by Gerald Boerner


JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. Today we will examine the contributions of that great propagandist and pamphleteer who made critical contributions in communicating the goals of the revolution to the general populace — Thomas Paine.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 4 of 10. ]

[ 3055 Words ]


“In the summer of 1776 our Founding Fathers sought to secure our independence and the liberties that remain the foundation of our nation today.”
— Doc Hastings

“Maintaining checks and balances on the power of the Judiciary Branch and the other two branches is vital to keep the form of government set up by our Founding Fathers.”
— Todd Tiahrt

“Most Americans aren’t the sort of citizens the Founding Fathers expected; they are contented serfs. Far from being active critics of government, they assume that its might makes it right.”
— Joseph Sobran

“My answer to the racial problem in America is to not deal with it at all. The founding fathers dealt with it when they made the Constitution.”
— James Meredith

“Our Founding Fathers crafted a constitutional Republic for the first time in the history of the world because they were shaping a form of government that would not have the failures of a democracy in it, but had the representation of democracy in it.”
— Steve King


America’s Founding Fathers: Thomas Paine, the Pamphleteer and Propagandist

I want to start looking at some of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolutionary War. We will start with that great orator of the colonies — Thomas Paine of Pennsylvania. When the passion of the Americans needed a voice, Thomas Paine was there for them. He was able to craft the appropriate phrase that could give heart to the colonists in their confrontation of the British. GLB


(The following Thomas Paine: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Tuesday, June 30, 2009)

Thomas Paine:
Thinking About the American Revolution

Copyright©2009 Gerald L. Boerner
All Rights Reserved

“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… yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
— Thomas Paine, “The Crisis”

Thomas_Paine If Patrick Henry was the great orator of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine was the trigger. He has been called “The Father of the American Revolution” because it was he, not the legislators or the philosophers, who reached the minds of the populace. Any revolution requires the common citizen to be willing to take up arms against a perceived enemy and man the trenches. The American Revolution was not fought in Independence Hall in Philadelphia; it took place in the plains of Valley Forge. Yes, great leaders are necessary. Yes, troops must be willing to fight and even sacrifice their temporal lives on the battlefield. But it takes an ‘evangelist’ to stir up the people; that ‘evangelist’ was Thomas Paine!

Who was this man who could turn a phrase and mobilize the people’s army to stand up against the greatest battle machine in the world, the British army and navy? It was Thomas Paine, the Englishman who emigrated to the American colonies in 1774 as the Revolutionary War was starting on the fields of Lexington and Concord. It was not one of our native sons or one of the ‘Sons of Liberty.’ It was a simple English stay-maker, tax agent, and sometime teacher.

Let’s examine more closely his contributions to our American Revolution…

Thomas Paine (1773 – 1809)

“If, to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy… to promote universal peace, civilization, and commerce, and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank; if these things be libelous… let the name of libeler be engraved on my tomb.”
— Thomas Paine

Commonsense Paine was born and reared in the south of England where he spent his first thirty-seven years. Although he was raised in a Quaker home, he was an affirmed deist and a critic of the institutional church. He was a radical, revolutionary and intellectual person who was essentially self-educated. But he was a gifted writer who could present complex ideas in a manner that could be understood by the average reader. He employed a concise, style that spoke to the man on the street or on the farm, if you will. He shunned the formal, learned styling of a Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton.

He took work as a printer for publisher of the Philadelphia Magazine. He used this publication for a series of articles on “The Crisis” and his most famous track: “Common Sense.” These publications stirred up the colonists with his radical ideas of what true freedom and liberty meant. In later years, he was to write “The Rights of Man” and other tracks that incited the French Revolution. His place in history was that of the ‘firebrand’ and ‘agitator’ of popular revolts, not as a stabilizing force for the development of democratic government. This is unfortunate, since the force of his writing and ideas could have aided the colonies through the period of the Articles of Confederation into the era of the U.S. Constitution. Alas, that was not to be.

“The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected…”
— Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”

Paine’s role in the Revolutionary War was not as a military or political leader, it was as the ‘evangelist’ to urge the colonists to action. His goal throughout was to spur these colonists to fight for their independence from Britain; he wanted to teach the British monarchy a lesson! He left the direction of the colonial army and the quest for a new model of governance to other, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, etc. John Adams was against Paine’s radicalism, his extreme view of democracy, one that bordered on anarchy, and called for a more conservative form of republicanism. Paine was notorious for making enemies of those who had initially supported him, which, in fact, almost led to his meeting the ‘widow maker’ (the guillotine) after offending Robespierre during the French Revolution.

One of his quasi-diplomatic successes was to obtain French financing for the war. He was successful in obtaining substantial financial assistance from the French government. He did this in conjunction with Ben Franklin, then the Colonists representative to the French court. For this, he was eventually given a small farm in upstate New York and some monetary compensation. As the colonies moved from the battlefield to the halls of government, Paine’s interests took him to France for new adventures in that civil war – the French Revolution.

“Often tactless, Paine provoked considerable controversy. He was invariably hard-pressed for money and had to depend upon the generosities of his American friends and the occasional reward from the French envoy in America. When the War came to an end, his financial position was so precarious that he had to campaign to obtain recompense from the government…”
The History Guide, 2006, “Thomas Paine (1737-1809)”

PaineAgeReason As a writer, he communicated well with the common man. His ideas of radical revolution were a trigger mechanism that ignited uprisings in both the American colonies and the French capital. As most radicals, he was too ‘out in front’ of his peers who lost faith in him; he was dedicated to support of rebellions against tyranny, the established church, and other institutions in contemporary society. Thus, his vision was accepted at the beginning of the rebellion, but soon became too much of a burden upon his peers. He influenced the colonist to move to become independent of the British crown and parliament, but, thank goodness, he had peers to see through the war and the formation of a new government.

“Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”
— Spoken of Paine by President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, 2009

Thank you, Thomas Paine, for your contribution to our freedom. You gave us vision and the wake-up call for which we will ever be grateful.


Adding Perspective on Patrick Henry

Thomas_Paine_by_Matthew_Pratt,_1785-95 Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809) was an author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in Thetford, in the English county of Norfolk, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 in time to participate in the American Revolution. His principal contributions were the powerful, widely read pamphlet Common Sense (1776), advocating colonial America’s independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and The American Crisis (1776–1783), a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. The historian Saul K. Padover in the biography Jefferson: A Great American’s Life and Ideas, refers to Paine as "a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination."

Paine was deeply involved in the early stages of the French Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), in part a defence of the French Revolution against its critics, in particular the British statesman Edmund Burke. Despite not speaking French, he was elected to the French National Convention in 1792. The Girondists regarded him as an ally, so, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy. In December of 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of The Age of Reason (1793–94), his book advocating deism, promoting reason and freethinking, and arguing against institutionalized religion and Christian doctrines. He also wrote the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1795), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income.

Paine remained in France during the early Napoleonic era, but condemned Napoleon’s dictatorship, calling him "the completest charlatan that ever existed". In 1802, at President Jefferson’s invitation, he returned to America where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral as he had been ostracized for his criticisms and ridicule of Christianity.

American Revolution

Thomas Paine has a claim to the title The Father of the American Revolution because of Common Sense, the pro-independence monograph pamphlet he anonymously published on January 10, 1776; signed "Written by an Englishman", the pamphlet became an immediate success., it quickly spread among the literate, and, in three months, 100,000 copies sold throughout the American British colonies (with only two million free inhabitants), making it a best-selling work in eighteenth-century America. Paine’s original title for the pamphlet was Plain Truth; Paine’s friend, pro-independence advocate Benjamin Rush, suggested Common Sense instead.

The pamphlet appeared in January 1776, after the Revolution had started. It was passed around, and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the idea of republicanism, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. Paine provided a new and convincing argument for independence by advocating a complete break with history. Common Sense is oriented to the future in a way that compels the reader to make an immediate choice. It offers a solution for Americans disgusted and alarmed at the threat of tyranny.

Paine was not expressing original ideas in Common Sense, but rather employing rhetoric as a means to arouse resentment of the Crown. To achieve these ends, he pioneered a style of political writing suited to the democratic society he envisioned, with Common Sense serving as a primary example. Part of Paine’s work was to render complex ideas intelligible to average readers of the day, with clear, concise writing unlike the formal, learned style favored by many of Paine’s contemporaries.

Common Sense was immensely popular, but how many people were converted to the cause of independence by the pamphlet is unknown. Paine’s arguments were rarely cited in public calls for independence, which suggests that Common Sense may have had a more limited impact on the public’s thinking about independence than is sometimes believed. The pamphlet probably had little direct influence on the Continental Congress’s decision to issue a Declaration of Independence, since that body was more concerned with how declaring independence would affect the war effort. Paine’s great contribution was in initiating a public debate about independence, which had previously been rather muted.

Loyalists vigorously attacked Common Sense; one attack, titled Plain Truth (1776), by Marylander James Chalmers, said Paine was a political quack and warned that without monarchy, the government would "degenerate into democracy". Even some American revolutionaries objected to Common Sense; late in life John Adams called it a "crapulous mass." Adams disagreed with the type of radical democracy promoted by Paine, and published Thoughts on Government in 1776 to advocate a more conservative approach to republicanism.

In the early months of the war Paine published The Crisis pamphlet series, to inspire the colonists in their resistance to the British army. To inspire the enlisted men, General George Washington had The American Crisis read aloud to them. The first Crisis pamphlet begins:

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; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
— Thomas Paine, The Crisis

In 1777, Paine became secretary of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs. The following year, he alluded to continuing secret negotiation with France in his pamphlets; the resultant scandal and Paine’s conflict with Robert Morris eventually led to Paine’s expulsion from the Committee in 1779. However, in 1781, he accompanied John Laurens on his mission to France. Eventually, after much pleading from Paine, New York State recognised his political services by presenting him with an estate, at New Rochelle, N.Y., and Paine received money from Pennsylvania and from the U.S. Congress at George Washington’s suggestion. During the Revolutionary War, Paine served as an aide to the important general, Nathanael Greene. Paine’s later years established him as "a missionary of world revolution."

Funding the American Revolution with Henry and John Laurens:

According to Daniel Wheeler’s "Life and Writings of Thomas Paine," Volume 1 (of 10, Vincent & Parke, 1908) p. 26-27: Thomas Paine accompanied Col. John Laurens to France and is credited with initiating the mission. It landed in France in March 1781 and returned to America in August with 2.5 livres in silver, as part of a "present" of 6 million and a loan of 10 million. The meetings with the French king were most likely conducted in the company and under the influence of Benjamin Franklin. Upon return to the United States with this highly welcomed cargo, Thomas Paine and probably Col. Laurens, "positively objected" that General Washington should propose that Congress remunerate him for his services, for fear of setting "a bad precedent and an improper mode."

BHS-TP_Statue Thomas Paine statue erected on
Prince Street in Bordentown City
by the Bordentown Historical Society,
New Jersey.

In addition, according to an appreciation by Elbert Hubbard in the same volume (p. 314) "In 1781 Paine was sent to France with Colonel Laurens to negotiate a loan. The errand was successful, and Paine then made influential acquaintances, which were later to be renewed. He organized the Bank of North America to raise money to feed and clothe the army, and performed sundry and various services for the colonies."

Henry Laurens (the father of Col. John Laurens) had been the ambassador to the Netherlands, but he was captured by the British on his return trip there. When he was later exchanged for the prisoner Lord Cornwallis (in late 1781), Paine proceeded to the Netherlands to continue the loan negotiations. There remains some question as to the relationship of Henry Laurens and Thomas Paine to Robert Morris as the Superintendent of Finance and his business associate Thomas Willing who became the first president of the Bank of North America (in Jan. 1782). They had accused Morris of profiteering in 1779 and Willing had voted against the Declaration of Independence. Although Morris did much to restore his reputation in 1780 and 1781, the credit for obtaining these critical loans to "organize" the Bank of North America for approval by Congress in December 1781 should go to Henry or John Laurens and Thomas Paine more than to Robert Morris.

Paine bought his only house in 1783 on the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Church Streets in Bordentown City, New Jersey, and he lived in it periodically until his death in 1809. This is the only place in the world where Paine purchased real estate.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…

Wikipedia: Thomas Paine…

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…