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The Influence Of Thomas Paine In America History Essay

As the year 1776 rolled through the American colonies, tension with King George III of England was probably at an all-time high. The Americans had just about had it with the actions of their rulers overseas; and to top it off, taxes and trade limitations had been placed on them, while at the same time Britain’s’ mercenary soldiers occupied their towns and cities. However, as America expanded, England’s hold on it tightened, and a few voices began speaking of independence. After awhile, the loudest and perhaps most convincing of them all belonged to Thomas Paine.

​ Few people would have guessed that Thomas Paine who was born into a Quaker family in Thetford, England, would eventually grow up to become one of the most influential people in the quest for America’s independence. He immigrated to Philadelphia in 1774 at the urging of Benjamin Franklin whom he had met by chance in London. During this time, Paine took on a job as a printer and political propagandist to advocate among other things, the abolition of slavery. According to Craig Nelson in “The Making of Common Sense”, Franklin and Paine fell in sync politically on almost every issue, from considering the best form of government to be comprised of one legislature as democratically elected as feasible (though Paine would eventually come to see the benefits of bicameral systems), to launching public attacks on the institution of slavery. In 1774 Paine became involved in the protests against English "tyranny" and in December, 1776 he was with Washington's beleaguered army. At which time they were steering in the face of defeat, Paine wrote an inspirational pamphlet called “The Crisis”, which amongst other things uplifted the morale of the soldiers and gathered patriots for the cause. Today, the opening lines of “The Crisis” are embedded in American culture based on these infamous words “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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered." Henceforward, Thomas Paine became well known for his clever writing style and ingenuous proposals; and besides, at that time people needed huge words of encouragement for the toughest battle America would face thus far.​

​ Thomas Paine seems to have been born with the gift of stirring the spirit of men effectively. For instance, Paine’s pamphlet entitled “Common Sense” started with an inclination towards the purpose and definition of government and then preceded with an undertone that described government as a necessary evil. The people who read and understood this pamphlet became eager to excite political changes in America. Despite all the excitement, Paine understood that all Utopias were illusionary and that some members of society would resort to vice, or conform to the “the defect of moral virtue.” Nevertheless, as far Thomas Paine was concerned, he was writing “Common Sense” purposely for the common man as means to get the American people engaged in political activism. Moreover, the words within “Common Sense” came out of Paine’s own guts based on his rough years of being poor unaccomplished dreams, and the desire to persist in spite of disappointment and failure. It also flowed from Paine's anger and frustration with a complacent and self-congratulatory society that turned its back on misery and injustice, while complaining of the insolence and radicalism of the lower classes. In Paine’s own words he said, “It is passion that gives power to language”, and truly Paine's passion flowed into the sentences he wrote.

Paine’s words within this infamous pamphlet helped to influence the colonists to go to war against the tyranny of King George III. There within Paine stressed his personal belief in that monarchy was extremely absurd in its design, because it first prevented a man from the means of gaining proper information, and then delegated him to act in situations where paramount judgment was called for. However Paine was no fool, he knew it was inevitable for men to form governments for common security but suggested that the best form of government was one “with the least expense and the greatest benefit.” This suggestion showed that Paine was both a theorist and realist in the political arena. In his pamphlet Paine continued his argument to say that the English Monarchy and Parliament were like a divided house. At the one end, King George III and the peers contended with the Commons. Although the Commons limited the King, the King also limited legislation passed by the Parliament: Each part of the body possessing the power to invoke a stalemate. Paine strongly believed that monarchy was both unnatural and unscriptural, and therefore he devoted several paragraphs to the Old Testament, where in one of them he stated that the monarchy was a device of the heathen.

​ In the first section of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Paine made the line between social vs. government policies transparent and also defined how a country could survive based on social policies; ironically, the first section was titled "Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution." He provided a thorough basis for how society and government work differently, in the first section and third paragraph, he said that “In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest, they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought.” It kind of seems as if he believed that government was unnatural but necessary, because later in the first section he admitted that the government of England was noble for the dark and slavish times in which it was erected, during the time when the world was overrun by tyranny. It was quite evident from the first section of Common Sense that there was much of Paine's Quaker bitterness to government, and of his acceptance in the voice of compunction. There was also much of the new spirit of romanticism, whose most eloquent interpreter had been the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Also there was a lot of old English radicalism that went back to the Civil War of the seventeenth century, within the lines of Paine’s pamphlet. Common Sense denoted elements of John Locke and of the Revolution of 1688, which led to the dethroning of King James III of England. Above all, there was Paine's own anguish and suffering he remembers from his life in England.

Many people have contended that Thomas Paine was an Atheist, and Jack Fruchtman spoke of these allegations in his “Thomas Paine: Apostle of freedom” by saying “In many respects, a deeply religious devotion and respect for God's universe motivated Paine's pursuit of liberty and justice. His religious attitudes have caused consternation and perplexity among his readers.” But according to John P. Kaminski, More specifically, Paine eventually reached a wide audience because he shunned indirection and embraced a confrontational political language. This all stands to say that Thomas Paine could’ve definitely been a strong politician, because he knew how to reach the masses. However, Paine clarified his position by referring to the act of creation in the beginning of the second section of Common Sense, which declares by default his belief in the sovereignty of God. It was important for his peers to apprehend from his demeanor, since he was being considered a leader in the American Revolution.

In the last section of Paine pamphlet, he pronounced that America was well equipped to establish a navy that can oppose and defeat even the British. Paine provided the cost at roughly 3.5 million pounds sterling, and reasoned with America that they currently had no national debt; so therefore, could certainly afford this miniscule debt as a expense for raising an navy. Paine continued to reason that America already produces the natural resources needed to commence with the construction of such a navy, and he also added that America's coasts were dangerously unprotected at that time. To further radicalize the impressionalbe minds of America, Paine invoked the fear of losing their newfoundland by conveying that if the British continued to rule America, the country would surely deteriorate. Just based on the wisdom Paine spoke to the Americans, its very clear as to why people like Harvey J. Kaye said that “Thomas Paine was one of the more intriguing figures of the American Revolution and a friendly and sociable young man.” 

​ Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, and two more of his known works, “The Crisis” and “The Rights of Man”, reflect the revolutionary type of free thinking and of a person who chose to search for something better than the monotonous life of a poor working class Englishman. Though he was not well-educated nor a particularly a profound thinker, he was intelligent.   Paine read the philosophers of the Enlightenment, and their ideas defined his own thinking. With these ideas in mind, Thomas Paine used his gift for bold and graphic written expression and his personal commitment to individual freedom and equality to popularize the underlying ideology of the American Revolution.

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