Monday, 8 June 2009

Thomas Paine? Never Heard Of Him.

The British don't talk about their defeats in war. We especially don't mention the American War of Independence although the part where we burnt down the White House tends to get a mention.
What many people here don't know is that it was an Englishman who was a major player in stirring up the colonies to refuse to pay their tax and throw our tea into the sea. The turncoat.
There are statues of him in Paris and New Jersey and a monument to him in New York and Napoleon Bonaparte said that 'a statue of gold should be erected to him in every city in the universe.' Those crazy Frenchies and their gold statues.
Thomas Paine died 200 years ago today but the name would be met with blank stares by the majority of the British population despite him being named as 'possibly the most influential writer in modern human history.'
Born in Norfolk, in 1737, Paine was a corset-maker, school teacher and excise officer before penning a pamphlet that demanded better pay and conditions for his fellow workers. Benjamin Franklin got wind of it and persuaded Paine to cross the Atlantic where he threw his lot in with those Americans calling for independence from Britain.
He published another pamphlet (weak wrists?) called Common Sense which put the case for democracy, against the monarchy, and for American independence from British rule which riled the colonists to demand independence.
One war and a charred White House later and Paine was bought into the early American Government and dashed off a few more pamphlets, including one stirring things up in France as the revolution there took hold.
He sailed to France and discussed with Napoleon on how best to invade England and wrote two more of those pamphlets, one with the snappy title 'Observations on the Construction and Operation of Navies with a Plan for an Invasion of England' and the more to the point 'The Final Overthrow of the English Government' in which he promoted the idea of 1000 gunboats carrying a French invading army across the English Channel.
He returned to America but when he wrote another (you guessed it) pamphlet attacking religion, the Americans took offence and the powers edged him out of the picture and sent him off to write all the flimsy pamphlets his quill wrecked wrists desired far away from the seat of power.
When he died his obituary read 'One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened. Death, almost his only friend.'
I would suggest that whether he is a man of vision who changed the World or just a pamphlet writing nancy who betrayed his country would depend upon which side of the Atlantic you are sitting on.


The Fez Monkey said...

Not for nothing, but the War of Independence and the burning of the White House are to completely separate events.

The Revolutionary War (as we call it) was in the late 1700's, while the White House fire was in the second match in the early 1800's. We won both matches, and advanced to face the Germans, against whom we also won both games. It's only those pesky Asians that seem to give us problems.

Ook ook

Falling on a bruise said...

My matches and i stand corrected fez.

Cheezy said...

Tom Paine is one of my heroes! He realised from very early on that national boundaries pale in comparison to the true stratas of society, that span national boundaries. That's why he was a friend of people who sought liberty, freedom, and social betterment, no matter where they came from.

The town of Lewes is the place to go, if you want to hit the 'Tom trail', Lucy...

I re-read 'Rights of Man' about a year ago, and while it wasn't quite as entertaining as I remembered from my student days, I guess it must have been a breezier read than some of the other political theorists we ploughed our way through e.g. Marx, Burke, Locke.

Nog said...

I've heard somewhere that some taxes on paper were levied in Ireland and other lower class British realms for some time specifically in order to prevent the poor from reading Paine. If it were true it would be very funny.


Falling on a bruise said...

We now call the lower class British realms Scotland and Wales.