Documents for the Classroom: Tom Paine-a-Mania at the Neighborhood

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

Tom Paine was always a guy I admired: honest, blunt, a professional asshole.

He was also one of the most influential writers of the late 18th century, focusing his pen on the problems of liberty, equality, government and revolution.  As for the latter, he helped push unrest on two continents, and had conservatives across Europe and America shitting in their pants.

The latest post from the Social Studies and History Teachers Blog out of Multimedia Learning focuses on Paine’s most famous work in the States, the 1776 pamphlet Common Sense.  In it, he posits a radical idea: that common, ordinary people have a place in government.  Its ideals still ring true today.

I’m also including links to two other of Paine’s works that may not be as famous as Common Sense, or his subsequent The Crisis here in the US, but are just as important in understanding this important author:

Rights of Man (1791) – Paine’s response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, it is his defense of revolution as a tool for regime change and the protection of basic rights.  It caused a sensation in England, forcing Paine to stay in France and work with the revolutionary government–as treason charges were waiting for him at home.

The Age of Reason (1794-1796) – While in the Luxembourg prison in Paris for opposing the execution of Louis XVI, and seeing the institutional atheism of the Reign of Terror, Paine penned this biting screed that took organized religion in general, and Christianity in particular, to task.  Yet he saw the danger in Robespierre’s authoritarian approach to anti-clericalism, fighting instead for religious liberty.

Enjoy these, and let us know of how you used Paine’s work in your lesson planning.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Documents for the Classroom: Tom Paine-a-Mania at the Neighborhood

  1. Do you think Paine was marginalized because of his religious views and verbalizing them?

    Sam Clemons said he got away with attacking religion because he did it with humor. bdrex

    • ldorazio1

      It’s an excellent question. I think Paine certainly was marginalized, especially during the latter part of his life–and his religious views were a large part of it.

      Even though many leaders of the day–especially the Virginia planter class that dominated executive politics until the mid-1820s–quietly agreed with Paine, the English population on both sides of the Atlantic had far too much religious fervor to accept Paine’s arguments openly.

      Clemons has a point about humor, but then again he used humor for his other arguments as well, especially in Common Sense. I think he got away with attacking religion because by the time Age of Reason was published, Paine was a man without a country. His Rights of Man made him a traitor in the eyes of the British Empire. The Jacobins of the French republic, his old allies, set him adrift after he caved on Louis’ execution. Thus his arguments are largely muzzled in the din of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic conflicts.

      You could argue that Paine in fact didn’t get away with attacking religion, as it alienated his British supporters as well as attacked his more fervently atheistic Jacobin opponents.

  2. This is a great post and I enjoy your writing!

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