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Speaker’s Corner: Unsung Hero

By Arnie Silverman

As we celebrate Independence Day, national focus for those who seriously contemplate the holiday will be on the Founding Fathers – Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, Hamilton, etc.  For me, however, there should an additional name; one that was essentially forgotten and written out of recognition and remembrance in the 19th century and to some extent even today, that of Thomas Paine.

Paine’s writings inspired passion for independence among the majority of Colonists looking for more local sovereignty, with anger over increasing taxation and the forced quartering of British militia, but still leaning to loyalty to the English monarch, King James 1.  His pamphlet, “Common Cause,” with a call for a declaration of independence defined clearly and persuasively the ideas of the revolution and the need for severing the rule from England for common farmers and artisans as well intellectuals with inspirational but simple prose that could be easily comprehended and accepted by them.

With the huge publishing success of “Common Cause” (over 500,000 copies were sold) Paine’s influence on the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 was preeminent. The pamphlet was read throughout the colonies and in Europe.  It was a key element in converting the majority of colonists from adherence to the king to supporting revolution.  However, because there were no copywrite laws then and because his major interest was not in book royalties but in persuading colonists to the righteousness of rebellion, he made little or nothing on the publication.

As happened with his second triumph, the “American Crisis.”  Opening with the stirring words “These are the times that try men’s souls,” this pamphlet was written during the worse times of the revolution.  With his army on the verge of disintegration, Washington ordered it read to all the troops at Valley Forge.  Remember, this was a time when people read and devoured serious publications. At a time of defeat after defeat after defeat when many colonists supported readdressing the issues with the king, it had a powerful if not the most powerful effect in maintaining the spirit and discipline of the remaining troops and encouraging the general population to stay the course of war.

After the war, with each new problem or contention that arose, Paine revised “American Crisis,” addressing the new issues until there were 16 editions.  Instead of continuing to help the Revolutionary cause, however, wishing to bring the successful American Revolution to all monarchies, he returned to Europe. In France in support of the French revolution, he wrote “The Rights of Man” which defined republican principals for the French as well as all of Europe.

In 1793, he was imprisoned in France for not endorsing the execution of King Louis XVI.  During his imprisonment, he completed and distributed the first part of what was to become his most famous work, the anti-church, “The Age of Reason.” Barely escaping execution thanks to the efforts of James Monroe, then U.S. Minister to France, he was freed in 1794. Returning to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson, he discovered that due to his religious views his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated. Derided by the press and public for those views and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72.

While not a soldier and therefore not a hero in battle, Paine’s influence on our fledging republic was immeasurable, and he should be included among the most revered of Founders.

 

Arnold Silverman, commander of the Laguna Beach VFW Post 5868, served in the Korean War.

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Comments (1)

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  1. Thank you Mr. Silverman for recognizing the important contributions made by Thomas Paine to human progress. As President of Thomas Paine Friends, I invite you to join us in our efforts to return Paine to his rightful place among history’s leading lights.

    I have developed a narrated PowerPoint lecture on Paine’s life and works that is available online at http://www.authorstream.com.

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