At the end of President Obama’s inaugural address in January 2009, he alluded to a small passage that appeared in Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense. Faced with an American economy wracked by nervousness and self-doubt Obama noted Paine’s rallying cry that galvanised and gave hope to the despairing: “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [this danger].” Unique among radicals, the 200th anniversary of the death of Thomas Paine will be marked in England, in France and across the Atlantic. This is a measure of the impact of Paine’s ideas both in his own country and in parts of the world that became the centre of revolutionary political change at the end of the 18th century. Paine was perhaps fortunate to live in such invigorating times and to be able to think about them so constructively. Yet what is remarkable is that his message has been capable of speaking with immediacy to each successive generation, providing radical inspiration and comfort in troubled times. This is because Paine was a persuasive author with a gift for penetrating, lucid and memorable language. However, he was also actively participating in the revolutions he wished to inspire. Both through word and deed he could justly claim ‘the world is my country and my religion to do good.’
more from David Nash at History Today here.