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Chapter 2 - A Fresh
Start in America
Thomas Paine came to America alone, bearing up
on the long sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean
that even in the early to late fall produced
queasy stomachs and constant fears that the ship
may not make it to another shore.
He left England in
September, but entered the Philadelphia harbor on
the shores of the Delaware River in November.
He carried with him a
piece of paper that would seal his future.
It was not money, but a
letter of introduction written by Philadelphia's
best-known citizen, Dr. Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin represented the
colonies in England, trying to reconcile the
growing differences with the motherland across
the "big pond," as the English saw the
The letter was written to
Franklin's son-in-law, Richard Bache.
Mr. Thomas Paine is very well recommended to me
as an ingenious worthy young man. He goes to
Pennsylvania with a view of settling there. If
you can put him in a way of obtaining employment
as a clerk, or assistant tutor in a school, or
assistant surveyor, of all of which I think very
capable, so that he may procure a subsistence at
least, till he can make acquaintance and obtain a
knowledge of the country, you will do well, and
much oblige your affectionate father."
Paine arrived feet-first
in the new land, carried on a stretcher, sick
with cabin fever. The recovery was slow, but when
he finally recovered he frequently visited a
Philadelphia bookshop owned by John Aitken.
Aitken did more than sell
books. He was also publisher of a new
publication, Pennsylvania Magazine.
At a time when there was
no television or radio to hear of current events,
magazines and newspapers did the job. People were
willing to pay the small fee to get a copy and
would often sit around as groups in public houses
to discuss the news.
Thomas Paine loved that
discussion and he loved the new magazine. He kept
coming back to the bookshop, and he and Aitken
often spoke together.
Eventually Aitken was so
impressed with Paine that he offered him a job as
associate editor of his magazine.
At first, the magazine
had a circulation of 600. But soon after Paine
started work there the circulation increased to
1,500. He attracted Philadelphia readers with his
writing about nature, science, slavery, capital
punishment, health, and even the weather.
Readers wanted to know,
"Who was this new writer in town?"
They were asking the same
question one year later when Paine's Common
Sense was published with the byline of
knew who the author was, but this was about to
* * *
January wind was just like the feelings the
colonists were beginning to feel about England.
People were getting
restless. They were complaining about how they
were being treated.
As they walked down the
street in Philadelphia, Horace Blau and John
Weiss had some choice words to say about a letter
to the colonies from England's King George III in
early January 1776.
The letter was published
on January 10, the same day Common Sense
hit the streets in Philadelphia.
"The King says
nothing has changed. Everything is fine and good.
Does he know how upset we are?" asked John.
Horace laughed. "The
King says nonsense and that's what Common
Sense says he means. No sense."
"Let's raise a toast
to Common Sense. That makes sense!"
said Walter Schwartz, who had just caught up with
Horace and John.
Down the street from
where Horace, John and Walter were talking, young
Frederich Aitken took a break from selling Common
Sense on the street corner and swept the
sidewalk in front of his father's bookshop.
He loved his father's
bookshop, in which John Aitken's magazine
publishing office was nestled at the back of the
finished his chores, he listened to customers
talk in the shop and breathed in the sharp smell
of ink and paper. Because of his father's
business, he knew how to read, unlike many young
people. He often found his favorite book,
squeezed himself into a corner and read.
his father asked one night at dinner, "what
idea do you have about this 'Anonymous' who has
written Common Sense?"
Frederich shook his head
slowly back and forth. "Maybe I know and
maybe I don't," he answered.
Aitken replied, "I
think you know more than you think."
Frederich thought about
that. "I will listen more carefully at the
bookshop and let you know," he said.
Suddenly he had an
important job to do and excused himself from the
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