And their consequences—for his era and ours
From the Autumn 2013 Edition of City Journal, this is a long article but highly recommended, save this to read at leisure, it’s good — Sunday Nov. 10 – The Butcher
Myron Magnet writes: On November 30, 1774, a 37-year-old Englishman—an ex-privateer, ex–corset stay maker, ex–tax collector (fired twice for dereliction of duty), and ex-husband (also twice over)—arrived in Philadelphia with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin in his pocket. The old philosopher’s praise was understandably restrained. This “ingenious worthy young man,” Franklin wrote, would make a useful “clerk, or assistant tutor in a school, or assistant surveyor.” Four months later, however, the shots that rang out at Lexington and Concord galvanized the newcomer’s hitherto aimless life into focus and purpose. “When the country into which I had just set foot was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir,” he recalled. “It was time for every man to stir.” And so, adding a final “e” to soften the surname he was born with, he began to write under the byline “Thomas Paine.”
Celebrated around the world for his key role in the American Revolution, Paine went on to play an important part in the French Revolution, as well.
He found he had a literary gift that almost instantly turned him into one of history’s greatest revolutionary propagandists—not just of one major revolution, as it happened, but of two. But as his thought developed—and except for the Norfolk grammar-school education that ended when he was 13, he was self-taught—his radicalism, so lucid and solidly grounded during the American Revolution, lost sight of the darker realities of human nature. As a result, when he and his close, like-minded friends, the Marquis de Lafayette and United States ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson, plotted reform together in Paris in the fateful final years of the 1780s, they disastrously misread the French Revolution as it gathered and burst forth. While Jefferson luckily went home to America with his illusions intact, Paine and Lafayette both ended up wasted with illness in pestilential prisons, and Paine escaped the guillotine by the most capricious of chances.