Tag Archives: Ben Franklin

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

Thomas Paine's death mask.

Thomas Paine’s death mask.

There is nothing inThomas Paine’s background to suggest he’d become a writer whose work would inspire and embolden American colonists to support declaring independence from and subsequently, war with England. To paraphrase something Benjamin Franklin said to George Washington, “Neither you nor I will be remembered when people speak of our efforts towards independence, it will be Paine.”

Common Sense, the Crisis and the Rights of Man form a core library to the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution and successful War of Independence. I have posted Common Sense as a separate article on this site. It is a long article for anyone’s website, but it reads quickly, particularly because of Paine’s exceptional clarity and style.

As Ben Franklin suggested, Thomas Paine may well be the true father of his country. Exactly what Paine’s country was, may be problematical for some. When he’d finished his work in the colonies he sailed across the pond and contributed his visions to the French, even serving in their revolutionary  government. Earlier, he’d tried disseminating his ideas in England, the land of his birth and was thrown out. Eventually, Paine returned to the United States of America, a phrase he is believed to have been the first to use in print, and died penniless. Though his books and pamphlets sold in the hundreds of thousands, he donated the proceeds to Washington’s army and to other causes. The story of his cadaver’s peripatetic journey is another wonderment in Paine’s amazing life.

I believe Common Sense is no longer taught in schools. Was it ever? How ironic is this when his clarity and wisdom are so desperately needed today?

I recommend three books about Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine, Enlightenment, Revolution and the birth of Modern Nations by Craig Nelson and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a Biography by Christopher Hitchens. Also, Paine, Collected Writings,, Common Sense, The Crisis, Right of Man,The Age of Reason, pamphlets, Articles and Letters, The Library of America.


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I am an ex pat member of an informal group of people who live in the United States and regularly share their thoughts on political and social issues. Recently, graphs illustrating the distribution of wealth in the U.S. were circulated among us and my impromtu reply, revised for this posting, is reprinted below.

The views expressed there-in are colored by my having lived in Canada for the past 45 years. With a population of 35 million, Canada provides universal health care and manages its poverty significantly better than does the United States. During the last 10 years, without extra cost to me, I’ve had both hips replaced, laser and ultra sound eye surgery, neurological examinations, CAT and MRI scans and a hernia operation. As a senior, my prescriptions for drugs are free other than one low fee paid yearly and visits to the doctor of my choice are also free of extra charges, including the blood tests and xrays.

One more point. In my article I say, “Everyone I know .  .”and “I do not know .  .  . anyone.  .  .” These statements are factual if my use of the verb know is accepted as in, I intimately know a friend.


In differing forms I regularly see statistics such as these. I ruminate upon them and always arrive at the same conclusions, primary among them the fact that everyone I know, everyone, is able to live their lives in relative comfort. Those who struggle, rent or own homes, own at least one car, have plenty of food and have access to health coverage. They may need two or more family incomes,need to pinch pennies to make payments and never vacation, they may always dream of having more money, a bit or a lot, but with stereos, radios, TVs , computers, books, education and an inherent curiosity, they maintain a goodly degree of self respect. They believe their lives to be worthwhile and an honest reflection of their values. They are almost uniformally appalled, as am I, by the money grab that has taken place during the last decade.

I do not know or socialize with anyone living in poverty, unable to obtain housing, food or medical care sufficient for health, forced to walk or hitch-hike any distance or forced to wear dirty clothes and who cannot wrench themselves from poverty.

I could know people in this condition, but I’d rather not. As abstractions, they are rather easily dismissed. When they personally confront me, I can give them pocket change if I believe their story or the way they look.

When the French middle class realized they were being financially ruined by an avaricious royalty, they contrived a revolution in which the poorest people of Paris did the fighting. The middle class of today has been and continues to be vandalized by their governors. I wonder what visions of the future they have.

Theodore Roosevelt and the Kennedy’s were the last of a line. Wealthy enough to maintain more than a modicum of independence, they were also educated enough to articulate and energize a nation’s spirit. Their actions brought the United States to life, without rancor or fear. While alive, they kept the Jackals at bay.

When John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, the crimes of Nixon were exposed, when Clinton repealed Glass-Spiegel, when Bush deregulated financial markets and started his war, and when newly elected, Obama appointed a cohort from Wall Street to direct our financial future, my nation began crumblling along with my spirit. To date, neither have recovered.

Today the public’s tolerance for political stupidity and hubris  passeth all understanding. Jefferson, Adams and Washington were elitists who naturally evinced an air of culture and noblesse oblige. Their vision was of a nation led by educated gentlemen who understood each other. They did not like the idea of political parties.

Replying to this article, one correspondent wrote, “that is quite an article- it makes you sad – what in the world are we going to do to  make it better?”

A good question.

Good luck to all of you and us. – Robin


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