Thomas Paine is not forgotten!
Posted in the Abigail Adams National Bancorp Forum
#1 Mar 30, 2008
Actually, Thomas Paine gets no lines and hasn't been featured in HBO's "John Adams" at all -- not yet, at least. The "Mr. Paine" who is seen is another Paine, Robert Treat Paine.
I share your surprise and disappointment. For all its excellence, this miniseries tries to inform us that John Adams was almost singlehandedly responsible for persuading the Continental Congress to endorse the cause of independence. That is false.
It was Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" that made Adams' success possible. The campaign for independence was not, as Adams believed, a top-down exercise in "leadership." It was, in fact, instigated by public demand, from the bottom up. Reaction to "Common Sense" was so dramatic and so passionate that legislatures from New Hampshire to Georgia had no choice but to order their delegates in Philadelphia to vote for independence.
But Thomas Paine is ignored by the producers and writers at HBO. Why?
Paine has been largely written out of American history because he dared to attack organized religion in his "Age of Reason." But I don't think this is the reason for HBO's current snubbing of the man who invented the name of the "United States of America."
I think it's because any acknowledgment of Paine would undercut the thesis of the HBO producers (as opposed to McCullough's book on which it is based), which is that John Adams was the single most important Founder of them all.
Yes, John Adams was important. And, until now, he hasn't had his due time in the spotlight. But every school child is taught that Adams was the second president of the United States and his portrait appears on the $2 bill. Thomas Paine doesn't get any of that, even though he was, by far, the most influential and widely-read voice for freedom and democracy in the world. The three worldwide best-selling books of the 18th century were all written by Thomas Paine. They inspired revolutions in America, France and Poland, and came near to provoking an uprising in Britain.
But Paine was more than a writer. He invented the iron bridge and the smokeless candle. He and George Washington collaborated on a scientific experiment. In his youth, Paine enlisted as a English privateer and narrowly escaped a watery demise under ill-fated command of Capt. William Death!
Toward the end of his life, Paine was a delegate to the revolutionary French National Assembly, charged with drafting a constitution for the new Republic. His stubborn affirmations of human rights -- including opposition to the beheading of King Louis XVI -- enraged the Jacobites, who imprisoned him and came very close to chopping off his head.
In fact, Thomas Paine's story would make an excellent mini-series on its own. The people at HBO should consider such a project, which would redeem themselves for their slight to Paine and to American history.
#2 Jul 9, 2010
I absolutely agree with you and have recently, through an intermediary, sent an email to Ken Burns, suggesting that he consider making a documentary about Thomas Paine. Let's hope that he agrees.
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