioration of the Russian Revolution into the USSR and Stalinism (but there are many others).  A process of elimination leads us to the principle that we can obtain peace, freedom and equality only by practicing peace, freedom, and equality, not later, after just one more war and one more state, but now.

Your questions are not stupid at all.  They represent significant problems.  Anyone who gave you a neat answer would be a fool or a con artist.

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By KDelphi, July 6, 2009 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment

Anar—I would like to take what youre advocating seriously.

But would “organizing” such a thing defeat its own purpose? Thats not very clear…

I am just trying to envision how this would happen…I mean, if it starts as grassroots, that could take a very long time, and, does the US have a very long time? I mean, as it exists.

If it happens in stages, what to do about immediate concerns, of course, the govt is doing nothing about them now,nothing that the people want done.

I am still mulling this over…you make some very strong points…how does it start?

What do you think of states? Would some secede? What would prevent the “govt” from just sicking the military (and militias) on everyone?

Might be stupid questions, but I am most unhappy with what is going on now and and open to hearing about alternatives…and you make such intelligent points, even when I dont agree.

Plus, you do not shout at anyone and, in my book, that calls for being listened to!

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By Anarcissie, July 5, 2009 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

I believe that the transition to a stateless society would have to take place through the evolution of non-coercive relations, institutions and culture in parallel with the existing state—“building the new world in the shell of the old” as the IWW put it.  I know many people despise or deride this approach, but that is part of the sneaky strategy.  In any case every attempt to get rid of the state through violence (including the legalized state violence of government) has simply led to another state, often a worse one.

However, the kind of movement I am describing, if it became widespread, would probably have reformist effects on the liberal-capitalist social order.  For example, if people were engaged in forming medical-insurance and medical-care cooperatives, and were succeeding in replacing the capitalist private insurance system, the government would hasten to introduce a pseudo-single-payer system to keep people from getting off the leash.  Likewise, the spread of cooperative workplaces would force traditional capitalist corporations to modify their treatment of employees in order to retain them.  The ruling class know how to resist and eviscerate democratic attemts to make these changes through the government, but resisting a widepread, diffuse popular movement would be another matter.

Luckily for them, few take the sort of thing I am advocating seriously.

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By ardee, July 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, July 5 at 4:43 pm #

ardee—I don’t think I have any good suggestions for the general reform of the government.

Maybe not, but you do post literate, intellectually stimulating and enjoyable efforts.You always make me think and heaven knows we don’t get near enough of that around here.
“When Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal” we know that he did not include women, Negro slaves, Indians, or propertyless persons of any category in the the notion of “men”.”
In fairness, Jefferson tried like hell to free his slaves and the Virginia Legislature went so far as to pass a special tax for those who would do so, thus making it impossible for Jefferson to afford such an action.

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By Potent_Placebo, July 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A man who has both feet planted firmly in the air can be safely called a liberal as opposed to the conservative, who has both feet firmly planted in his mouth.
Jacques Barzun

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By KDelphi, July 5, 2009 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie—I know, I just thought that Zinn had an interesting take on it that you dont hear very much.

Very interesting stuff…I have some trouble imagining how we could exist as the human race as “stateless”, but I will not say it cant be done.

Wouldnt there have to be some “steps in between”?

And what happens to those incapable of participating? If there is no law, what protects them?

I am just mulling over some of this…you never cease to get me thinking, I’ll give you that…

tell me, what do you think about this?


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By Anarcissie, July 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

ardee—I don’t think I have any good suggestions for the general reform of the government.  I was just pointing out that the centralization of power is not an unalloyed good.  My activism concerns itself with encouraging people to construct alternative institutions and an alternative culture which will not require government, the class system, war, imperialism, traditional capitalism—it short, the state.  When the state becomes unnecessary it will disappear.  If such institutions and relations cannot be developed, then it seems inevitable that the resultant competition for state power will destroy most if not all of the human race.

KDelphi—I’m well aware of the class analysis of the American Revolution.  Liberalism, which is what that revolution embodied, is a curious amalgam of anarchism and state authority.  In general, the revolutionaries were bourgeois republicans whose ideal state was perhaps symbolized by the topless pyramid on the back of the dollar bill, where the summit of the pyramid, the monarchy, was replaced by God or Reason (the shining eye) or perhaps the authority of the collegial republic, but the hierarchy below the level of the ruling class—women, children, slaves, serfs, servants, employees, inferior tribes and races—are still subordinated.  Freedom above, slavery below, except the ruling class must remain sufficiently organized to perpetuate the slavery.  When Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal” we know that he did not include women, Negro slaves, Indians, or propertyless persons of any category in the the notion of “men”.  But as is turned out the idea of equality, once let loose, was not so easy to confine.  It is too bad Jefferson was not more seriously challenged in his own time, except by indignant monarchists.  Samuel Johnson’s “How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?” stands almost alone, to my knowledge.

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By felicity, July 5, 2009 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

I just learned something - Paine is ignored today? 

He certainly wasn’t when I was in school (‘36-‘54.)  In fact he was assigned reading; his views were discussed and re-discussed; he was credited with inspiring the man-on-the-street to revolt against the injustices being imposed by the Brits.

The fact that he’s ‘ignored’ today may indicate that this nation is slowly dying of root rot - we have turned the world’s richest, freest country into a decaying plutocratic, militarized rogue state.

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By KDelphi, July 5, 2009 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

anarcissie—I am certainly no expert on Paine…I wasnt sure whether you meant, “did Paine resolve it ” in his mind, (accepting the authors’ conclusion) or did the author resolve it?
I still say, in both cases (even if Paine wouldnt have called it SD) would be “no”.

Here is another viewpoint, from Howard Zinn, on whether the “Am Revolution” was worth fighting at all..

“...Canada is independent of England, isn’t it? I think so. Not a bad society. Canadians have good health care. They have a lot of things we don’t have. They didn’t fight a bloody revolutionary war. Why do we assume that we had to fight a bloody revolutionary war to get rid of England?...

...Who actually gained from that victory over England? It’s very important to ask about any policy, and especially about war: Who gained what? And it’s very important to notice differences among the various parts of the population. That’s one thing were not accustomed to in this country because we don’t think in class terms. We think, “Oh, we all have the same interests.” For instance, we think that we all had the same interests in independence from England. We did not have all the same interests….

...It was not all the common people getting together to fight against England. They had a very hard time assembling an army. They took poor guys and promised them land. They browbeat people and, oh yes, they inspired people with the Declaration of Independence. It’s always good, if you want people to go to war, to give them a good document and have good words: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, when they wrote the Constitution, they were more concerned with property than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You should take notice of these little things…

...We were a class society from the beginning. America started off as a society of rich and poor, people with enormous grants of land and people with no land. And there were riots, there were bread riots in Boston, and riots and rebellions all over the colonies, of poor against rich, of tenants breaking into jails to release people who were in prison for nonpayment of debt. There was class conflict. We try to pretend in this country that we’re all one happy family. We’re not…”

Read more at :

(If it will post—if not its dandelion salad dot com)

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By trekwell, July 5, 2009 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“And, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it. -July 4, 1776-The Declaration of Independence”
Dear America
you just go ahead and try it and see how long into prison your government puts you. scoundrels/politicians

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By ardee, July 5, 2009 at 5:39 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie, July 4 at 10:31 pm #

Now the army is well-fed indeed.

Oh yes, and so are a veritable legion of special interests as well. I know that we both are very aware of the corruption that has subverted our system of governance, why else are we here excepting to seek justice in all things political?

But justice as we see it to be, aye there’s the rub.

You would make changes by reducing or eliminating the power and size of the Federal Government I surmise. I believe that corruption and greed are not combated by making something smaller, or for that matter, larger. One makes government responsible to the will of the people by exercising the power of the people to force legislators to toe that line.

If you suggest that a confederacy is a better way to run a nation than is our federation then you omit the obvious , corruption locally is harder to root out than when it is on a national scale, much better hidden than when the eyes of the nation are all focussed upon it.

OK so that last sentence makes one think that corruption seems rather accepted, regardless of its level or scope.But consider fifty separate corrupt state legislators with the power that the corrupt federal legislature now has…..a harder mess to control, no?

I believe in what the Founders wrought. I still enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’s Preamble. I thumb my dogeared copy of the Federalist Papers quite often, in fact it sits beside me now. So, to make radical change to that system seems to me a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

No, far better that the people arise and tell our elected representatives how tired we are of not being represented by them. We do need change, but not fundamental change, only subtle and carefully scripted change, such as;

end the practice of lobbying

Obama, in another seemingly meaningless promise among many, spoke to this very subject when he once called for a change to the rules for former legislators to assume roles as lobbyists.

campaign finance reform

It is no accident that it costs hundreds of millions to ascend to the White House, and a few score millions to become a Senator. It keeps the ‘riffraff’ out, to be sure, and continues the iron clad control of the two party system over our political lives. Make the candidate come to the people for tens and twenties and fifties. Make the media give free air time and print space to the candidates, a small price surely.

Instant Runoff Voting

IRV is an idea whose time is coming. It will make the ascendancy of third party members to the legislature easier and help to break the stranglehold of corporate control the Duopoly now enjoys…..

Can you add to this list, or enumerate why we should more dramatically alter our form of government?

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By CJ, July 5, 2009 at 12:06 am Link to this comment

We’re by now Oprahfied-Choprahfied. Disneyfied, imagineered. Jacksonianed too just lately. (Michaeled, not Andrewed; Michaeled actually far better if Andrewed is alternative.) All just so much pretending to liberty (indeed including that pretended to online) of which Paine never merely dreamed. He was one of authentic, EARTHLY, HUMANLY, ENLIGHTENEDLY RATIONAL spirit. Just as much as of flesh-and-blood who sacrificed all to some purpose as he lived through—while also aiding and abetting—two revolutions. The first political, the second social. The second far more dangerous to life and limb. Tucker tells of chalk-marked cell on second occasion. (Maybe there is a God.)

For all of what he lived and thought and wrote, he’s been ignored. What a genuinely brave heart (first) and mind (first-rate). We have no serious idea of his courage. We might—on this anniversary of Declaration of what he had the courage to live and THEN speak—be more thankful for the “prickly and plebeian.” For the “outsider.” Would we really were celebrating liberty of which Paine knew perfectly well could be ours if we had but the courage to reach out and take hold of it. He assumed we all had his courage.

He thought that if he had it we all had it. (He WAS a common man, profoundly aware of the fact.) But…maybe not. Not so far. Maybe he was wrong about that—then and even more so since then.

Thomas Paine is one of my four or five real heroes. A human being of the most remarkable humanity. (Keep Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, even more so, Adams and Washington. Don’t need ‘em for nothin’. All twits next to Paine. Never mind Burke, really dead and gone, unless you’re George Will or Sarah Palin. Not that Palin ever read Burke. Nor Reagan, though Palin probably did read or at least hear Reagan when he cited Paine. Absurdly.)

Hell with monuments, nationalistic crying sessions, as just this past week and upcoming for pop “icon.” Paine’s words still ring two centuries on. His words will always ring for the never completely liberated, as for truth of humanity that humanity won’t likely ever quite grab onto. In, or out, of sense.

Paine was (obviously) A pain. A relentless polemicist. My kinda human being. When I hear or read of “bipartisanship,” I think of Paine. Rather, I imagine him asking—in vernacular of today—“SAY WHAT!? ARE YOU INSANE!?” To which we’d be forced to answer with, “Ah…Umm? No? Yes? Maybe? Possibly? Okay, definitely maybe.” (By standard he helped set intellectually morally.)

Wherever Paine’s bones, I see him, just here before me, where no pol, no statesman, no churchman and no scholar could ever spot him. Only we “mechanics” can see him—if/when willing to do so. Which is as it should be.

I suppose GOOD they still don’t know Paine (not really), such that he remains underground radical.

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By Anarcissie, July 4, 2009 at 7:31 pm Link to this comment

‘The continental congress was simply hamstrung in its inability to do anything at all. Every decision, every expenditure had to be ratified by the states, far to unwieldy a situation to work. Washington despaired of even feeding the continental army because the system took forever to obtain the necessary funds.’

Now the army is well-fed indeed.

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By ardee, July 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm Link to this comment

Night-Gaunt, July 4 at 12:57 pm

“I had wished that our country had taken a different turn than to the coup that gave us the Federal Republic over the confederation.”

The continental congress was simply hamstrung in its inability to do anything at all. Every decision, every expenditure had to be ratified by the states, far to unwieldy a situation to work. Washington despaired of even feeding the continental army because the system took forever to obtain the necessary funds.

Obviously our government does not work for the best interests of the people currently, but to be critical of the system itself may be beside the point rather then be the point.

As to intellect, far better to know little or nothing and be you than to know everything and be OzarkMichael!

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By shemp333, July 4, 2009 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

What a great day today the 4th of July is…  Celebrate it, as it should be.  For the time our ancestors fought, and won for all of us our freedom.  Even if since then many have fought to end the freedoms they gave us.  May the ideas of that time never be forgotten.  I will always love the ideas of true America.

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By Night-Gaunt, July 4, 2009 at 9:57 am Link to this comment

The first sign of an advancing intelligence is when they acknowledge they have ignorance. I have a great many empty spaces myself. [My cup is always empty.] It is the ones who think they know-it-all that are a danger to themselves and everyone they come in contact with. The information ocean is just too vast for any one person to be so comprehensive. That is one of the important reasons why we work together and have a variety of skills to complement each other. Just let us not fall into the robotic biological caste system of the insects and specialize to the Nth degree.

I had wished that our country had taken a different turn than to the coup that gave us the Federal Republic over the confederation. What if Thomas Paine had been not only involved in our gov’t but served in the various administrations and maybe even president of the Congress himself? I must go to fiction for that. My own or others to do so. Some of L. Neil Smith’s early SiFi got me interested in Libertarian alternates. Though I am more of a Mutual Aid Anarchist myself.

I recommend reading all of Paine’s material. Much of it is on line. Forget Glen Beck the wannabe.

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By ardee, July 4, 2009 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

For heavens sake, use a napkin….wink

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By Anarcissie, July 4, 2009 at 8:08 am Link to this comment

I never need to feign ignorance.  My cup runneth over.

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By ardee, July 4, 2009 at 5:10 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie, July 3 at 11:54 pm #

Sorry if I appeared to impune your motives, anarcissie, but I know you to be a sharp cookie and thought your ignorance of the subject feigned.

Paine was a pain, even to the newly minted govt he helped create, and was almost allowed to languish in jail in France. After narrowly escaping jail in England, for his “Rights of Man” denouncing Monarchy, he promptly got arrested by the Jacobins , where he began “The Age of Reason” while incarcerated there. Except for the intervention of Ben Franklin he might very well have remained in jail or worse, faced Madam L’Guillotine.

I think it worth your time to read more about this firebrand who made his life about ending hereditary monarchy and abusive governments and sooner or later alienated everyone, including his former best friend, George Washington.

I think he is ignored today precisely because his positions then mirror what should be our positions today…...

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By C. Curtis Dillon, July 4, 2009 at 3:37 am Link to this comment
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The greatness of our ideals (as opposed to our reality) may be that the true brains behind them were not men of money and influence but individuals of more simple means.  Franklin, Paine and even Roger Sherman appear to have been very influential in creating what we now call our democracy.  Imagine how different we would be had John Adams and Madison prevailed?

As for the question about the lack of attention to Paine: perhaps it is because both political parties are inclined to wish his words silenced in the current corporate-dominated environment.  He speaks of liberty and revolution which are contrary to what our rulers want us thinking.  They have worked very hard to make us a nation of sheep and have, for the most part, succeeded.  Note the massive coverage of Michael Jackson’s death.  We have become a nation of idiots who survive on the most mundane and stupid of stories.  Dumb down the schools, overwhelm us with pop culture and feed us a constant drivel of false and misleading stories on “news” networks like Fox.  That is the process by which we have been marginalized from the political process.  We resisted, momentarily, with Obama but I already sense the growing frustration with the rhetorical vs. reality of this man which will lead to an even greater retreat from involvement in our political processes.

I only hope that this frustration can be channeled into more active involvement.  It is one thing to vote ... it is another to be willing to march day after day and to demand change.  Can we as a nation find the courage, energy and motivation to once again wage war on our masters?  Can we give up our relative comfort for the uncertainty that a true revolution would bring?  Or are we so numb that the forces of evil have already won?  I wonder.

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By Andrew Gibbons, July 3, 2009 at 9:26 pm Link to this comment
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This is very informative, it puts a lot of Common Sense into context for me.  I tried to derive as much of Paine’s ideology I could and the reasoning; but It was difficult to understand who and what this Burke character was doing when he often referenced him.
As a high school student, the foundation imposed on me about Paine was his revolutionary contribution to society during the late 18th century and that masses were drawn to his righting many a like agreed with his points.  Thank you for sharing this information, because my complacency got the best of me, and until now I lost my interest in Paine. 
Although I wish there was an honest interoperation of Jeffersons’ life, since today, since just moments ago, is “The 4th of July”. This celebratory day is such bullshit to me.  I don’t believe a load of ignoramuses should be idolizing a day in which they know little about.  This day marks the distribution of another vitriolic document that supports an extreme view on the governing of land.  One that should be done by the people, and when the end of the will of those that govern(the people) had been corrupt:it is the job of the people to either change it or make a new.  Only if those who are sipping on their beers and watching fireworks explode in the sky knew and cared about their “freedom”, all of the despotic rulings from the bush presidency would be reversed at a seismic rate.  After all, the president was never intended to have such flagrant and supreme power.  “Read about the history of the place that we live in;
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children” —Immortal Technique

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By Anarcissie, July 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment

No, my question was not rhetorical.  Scott Tucker and Thom Hartmann both seem to take Paine as being some kind of social democrat.  I assume these guys are not kidding around and know what they’re talking about, or at least think they do.  It is true that Paine lived in very different times, but you can find all sorts of modern political theories popping up in the past—as theory, anyway.  And as I said I haven’t read Paine exhaustively, so I thought I might have missed something.  No?

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By ardee, July 3, 2009 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, July 3 at 6:53 pm #

I do not believe you can compare the social democrats of the nineteenth century with those of the twentieth frankly much less to an eighteenth century revolutionary.

I suspect that the best one could do is a comparison of what the two had in common, which I tried ( apparently rather clumsily) in my preceding post.

Paine, a man who had a hand in two major revolutions, compared to modern social democrats who believe in a peaceful political solution to the ills of their govt is like comparing apples to oranges so to speak. The world Paine sought to change was one of hereditary monarchies and the world of today is quite a bit different being ruled by corporations instead of bloodlines.

A better question is what is the importance of Thom Paine to the American revolution and its direction and why is he so ignored today. He might perhaps view our business world as a modern day monarchy, I know that I do.

I might also suggest that your question is a rhetorical one and your motive not exactly the acquisition of knowledge, heh?

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By lester Shepherd, July 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
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To Ozark:  Arkansas boy?  Ummmmmm.  Red state?  A Milton Friedman freak?

The best line of this discussion: ” The French revolution was a partial failure because the guillotine was taken out of service FAR too soon, before the aristocracy and the rich were ALL dead.”

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By Anarcissie, July 3, 2009 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment

‘Always asking the hard questions, huh? ...’

I don’t think it’s such a hard question for you Paine experts.  I myself have not read much of his stuff; what I have read seemed like the traditional liberal doctrines of his era.  (Some people say he, and not Jefferson, really wrote the Declaration of Independence.)  I was generally surprised to hear that he was also a social democrat or welfare-statist and, as I said, wondered if so how he reconciled the government-is-evil view of classical liberals with the ardent faith of modern social democrats that government is good, and the bigger the better.  Maybe he didn’t; the political literature of the 18th and 19th centuries doesn’t always bring its ideas for improvement, progress and revolution together with practical considerations of how the changes are to be actually carried out and maintained once they’re in place.  If he didn’t, though, it is something of a stretch to call him a social democrat, just as it’s something of a stretch to call Marx a Marxist or a Communist.

So tell me.

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By OzarkMichael, July 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment

I would like to say to Mr Tucker, the author of the article, that to minimize the insights of Mr Paine’s worthy opponent(Edmund Burke) does Paine a diservice.

Stand the two men against each other in a more dynamic way and you can see the power of two great minds and two conflicting philosophies. Do not make Burke into a straw man, it belittles Paine.

Yes, Paine was for liberty first and foremost. But Burke was more practical, and more insightful about human nature. Burke pointed out the weaknesses and future collapse of the French Revolution, while Paine married himself to that Revolution, and suffered for it when Burke’s predictions came true. (Which by the way was very admirable. Instead of just giving an opinion, Paine got involved and nearly died.)

Also, do not make a straw man out of John Adams either. His remark about the “Age of Paine” at the end of the article is very interesting and possibly very insightful(I mean insightful of old John Adams! certainly not the author, who was more interested in making Paine into a prophet and martyr).

Despite the overflowing intellectuality present, the praise for Tom Paine by both the author and the posters here is shallow. It is all written without the dialectic which would really show Paine’s greatness as it was locked in struggle gainst opposing great minds and ideas.

Of course the danger of that would be that you might see current political conservatives as having some valid points today, and worse yet you might realize a few weak points of your own philosophy. You might then proceed to learn and grow…

Ah. What was I saying? What was I thinking? After all, this is Truthdig! Where Leftists post cutting edge thoughts like:

The French revolution was a partial failure because the guillotine was taken out of service FAR too soon, before the aristocracy and the rich were ALL dead.

Which completely negates not only Burke but also the best of Paine. 


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By ardee, July 3, 2009 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, July 3 at 1:58 pm #

Always asking the hard questions, huh?

Historically, social democratic parties advocated socialism in the strict sense, achieved by class struggle. In the early 20th century, however, a number of socialist and labor parties rejected revolution and other traditional teachings of Marxism and went on to take more moderate positions, which came to characterize modern social democracy. These positions often include support for a democratic welfare state which incorporates elements of both socialism and capitalism, usually resulting in the form of a mixed economy. This differs from traditional socialism, which aims to replace the capitalist system entirely with a new economic system. Social democrats aim to reform capitalism democratically through state regulation and the creation of programs that work to counteract or remove the social injustice and inefficiencies they see as inherent in capitalism. [Can be found at Wiki]

Perhaps Paine might have rejected the political solutions offered by modern social democrats, he was, after all, a real revolutionary.

For those interested here is Thom Hartmann on Thom Paine:

His critics notwithstanding, Thomas Paine was in many ways the father of modern liberalism, and thus one of the most important of the founders of what both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson referred to as that “liberal” experiment, the United States of America.

Liberals, after all, founded our nation. They were skeptical of the power of any institution - be it corporate (the Boston Tea Party was an anti-globalization protest against the world’s largest transnational corporation, the East India Company), religious (Ben Franklin left Massachusetts for Philadelphia during his childhood in part because they were still hanging witches in the outlying regions), or governmental (the “kingly oppressions” such as the power of a king to make war, referred to by Madison and later quoted by Lincoln). It wasn’t FDR who first seriously promoted the progressive income tax in the USA: it was Thomas Paine. It wasn’t LBJ who invented anti-poverty programs by introducing Medicare, housing assistance, and food-stamp programs: Thomas Paine proposed versions of all of these. It wasn’t Jack Kennedy who first talked seriously about international disarmament: it was Thomas Paine. And Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t the first American to talk about the “living wage,” or ways that corporate “maximum wage” wink-and-nod agreements could be broken up: it was Thomas Paine. Even Woodrow Wilson’s inheritance tax, designed to prevent family empires from taking over our nation, was the idea of Thomas Paine, as was the suggestion for old-age pensions as part of a social safety net known today as Social Security.

Paine thought that the best way to build a strong democracy was to tax the wealthy to give the poor bootstraps by which they could pull themselves up. He proposed helping out young families with the expense of raising children (a forerunner to our income tax exemptions for children), a fund to provide housing and food for the poor (a forerunner to housing vouchers and food stamps), and a reliable and predictable pension for all workers in their old age (a forerunner to Social Security). He also suggested that all nations should reduce their armaments by 90 percent, to ensure world peace. Summarizing, Paine noted:

“When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government.”

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By HJR2, July 3, 2009 at 11:21 am Link to this comment
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History seems to be full of great men and women who have given us our world and are then erased and forgotten and then those who have stolen it back and are called great famous heroes. The truth will stand alone unknown among a horde of cowering liars.

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By KDelphi, July 3, 2009 at 11:15 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie’s question..I think that, it bascially says that he didnt. Of course, Socialist Democracy did not exist at the time, and, may be said to not exist now, much as a Democratic Republic does not really exit.
Does someone know that answer to that question, btw?

But, I have seen so many “new” Socialist forms, often combined with Libertarian, or Anarchism…I keep reading them, but, often find that they dont seem to have alot in commonm, except to say that what “we” are doing now (the entire planet) is not working..

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By alli, July 3, 2009 at 11:10 am Link to this comment
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Scott you are an excellent writer.

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By Anarcissie, July 3, 2009 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

So, how did Paine reconcile his suspicion of government and authority with what we are now calling social democracy?

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By eileen fleming, July 3, 2009 at 10:11 am Link to this comment

“Soon after I had published the pamphlet “Common Sense” [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion… The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”-Tom Paine

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights… [and] to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;

And, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it. -July 4, 1776-The Declaration of Independence

“Love is not the starving of whole populations. Love is not the bombardment of open cities. Love is not killing…...Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers.” -Dorothy Day


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By David Bonney, July 3, 2009 at 10:06 am Link to this comment
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“If we regard those founding republicans as figures in a fairy tale, then we might as well bury the whole republic and build a marble monument inscribed with these words: Once Upon A Time.”

Start digging. Then recall Michelangelo to do the marble-work.

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By Fred Lacher, July 3, 2009 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
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Apropos the lack of memorials to Paine:
there is a small and life sized statue of Paine in Bordentown NJ, where he lived for a number of years.

It was dedicated to his memory, not for his writings and thought, but for his residence in that small, charming town. I lived there until my retirement 5 years ago, and was always happy to see this statue.

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By Night-Gaunt, July 3, 2009 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

And now the reich wing has taken him to their boosum in the form of Glen Beck and his own “Common Sense” a much abused term these days. He has lately taking great pains to not only invoke Paine but decry any stance on violent revolution. I wonder why?

We have had and still have many pamphleteers these days and over the decades. Will they be able to help now? Can we stop the destruction of the republic from becoming a full fledged empire as T. Roosvelt wanted? What our aristocracy craves in their hidden heart of hearts?

Thomas Paine was either ignored or vilified in this country up until 1890 when he was rehabilitated in many eyes. To me he is certainly one of the closest things to a hero I will acknowledge. Along with Goldman, Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Chomsky and many others that I find inspiration and relevant information I concur with.

The question is without information in this information age can we be organized enough to stop the march to fascism and theocracy?

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By billp37, July 3, 2009 at 8:37 am Link to this comment
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——- Forwarded Message——-
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Sent: Friday, June 26, 2009 4:19:01 PM GMT -07:00 US/Canada Mountain
Subject: [Fwd: Fw: (no subject)]

——- Folks - truer words never spoken - now what?

Dear Friends, won’t you please listen to this carefully?

This guy’s video on youtube has been so popular that Obama called him personally. He said that he was very disturbed with the video and invited him to the White House. Obama also said he wanted the White House to handle the Press and not to talk about the video or the White House visit. That’s interesting.

Watch it now. This may be the best six minutes invested in your future

You may have to turn your Sound Control up some.

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By anomar, July 3, 2009 at 8:25 am Link to this comment
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Paine has long been my favorite Founding Father.  I learned a lot from this essay.  It is wonderful to know that another of my favorites, William Blake, knew and advised old Tom.  I knew about his funeral and the abysmal turnout.  Paine should be the subject of a mini-series that knocks down the jams.  John Adams indeed.

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By Big B, July 3, 2009 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

One must wonder, will we as a people ever live up to the great expectations charged to us by Paine? Will we ever live up to our creedo? Will all people ever truely be created as equals?

Not in this version of america.

We started out with a ruling aristocracy, and over the last 200 years or so, we have built a modern day feudal system to maintain that privledged class. The corporations have turned the working class into 21st century serfs. And much like the devils greatest trick convincing us that he doesn’t exist, the corporate aristocracy and the leadership class they have created for us, have convinced the working class masses that they can also become powerful and wealthy masters of the universe through hard work and dedication alone.


In honor of Paine, I believe I will go to the store and buy a powerball ticket. I will need that annuity to pay for my blood pressure meds in about 20 years.

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By artie, July 3, 2009 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
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I read and reread him, one of the greatist Patriots in all of recorded history.

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By shemp333, July 3, 2009 at 4:34 am Link to this comment

Great article about The Man who put the American Revolution into overdrive.  I love reading the exact same 2 books mentioned by Paul_GA.  My other 2 favorites are The Age of Reason and Rights of Man.  The Age of Reason is such a powerful book.  A complete rebute of Christianity and sectional breakdown of the Bible itself.  All from the point of view that to believe in that terrible book is true immorality.  Brilliant reading.  I hope to see more about our friend Thomas Paine.  A brother to us all.

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By Purple Girl, July 3, 2009 at 4:32 am Link to this comment

“The Age of Reason”...Still Waiting.
“We the People” are still trying to achieve the goals of ‘All men are created Equal’ with ‘inalienable Rights’ to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”.
The ‘Noble’ and Merchant Class still controlling Politics with their monatary means to corruption and oppression.
Religion being used as the moral justification for the immorality and repressiveness of those Upper classes.
Oh Mr. Paine over 200 yrs and we are still no closer now than we were then… But instead of a Family Crest, WE have Logos. Instead of the Vatican or Church of England, We have Evangleical Megachurches. Where ever your bones may be now,I have no doubt that you are spinning in your grave.

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By Paul_GA, July 3, 2009 at 4:20 am Link to this comment

“Common Sense” and “Crisis #1” are my two favorite Paine works—plus, you can download the complete works of Thomas Paine (in two volumes) in PDF form from the Ludwig von Mises Institute! Go for it, friends; these ARE the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls!

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By godistwaddle, July 3, 2009 at 4:15 am Link to this comment

The French revolution was a partial failure because the guillotine was taken out of service FAR too soon, before the aristocracy and the rich were ALL dead.

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By godistwaddle, July 3, 2009 at 4:13 am Link to this comment

Paine was a real revolutionary.  The “Founders” were men of wealth and privilege who wished to remove a colony from the orbit of those who could impinge upon their right to keep slavery, institute wage slavery, and wage predatory captitalism upon the poor. They legitimized all of this in the holy Constitution, the credo of the Property Party.

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By ardee, July 3, 2009 at 3:27 am Link to this comment

Not so odd really, that the greatest revolutionary of them all is ignored by the very nation he named and helped create. The way he is dismissed points eloquently to the myth that is the United States of America.

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