An Unsung Hero and Architect of the American Revolution
The writings of Thomas Paine were a critically influential voice that helped tip the balance of popular opinion in favor of revolution in colonial America. It is easy to forget that many of the Founding Fathers were deeply embedded in the governing structures of Great Britain within the colonies, even though they attempted to gain a greater voice for the nation in Parliament, particularly in regards to the issue of prohibitive taxation. Paine alone, as a strident voice, was an early and unequivocal supporter of independence.
As noted by Jill Lepore in her essay “The Sharpened Quill” about Paine’s legacy, it is directly documented that John Adams read Paine’s anonymous pamphlet “Common Sense” when he was debating within himself the wisdom of seeking independence for the colonies. Lepore calls “Common Sense” an “anonymous, fanatical, and brutally brilliant” document that ultimately had the power to “convince the American people of what more than a decade of taxes and nearly a year of war had not: that it was nothing less than their destiny to declare independence from Britain” (Lepore). According to Lepore, Paine offered practical justifications for separating from the mother country, including the growing taxation burden, but also a philosophical justification that lingers in the American conscience today, namely America’s sense of uniqueness as a free nation.
Paine was a Quaker born poor in England who traveled to the colonies when he was financially ruined in his country of birth (Lepore). His Quakerism is often used as an explanation of his strong sense of social justice and belief in equality, given that the Quaker faith lacks a strong sense of hierarchy. Paine was not formally educated but had clearly internalized many Enlightenment ideas, as reflected in his document “Common Sense.” In fact, the ability to translate “Lockean liberalism, classical republicanism, and Leveller radicalism…especially Newtonian rationalism” into popular language is a clear part of Paine’s appeal (Lepore). Although other Founding Fathers’ contributions may be better remembered, like the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, it is Paine’s rhetoric that generated support for the radical step of breaking away from Great Britain. “Paine’s contributions to the nation’s founding would be hard to overstate. ‘Common Sense’ made it possible to declare independence” (Lepore).
Paine was quite explicit about the fact that he would not use any kind of ornamental language in his writings with the intention of making it as accessible as possible. Even though he himself was literate enough, despite his lack of education, his background made him highly sensitive to the fact that many of his readers were not. “As it is my design to make those that can scarcely read understand,” Paine stated, he would thus “avoid every literary ornament and put it in language as plain as the alphabet” (Paine). Paine, unlike some of the Founding Fathers, did not write for the upper echelons of colonial society but the people who would ultimately come to fill the boots of Washington’s army. This commonplace language also underlined the democratic, anti-royalist sentiment that made the colonists’ cause more appealing; it was not simply about taxation and commerce, Paine urged, but about the nature of freedom itself and the fact that America was not about who one was born as, but what one would and could become. Again, this is still a sentiment that lingers on in the American consciousness today.
Interestingly enough, John Adams began to dislike Paine, viewing him as an uneducated rabble-rouser, although he obviously became a strong supporter of independence himself. He also wrote to Thomas Jefferson that historians would later ascribe the beginnings of the American Revolution to Thomas Paine, not to himself and Jefferson, although ironically Paine is largely forgotten today while Adams and Jefferson are remembered (Lepore). Adams, like many of the Founding Fathers was effectively a member of the colonial aristocracy, unlike Paine, and felt that more reasoned and educated individuals should be the voice of colonial independence. Yet even Adams admitted “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain” (Lepore). Furthermore, Paine…
Sources Used in Document:
Lepore, Jill. “The Sharpened Quill.” The New Yorker. 16 Oct 2006. Web. 6 Nov 2017.
Summary of the three most important leadership lessons learned
What one can and should learn from studying the life and thinking of Thomas Jefferson is that leaders are not necessarily born, but they are also shaped. What is takes to be a leader in those days, is similar to these. One needs constant learning and interest in different fields of activity that will cultivate not only a good understanding of their