Citizen Tom Paine Summary
by Howard Fast

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Citizen Tom Paine Summary

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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On January 18, 1949, the New York School Library Association was ordered to remove all copies of Citizen Tom Paine from library shelves. The apparent instigator of the censorship, Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover, also sent agents to the New York Public Library and to main libraries in other cities, ordering the destruction of the writer’s other books. In his autobiography, Being Red (1990), Fast reported that the New York Public Library immediately invited him to speak, assured him that it did not burn books, and said it would preserve the books until they could be safely restored to the shelves. Ironically, seven years earlier Fast had been widely admired as a patriotic novelist; he had been hired to write copy for the fledgling Voice of America and had received high praise for Citizen Tom Paine’s pro-American themes.

The change in attitude was due to the virulent wave of anticommunism which had swept the United States after World War II. Fast had joined the Communist Party in 1944, and as his sympathies became known, the FBI subjected him to increasing pressure. The harassment did not end with Citizen Tom Paine; in 1951 Fast’s novel Spartacus was rejected by half a dozen major publishers because of FBI intimidation; Fast finally published the novel himself in 1952.