Clear as a Bell, 1776

Thomas Paine said these words over two hundred years ago, but they could be from todays’ papers. I can’t help thinking the man was a bit of a guru.  Perhaps we need to reconsider how we think about ourselves, how we want to live in a progressive society.  This man died friendless, but committed to his values that today seem unremarkable in a liberal democracy. Then they were frighteningly anarchic to the establishment. He was  expelled from England because of the demands on government that his politics suggested. These were ideas far too explosive at the time.  Everywhere was in ferment, France was on the edge of revolution, England threatening similar unrest. Sound familiar?  The whole western world tipping on its axis.  Where will it go? The messages Thomas Paine believed in were clear, simple and had their foundations in a moral position that attempted to become the best that we can be. He believed in removing the differences between men, and exposing their similarities, in the hope that they resorted to reason and a moral endeavour to aspire to making life as comfortable, as eased for one another as possible. There is a profound understanding that we are equals, and deserve equal treatment in government .

“My country is the world and my religion is to do good.”

He was a freethinker, and a political activist moving from Europe, (Britain and France) and America during a period in history of upheaval and unrest, that resulted in the foundations of a more democratic form of government allowing the people to have some leverage. Born into a family where the father was a Quaker, Thomas matured into someone who valued individual liberty, regardless of circumstance. Anti-slavery and opposed to Christianity , he attracted criticism from many, and was considered wrongly to be an Atheiest. He was a Deist, believing in one God and one God only, seeing in Nature that there existed a set of natural laws in which Paine felt it was the moral duty of man to imitate what he recognised as the beneficience of God manifested in Man and Nature’s laws.

Paine never established a political society or organization and was not responsible for a single reforming measure. His achievements were his writings so it is difficult to accurately assess his influence. Paine’s political influence was greatest in England. In intellectual terms, his Rights of Man was his greatest political work and was certainly the best-selling radical political tract in late 18th century England, in which he maintained that each age had the right to establish a political system which satisfied its needs.

His most influential work was the Rights of Man (Part I in 1791, Part II in 1792). In Part I, Paine urged political rights for all men because of their natural equality in the sight of God. All forms of hereditary government, including the British constitution, were condemned because they were based on farce or force. Only a democratic republic could be trusted to protect the equal political rights of all men. Part II was even more radical for Paine argued for a whole program of social legislation to deal with the shocking condition of the poor.The work was an analysis of the roots of the discontent in Europe, which he laid in arbitrary government, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and war. His popularity sounded the alarm and he was forced to leave Britain in September 1792 and his book was banned.He was condemned in his absence and declared an outlaw.

On January 10, 1776 Paine formulated his ideas on american independence in his pamphlet Common Sense.

In his Common Sense, Paine states that sooner or later independence from England must inevitably arrive, because America had lost touch with the mother country. In his words, all the arguments for separation of England are based on nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments and common sense. Government was a necessary evil that could only become safe when it was representative and altered by frequent elections. The function of government in society ought to be only regulating and therefore as simple as possible. Not suprisingly, but nevertheless remarkable was his call for a declaration of independence. Paine’s influence on the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 is apparent by the number of sales of his pamphlet, a weighty 500.000.

The sadness of his death attracting only six mourners to his funeral is a poor reflection of his worth as  a human being, never mind as a thinker who continues to impress with wisdom and persipacity.

 

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