Thomas Paine The American Connection

The American Connection

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Paine returned to London, where he met Benjamin Franklin, then acting as a representative of Great Britain’s North American colonies. Their connection proved fruitful, for Paine arrived in America in November of 1774 with a letter of introduction that led to a position with Robert Aitken, a bookseller who was launching a magazine. Aitken’s American Museum appeared in January, 1775, with Paine as a regular contributor and, after a brief while, its editor. Paine’s strong political views were quickly apparent as he wrote essays attacking slavery and discrimination against women, and defending republican government. When the Revolutionary War began, supporters of independence asked Paine for a statement of their cause. His pamphlet Common Sense appeared in January, 1776. It denounced the tyranny of monarchy and championed the rights of individuals and virtues of republican government. Paine claimed to have sold 120,000 copies in four months, but he set its price so low that he lost money on its publication.

In the fall of 1776 Paine joined the Continental Army as an aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene. His account of that fall’s military retreat—which opened with the immortal line, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . . .”—was the first of a series of pamphlets he titled The American Crisis. By the beginning of the following year, Paine was secretary to the Continental Congress. By the end of 1778 eight numbers of his series titled The Crisis had appeared.

Paine’s outspokenness soon caused him trouble, however. Using secret documents seen during his official duties, he openly denounced malfeasance in connection with a French loan. Although he was correct, his indiscreet use of his sources cost him his job. Because he had continued to sell his political tracts at prices below their production costs, he was reduced to a clerkship and had to petition Pennsylvania’s legislature for a loan to fund publication of his collected works. In November, 1779, Paine was appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature. Over the following year he wrote three more pamphlets in The Crisis series. At the end of 1780 he resigned in order to write a history of the rebellion that he wished to take to England to expose the folly of Britain’s opposing American independence. Although Paine did reach France, he did not get to England. Nevertheless, his fame continued to grow.