Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Paine’

Your country is your country – like it or not

July 4, 2017

The world is my country, all mankind my brethren and to do good is my religion.
          ==Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine, born an Englishman, was an early advocate of American independence and a morale officer for George Washington’s Continental Army.

Later he traveled to France and became an advocate for the French revolutionaries, returning in old age to the new nation of the United States of America.  He said he considered himself to be a citizen of the world, but of no particular country.

A number of posters on one of my favorite Internet sites, as well as a couple of my acquaintances, aspire to be like Thomas Paine.

Although born American citizens, they disavow allegiance to the United States, which they see as a nation founded on slavery of African-Americans, ethnic cleansing of native Americans and enfranchisement of white Anglo-Saxon property-owning males.

None of them, so far as I know, make any actual effort to shed the legal privileges and responsibilities that go with American citizenship.  The question is whether shedding nationality is even possible.

European acquaintances, and friends who’ve spent time in Europe, tell me that Americans are instantly recognizable wherever we may be—by our gait, our body language, the way we speak English and our basic attitudes toward life.   These are not things that are so easy to get rid of!

The black writer James Baldwin traveled to France in the late 1940s and early 1950s to seek refuge from American racism.   What he came to realize, as he wrote in an essay collection called Notes of a Native Son, is that whatever else he was, he was an American.

Baldwin felt a strong solidarity with African students who hated French colonialism.  But he himself understood that he was an American, an African-American—not an African in exile.    He said the idea that nationality is a matter of personal choice is a specifically American idea.

… the American … very nearly unconscious assumption that it is possible to consider the person apart from all the forces that have produced him. 

This assumption, however, is itself based on nothing less than our history, which is the history of the total, and willing, alienation of entire peoples from their forebears.

What is overwhelming clear, it seems, to everyone but ourselves is that this history has created an entirely unprecedented people, with a unique and individual past. 

It is the past lived on the American continent … … which must sustain us in the present.

The truth about that past is not that it is too brief, or too superficial, but only that we, having turned our faces so resolutely away from it, has never demanded what it has to give.

==James Baldwin, “A Question of Identity” (1954)


Recommended reading for Independence Day

July 4, 2015

flag-fireworksThe custom of listening to patriotic speeches on Independence Day seems to have died out.  The next best thing—or maybe a better alternative—is to read about how the United States came to be and the ideals that inspired its Founders.

Here are links to material I think worth reading.


Speech on Conciliation With the Colonies by Edmund Burke to the House of Commons on March 22, 1775.

Edmund Burke gave all the reasons why Britain’s American colonists had such a powerful love of freedom and independence that any attempt to suppress them would be futile.  Reading this made me feel proud and grateful to be an American.


Common Sense by Thomas Paine, published on February 14, 1776.

Thomas Paine’s arguments helped convince Britain’s American colonists that they should become an independent nation.


The Declaration of Independence – In Congress, July 4, 1776


King George’s response to both houses of Parliament on October 31, 1776.


The American Crisis – Chapter One by Thomas Paine on December 23, 1776.

Thomas Paine’s writings reminded George Washington’s Continental troops what they were fighting for.


Washington’s Farewell Address 1796.

George Washington reflected on the past and future of the nation he helped found.

Thomas Paine on national goals

June 4, 2015