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Thomas Paine and the Promise of America

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America Cover

ISBN13: 9780809089703
ISBN10: 080908970x
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

America's unfinished revolution

The revolutionary spirit that runs through American history and whose founding father and greatest advocate was Thomas Paine is fiercely traced in Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. Showing how Paine turned Americans into radicals and how we have remained radicals at heart ever since Harvey J. Kaye presents the nation's democratic story with wit, subtlety, and, above all, passion.

Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Through writings like Common Sense — and words such as "The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth," "We have it in our power to begin the world over again," and "These are the times that try men's souls" — he not only turned America's colonial rebellion into a revolutionary war but, as Kaye demonstrates, articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.

Beginning with Paine’s life and ideas and following their vigorous influence through to our own day, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America reveals how, while the powers that be repeatedly sought to suppress, defame, and most recently co-opt Paine's memory, generations of radical and liberal Americans turned to Paine for inspiration as they endeavored to expand American freedom, equality, and democracy.

Review:

"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. 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. 25 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"The story of Thomas Paine — then and now, for the man and his ideas are very much alive today — stirs the heart, moves the mind and routs the demon of despair. The best political book of the year!" Bill Moyers

Review:

"What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy." New York Times

Review:

Thomas Paine has at last found a worthy defender in Harvey Kaye, a gifted historian whose account of Paine is nearly as lively and feisty as its subject." Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America

Review:

"Harvey Kaye's lucid work helps create the free citizen's memorial to Thomas Paine, who is still shamefully unacknowledged by the democratic republic that he lived and died to bring about." Christopher Hitchens

Review:

"For two centuries, Americans have fought for possession of Tom Paine's soul at least as vigorously as our ancestors fought over his literal bones. Harvey Kaye tells the tale well, and a revelatory tale it is." Todd Gitlin, author of The Intellectuals and the Flag

Review:

"Harvey J. Kaye recovers 'common sense' for our own time. This is a major contribution to understanding the American promise of freedom, equality, and the revolutionary tradition." Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women's Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Review:

"In this fascinating study, Harvey Kaye rediscovers Thomas Paine's central place in an American radical tradition stretching from the Revolution to the present, and reminds us how Paine's words still resonate in American society today." Eric Foner, Columbia University

Review:

"Kaye convincingly shows that for two hundred years Americans have not only constantly read and quoted Tom Paine, but also, in their repeated invocations of him, kept the radicalism of their great political experiment forever alive." Isaac Kramnick, Professor of Government at Cornell University

Review:

"Scrupulously researched, wonderfully written, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America is a book that has found its time." Paul Buhle, Brown University and co-editor, The Encyclopedia of the American Left

Synopsis:

Showing how Paine turned Americans into radicals, the author presents the nation's democratic story with wit, subtlety, and, above all, passion. Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age.

Synopsis:

Thomas Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Through writings like Common Sense--and words such as "The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth," "We have it in our power to begin the world over again," and "These are the times that try men's souls"--he not only turned America's colonial rebellion into a revolutionary war but, as Harvey J. Kaye demonstrates, articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.

About the Author

Harvey J. Kaye is professor of Social Change and Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, an award-winning author and the editor of numerous books on history and politics.

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OneMansView, July 16, 2009 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Equal liberty for all (3.6*s)

It is the position of the author that Paine was essentially the first well-known radical democrat in America, exported those views to both England and France in the 1790s, and has inspired those seeking to counter the forces of oppression ever since. Though Paine was a latecomer to the revolutionary cause in the colonies, having arrived only in Nov, 1774, there is little dispute that his pamphlet “Common Sense,” 1776, was a break with a pattern of caution that many followed in regards to separation with England. His excoriation of the English government including the King, which reached vast numbers of colonists, was a huge factor in increasing revolutionary fever to a level sufficient for a formal Declaration of Independence only six months later.

This book is not a biography, per se, of Paine. The first third of the book follows the political part of his life. The author’s first purpose is to demonstrate the significant influence that Paine’s writings had on the revolutionary effort in America and in Europe. His sixteen “American Crisis” papers during the War helped to recharge American resolve during very trying times for the American military. “Rights of Man,” 1792, was highly critical of the vast disparities existing in British aristocratic society, which resulted in his conviction of sedition in absentia. “Age of Reason,” written in France in 1795, denounced institutionalized churches “as human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” “Agrarian Justice,” 1796, explained poverty as being a consequence of exploitation and the power of private property. It is a body of work that to that time in history may not have been matched in sheer audaciousness.

Paine was controversial in the colonies from the beginning. The author suggests that had his identity been known when “Common Sense” was published, that is, not being a member of the respected elite, that his writings may well have had a lesser hearing and impact. His advocacy of equality and democracy earned him the enmity of many elites, including John Adams. But his “Age of Reason,” coming well after the U.S. achieved independence was far more harmful to his reputation and standing. Many who admired his republicanism were abhorred by his apparent turn towards religious infidelity. He died a scorned man.

The remainder of the book is concerned with the efforts of various groups over the next two centuries to overcome various forms of suppression or discrimination, many being led by individuals with varying degrees of knowledge of the work of Paine. Among those groups are “workingmen’s advocates, abolitionists, freethinkers, suffragists, anarchists, populists, socialists, progressives, labor and community organizers, peace activists, and liberals.” Among those the author attempts to connect to Paine are Lincoln, Walter Lloyd Garrison, Mark Twain, Eugene Debs, and FDR. In cycling through the struggles of these groups, the extent of Paine’s influence is rather vaguely drawn. The author shows that in different eras Paine’s reputation was either rising or falling: some writing laudatory biographies, some denigrating him; some trying to establish memorials and statues, others rejecting the same.

The author notes that in times of national crises, there is often a nostalgic turn to the founding. Even conservatives, who as a rule are less than fond of democracy and freethinking, are willing to invoke a carefully sanitized Paine, especially the Paine that is a strong advocate for liberty and new beginnings. Ronald Reagan at his nomination in 1980 famously recalled Paine’s words: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” More typical of conservatives, however, is Theodore Roosevelt’s labeling of Paine as a “filthy little atheist.” The author makes the assumption that Paine is a “Founding Father,” the equal of Jefferson, Adams, or Washington. Perhaps it could be argued that though he certainly was a luminary of the period, his lack of holding legislative or executive positions undermines his inclusion.

In addition, perhaps the author overstates Paine’s radicalism, at least as understood in modern times. Paine was opposed to all-powerful governments and to excessive wealth, especially aristocratic wealth, and its potential to oppress. But he was fully in favor of commerce, which, when played out, can certainly result in great economic disparity. The author’s broad use of “radicalism” is seen in his contention that most all Americans have been radicals since Paine’s time – a statement that begs to be explained. Americans are mindful of liberties and rights, certainly the right to vote as a part of formal democracy, but radical democratic measures, such as worker control of factories or the state, have seldom been advanced.

The book is a light, informative overview of Paine’s life as a writer of controversial tracts. It is also an overview of many of the main movements in American society attempting to overcome discrimination or an entrenched part of the status quo begging for reform, often drastic. There is a degree of shallow repetitiveness about the book, as the various groups are cycled through in brief fashion with only a tenuous attachment to Paine, or others for that matter, being established. Rather than showing a direct connection between Paine and those movements, what is more evident is that Paine-like individuals have frequently risen to the occasion in our history, though with mixed results. Just slips in as a four-star book.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780809089703
Publisher:
Hill and Wang
Subject:
History
Author:
Kaye, Harvey J.
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
Political History
Subject:
Revolutionary
Subject:
Political culture
Subject:
United States - 18th Century
Publication Date:
20060725
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes Notes and an Index
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8.27 x 6.46 x 0.935 in

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » US History » Paine, Thomas

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages Hill & Wang - English 9780809089703 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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. 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. 25 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "The story of Thomas Paine — then and now, for the man and his ideas are very much alive today — stirs the heart, moves the mind and routs the demon of despair. The best political book of the year!"
"Review" by , "What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy."
"Review" by , Thomas Paine has at last found a worthy defender in Harvey Kaye, a gifted historian whose account of Paine is nearly as lively and feisty as its subject." Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America
"Review" by , "Harvey Kaye's lucid work helps create the free citizen's memorial to Thomas Paine, who is still shamefully unacknowledged by the democratic republic that he lived and died to bring about."
"Review" by , "For two centuries, Americans have fought for possession of Tom Paine's soul at least as vigorously as our ancestors fought over his literal bones. Harvey Kaye tells the tale well, and a revelatory tale it is."
"Review" by , "Harvey J. Kaye recovers 'common sense' for our own time. This is a major contribution to understanding the American promise of freedom, equality, and the revolutionary tradition."
"Review" by , "In this fascinating study, Harvey Kaye rediscovers Thomas Paine's central place in an American radical tradition stretching from the Revolution to the present, and reminds us how Paine's words still resonate in American society today."
"Review" by , "Kaye convincingly shows that for two hundred years Americans have not only constantly read and quoted Tom Paine, but also, in their repeated invocations of him, kept the radicalism of their great political experiment forever alive."
"Review" by , "Scrupulously researched, wonderfully written, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America is a book that has found its time."
"Synopsis" by , Showing how Paine turned Americans into radicals, the author presents the nation's democratic story with wit, subtlety, and, above all, passion. Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age.
"Synopsis" by ,
Thomas Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Through writings like Common Sense--and words such as "The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth," "We have it in our power to begin the world over again," and "These are the times that try men's souls"--he not only turned America's colonial rebellion into a revolutionary war but, as Harvey J. Kaye demonstrates, articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.

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