Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

July 4, 2009

A Fourth of July in Paine

Filed under: Founders — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 8:33 am

I am hoping the title of this post is only a pun. Here in America’s sixth freest state, the Fourth is something of a free-fire zone, and my boys and I are not immune to the charms of “blowing stuff up” (as Owen likes to put it). We almost always attend a public fireworks show in Weston, MO (my parents’ place of residence), where the big stuff is detonated literally on the other side of a high school football field from the place you sit. It’s all pretty awesome, until someone gets hurt, so wish us luck.

The Paine of the title refers to what appears to be the new, inadvertent Common-Place tradition of celebrating American Independence by bringing up perhaps the only true revolutionary among the front-line Founders, Thomas Paine. (One of the things I like about Paine is that he was far too dodgy a character to ever have the term “Founding Father” comfortably applied to him. Paternal he was not.) A little bit less than a year ago, I did a a post about unwelcome interventions in presidential elections that included a discussion and the text of Paine’s infamous open letter dissing George Washington. Now I see that the just-released July issue of Common-Place proper features a most welcome forum on Paine. In addition to an article by the great J.M. (Jason) Opal of McGill University, the forum includes two other articles from presenters at the conference on Paine that immediate past C-P editor Ed Gray and I attended in Milan last October: Matteo Battistini out of University of Bologna and Nathalie Caron, coeditor of one of France’s leading scholarly journals on American history and culture, the Revue française d’études américaines.The whole forum is well worth the time of any reader who wants something more substantive than Founder-worship and gunpowder for their Fourth of July delectation.

The Paine forum also seems like the opportune moment to foist upon the nets my own contribution to the Milan conference, entitled “Thomas Paine and the U.S. Election of 1796: In which it is discovered that George Washington was more popular than Jesus”. Some of this material will doubtless end up in the book I am writing on that first contested presidential election, but given space considerations and the high time-benefit ratio that would be involved in making a full journal article of this piece, I am going to present it here in only slightly revised form, just enough to fill a couple of gaps and make it flow better in written form. There are footnotes, but light by my standards, and just to take advantage of the digital medium, I have included a couple of primary sources in the .pdf. My hope is that readers in the comfort of their own web-surfing spots will get more out of it than I suspect the room full of Italian undergraduates did in Milan that day.

Readers should feel free to comment on my article or the Paine forum more generally in this post’s comment thread.
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