I’ve just finished reading – in fact to be accurate re-reading – ‘Common Sense’ written by Thomas Paine in 1776.
I should explain that the last time I read it was when I was still at school in the early 1960’s as part of our history lessons in which our teacher – who had survived the war before returning to teaching – made it clear he was a republican anti-monarchist socialist and that Thomas Paine was to his mind one of the greatest people who had ever lived.
This was quite radical to us who had been brought up through the 1950’s with world maps in every classroom on which there were huge swages of pink denoting the extent of the British Empire.
Oh yes we were reminded on every conceivable occasion in whatever lesson we had that we were privileged to have been born in the nation who at one time controlled the largest Empire the world had ever seen and was ever likely to see.
We didn’t have Religious Education (RE) at school because what would be the point when we all knew God – is there any wonder I don’t believe – was historically always on England’s – sorry Scotland, Wales and Ireland – side.
What we had was Religious Instruction (RI) with the St James Bible as the start and finish of what we should believe in.
We also didn’t have Physical Education (PE) at my school because physiology, kinesiology etc etc was of no importance when it’s aim was to achieve nothing more than make sure we were fit and healthy enough to be able to serve in the armed forces should there be another war.
It was a lesson learned from WW1 when at its outbreak it was found that over half of men of military age were unfit to enlist or be conscripted so Physical Training (PT) was the order of the day which lasted for decades.
Interestingly a recent study of the male population of military age in the USA has concluded that almost 70% of them would fail the military entrance test.
Which brings me back to the subject of this blog and I’ll start by saying I wonder what Thomas Paine would have made of the world today and the way his dream of a Continental Republic has developed.
But let’s go back a stage and at the risk of upsetting some across the pond we have to remember that Thomas Paine was an Englishman who was born in the County of Norfolk and who followed in the footsteps of another Norfolk Man – one Oliver Cromwell – also an ardent anti-monarchist.
So is there any wonder that once he arrived in America in 1774 he continued his political activism against the rule of the British though I’m not sure of the veracity of the claim that he was the Founding Father of the United States and he certainly wasn’t as confident as some would have us believe because he initially kept his name secret by signing it ‘An Englishman’.
However having said that Thomas Paine definitely was a major contributor to the propaganda that was required – and quite understandably and rightly so – for the American Independence Revolution to be fought to its eventual successful conclusion.
Not bad for a corset maker from rural England.
I also wonder how his views would be viewed in 21st Century America in which he advocated the right of the people to overthrow their government or his support of deism, promotion of free thought, reason and opposition to institutionalised religion.
I’d imagine the heads of the Evangelical Christian community would explode with self righteous indignation.
However those in the USA society perhaps felt they had the last laugh by ostracising him to the extent that only six people attended his funeral.
Perhaps we should leave the last word on Thomas Paine to John Adams who said:
“Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain”.
So there you have it America at least now you can now confidently blame an immigrant from Norfolk England for any ills and woes that have or may befall you.
Well done Thomas Paine – corset maker extraordinaire
And incidentally – the biggest problem with Common Sense in today’s world is that it very clearly isn’t very Common.