Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thomas Paine -- "What we obtain to cheap ..."

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this
consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious
the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is
dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to
put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if
so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
Thomas Paine, The American Crisis I, December 23, 1776.


  1. Much my favorite quote from Thomas Paine. I never tire of plumbing its depths.

  2. I like the evident tension between Heaven's valuation and that of market fundamentalism, corporate hegemony, the Washington Consensus, abject greed and such. Wealth and freedom appear to be in conflict here.

  3. “If we suppose a large family of children, who, on any particular day, or particular occasion, make it a custom to present to their parents some token of their affection and gratitude, each of them would make a different offering, and most probably in a different manner. (…). The parents would be more gratified by such a variety than if the whole of them had acted on a concerted plan, and each had made exactly the same offering. This would have the cold appearance of contrivance, or the harsh one of control. But of all unwelcome things, nothing would more afflict the parent than to know that the whole of them had afterwards gotten together by the ears, boys and girls, fighting, reviling, and abusing each other which the best or the worst present. Why may we not suppose that the Great Father of all is pleased with variety of devotion; and the greatest offense we can act is that by which we seek to torment and render each other miserable”. PAINE, Thomas. Rights of Man, part I.

  4. I agree with you!

  5. M. Belguidoum, thank you so much for pointing out that quotation from Rights of Man ... it's WONDERFUL.

  6. It’s a memorable phrase, but I like that thought that even a great phrase maker like Paine may have had a “rough draft” of the thought. Here’s how the sentiment appeared in his hasty newspaper reports as he was retreating with Washington’s army. It is dated Newark, Nov. 23 but was not published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post until December 31, 1776:

    I heard a great man say many months ago, that America would not purchase her freedom at so cheap a rate as was imagined—nor is it proper she should, what costs us a little, we not value enough.

    Mariam Touba

  7. Mariam, interesting as always. The idea is as common in the literature of Paine's period as it is in ours. Part of Paine's genius was, it seems to me, his ability to capsulize and give it a aphoristic turn. His writings are full of examples; that's what makes him so quotable.

  8. Oops on the citation: Paine’s reports from New Jersey appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser, November 27, 1776. His November 25 commentary has this phrase “If in this hour of adversity they shrink from danger, they deserve to be slaves indeed,” which I suspect was reworked into his famous opening of the American Crisis.

    (The Pennsylvania Evening Post printed The American Crisis after it had already appeared as a pamphlet.)

    Sorry about that...


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