Thursday, January 10, 2008

The French Bastard

No, not Nicolas Sarkozy--William the Conqueror. Today is the 232nd anniversary of the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the little 46-page pamphlet that presented a philosophical underpinning for casting off the bonds monarchy, since "A French bastard landing with an armed Banditti and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original." And those terms could not be expressed much more plainly than that.

A failed stay-maker (in the age of corsets), and an unsuccessful tax collector, Paine made his way to "the colonies" after a meeting with bon vivant Benjamin Franklin, who provided him with a letter of introduction. Paine arrived in Philadelphia late in the fall of 1775.
Using Franklin's letter, Paine quickly obtained a position with one of Franklin's printer friends. Paine rather quickly absorbed the rebellious spirit of the "lower sort" in the city, who were eager to throw off the yoke of monarcial repression; many of their "betters," then in session in the city as the Continental Congress, were more circumspect in this regard.

Paine's little pamphlet, published on this date in 1776, both distilled the sentiment on the street, and persuaded enough members in the Congress that seven months later, a majority of the members of congress were willing to sign a Declaration of Independence.

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