Thomas Paine and The Promise of America
by Harvey J. Kaye
published by Hill and Wang
© 2005 by Harvey J. Kaye
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|From Publishers Weekly
Kaye offers a masterful and eloquent study of the man he reestablishes as the key figure in the American Revolution and the radical politics that followed it. Focusing on close readings of Paine's major writings, Kaye devotes the first half of the book to Paine's role in the seething fervor for American liberty and independence and his influence on the French Revolution. In Common Sense (1763), which sold 150,000 copies in just a few months, Paine advocated self-government and democracy in the colonies, accused the British of corruption and tyranny, and urged "Americans" to rebel. He championed representative democracy and argued that government should act for the public good. At the same time, John Adams regarded his effort to implement the full revolutionary agenda immediately as a path leading over the cliffs of Dover. Paine's contributions were not limited to his own time; Kaye traces Paine's influence on American rebels and reformers from William Lloyd Garrison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs in the second half of his book. In 1980, Ronald Reagan quoted him—"We have it in our power to begin the world over again"—in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. As historian Kaye (The American Radical) points out, Paine—"the greatest radical of a radical age"—would have been surprised to learn that conservatives, whose values he opposed, had used his words in their cause.
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