Thomas Paine: Great Writer of the Revolution
Ages 12 and up
Compass Point Books, 2005, 0-7565-0830-4
The son of a corset maker, Thomas was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. He did in fact do this for a while but soon lost interest in the business; making corsets simply held no attraction for the young man. For a short while he was sailor and then he worked as an exciseman, collecting taxes on imported goods. It was when he was doing this often disagreeable job that Thomas first began to write. He wrote a pamphlet in which he set forth the grievances of the excisemen, asking that the government pay these valuable workers a decent wage. He suggested that if they were paid enough they would be less inclined to become corrupt and to accept bribes.
While in London Thomas met Benjamin Franklin and on this good man’s suggestion Thomas went to America. He arrived to discover that the country was in a very unsettled state. The American colonists were unhappy about the taxes that were levied on them by their English overlords and many felt that something drastic needed to be done. Some even went so far to say that America needed to break away from England and become an independent country.
Thomas was intrigued by what he saw and heard and was soon swept up in the political changes taking place around him. In 1776 Thomas wrote a pamphlet entitled “Common Sense.” This piece of writing set forth many ideas that he had held dear for some time. They were not necessarily new ideas but he wrote in such a clear and easy-to-follow manner that he made the concepts accessible to everyone. “Common Sense” was widely read and was later published in other countries. It was revolutionary for it talked about the “natural” rights of all humans and it rejected the divine right of kings. Thomas said that the people, and the people alone, should choose their leaders and that kings no longer had a place in the modern world.
Thomas later wrote three other controversial pieces. In 1791 he wrote “The Rights of Man” in which he defended the French Revolution. Later he wrote “The Age of Reason” and “Agrarian Justice.” Thomas’ writings made him a hero for some and a pariah for others but he did not swerve from what he thought was right and his writings changed the world in a very significant way.
This superbly written book serves as a fitting tribute to a man who was not afraid to stand by his words. The French even sent him to prison in an effort to silence his pen and it was only by luck that he did not end up being executed. An engaging text is further supported by numerous boxes and side bars which provide the reader with excellent background information. Numerous photographs, illustrations, maps, and period cartoons break up the text.
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