• Thomas Paine Plaque

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America was written by author Harvey J. Kaye. Kaye is the Ben and Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Social Change and Development at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He is an award-winning author and editor.

These are the times that try men’s souls.” I say this often in our hectic and uncharted times. However, Thomas Paine first said those words to the colonial soldiers fighting for independence from England.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) is a symbol of patriotism. For the past 240 years, Americans have claimed Paine as the figure of struggle for freedom, equality and democracy.

This fascinating book presents the life of Thomas Paine and traces Paine’s hold on the American memory of what it means to work for democracy.Book Cover - Thomas Paine - Promise of America Protecting democracy is a continuous struggle. Paine’s life was a continuous struggle.

Thomas Paine came to American in 1774, at the age of 37. He observed the tension and hatred of the colonists toward England and “taxation without representation.” Yet the colonists did not even think about revolution. Colonists simply hoped to make the relationship with England more equal but did not consider breaking the connection.

Thomas Paine, raised in a working class family in England, saw great possibility in America, something the local people could not see. Paine wrote COMMON SENSE, a 47-page pamphlet, urging people to revolt. Paine became a popular hero. In an age that did not know about framing an argument, Paine gave an entirely new context and frame to the colonists’ situation.

COMMON SENSE sold many copies and galvanized the population. Paine became a champion of liberty, equality and democracy as he wrote more pamphlets.

He later worked for the troops of George Washington, rallying them with his words as well as raising money for military supplies. In the early 1800’s he went to England and France where he wrote of revolution.

For the past 200 years, Paine has influenced such people as “Frances Wright, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose, Susan B. Anthony, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Parsons, Mark Twain, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Alfred Bingham, Franklin Roosevelt, A. J. Muste, Saul Alinsky, C. Wright Mills and others.”

Currently, the Left uses Paine in arguments against the power of large corporations and the Right uses Paine in argument against the growing power of the government. Paine was not always appreciated, even by his fellow patriots. Many feared his radical nature. At the time of his death, he was in disfavor.

Portrait of Thomas PainePaine is now remembered as a Revolutionary who initiated a new epoch in history for all people. “He was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.”

To prevent ignorance, Paine recommended education. To prevent political corruption he recommended democracy.

“The struggle to expand American freedom, equality and democracy will continue. Paine in 1800 wrote “There is too much common sense and independence in America to be long the dupe of any faction, foreign or domestic.”

Today we have many good reasons not only to hope but to act to preserve the promise of America.