Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Thomas Paine Scholar, Revolutionary Bridge builder and filthy Atheist

As you all know it was Yankee independence day two days ago. So why didn't I make a post about it on the actually day if I was so inclined? well I was busy then and yesterday and I live in a village with a rather poor internet connection, my download speeds are slower and between 5 o'clock and half past eleven when I'm actually free to use the Computer it stops working almost entirely (I can just about check my e-mails and that takes around 20 minutes) so yeah.

Anyway I'm on now, So on to Thomas Paine. I've chosen the American independence day to talk about a lesser known yet highly important figure in the conflict that resulted in the birth of the 13 states.

Paine was originally a Corset maker from East Anglia, incidentally Cromwell was from East Anglia as well, what is it with East Anglia and producing radical political figures? He soon became famous on both sides of the pond with his best sellers the Common Sense the Rights of man and the much more controversial Age of the Reason.

When Paine moved to the then American colony of Pennsylvania after befriending Franklin (the one on the money who was never a president) he became a writer for a local news paper and wrote articles on a number of injustices he had seen throughout his life, a particularly favourite target of his at the time was slavery and the churches role in supporting and defending it. Some of the minor denominations held at the time the view that black skin and other negroid features where the mark of Cain and it was thus Gods will to punish them and treat them as less then human.

At the same time the opposition to the taxation acts levied against the colonies was just starting to make itself known, a riot broke out at the governor of Massachusetts house and shortly after many of the provisions on goods were repealed with one big exception tea.To rub in the wound the Taxes only applied to the colonies the East India Company was free to run its tea operations without the taxation which meant that the colonies could now be flooded with cheaper tea undercutting the local growers.

And I think we all now how that situation ended. Paine became highly excited about this growing radicalism in America and wrote on of the earliest political pamphlet called Common Sense, in Common sense Paine argued not only for the end of unfair taxation, but also for the end of Monarchy and the creation of a Democratically elected state. Common sense was not only a best seller (it sold a 140,000 copies at a time when the population was only 3 million*) it was also much more radical then any of the other "Founding Fathers" were at the time. Most of the future Revolutionaries were still calling for a much higher standing with the crown in vein of a Dominion rather then a vassal state.

However Paine and his Common Sense became increasingly influential and he was soon meeting and greeting Franklins other friends including George Washington. In fact Paine is sometimes credited with getting Washington to back the idea of an dependent republic. And again I'm sure we all know where this growing radicalism ended up.

However apart from writing inspiring works on the overthrow of Monarchy in America Paine is also and interesting example of the limitations of Bourgeois Revolutions. Bourgeois Revolutions were the ones where the Revolts against the Aristocracy and the Feudal landlords, often lead by the professionals and the business minded land owners. Most of the American founding Fathers with Paine being a big exception where land owners and merchant of some description, (Thomas Jefferson has become quite infamous for his slave owning)and in the French Revolution many of its leaders where Journalists and Lawyers, Robespierre the leader of the infamous Committee of Public Safety was before the Revolution and well loved Defence lawyer often defending poor plaintiffs (and often losing).

Now in Paines case he was soon to fall fowl of the Revolution he played a part in making. Paine was not a rich man (he didn't bother copyrighting Common sense) and ended up losing so much money he was thrown in debtors prison. Angry that his "friends" especially Washington did nothing to help him and there continued consent toward slavery led him to publicly fall out with the others. This effectively cost him his support in America as the wealthy were already keen to get rid of him (during the war he proposed taxing rich "Patriots" to fund the Revolutionary army) but his criticism of George Washington who at the time was almost being worshipped like a God or some sort of Roman Emperor, effectively made him a pariah with common Americans. A situation that his increasingly apparent Atheism didn't help.

Apparently when he return to America when Jefferson was in power he was unable to find work and became so poor that when finally found a friend who would let him crash in his house for a bit he was apparently so filthy that it took a whole day of scrubbing to get him somewhat clean and he became known as a "stinking atheist" until he died shortly after.

* White population, does not include population of slaves, or natives living on or around the colonies territory.

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