“O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!”
—Thomas Paine, Common Sense
I write in a winter of discontent that marks the 280th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Paine, the Enlightenment thinker and revolutionary writer who called the American experiment into being. I write in recognition of the peril that is posed to that experiment with the assumption of the presidency by the authoritarian Donald Trump, and in celebration of the resistance to that peril by the true heirs to Paine’s legacy.
Paine came to the American colonies as a refugee from an old and oppressive order, which he had offended as a pioneering organizer of workers and ardent advocate for egalitarian ideals. He arrived in Philadelphia in ill health and with limited prospects. Yet Paine began an immediate agitation against illegitimate governance, and in less than two years he had written the most influential tract of his time, Common Sense, which envisioned an independent United States that would serve as a refuge from injustice.
“Every spot of the Old World is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart,” wrote Paine in his call to rebellion against not just a monarch, but old ways of thinking about the human condition. “O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”
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