The Statewide Newspaper in Education Program

of the New Jersey Newspaper Foundation

 
Thomas Paine Serial
     

NIE Home Page

New Jersey NIE Web Pages

Committee Meetings

Committee Members

National NIE Resources

Copyright 2007 New Jersey Newspaper Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Thomas Paine's Early Years in England and America

Thomas Paine was 39 years old and he had not succeeded in any work he tried. First, he tried stay making, a trade his father taught him. Then he ran away to sea for two years. Then he became a tax collector. So far, no success.

But when he moved to Lewes, England, he began to change. He was still a tax collector but he became more than that. He spoke about how ordinary people were mistreated by the law and the English government. He joined the Headstrong Club, a debating club that met every month in the White Hart Hotel.

He became such a good debater that hardly anyone could win an argument against him. William Lee, a Headstrong Club member, wrote this ode to Paine:

Immortal PAINE! While might reasoners jar,
We crown thee General of the Headstrong War;
Thy logic vanquish'd error, and thy mind
No bounds, but those of right and truth, confined.

Thy soul of fire must sure ascend the sky,
Immortal PAINE, thy fame can never die;
For men like thee their names must ever save
From the black edicts of the tyrant grave.

In Lewes, a group of tax collectors asked him to write a petition to ask Parliament for better working conditions, higher salary, etc. While writing that, he also wrote a song for a local politician running for office. When he took the petition to London to present it to Parliament, he met Benjamin Franklin, a member of the Club of Honest Whigs. Franklin and others noticed that Thomas Paine spoke with a deep passion and even a rage about the abused English people encountered in everyday life. Perhaps, even Thomas Paine had not yet realized that his father's Quaker sensibilities had by now become his own. He also shared the Americans' complaints against the King.

George Fox started the Society of Quakers in England in 1688. To be a Quaker in England was to be an outsider because the main religion in England was Anglican, a protestant faith. Because Quakers were different in the conduct of their lives, they were jailed, fined and finally :helped" to leave England. Quaker ways meant that none of them would bow to anyone. Not one of them would take a hat off in the presence of royalty. Those behaviors often meant a jail sentence in England.

In America, many Quakers settled in the western part of southern New Jersey and founded Pennsylvania, named for the Quaker Penn family. They built their meetinghouses, many of which still stand today. The Quakers still practice their religion. Today, they also are called the Society of Friends, or simply Friends. Their most well known belief is against war - against violence, beating, and execution. Arguments become settled by talking it through and out among themselves, not through law. Behaviors of drinking alcohol, dressing fancy, speaking ill of one]s neighbors and family, having slaves, being tardy, stealing, lying, etc., were not accepted. The Circle of Friends made their own rules of conduct and expected all in the Circle to abide by thee rules. If someone broke a rule it was reported to the Circle. A committee would be appointed to help the person correct that misbehavior.

At a time in the 1700 and 1800s when towns had no police, no hospitals, no schools and other services we have today, the Quaker way held their community together in safety. They also prospered. Friends founded schools for both boys and girls and because they did not believe in slavery, they helped slaves find their freedom. Their sensitivity included Native American Indians with who they had good relations in America. While the Quakers do not agree with everyone, they believe that everyone should be heard and their beliefs should be respected. Their tolerance for differences was and is very strong.

Sometimes, when one is young and learning from someone, he or she is so busy learning that he doesn't realize how important a certain person is in helping him to grow up. This was probably true for Thomas Paine. He learned much from his Quaker father. His sensitivity about social injustice, against capital punishment, caring for the sick, poor and elderly became topics he wrote about all through his life. His passion and his anger at abuse fired his written language so brightly that his words written long ago still shine as brilliantly today. Then there was another Quaker way that Thomas Paine adopted.

In America, outstanding Quakers like John Woolman and Susan B. Anthony were traveling promoters of freedom and liberty. Often they arrived in hostile land where many feared for their safety. But their faith in the goodness of people provided them protection. Thomas Paine saw himself as an itinerant helper, a revolutionary writer. His credo was:

"My country is the world
My religion is to do good."

Thomas Paine joined people forming new governments in America and in France where he helped them write their constitutions. He also helped write the constitution for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He traveled wherever his passionate words and restless pen were needed.

Some people called Thomas Paine a propagandist: one who has thoughts to sell. One thought he promoted was unity of the colonies. He reasoned, as did others, that all colonies had to work together to affect a victory over the British. Another thought was a suggestion that the colonies had to support the emerging new American government with money. Taxation is never popular; however, General George Washington said the Continental Army needed funds to function and so did the government.

Paine's ideas, like the one for the first bank, were solutions to problems the new America faced. As he learned about these needs from those in the new government, he became their advocate and their cheerleader for solutions. He also wrote in great detail about government or Army problems that needed a solution from all the colonies. Thomas Paine behaved then much like today's Presidential press secretaries do.

Return to the Table of Contents


Benjamin Franklin's Influence on Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin met in London during Paine's time there in the years of 1772-1773.

Franklin was the colonies' representative who hoped to reconcile differences between America and England.

The elder statesman surrounded himself with like-minded supporters of the American cause, and Thomas Paine soon became one of them.

Paine was in London to advocate on behalf of the tax collectors of Lewes, England. He had written a petition asking for higher wages and better working conditions and presented it to Parliament.

While the petition moved through committees of Parliament, Paine used his free time by attending scientific lectures and joining in lively discourses at coffee houses and taverns.

Soon his debating skills shone brightly and, perhaps, he was surprised when he found himself surrounded by attentive audiences to his passionate pleas on behalf of the common people and for the common good.

One in his attentive audience was Benjamin Franklin.

A consummate networker, Franklin had a knack for finding talented people.

Wherever he went in the world, he'd convince them to come to America.

It was impossible then for Franklin to know of Paine's eventual effect on America's independence.

Nor did either he or Thomas Paine know that their friendship, indeed their father-son relationship, would last their entire lives.

At Paine's requests throughout his life, Franklin would point him in the right direction.

During their meetings together in London, Thomas Paine must have presented himself to Franklin as a person not sure of himself, not clear as to where he was going in life.

So Franklin obliged Paine with his first direction: "Go to Philadelphia! Go to my adopted home town ... Quaker Philadelphia."

Thomas Paine sailed for Philadelphia in September 1774 and arrived on November 30.

Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia from England a year later ... in September 1775.

He then joined delegates of the Continental Congress as they met to discuss their complaints about England. Franklin's assignment to England had been to fix the arguments between the colonists and the English government.

Mostly, the colonists did not like to pay taxes to the English. They wanted well-qualified people appointed to run their local government and they disliked obeying English laws that restricted their ability to trade freely.

Franklin was not pleased when the English ignored the colonists' complaints and he wasn't pleased that he couldn't fix these arguments between the colonists and the English government. Privately, he thought the only way to resolve the argument was for the colonists to become independent.

Independence. That was a bad word to utter publicly.

Publicly, Franklin said nothing. He listened to the delegates who received strict orders from their home states not to talk about that "no-no" word ... independence. Franklin made a suggestion, however, and it was to Thomas Paine.

He might have said something like this: "Thomas, write something about English-American relations."

Through the fall of 1775, Paine wrote what he titled The Plain Truth.

He gave it to his two best friends, both named Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Franklin and Rush approved, but Rush thought Common Sense was a better name.

Common Sense was sent to the Philadelphia printer, Robert Bell, and on January 10, 1776, Common Sense hit the Philadelphia streets like a bullet from a gun.

Common Sense became America's first bestseller, and within the first 100 days, in towns and farms across the 13 colonies, people had bought 120,000 copies.

This happened at a time when 5,000 copies of any pamphlet would be the most copies expected to be sold.

The same day Common Sense was published, a letter arrived in the colonies from England's King George III.

The letter from the King to the colonies, along with Common Sense, created a great commotion of talk among the people of the colonies.

The directions from the colonies to the delegates to the Continental Congress began to change. One by one, delegates heard a new call for ... independence, independence, independence, independence.

Even George Washington, who before was unsure about that "no-no" word, changed his mind in favor of independence.

Within six months, Common Sense had "run" all over the 13 colonies and jumped the Atlantic Ocean to England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Ireland, Scotland and other countries.

The first foreign language translation was into German.

Thousands of people read Common Sense and it was said that more than 500,000 copies were sold in six months.

Paine's written words changed the talks, arguments, discussions, sermons and others' writing through the next months in America - until July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence said it finally: Independence for all of the colonies.

Return to the Table of Contents


Thomas Paine Writes The American Crisis

Paine joined the Continental Army in the fall of 1776 and became aide-de-camp to Gen. Nathaniel Greene. He wrote and read orders and letters for the general.

Paine not only thanked and encouraged the American troops during the Revolutionary War, but he wrote details about the retreat of Washington]s army. Never before had reports of battles been so timely printed in newspapers.

He wrote on the front line of the battles of the war and so became America]s first war correspondent.

General Washington ordered Crisis I read to all his men before crossing the Delaware River at on Christmas Night 1776, on their way to Trenton where they surprised and captured a regiment of Hessian soldiers in their barracks.

That was the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

Thomas Paine's words lifted the spirits of those tired, poorly clothed soldiers and sparked their resolve to fight on. Their American victory in Trenton truly stunned the watching world.

The European military strategists scratched their heads. How could the rag-tag Americans beat the best of the European-trained expert soldiers?

Even though he reported about the war, strategies, outcomes, etc., he also wrote about his feelings about the war and always stressed how important it was for the colonies to act together in unity.

"I call not upon a few, but upon all; not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better to have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake."

Thomas Paine had respect for the printed word and even thought words had great power. Crisis II began with these words:

"Universal empire is the prerogative of a writer. His concerns are with all mankind, and though he cannot command their obedience, he can assign them their duty. The Republic of Letters is more ancient than monarchy, and of far higher character in the world that the vassal court of Britain; he that rebels against reason is a real rebel, but he that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny and has a better title to 'Defender of the Faith,' that George the Third."

Through the war, Paine wrote 13 Crisis and three extra Crisis articles until the very end of the war. His first extra Crisis was in 1780 when a shortage of money to continue the war was, indeed, a crisis of extra proportions.

He calculated: "The peace established then will, on an average, be five shillings per head."

In 1782 he pled for national unity in Crisis X: " Each state is to the United States what each individual is the state he lives in."

In May 1782, in Crisis XI, Paine became exasperated when the British tried to break the partnership between the Americans and French by offering bribes to both sides against the other.

He wrote: "We sometimes exercise sensations to which language is not equal.... Our feelings, imprisoned by their magnitude, find no way out ... and, in the struggle of expression, every finger tries to be a tongue."

In Supernumerary Crisis, May 31, 1782, Common Sense begged for the dismissal of a death sentence to a British officer. The Americans released the officer. Crisis XIII congratulated the colonies at the end of the war: "The times that tried men's souls are over ... and the greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and happily accomplished."

In Crisis XIII, Paine reminded all, "It was the cause of America that made me an author."

Return to the Table of Contents