Thomas Paine

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Compare Thomas Paine to Benjamin Franklin in their role in American Literature.

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With regard to American literature of the colonial period, Thomas Paine is known as the preeminent pamphleteer, and both "Common Sense" and the series of "The American Crisis" essays are remarkable in their influence on the American Revolution.

Upon its publication in 1776, "Common Sense" was...

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With regard to American literature of the colonial period, Thomas Paine is known as the preeminent pamphleteer, and both "Common Sense" and the series of "The American Crisis" essays are remarkable in their influence on the American Revolution.

Upon its publication in 1776, "Common Sense" was an immediate sensation and sold nearly half a million copies internationally in its first year. "Common Sense" lays out a moral and rational argument for the separation of the American colonies from Britain. Washington found it so inspiring that he required his commanders to read it to their troops.

"The American Crisis" series of sixteen essays published from 1776 to 1783, were written to raise and maintain morale for the cause of the American Revolution. The language Paine used was accessible, and his credibility was enhanced by the fact that he was a volunteer with Washington's army and wrote the first essay of the series as he marched in retreat across New Jersey, acknowledging that "these are the times that try men's souls." The essays make clear the reasons for staying in the fight even when the Continental army faced setbacks and made clear to England and Europe why the separation was necessary and inevitable.

Benjamin Franklin's role in American literature is notable in that he in many ways personifies the American Dream. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin began as a letter to his son detailing his life and path to success; however, the project grew to two-volumes that tell the story of a remarkable life and offer insight into how a young man born into poverty at the beginning of the eighteenth century became independently wealthy and a leader in diplomatic affairs that contributed to the cause of the American Revolution. An autodidact and a polymath, Franklin acknowledges his successes and failures and offers insight into how men can become successful by applying themselves.

In addition to his influential autobiography, Franklin contributed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both seminal documents of America's founding. Poor Richard's Almanack offered humor, wise observations, and advice that was accessible in its language and content. Some years after he freed his slaves in the 1760's, Franklin became an ardent abolitionist and wrote tracts promoting the abolition of slavery.

One of Franklin's perhaps lesser-known contributions to American literature lays not in writing it, but in disseminating it. In 1731, recognizing that acquiring literature was prohibitively expensive to most people living in the American colonies, Franklin and some associates established the first lending library in Philadelphia, putting books of all kinds from England into the hands of Americans and contributing to America's literacy.

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