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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Citizen Tom

Book Review


Thomas Paine: His life, his time and the birth of modern nations, by Craig Nelson, Profile Books, £20, ISBN 978-1-86197-638-3

Dr John Coulter • 18 March 2007

2009 will witness the 200th anniversary of the painful death of the lower class British tradesman Thomas Paine who coined the phrase the 'United States of America'.

Nelson's work is not a propaganda-style bid to rewrite American history; more it is an apologetic homily penned in almost tear-jerking prose to restore the tainted reputation of Paine, the Englishman who had truly become America's forgotten founder.

On paper, Paine's political achievements should have been viewed by the American ruling class as legendary when he died in June 1809. Not only was he the founder of both the United States and the French Republic, he was also the distinguished author of three of the 18th century's biggest bestsellers.

In spite of his lowly upbringing, Paine still managed to create the literary cornerstone of American democracy, Common Sense, as well as the Bible of English radicalism, The Rights of Man.

Yet one critical question remains unanswered about his life. How did one of the globe's greatest political thinkers end up spending his final years in America, living an impoverished life, suffering from dementia, and eventually being buried in an unmarked grave?

It is this central question which Nelson admirably addresses which makes this work unique among the many biographies and analysis of Paine's life and work to date.

Nelson's recipe for success is simple, yet decisive – to fully understand and appreciate the impact of Paine the political thinker, delve deeply into the humanity and personal life of Paine the man.

By keeping this human touch as his literary anchor, Nelson still manages to outline the challenges which Paine overcame in shaping the Revolutionary era and the Age of Enlightenment.

It is a humbling, yet intensely inspiring critique of Paine's dramatic path from his years as a struggling London mechanic to his journey after fortune in the New World; from his early pamphleteering to his heroism as the voice of revolution on two continents; and from his miraculous escape from execution in Paris to his last years in America.

Paine's own works were penned with personal gusto and a passionate belief in his principled political thinking. The success of Nelson's work is not just the indepth research on Paine, but that it is written with equal gusto.

As a political thinker, Paine was shunned by the new ruling elite of America of his time; after his death in 1809, the cheer leaders who have heralded the glory of the American Revolution conveniently neglected Paine's emphatic contribution.

Indeed, the personal conclusions which Nelson's work leaves the reader pondering are – without Paine, would there ever have been an American Revolution in the first place? Without Paine, would the political concept known as the United States of American ever have become a living reality?

Nelson also captures the controversy and misunderstanding which surrounded Paine right throughout his career as a political thinker. Nelson does not seek to dismiss Paine's contribution as so many others have.

His work restores Paine to the global stature he deserves – as the real Englishman who shaped America. Fundamentally, Nelson's portrait of Paine is of a man who asserted that "we have it in our power to begin the world over again". The success of this specific biography is that Nelson's human portrayal of Citizen Tom Paine is of a thinker who is as much a man of our own time as a paragon of the Enlightenment.

And what is glaringly honest about Nelson's interpretation of Paine, is that the author – who was himself an editor in the United States for more than two decades – is not afraid to be critical of that nation's perceived attempts to airbrush Paine's role out American history.

Perhaps now with Nelson's electrifying account of Paine's life and thoughts, Citizen Tom will now be given the credit he deserves as a man who should be remembered and honoured by free people throughout the world.























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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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18 March 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

How I Almost Got My Ass Kicked at the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Lived to Tell About It
David Kruidenier

The Protestant 'Pat Finucane'
Father Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus

Green Party Declines White House Invitation
Green Party Press Release

Assembly Needs an Opposition
David Adams

Belfast Hot Air
Anthony McIntyre

Citizen Tom
Dr John Coulter

A History of Nationalism in Ireland
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Review of Challenging the New Orientalism
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

Two Sides of a Coin
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Anthony McIntyre

Sinn Fein Batmen
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Launch of
Colm Mistéil

Reject the 'New' RUC
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

32 County Sovereignty Movement: Water Charges Are Illegal
Kevin Murphy

The National Irish Freedom Committee on Gerry McGeough
National Irish Freedom Committee

NIFC Free Form Video Discusses Elections, Abstentionism
Saerbhreathach Mac Toirdealbhaigh

America's 'Global War On Terrorism'
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Iñaki de Juana Chaos
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14 March 2007

Legal Aid Wrangle Continues
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Statements on the Arrest of Gerry McGeough

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Snapshot, 1993: Voters' Rights, MI5 Wrongs
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Broad Church for Unionism
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The Man Without the Mask
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The New Boyne Harriers
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UUP Possibilities
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Blinkered Vision
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Damned by Debt Relief
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