When Tom Paine, the author of Common Sense, died in June 1809 only a dozen people came to his funeral. This seminar examines Paine’s meteoric rise to celebrity status during the American Revolution and his equally dramatic fall from grace in the decades afterward.
Tom Paine’s burial service was held in Westchester County near the 250-acre farm gifted to Paine by the people of the state of New York in gratitude for his role in stirring the American Revolution. The site of Paine’s funeral wasn’t hard to find or difficult to travel to, yet still, not a single political leader attended.
Dr. Richard Bell examines Paine’s unparalleled ascendance to fame during the American Revolution and his equally sizeable fall from grace in the years following. He illuminates the humble origins of this impoverished immigrant corset-maker and unpacks his extraordinary gifts for political argument. He explains why Paine’s Common Sense (1776) sold so many copies, and why so many people have since credited that little 46-page pamphlet with catalyzing a mass movement focused keenly on the cause of independence.
Bell also explores the surprisingly bitter backlash Paine experienced when he later published the Rights of Man (his 1791 manifesto in support of the social and political extremism of the French Revolution) and the Age of Reason (his 1794 defense of deism, reason, and free thought). Once lionized as our most relatable and revolutionary founding father, Bell argues, Tom Paine died a pariah, too radical and uncompromising for the cautious new country he had called into being.
About Your Expert
Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar Award. Professor Bell is author of the new book "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home," which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize.
This conversation is suitable for all ages.
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.
Dr. Bell’s lecture on Thomas Paine ranks in my “Best Ever” category. (1) He’s a smooth, well paced and enthusiastic presenter. (2) His research is thorough. (3) His presentation is organized and builds seamlessly to reveal the many components of Paine’s personality and and the depth and breadth of his intellect. (4) Dr. Bell’s graphics are attractive and on point. (5) He provides additional sources of reference for his audience. (I ordered three books.) I look forward to more lectures by Dr. Bell.
As usual, Richard Bell delivered a wonderful talk on an iconic "name" that I connected with the American Revolution but I really knew very little about Tom Paine,Now I do know just enough to make me even more curious about this American hero!
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Richard Bell is one of our favorite historians. We've learned a lot from the many online lectures we've attended.