Who was Thomas Paine? He was an Englishman born in 1737 to a Quaker Father, and an Anglican Mother. What passed for a mixed marriage at the time. His father was a stay maker. A stay being the heavy ropes used on sailing ships. There are those who believe his father was a corset maker, but this is likely a work of slander by his enemies. Making corsets apparently being in its day a less than honorable profession.
Paine himself worked as an excise officer, a fancy word for tax collector although in his day he was required to chase after smugglers and pirates if the situation so demanded it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good at it and was eventually given the sack, Jack, never come back attack.
During his tenure as an Excise Officer, his wife and child died during childbirth. He was alone, and stuck in a dead-end job waiting for the axe to fall. His future was shall we say a bit bleak? If you were Thomas Paine what would you do? What he did was start writing about politics. This was a bit of an odd choice as he had little to no formal education and absolutely no experience in politics. His first book, really more of a pamphlet or, clocking in at 21 pages, long article, “The Case of the Officers of Excise” positing and defending the positively thrilling contention that Excise officers needed a pay raise, had a limited audience and did not make the yet to be invented New York Times’ best-seller list.
As it turns out, the pamphlet changed his life. Paine handed out roughly 4,000 copies of the now, I imagine, properly categorized as a “handout” to the general citizenry, including the members of Parliament. For this, he was fired, while the joint Houses of Lords and Commons alike ignored him. But one person, who was a hanger on to the swinging London scene at the time, Benjamin Franklin, did not.
Ben invited his new friend Thomas to move to America. Thomas I imagine, broke and a widower, said something along the lines of “Sure, why not?” And so, with Ben’s personal letter of introduction in hand, TP sailed across the pond to the New World to start anew.
Upon arriving in America, he landed his first writing gig as an editor for the Pennsylvania Magazine. It was 1775 and revolution was in the air. It could not have been a better time of environment for Paine. He began writing under the pseudonym “Justice and Humanity”. A good fit as that is essentially what he wrote about. That and revolution. And how the British sucked. Then came the battles of Lexington and Concord. Then came his most famous work, a pamphlet entitled “Common Sense” that, in a nutshell, argued it was merely an act of common sense to declare independence from England. When it hit the streets, the colonists loved it. Not sure sales were brisk at first but there’s little doubt enlistments in the Continental Army went up. By time America won the Revolutionary War, Common Sense had sold roughly 500,000 copies. Surely a best-seller for its day.
What is the lesson we learned today? I’d like to think it’s when in doubt, write it out. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? For you never really know what’s going to happen, now do you?
Time for a Re-Phil?