Thursday, July 30, 2009

One Life: Thomas Paine, The Radical Founding Father

One Life: Thomas Paine, The Radical Founding Father at the National Portrait Gallery, full details at

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thomas Paine on morality.

"As for morality, the knowledge of it exists in every man's conscience." Thomas Paine - Age of Reason, II, 1795.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Glenn Beck - No Thomas Paine - No Common Sense

Glenn Beck's book is an unhistorical, incoherent and shallow rip-off of Thomas Paine and the high name-recognition of Paine's Common Sense (1776). Readers looking either for history or Thomas Paine will be sadly disappointed. Beck appears to have either never read Paine or, if he has, never thought about him. In fact, the greater question posed by the book is whether Beck has any cogitative ability whatsoever. Certainly, the book is mind-numbingly incoherent and rambling.

A few observations from the historian's viewpoint:

The oh-so brilliant point of Beck's 9.12 Project is to encourage people to return to the atmosphere of fear, panic and rage of 9/11. Just what we need, more unhinged.

Paine was a revolutionary reformer and progressive. Beck aspires to being a reactionary populist. There's a difference, people.

Most of Beck's text is a hackneyed and inaccurate appeal to the halcyon past (which exact period he does not name) and a prototypical diatribe against government intrusion without specifics or -- perish the thought -- specific solutions:

Glenn Beck, Libertarian, believes we need to get government "off our backs" and out of EVERYTHING, especially business. Go Glenn! Let's see ... well then we must suppose that he's "good" with the industrial solvent melamine in baby's food. Your kid lost their kidneys as a result? Pay for it yourself! And evidently Beck wants to return to the "good old days" of child labor. Ok and yeah, less regulation would been the solution to the current financial crash. Hell yes, more derivatives and less regulation, That's the solution! Exposure to Beck's economic blather -- it's not coherent enough to call it a critique -- is not worth the lost brain cells that will definitely slough from your cranium.

Beck's appeal to the halcyon days of yore is similarly historically challenged (can we still say "retarded" in this context?). For Beck, the Mexican American War of 1848 never happened; neither apparently did Jim Crow, the Spanish-American War, the extermination of Native American peoples, slavery, the Red Scare or the McCarthy hearings. The man is a historical dead-zone. Does he not know that at the time of the founding of the U.S., something less than less than 18% of white males could vote? We didn't even get universal white male suffrage until after 1842. Women struggled for 150 years before finally getting the vote in 1922 and blacks were brutalized and effectively disenfranchised until 1965, for Pete's sake. The good old days of when, exactly?

Inspired by Thomas Paine? It's a good thing that Paine's remains were long ago stolen from their grave from which they would otherwise now erupt and revolve. Don't purchase this book. I bought mine used for a fraction of it's cover price and it was STILL a waste of money.

Thomas Paine on wealth and poverty

Kenneth Burchell "Wealth is often the presumptive evidence of dishonesty; and poverty the negative evidence of innocence." Thomas Paine - Dissertation on First Principles of Government, 1795.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thomas Paine - Republican virtue.

"When republican virtue fails, slavery ensues." Thomas Paine - Common Sense, 1776.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thomas Paine on generosity/philanthropy.

"The more we bestow the richer we become." Thomas Paine - The Crisis Extraordinary, 1789.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thomas Paine on First Principles

"When precedents fail to assist us, we must return to the first principles of things for information; and THINK as if we were the FIRST MEN that THOUGHT" - Thomas Paine, The Forrester Letters, 1776.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thomas Paine - Call me rebel.

"Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul ..." -- Thomas Paine, American Crisis I.

Liberty in chains

Detail of a cartoon by nineteenth-century American artist Watson Heston. Note: image is © Kenneth W. Burchell 2009, All Rights Reserved.

Fourth of July -- Thomas Paine on patriotism

"There is not a vice, nor scarcely a virtue, that has not as the fashion of the moment suited been called by the name of patriotism ... But if we give to patriotism a fixed idea consistent with that of a republic, it would signify a strict adherence to the principles of moral justice, to the equality of civil and political rights, to the system of representative government, and an opposition to every hereditary claim to govern; and of this species of patriotism you know my character." Thomas Paine to James Monroe - October 26, 1794.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thomas Paine - Lewes

Terrific article from the Washington Post on Thomas Paine and Lewes:

Thomas Paine and Bi-polar Disorder

Thomas Paine and Bi-polar Disorder --

"The course of his biography, with its episodes of buoyant enthusiasm and mute withdrawal, as well as eyewitness accounts of his alternately voluble and determinedly silent behavior, imply that Paine may have suffered from a form of bipolar disorder."

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. NY: Viking, 2006.

Craig Nelson's proposition that Paine "may" have had bi-polar disorder
strikes me as the latest in a long history of strained interpretations starting with the accusation of his impotence by Tory hack-writer George Chalmers aka Francis Oldys and continuing to the present time with the turgid and imaginative screenplay -- admittedly interpretive art, not history -- of Trevor Griffiths. Why strain for an interpretation when, as Paine pointed out, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?

Some degree of psychological analysis is doubtless appropriate where we have enough information to speculate. Psychohistory has played a part in professional history since the first historian assigned a motive to an historical player. But the behavior that Mr. Nelson identified as bi-polar, it seems to me, has a much simpler and more convincing explanation. Paine was elderly, extremely ill and suffering intense physical pain during the times when he was emotionally "down" or in "mute withdrawal" -- seriously ill and in pain. This has not been enough emphasized in the literature -- partly because Paine did continue to write and frequently quite well despite his illness. Naturally we can't know from this distance with certainty whether he had depressive illness or not, but in my opinion, bi-polar disease is not the straightest line between two points.

Paine never recovered from the illness that befell him during his incarceration. Described as an abcess in the side, he was delirious or unconscious for weeks at a time. In 1797, well after his 1794 release, he relapsed and nearly died while in the care of James Monroe and his wife. Still later, a credible visitor described his still abcessed side, exposed rib and perfect agony. Nerve disease, palsy, and stroke wore away the last ten years of his life until he passed away in 1809. Despite this travail, Paine completed many valuable, piquant and revelatory writings, in particular Agrarian Justice, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, and his eight Letters to the Citizens of the United States. If in some of his later work, the sounds at times impatient, abrupt, cranky or short, then we well know the source and perhaps admire his determination to be of earthly good unto the end of his life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thomas Paine Museum: another sleeper awakens

Statement from Mayor Noam Bramson, regarding the Thomas Paine Museum artifacts:

"Generations of New Rochelleans have grown up knowing and caring about Thomas Paine's prominent place in our history. The items and artifacts stored and displayed at the Thomas Paine Museum are much beloved and have helped establish a tangible, physical connection to our past. The relocation of this collection is a tremendous loss to our community, and I am deeply concerned that the process employed to select a permanent site has been flawed, incomplete, and indifferent to the concerns of our residents. In this spirit, I will vigorously support efforts to establish a permanent home and a lending policy that keeps these priceless items as accessible as possible to the people of New Rochelle and our region." – Mayor Noam Bramson

Comment: now go back to sleep, mayor ... damage done: another player a "day late and a dollar short."

Link at:

The Thomas Paine Museum and brave Jim Maisano

Local New Rochelle legislator Jim Maisano has come forward with the ever-so brave and provincial proposition that the holdings of the Thomas Paine Museum remain in Westchester County, preferably New Rochelle:

Talk about "a day late and a dollar short." Always inspiring to see one of our legislators take a stand after years of paying ZERO attention to the museum or the sell-off of its holdings. After decades of neglect by the town of New Rochelle AND Maisano, this guy wants the leftover crumbs to stay in New Rochelle!

Thomas Paine Museum: the saga continues

The story has now been picked up by the local New Rochelle JOURNAL NEWS. Here's the link:

The facts speak for themselves: incompetents
sold off the pearls of the museum collection, janitor-
turned-president McCartin flown the coop, remains of the museum
holdings surrendered to the NYHS, McCartin best-buddy Mulkern
(no historical background or museum expertise of any kind) the newly
minted "acting" -- in more ways than one -- executive director of
an association-in-name-only claims to rule over the ruins. "Disgruntled"
doesn't begin to describe my reaction.

The JN reporter was evidently overawed with McCartin-crony
Mulkern's newly minted title and couldn't be bothered to check
and see who constitutes the "TPNHA" and board that Mulkern
claims to represent. Allow me to suggest that the organization
exists in name only -- same as Mulkern's title.

One can only speculate that whatever agreement exists between
the NY AG and the perpetrators of this outrage allowed Mulkern
and company to claim "voluntarism" in exchange for the
removal of McCartin and the holdings.