Thomas Paine Criticism - Essay

Frederick Sheldon (essay date 1859)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tom Paine's First Appearance in America," in Highlights in the History of the American Press: A Book of Readings, edited by Edwin H. Ford and Edwin Emery, University of Minnesota Press, 1954, pp. 100-11.

[In the second part of his Atlantic Monthly biography of Paine (from November, 1859), excerpted below, Sheldon recounts the revolutionary's role in the French Revolution and his efforts to inspire democratic fervor in England. As in his previous article, Sheldon summarizes the content of Paine's major works and illustrates the dramatic political situations in which he wrote.]

When Tom Paine came to America in 1774, he found the dispute...

(The entire section is 4709 words.)

Frederick Sheldon (essay date 1859)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine in England and in France," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. IV, No. XXVI, December, 1859, pp. 690-709.

[In the following essay (from December of 1859) Sheldon charts the first part of Paine's career as a pamphleteer. Hailing Paine as a primary force in the American move toward independence, Sheldon wrote against popular opinion of his day, which still tended to dismiss Paine's importance and integrity.]

[While he was in England in the late 1780s, Paine's] soul was engrossed by the contemplation of the wonderful event which was daily developing itself in France. Bankruptcy had brought on the crisis. In August, 1788, the interest was not paid on the...

(The entire section is 11833 words.)

Leslie Stephen (essay date 1893)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine," in Fortnightly Review, Vol. LIV, No. CCCXX, August 1, 1893, pp. 267-81.

[In the following essay, Stephen's review of Paine's major works substantiates his contention that Paine argued in a direct and formulaic fashion that emphasized one or two clear-cut hypotheses.]

(The entire section is 7354 words.)

C. E. Merriam, Jr. (essay date 1899)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine's Political Theories," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. XIV, No. 3, September, 1899, pp. 389-403.

[In the essay that follows, Merriam outlines the basic tenets of Paine's political thought, defining at length his concepts of human nature and government. Merriam contends that Paine viewed government as a necessary evil, tolerable only in a democratic form.]

The political theories of Thomas Paine were struck off in the course of a career that extended over the revolutionary quarter of the eighteenth century and persistently followed the storm centre of the revolutionary movement.1 In January, 1776, he issued his famous pamphlet...

(The entire section is 5000 words.)

Harry Hayden Clark (essay date 1933)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine's Theories of Rhetoric," in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 28, 1933, pp. 307-39.

[In the following essay, Clark presents Paine as a literary "craftsman" who abided by a set of guidelines for effective writing, including clarity, boldness, wit, and appeal to feeling. Clark also suggests that Paine's view of language originated in his views of religion and nature.]

(The entire section is 14280 words.)

Joseph Dorfman (essay date 1938)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LUI, No. 3, September, 1938, pp. 372-86.

[In the following essay, Dorfman depicts Paine as an advocate of free trade and charts some of his engagements with the development of American economic thought.]

On the eve of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine, a failure in England, landed in America and threw in his fortunes with the revolting colonists, fighting "for the security of their natural rights and the protection of their own property."1 Then began a career which made him one of the most powerful pamphleteers of the eighteenth century. Not only did he play a prominent...

(The entire section is 5348 words.)

Howard Penniman (essay date 1943)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine—Democrat," in The American Political Science Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, April, 1943, pp. 244-62.

[In the essay that follows, Penniman parallels the moment in which he writesduring World War II—with the tumultuous time in which Paine wrote. He goes on to summarize the fundamental principles that girded the democracy that Paine ultimately espoused.]

These may be "the times that try men's souls," as President Roosevelt recently told the nation, but they may also be the times when free and courageous men may push forward toward the better society of which Thomas Paine dreamed when he pleaded with the colonists for unity in the cause of...

(The entire section is 8072 words.)

Harry Hayden Clark (essay date 1944)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine," in Thomas Paine: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, American Book Company, 1944, pp. xi-cxviii.

[In the following chapter from his book, Clark examines the various religious influences on Paine's thought.

Focusing on the significance of Paine's Quaker heritage, Clark examines it in conjunction with the rationalist, Newtonian concept of nature.]

I. Religious and Ethical Ideas

Broadly speaking, Paine's importance rests on the fact that he was an idealist, a man who envisaged a happier way of life for all men in the future, who thought in the light of first...

(The entire section is 7566 words.)

A. Owen Aldridge (essay date 1955)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of Thomas Paine," in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. LXXIX, No. 1, January, 1955, pp. 81-99.

[Addressing the much-neglected body of Paine's poetical writings, the essay that follows summarizes and assesses some of Paine's most read and more notable poems.]

Even the most fanatic devotees of Thomas Paine have had very little to say concerning his verse. Some of his admirers maintain that his prose has merit enough to secure him a respected place in American literature without the need of poetry. Others say that since he proved his talents in verse to be worthy of his prose, it is regrettable that he failed to encourage his...

(The entire section is 6742 words.)

James T. Boulton (essay date 1962)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Literature and Politics I: Tom Paine and the Vulgar Style," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XII, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 18-33.

[In the following essay, Boulton seeks to re-evaluate the "vulgarity" of Paine's style in light of its efficacy and purpose; although it may not have suited the aesthetic standards of the era, Boulton argues, it did suit itself to Paine's intended audience and sense of urgency.]

Prose—especially political prose—written for a largely uneducated audience seems to present the literary critic with a difficult problem of evaluation. Writers—such as those examined by John Holloway in The Victorian Sage—who cater for an...

(The entire section is 5849 words.)

R. R. Fennessy (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Paine Replies to Burke: Rights of Man," in Burke, Paine and the Rights of Man: A Difference of Political Opinion, Martinus Nijhoff, 1963, pp. 160-80.

[In the following chapter from his book, Fennessy investigates the connection of Paine 's Rights of Man to Edmund Burke's famous indictment of the French Revolution, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Overall, Fennessy describes Paine as, first, failing to understand Burke's work and, second, making many logical errors in his own.]

Paine plans to write on the revolution

After writing his letter to Burke,1 Paine stayed on in Paris, watching with...

(The entire section is 8671 words.)

Evelyn J. Hinz (essay date 1972)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Reasonable' Style of Tom Paine," in Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer, 1972, pp. 231-41.

[In the essay that follows, Hinz argues against the assumption that, because Paine declared his faith in reason alone, his works sought to convince via the laws of reason; Hinz contends quite the conversethat Paine employed many alogical strategies in his efforts to persuade readers.]

"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense ... " wrote Thomas Paine in the first of the trio of works—Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason—which has established his...

(The entire section is 5308 words.)

Olivia Smith (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rights of Man and Its Aftermath," in The Politics of Language, 1791-1819, Clarendon Press, 1984, pp. 35-67.

[In this chapter from her landmark book The Politics of Language, 1791-1819, Smith uses a close reading of Paine's word choice and grammar in order to establish the significance of his impact on language and political thought.]

John Simple, speaking of his wife's stay-maker to Mr Worthy: 'He is one of the prettiest-spoken men in the world'.1

The publication of Rights of Man demonstrated that a language could be neither vulgar nor refined, neither primitive nor...

(The entire section is 11725 words.)

A. Owen Aldridge (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Crisis," in Thomas Paine's American Ideology, University of Delaware Press, 1984, pp. 240-53.

[In the essay that follows, Aldridge reviews the series of pamphlets collectively titled the Crisis, which Paine published during the course of the Revolutionary War and which, consequently, reflect the array of issues and ideas that then permeated American thought.]

Much less has been written about Paine's Crisis than his Common Sense, probably because it concerns itself primarily with events and circumstances in the military and diplomatic struggle and devotes relatively little attention to ideology.


(The entire section is 7182 words.)

Jack Fruchtman, Jr. (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Nature and Man's Democratic Calling," in Thomas Paine and the Religion of Nature, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, pp. 38-56.

[In the following chapter from his book, Fruchtman demonstrates that Paine's rationalist view of nature as product of God and reason at once shaped his belief that democracy was the only political form consistent with human nature and rights.]

Human nature was one dimension of nature in Paine's ministry. Another was the physical world: the landscape and the heavens as God had created them. In the act of creation, God gave his people the trees, the sea, and the sky as well as human freedom and the rights of man. Human beings...

(The entire section is 10166 words.)

Edward H. Davidson and William J. Scheick (essay date 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Paine Reads the Bible," in Paine, Scripture, and Authority: The Age of Reason as Religious and Political Idea, Lehigh University Press, 1994, pp. 70-87.

[Focusing on The Age of Reason, the following chapter from Davidson and Scheick's book analyzes Paine's effort to undermine the authority of the Bible and his effort to create a sense of authority for himself]

Paine intended The Age of Reason to present what he called "the theology that is true" (1:464). His own faith, he professed, contained two articles: "I believe in one God, and no more; . . . and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and...

(The entire section is 8790 words.)