The Air Around Tom Paine

I occasionally start reading about something, and end up surfing the web for hours, pursuing fascinating leads. So it was that last night I found myself reading about Tom Paine.

He’s a little-known figure in England, but in the USA he’s regarded as one of its revolutionary founding fathers. In fact, he’s one of the candidates for being the originator of the title: “The United States of America.”

But he was born in Thetford, England, on the edge of the English fens, in 1737. He lived there for the first 19 years of his life. In fact, he lived in England for the first 37 years of his life, working as a stay-maker (either for ladies’ corsets or ships’ masts – it seems to be a matter of some dispute which), an excise officer, a teacher, and a tobacconist (he had a tobacco shop in Lewes). While in England he wrote a 21-page pamphlet – The Case of the Officers of Excise – of which 4,000 copies were distributed around Parliament in 1774. It seems that this pamphlet drew him first to the attention of the Commissioner of the Excise, and through him Benjamin Franklin, who was living in London at that time, and who gave him a letter of recommendation to his friends in Philadelphia. He arrived in Philadelphia late in 1774, and within a couple of months had become editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, just in time for the American Revolution that began, with the battles of Lexington and Concord, in April 1775. A year later he’d published the 48-page pamphlet Common Sense, written “by an Englishman”, which recommended an American independence, and freedom from both kings and aristocrats.

I suppose the slightly startling thing about this to me is that an English outsider could arrive in America, and within a year start recommending something as radical as independence to the colonists. He must have become an anti-monarchist radical in England before he ever set foot in America. Perhaps that was because he’d had 37 years of dealing with the English aristocracy, half of them in his home town of Thetford, which was one of England’s “rotten boroughs” that were more of less owned by their MPs. Paine probably had plenty of experience of “taxation without representation.” And perhaps the American colonies were anyway regarded at that time as more or less an extension of England, only a couple of weeks sailing away.

Nevertheless Common Sense was a runaway success in the Colonies. It was read aloud in taverns and meeting places. Even now, it remains the all-time best selling American title. Later in 1776, he also wrote The American Crisis, another best-seller. And in 1781 he was sent to France to raise money for the revolution, meeting Louis XVI, and returning with 2.5 million livres in silver, as part of a “present” of 6 million and a loan of 10 million.

Around this time, he seems to have started falling out with other American revolutionaries – like George Washington -, in part for his objections to slavery. He returned to England in 1787, where he began writing The Rights of Man. When the French Revolution began in 1789, Paine soon headed back to France. Here he was granted honorary French citizenship, even though he didn’t speak French, along with George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. He was even elected to the French National Convention. But he seems to have fallen out with the French revolutionaries when he argued against the execution of Louis XVI (who had, after all, provided 16 million livres for the American revolution). He was arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death in 1794, and only escaped death by a stroke of luck, as he recounted:

When persons by scores and hundreds were to be taken out of prison for the guillotine, it was always done in the night, and those who performed that office had a private mark or signal by which they, knew what rooms to go to, and what number to take. We, as I have said, were four, and the door of our room was marked unobserved by us with that number in chalk; but it happened, if happening is a proper word, that the mark was put on when the door was open and flat against the wall, and thereby came on the inside when we shut it at night, and the destroying angel passed by it. A few days after this Robespierre fell, and the American ambassador arrived and reclaimed me and invited me to his house.

Somewhere about this time, Paine also met Napoleon Bonaparte, with whom he discussed an invasion of England.

tom_paine_thetfordNapoleon claimed he slept with a copy of Rights of Man under his pillow and went so far as to say to Paine that “a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe.” Paine discussed with Napoleon how best to invade England and in December 1797 wrote two essays, one of which was pointedly named Observations on the Construction and Operation of Navies with a Plan for an Invasion of England and the Final Overthrow of the English Government, in which he promoted the idea to finance 1000 gunboats to carry a French invading army across the English Channel.

It’s probably for this reason that a gilded statue of him (above right) was erected in Thetford in 1964, over the objections of local Conservatives with no fond memories of Mad Tom.

It was probably also around this time that, rather startlingly, he began designing iron bridges. One of these was actually built in Wearmouth in 1796, where it remained in service for over a century.

Thereafter, he returned to America, wrote a tract denouncing George Washington, and died penniless at 59, Grove Street, Greenwich Village, New York (now Marie’s Crisis Cafe?) on June 8, 1809, and was buried on his farm in New Rochelle. He wasn’t there for very long, however, because his body was dug up by William Cobbett, and returned to England, where the bones were kept in an attic, and lost.

An Englishman by birth, an American by adoption, and a French citizen by decree.

“The World is my country, all mankind my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

If he was around today, I suspect that Tom Paine, citizen of the world, would be a globalist, and quite likely a radical Green MEP in the European Parliament. He would have been a friend of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and quite likely an ex-smoker as well. And he would have continued to be that very worst sort of do-gooder – the kind for whom it is a religious vocation – ‘helping’ people.

All of which finally brings me to “the air around Tom Paine.” The words are from Bob Dylan’s As I Went Out One Morning (to breathe the air around Tom Paine.). In the 1960s Bob Dylan lived in Greenwich Village on Bleecker Street, which intersects Grove Street. He probably walked past 59, Grove Street many times. And as he passed, he may well have thought of himself as breathing the air around Tom Paine, or at least his last exhalation.

About Frank Davis

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Air Around Tom Paine

  1. Harleyrider1978 says:

    Thanks frank I didn’t know all that other about Paine.

    In American schools he was taught as a founder who put to words the reasons for Independence to the colonists before him it was still many who were against revolution and still hoping to make peace with the king!

    His commonsence booklet changed all that yet here he is a patriot yet a anarchist at the same time!

    A man of the times but a man of socialist teachings yet turns and switches again and again!

    Seems a man who switch hits isn’t going to keep friends or a homeland long!

    Globalist yes you pegged him right but one cannot reject his accomplishments during times of lost paths to find direction in the face of overwhelming odds!

    Then to cut your own throats at the same time!

    I’d call him insane at times in his life!

    • Harleyrider1978 says:

      Btw Dow to hit above 20,000 today not a good thing as the Dow is very well overvalued by as much as 80% or as little as 40%!

      The last time this happened was 1929

      I hope trumps got his finger on it and does something to correct it fast before any collapse destroys his agenda!

      The fed can’t keep buying up the bad stocks to keep pumping up the Dow nor can ceos keep getting away with overvaluing their own companies while falsifying profit and earnings reports!

      It’s a fantastic illusion

  2. Dinarzad says:

    Hello my buddy of anti-anti-smoking journey.
    Today is a holiday in the city of São Paulo: anniversary of 463 years.
    And I’m charmed by the discovery of Theodore Darymple’s thoughts, especially the essays in the book “Our Culture, What’s Left of it: The Mandarins and The Masses”, and, today earlier, of “Virgina Woolf’s wrath”: amazing the origin of the fascist and nazi labels against Christians.
    Fraternal and puff hugs!

  3. It never ceases to amaze me that the two men of whom it might be said ‘created’ America, were both Norfolk men. I refer, of course, to Rolfe (without whom the early colonies would have surely gone the way of all previous ones and whose planting of tobacco allowed the Colonies to flourish, starting a slave driven economy) and Paine who, whatever his faults (and they were manifold) can be said to have helped in large part to ‘create’ the American Revolution.
    Sometimes generations of inbreeding, of sleeping with your sister, throws up not just web toed dullards but men of rare insight, men of *cough* ‘strange’ ideas….and probably extra digits -whose primary goal in life seems to have been to escape the swamp as soon as possible , preferring to brave the hardships and dangers of a transatlantic crossing in a galleon (Rolfe’s wife and kids died in the Bahamas if i recall aright) to yet another fucking winter in Norfolk.

  4. O/T Frank, you might find today’s Radio 4 “Talking Aloud” , it starts off with a look at how metrics are abused , especially from the Gates Foundation, how the use of dodgy health numbers is actually controlling third world countries- all to the favour of Big Pharma (‘double bottom line’ ie do ‘good’ and make $$$).
    Health divides: Where we live can kill us. Americans live 3 years less than their counterparts in France and Sweden. Scottish men survive 2 years less than English men. Across Europe, women in the poorest communities may live 10 years less than those in the richest. People who live just a few miles apart can have gaps in life expectancy of up to 25 years. Laurie Taylor talks to Clara Bambra, Professor of Public Health Geography at Durham University, whose research draws on international case studies to examine the cause of these health inequalities and to consider what changes would be needed so that geographical location need not be a matter of life or death.
    Global health: moving beyond metrics – From maternal mortality to malaria, statistical methods are used to measure sickness, injury and suffering across the world. But Vincanne Adams, Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California, argues that such well-intentioned ‘evidence based’ interventions often fail. Drawing on rich case histories from countries including Nigeria and Haiti, she argues that we are missing other ways of knowing and tackling global health problems.
    Then on the ‘Media’ a discussion about how the media /BBC portrays Trump. An hour well spent.

  5. waltc says:

    An admittedly frivolous sidebar but, as. New Yorker I found the Grove St fact interesting and wondered why it wasn’t better known around here. My first apartments after college were on Charles St and then Christopher St in the West Village and my then-friends (many of them off-Bway performers) and I hung out–usually drinking and smoking till closing time– at Marie’s and The Duplex–another club down the block. I recall knowing where in the Village Edna St Vincent Millay had lived, and Washington Irving, but not Paine.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Apparently there’s a sign on the wall recording Paine’s residence there. I tried using Google maps streetview to take a look, but what seemed like two signs on the street level wall had been grayed out. But I took it that the “Crisis” Cafe was a reference to Paine’s second pamphlet.

      • waltc says:

        Well, what did I know. It was dark in there and I was 22 and knocking down Scotch and,for some unknown reason, Stingers. Talked to an old friend tonite who lived in and knew a lot about the Village–was once on the staff of The Village Voice– and he didn’t know that bit of history either. Funny, tho, the evocation of memories and the flashing images of past places and former selves.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Well if someone who worked for the Village Voice didn’t know that, then you have to wonder who does. I hope someone who lives or works somewhere near there goes and takes a look at that building, to see whether there actually is a sign on the front that says that Tom Paine lived there (and also died there). And maybe, if the Crisis Cafe is still there, they can go inside and ask whether its name has got anything to do with Tom Paine’s American Crisis.

          And maybe someone can ask Bob Dylan whether he saw that sign one day, when he’d just arrived on Bleecker Street, and was wandering around the Village on foot (which was the only way he could back then). And they can ask him whether that was the story behind As I Went Out One Morning. Because my guess is that only someone walking around the Village, and looking closely at everything around him, would have seen and read that sign. And who was more observant a man than Bob Dylan, particularly when he’d just arrived in New York?

          But – who knows – it might well be that if someone actually did ask him, he’d say: “No, I never knew that.”

  6. sackersonwp says:

    What an interesting story.

  7. Clicky says:

  8. smokingscot says:

    O/T – but is, sort of, an extension of Frank’s post from yesterday, about thing’s happening real fast.

    Heard the interview on radio and found the guy refreshingly candid. He’s Trump’s nominee to take up the post of US ambassador to the EU!

    To say the best thing we can do this year is “short the Euro”, because it’s going to tank and may well collapse within 18 months. Isn’t typical of your average diplomat.

    Claims that “Trump believes EU ‘has overshot its mark’ and he’s ‘very opposed’ to Brussels” sort of takes it to a new level.

    and he reinforces this administration’s shift in emphasis from the Far East to Russia, UK and Europe by mentioning that there most likely won’t be a trade deal with the EU any time soon and there may never be one because the EU will cease to exist in its present form.

    Regards the UK, we’ll get one within months and:

    “That is very positive and it sends a signal that the United States is behind Great Britain in its hour of need.”

    I’m beginning to respect Trump’s personnel choices.

    On the other hand it now seems that Ms. Merkel may have a wee bit of competition as she seeks yet another term as Chancellor.

    Martin Schulz, former European Parliament president has put his name forward!

    A wee birdie told me Afd are rubbing their hands in glee because it’s so easy to slag-off this eternal bureaucrat who’s done only book selling and politics his working life. Almost certainly worth a couple of basis points come election day.

    Yet we should relax just a little, Schulz was intent on making Brexit as long slow and expensive as possible.

    • I ‘reported’ here yesterday about Schulz, the AfD should probably wait with the hand rubbing. Schulz is dangerous-why do you think Herr Working-Joe-Crumpled-Suit Sigmar Gabriel stepped aside? I’m sure there were machinations and character assassinations but the party knew that Schulz is their best chance of getting into power. He is dangerous because he is a True Believer in the European project. Merkel, believe it or not, is too much a realist, pragmatical, an industrial chemist. If it looks like Britain is going to be better off outside the EU then she will align Germany accordingly, even if it is through gritted teeth and sacrificing deeply held principles . Schulz will skip down the road to the economy auto-de-fe and take Germany with him.

      And going by past experience, the chances are that the AfD will implode before the next general election. The bits of Petry I’ve heard have been particularly uninspiring.
      That said, apparently, my aged Father in Law voted for them in the last regional election, I assume because they stirred happy childhood memories of his days in the Hitler Youth.

      • Frank Davis says:

        I don’t think that anyone who is a “True Believer in the European project” can be in the least bit a pragmatic realist. And I don’t think anyone who invites 1.5 million migrants to Germany can be a pragmatic realist either. Sure, she once had that reputation, but it’s a busted flush now.

        • Probably due to my (lack of) command of English but i thought I made clear that I didn’t consider a “True Believer ” any kind of pragmatic realist? Busted flush? Maybe but as far as i can see the (albeit slim) majority of Germans still think she was right to invite the Musselmen hordes in. Infact many would argue that it was the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the great god Pragmatix (it is all about the Birth Rate)…and even if was purely some menopausal motherly whim-they can afford to indulge, Germany is so awash with cash that it could probably buy Syria and not dent it’s AAA rating.

          Sunday we should an idea of what Schulz’s Big Idea for the Election is going to be. Unfortunately he isn’t just a true believer but also ‘clever’ (and i use that word in the way Grandma Dwarf would have, it isn’t a compliment). You don’t get to head up any major political party by playing fair.

  9. waltc says:

    Laguna Beach, CA proposes to be “the first in Orange County” to ban smoking everywhere but your car and your home –until they ban it in your car and your home.

  10. Pingback: The Boston Tavern | Frank Davis

No need to log in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.